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Vacation from Nutrition Information

Much as I like to focus on mindful eating, I have to admit that I have a very hard time looking at nutrition information and trying not to do something with the numbers.

Part of the problem is, my brain likes numbers. It seems to find amusement in doing mental arithmetic, along the lines of, “If 1 serving is 210 calories, and the serving size is 5 pieces, how many calories are in each piece?” Or, since I know roughly how many calories I normally eat, I might get to dinner and, without prompting, my mind will muse over what else I’ve eaten that day and how many calories might be in it. You can also substitute protein, or fat, or anything else for “calories”.

I don’t particularly want to count calories or grams of different types of nutrients, at least not usually. This is simply how my brain behaves when confronted with the information. Unfortunately, trying to multiply, divide, and add in your head makes mindful eating a challenge.

Then I got an idea when recently re-watching the movie What About Bob? In it, Dr. Marvin gives Bob, an obsessive compulsive, a prescription to take a vacation from his problems. It reminded me of how when I go on a real vacation, I have to ignore the nutrition information because most of the time it’s not available. What if I did the same at home?

The result came almost instantly – I started being more mindful of my eating.

This makes sense. Without those nutritional breakdowns to shape and guide my approach to what I’m eating, I have nothing to go by but how I feel, how the food tastes and affects my body and mood. Furthermore, it makes eating in general more relaxed and enjoyable, knowing I’m not trying to meet some particular quota and wondering if what I’m eating will get me there.

And, also not surprisingly, I may eat less in these circumstances. After all, nutritional information is based on a 2,000-calorie per day diet, which means if I use their serving size as my default, I’ll end up eating more than I need.

If, however, I use my own internal hunger and fullness cues, I take the serving size that suits me. In some cases that may be more, such as eating a lot of vegetables, or less, such as consuming less meat.

This isn’t to say I plan to ignore nutrition information forever; sometimes it’s very useful. But taking a vacation from it reminds me I don’t have to rely on such details to get what my body needs. With the holidays fast approaching, this is very helpful, and something I will try to keep in mind on Thanksgiving.

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