“Food is fuel”. ” You are a machine”. “You look fit”. “You are what you eat”. These are all messages about food and our bodies that are commonplace, yet born out of diet culture. Opal Co-Founder and Clinical Director Kara Bazzi talks with dietitian and endurance athlete Maria Dalzot, RD about how these messages are falling short and not supporting our athletes well-being and performance. In this episode, Maria passionately offers important alternatives to the cultural messages, informed by Intuitive Eating and trauma-informed care. She helps us understand the role our autonomic nervous system plays in our relationship to food and why we need to go beyond prescriptive nutrition interventions in talking with our athletes. 


Maria Dalzot RD

The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology): Dana, Deb, Porges, Stephen W.: 9780393712377: Amazon.com: Books

Social Determinants of Health | NCHHSTP | CDC

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Thank you to our team…

Editing by David Bazzi

Music by Aaron Davidson: https://soundcloud.com/diet75/

Administrative support by Camille Dodson

Episode transcript:

Kara 0:08
Hello, and welcome to the appetite, a podcast brought to you by Opel food and body wisdom. I’m Kara Bazzi, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and co founder and clinical director for Opal. I will be hosting today’s episode, and I’m excited to be interviewing today’s guests Maria Dalzot. Maria is a registered dietitian and professional trail and mountain runner. Maria and I met about a year ago through our work with Wildwood running an organization whose mission is to empower female runners through mind and body. Maria and I now have done a few events together through Wildwood, and every time I hear her speak, I feel inspired and energized and grateful for the work she’s doing to change the culture of sport for the better. Welcome, Maria.

Maria 0:53
Thank you, Kara. I love to be here. I thank you.

Kara 0:57
Yeah, so glad you’re here. Let’s just get started off by sharing having you share a bit about your story and how you got into this work as a dietitian, with athletes.

Maria 1:08
All right. So I started out I think as many registered dieticians with a typical weight centric paradigm, out of school, doing food assessments on people, calorie counts, you know, the very kind of textbook way of consulting. And to make a very long story short, I, I found myself actually working within a weight management clinic. And at the same time, I’m working at this weight management clinic. I’m also starting to hear more and more about this thing called intuitive eating. And I started listening to some dietitians that we’re really focusing on this work. And so I was really starting to experience a cognitive dissonance between what I was hearing from these dieticians, which I felt, really, to be completely honest care, I never felt inspired by my work as a dietician, I was never passionate about it. I never loved my job. And to be completely honest with you, I was at the point of giving up several years ago and was charting a down the path way of starting a new career path. And when I started hearing about this paradigm shift into Health at Every Size, and intuitive eating, it really reinvigorated myself. And I couldn’t in good conscience sit at this at behind a desk at this weight management clinic, hearing firsthand the pain that these people are going through. And I just decided to stop doing what the clinic told me that I should be doing. And I went and just with what I felt morally, ethically, better doing. And that’s telling these people that you are, you are okay, just as you are, you are loved and valid just as you are and, and hearing their stories and not trying to jump in and fix it. And just being with them was so powerful and so emotional. That is what I’ve needless to say, I left, I left luxury shortly, I think I lasted six months there something like that. And then I, I started really putting all my attention into my my own private practice. And as I got more comfortable with the intuitive eating principles and applying them and and while I had, I was seeing growth in my clients, and I was helping support them in their journey away from the pursuit of weight loss and diet culture. There was still something missing. And it was just like, oh, what, what am I missing here? Because cognitively they could get it. They can get you know, this is what diet culture is trying to tell me. They could understand, oh, I get what I should be doing or what I should be ignoring or what, etc. But I can’t figure out why I keep doing what I’m doing. And so this led me down the pathway of trauma informed care. And it’s something that I’m truly very passionate about. And I’ve taken a deep dive into using the tools, the tools and techniques from polyvagal theory that really beautifully complements intuitive eating. Because what I found is that with people who have experienced trauma in their life, safety isn’t there for them to feel hunger and fullness. So I felt like all these steps were being skipped over and I’m asking Oh, well let’s tap into this hunger cues. When How can you tell if you feel hungry if you feel like you’re being chased by a bear, right? that safety is not there.

And so really having an understanding of the role that that trauma, and you can have big t traumas, neglect, abuse, or you could have chronic dieting, which is a form of trauma. So chances are the clients that we work with as dietitians as therapists have experienced trauma. And so to understand the role that trauma plays, in our ability to feel safe enough inside to be able to decide what sounds good to eat, and so that I feel like I, I keep uncovering something that before we do this, we have to do this, and we have to do this, right. And that’s what’s been really interesting in my career, but I feel so grateful for that opportunity to, you know, I think back of that time being in that weight management clinic, and while it was such a painful experience to be witness to these people’s pain, I feel so grateful for them for being vulnerable to me so that I could see the pain that they’re going through. And when obviously, this work isn’t helping. So what can we do to actually make a difference?

Kara 6:09
That’s awesome. For our listeners, they they know quite a bit about we talk about intuitive eating or tuned eating and Health at Every Size. But polyvagal theory is something that I don’t think has been brought up on our podcast. So could you share with the listeners a little bit about what that is, and and what that means?

Maria 6:25
Yeah, so polyvagal theory was created by Steve porges. And it’s essentially the science of connection, trust and safety. And essentially, it’s the role of the autonomic nervous system, as it shapes experiences of safety and ability for connection. So essentially, there is a significant relationship between Nervous System dysregulation and food, eating disorders, body image difficulties. And so basically, if safety is not there, we don’t have digestive capacity. And so polyvagal theory is a is a bottom up approach. So rather than top down, one of the things that one of my favorite trauma therapists, Dana, she always says, we can’t think our way out of these behaviors. Because if we could, we would have done it already. And so the polyvagal theory really brings in the role of the autonomic nervous system and the vagus nerve, and how most of the messages that that our brain is getting are coming from our body, 80% of our nerve fibers are going up to our brain. So it’s really important to understand what’s going on in our body, because we can’t think our way out of it. But in my favorite example is like if we were talking Kara, and we’re in a really engaged conversation, and all of a sudden, I pull out my phone, and I start looking at it while you’re talking. Right? Like, how does that make you feel? As we’re talking? What does that feel like? inside? Right? You can feel?

Yeah, you feel rejection, right? I’m not interesting. I’m not worth your time. I’m not, you know, I would I have to say doesn’t matter, right? But what happens when that person looks back up at us and goes, Oh, sorry, I just had to check something and we go, Oh, that’s okay. That’s fine. Right? cognitively, oh, that’s fine. But our, but our nervous system caught that. And we hang on to that. And it’s like, you know, that energy has to go somewhere. And, you know, our body’s a container that holds on to that. And so polyvagal theory basically gives a language to describe that. So people understand and make sense, I’m hanging on to that behavior. And essentially, it all comes from a place of survival. Because, again, it’s it’s about feeling safety. And that’s what we as humans are striving for, we’re longing for this connection. So what does that what does that practically look like with the folks that you work with in terms of working with the autonomic nervous system and finding a sense of safety within the body before going into the cognitive. So we do something and again, this work is taken from Deb Dana and her book is amazing polyvagal theory in therapy, engaging the rhythm of regulation, it’s super good, and it’s, it’s very easy to digest, it’s not anything too jargony or, I really, really liked it And so much of it resonated with me, and I could just see my clients on every page. And I’ve taken her form of mapping the nervous system. And so she created this visual of a ladder of this hierarchy of and I don’t know how in depth you want to get in this care, but I’m, I’m all I’m all for it, we canat the top of the ladder is our is our ventral vagal system. So this is our our social engagement system. And this is what. We feel engaged and connected and well regulated. But what happens is when we experience a threat, whether it’s a physical threat or an emotional threat, what we do is we fall down the ladder, so to speak to this fight or flight response. And so this fight or flight response is, I have to fix it. It’s intellectualizing it’s, I gotta do something about it. It’s obsessive thoughts, intrusive imagery, feeling agitated, rushed. And if those behaviors are not enough to solve the threat, your body cannot physically handle staying in this state for too long. So what happens is we fall down the ladder to the bottom, which is called the dorsal vagal. And it’s actually and it’s on the bottom not because it’s bad or not the place you want to be, but because that’s actually where it is in your body. It’s like below the diaphragm, it’s where your your gut is, and your visceral organs. It’s a state of freeze or collapse. So the language that clients use when they’re here are I feel hopeless, I’m stuck. Poor self care, poor boundaries, they feel numb. So people who have experienced chronic threats, their body can’t fight this off. And so what happens is, they fall to this place of collapse this dorsal vagal system, which is a dissociation to protect them, if I can’t physically leave here, then I’m going to shut down so I don’t have to be here. And so if you think about it, from a nutrition perspective, if the body is shutting down, how does that affect our ability to ingest and digest food, it has a huge impact. And so if you ask a client, you know, what did you eat today, and they can’t remember, they can’t remember? Because not because, oh, they’re not mindful, oh, just be more mindful. They can’t be more mindful, because they’re not there. They’re in a dissociated state. And so when I heard about this was just like, my mind was blown. It was like, Oh, my gosh, like, this makes so much sense. And I was able to understand, and again, share this with my clients and provide them language, because instead, you know, we go to a so what we do to answer your question, sorry, chair, we, we map where we are on the ladder? What does it look like to be on the bottom of the ladder? What does it look like to be in this fighter flight? What does it look like to feel safe? And it’s really cool, because our, my clients make it their own, you know, sometimes they don’t want to talk, they don’t want to call it ventral vagal, or they don’t want to call it dorsal. And so I haven’t, I have a client who calls her dorsal the ocean floor, it feels like I’ve been at the bottom of the ocean, and no one can hear me, which is beautiful, you know, that’s the way she’s able to connect with it. And so, by mapping out their nervous system, they’re able to befriend it in a way that makes sense, like, Oh, this is where I am. Well, if this is where you are, you need to be up here to know what sounds good to eat. So what can we do to get you to climb up the ladder? And are there some examples of what your clients do to climb up the ladder that you could share? So that’s kind of like where we start is answering the question, Where am I? Where am I? And then the second question is, how did I get there? And so where are we identify? These are the triggers that put me into this state, because whatever puts you in your fight or flight or your sympathetic is going to be different than what’s in your freeze or dorsal state. We so we identify what puts us there. And then the third process is, how do I get out of here? How do I move up the ladder. And so one concept that I like is this idea of anchors, finding our ventral vagal anchors, because the concept of having a well regulated nervous system is not that you’re always at the top of your ladder, that’s not realistic, we’re always as human beings, we’re going to be all over the place. But it’s the ability to find your way back to the top. And so by having an anchor into the ventral place of safety, you’re able to dip into sympathetic to take care of a, you know, a microphone buzzing while you’re trying to record a podcast, right? To come back up into eventual right, you need to have an anchor there. So I like the visual of anchor, I’m a very visual learner. So I really like these visuals. If you think about when you throw an anchor over a boat, it doesn’t make the boat standstill, the boat is able to sway. But it always returns back to its it’s where it’s grounded. And so helping clients identify what their anchors are, is where we start. And sometimes that’s hard to do. Sometimes clients feel like they don’t have any anchors. And so it’s what’s really cool about this work is it’s making explicit the work of the the implicit work of the nervous system. And so clients think they don’t have any anchors, but they really do. It’s just we need to really call it out and notice it and so I tell them, you know, anytime that you experience a glimmer. Let’s talk about it. So they email me and they’re like, Hey, I had a bad run today. And instead of telling myself, I’m not going to eat the rest of the day, I went and treated myself to a burger just because right on, like, let’s really make that explicit and be with that moment. Because oftentimes, people are, they want to gloss over the good parts, right? Because they’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. So if we can just sit with a good for just a little bit longer every time then that’s like, super powerful, and that helps build a more resilient nervous system.

Kara 15:36
And I love that Maria, because the paradigm shift to of looking at it through the lens of the nervous system versus what so often the cultural will do around blaming the food for having the digestive problems or looking at the food as the culprit of why am I having this discomfort in my body? Or what is going on with definitely, with my physical sensations with like, irritable bowel syndrome, for example. Right. So right, it’s really getting curious about a whole different system versus blaming. Yeah, if you think about it, diet culture cuts us off from the neck down. Right? It’s so much overthinking. And it’s overly cognitive. And it’s like, what am I doing wrong? Instead of giving credence and trust to our innate ability to solve problems to solve threats and to know what we need? Right, our body wisdom?of our business? Yeah. What is this been like for you personally, like going on this journey professionally? And,you know, you were seeing like, you weren’t feeling good about the work that we’re doing in that clinic and then connecting to this other paradigm shift and this new approach? Well, what did that do for you in your own relationship to food and your relationship to sport?

Maria 16:50
Oh, it honestly, it was just a game changer in every sense of the word, I become so passionate about my job, I can 100% confidently say, I love my work so much. I love my clients so much. I’m so passionate about learning. It’s a shame, because we don’t learn about this stuff in school. And so there’s not that ability to find this passion along the way, like, I wish it would have come earlier. But at the same time, it’s like, you know, we all have find our way eventually, hopefully. But I feel I feel so thankful for my clients teaching me and feeling safe enough with me to say, Oh, I say this isn’t working. Well, something’s missing on, on my end, what can I do? And it’s been amazing. And honestly, once you start looking at things through a polyvagal lens, or from a place of, you know, what’s the threat, where’s the safety, you apply it everywhere in life, and I personally struggle, I’m very open with it with anxiety. So while I don’t have, I’ve never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and I’ve never had extreme disordered eating in my personal life, I do have anxiety and, and I’m able to relate to my clients by having this shared language of, Oh, this is where you go, Well, this is where I go, this is what I feel. And then it’s a we’re able to connect and, and honestly, we all feel something that’s been really cool that I’ve gotten in my practice is having group sessions around this. So we’re able to sit around and be like, Oh, that’s how I feel too. Or, this is where I drop in. And just to be able to, to communicate that and feel less alone. It’s just been Honestly, I love it so much. And I’ve feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. And that’s the release, I have like, like a list of 10 trainings that I want to do. And my husband’s like, I think you should calm down a little bit and let this other stuff marinate a little bit. So I just I feel really grateful that we have the resources nowadays, like podcasts and books and just so much knowledge out there that I was able to find this really key piece of my work.

Kara 19:03
Yeah, I think about your work of really helping guide people to tune into their own wisdom to understand their own bodies, to get dropped from mind into body as they approach food. And I want to get into a little bit the sport world because as athletes, that is also a pretty big paradigm shift to tap into our own body wisdom, both when it comes to food and training. And I and I think you know, the old paradigm is is going you know, using external information to guide training and sport. And so I feel curious about your experience bringing this into the realm of athletics, especially when all levels of athletics and what you’ve noticed, I guess, with with that particular with the community of athletes and introducing this idea and maybe like also pushback you’ve received or I don’t know just what that experience has been like.

Maria 19:59
Yeah, andThe question that I’m I get a lot from coaches actually is a request to how do I talk to athletes about food and nutrition from an intuitive eating lens versus a diet culture lens. And so I was thinking about what is the diet culture lens that athletes here, and if you think about the nutrition, sound bites, they’re simple, they’re straightforward, there’s no guessing needed, it’s black and white. So you can understand the appeal, you can understand, like, why that’s attractive, because we have a million things going on in our life, we just want to be told what to do, we want to be able to do it well. And so again, there’s no blame or shame there, it’s an appealing thing, right to take these simple messages and apply them. The problem is, is that they lose their nuance. And there’s so much nuance there. And it can really trip people up because we become, it’s understood that there’s a right or wrong way of doing things, which is not the case. And so a message that we hear, it’s actually like a multi million dollar franchise is that eat this not that. So, you know, perpetuating this myth that, you know, there’s a right or wrong way of doing things. And so I was thinking about, like, what if we put all that propaganda and coercion behind an intuitive eating message? You know, what would that look like? What would that sound like? You know, it would be a message that is hopefully more positive and promotes a message of food confidence instead of food fear. And so one thing that I tried to do is, make a parent some of these messages that we hear the sound bites that are supposed to be helpful, and how can we skew them to be a more positive language. And, disclaimer, I don’t have a marketing degree, I don’t have a multi million dollar industry backing me up. So these messages are not sexy. They’re not like, cute little sound bites, right? So and that’s where the the struggle lies. And so because it’s hard to fight against that, being able to help people recognize, oh, that’s a message that doesn’t apply to me, I can hear that and not take it as truth. I can see that and be able to shrug it off. Or I can see that and they’re, you know, an Asterix come comes up in my brain. I’m like, oh, but yeah, that’s one part of it. But here’s all the other stuff. So to educate athletes on, okay, that’s one part of it, or that’s not part of it at all. And here’s the full story. Right?

Kara 22:40
And there, it’s so interesting, you say that too, because they’re not sexy. So they’re not appealing, like you said, from a marketing perspective, but they also don’t work. So that’s, I think that’s what actually gets people into being willing to seeing another way. Even if it’s more complicated, and there’s more maybe discouragement of how complicated and nuanced that can be. But at least it might be effective, where I think a lot of times, like in my story, for example, you just see that the sound bites aren’t that work. They they fall short, for from the promise. That was my so for the listeners, Maria gave a talk to some young female runners around the sound bites in nutrition. And I just think it was a brilliant piece of her talk. And I really wanted her to share that on our podcast. So I would love Maria for you to share what some of the sound bites are, because I think it really resonates with athletes. And then what would be kind of the skew message or what would be this other alternative message that you would want to offer? I just, I was so excited when you did that, that I immediately wanted to have you on our podcast and share this with a larger audience.

Maria 23:53
Yeah. Okay, well, Kara, let’s start with something that athletes hear all the time is that food is fuel. And while food certainly is fuel, it’s that reduces food to one function. And so the way we interact with food and the role it plays in our life is way more complex and dynamic than just fueling your body. But for athletes, that’s often the only context that food is talked about. And so what I’m here to say is that food is not just fuel, it’s memories and tradition, and culture and connection and celebration and love. When we widen our perspective about what food means to us, we can have a healthier, more positive and celebrated relationship with food. I know care that you do a lot of work with identity. And so thinking about where does food play a role in your identity, which brings us to the next soundbite, which is you are what to eat and I was Thinking about this you are what you eat, because this has actually been around where it was first used in English and the early 1900s. That’s how long you are what you eat has been around. And it refers to this idea that food controls a person’s health. So if you eat healthy, you’ll be healthy. If you eat unhealthy food, you will be unhealthy. So point blank. That’s that. So my question is, will, and it’s something that I asked my clients, well, what does healthy mean to you? Because oftentimes, our definition, our personal definition of healthy is not what society’s definition of healthy is, it’s not what diet culture, his definition of healthy is. And so if we can really get to the bottom of, you know, what does healthy mean, to me, it helps make it so much clear on what we’re trying to strive for, instead of somebody else’s perception of what healthy means. And so instead of saying, You are what you eat, you are a mix of your feelings and thoughts and talents, your what you feel your your genetics and your environment in your skills. One of my again, a really wise researcher in trauma Bessel Vander kolk, he, his book is phenomenal. One thing that he says is that your zip code more than your genetic code determines whether you’ll lead a safe and happy life. And so what that brings in is the social determinants of health. You know, that gets so little. Yeah, absolutely not like, who talks about that? Who knows what that is, right. And so basically, social determinants of health are conditions in the environment in which people live, work and play, that are, that affects our health and quality of life outcomes. And so these are things that we don’t typically have control over. So access to education, jobs, health care, safe housing, social support, poverty, food security, violence in the home, this place have a much, much bigger role in what determines our health than, say behaviors that are under our control, like food movements, substances, alcohol. Exactly, exactly. And so when we start to learn that, hey, you know, the way I eat isn’t the saving grace, it’s not the end all be all, what I find is that it brings such a sense of awe, just people are finally able to be like, Oh, my gosh, I can, I can let go of the reins a little bit, and I can let myself be a little bit and I don’t have to be such a bully to myself. And so that’s a really powerful, that’s a really powerful thing for a lot of people get puts the, our eating selves in a, like a more rightful place. It’s not just the It’s huge. Yeah, huge, huge, elevated component of experience. Yeah. But you would never know that with the information that’s out there, you know, eat this or get sick. Right? It’s very scary. Yeah.

Kara 28:14
Yeah, especially for the medical community, right. Like the medical community, most of the recommendations are going to be changed the diet, lose weight, or exercise more. That’s really set of all the other pieces that are that are related to what’s happening medically.

Maria 28:29
I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say, Well, I just don’t want to, I don’t want to get diabetes or have a heart attack and just the fear, the fear mongering, and again, that’s not we talked about polyvagal theory, again, we can look at that through that lens. If that threat is there. We’re constantly going to be on high alert and being in a state of, Okay, how do I fix this? How do I prevent this right? And so that that heightened stress response is going to be way more detrimental than just eating? Whatever food is the what’s being worried about. Exactly. So what’s the next soundbite? Alright, so the next soundbite is you are a machine. We athletes are machines, right? Absolutely not. Let’s see, let’s talk about let’s define what a machine is. So a machine typically has one function, there’s no emotion, you don’t think you just do like a robot, right? So obviously, we are human beings that feel things and have experiences and are affected by things. But oftentimes as athletes, especially athletes, who engage in high levels of in a high level of sport, they’re, they think they need to follow or they’re told to follow overly prescriptive diets, that and we’re told that you know, if we follow formulas or calorie calculations, that it’s going to enhance performance and unfortunately,means that athletes are more susceptible to having eating disorders or disordered eating behavior. Because rather than listening to their, their personal needs, they lose touch with that, and they have to rely on rules and external doctrines, what is. And what I found is that this mentality this, oh, my machine, I just have to push through it, I just have to grind it out. It really denies our common humanity. And it makes it harder for people to ask for help when they need it. And it really makes it difficult to cultivate self compassion. My clients are very compassionate people. They’re very kind, they’re very loving, but they have a really hard time turning that compassion inwards, and being able to recognize our humanity. Nope, realizing that we all have struggles, we all have pain, we all have fears we all have needs is so important. And using the language you are a machine denies all of that.

Kara 31:01
Yeah, that’s such a good one. I mean, I, I’m noticing my own energy, just like I felt when you presented this to the athletes have. That’s a really important message to be putting out there. And it goes against, just like you said, so many of these cultural these messages, like the more is better, or I’m trying to think of what other ads have been out there. But so many things around Nike ads I think of and just, yeah, that type of coaching. Yeah.

Maria 31:34
Yeah, you’re praised for, you know, pushing through it for being independent, not asking for help doing things regardless. Right? And And if not, there’s a feeling of shame, or there’s something wrong with me, or why can’t I? Why can’t I do this or push through this. And there’s such an equation where are equating to good performance with that mindset yet, what I found in working with clients, they haven’t even tested out the alternative. So they can be they might be scared to be more attuned to their body or take better care of their body or ask for help. But they haven’t even tested or experimented, if that actually does reduce performance, and the clients that are brave enough to do that, what I found is that it doesn’t have the effect of reducing performance in the way that they were afraid of. And it might even enhance performance. But the fear of doing something different is so great. That often.

Kara 32:28
And that’s just such a shame. Yeah, this idea of letting go. Sounds really scary.

Maria 32:35
And I can’t take credit for saying this. I can’t remember who I forget who said if it was I can’t remember. But I really liked instead of you’re not letting yourself go, you’re letting yourself be. And it’s kind of like again, getting grounded into Oh, I’m all these things will kick in. And when I’m just me again, it’s that it’s that Oh, okay, I’m not giving up. I’m not I just had a group session on acceptance, that was really hard. Because acceptance was equated to giving up and not giving up, I’m, I’m leaning into, this is who I am. And this is what I these are the resources I have to work with. And so again, if we can start changing this language to something that’s more conducive to overall well being it’s just it’s so so powerful. Yeah. So you have you’ve, we’ve gone through three and you actually have 10. So what’s the next one, Maria. Okay. So the next one is a moralization of food. So we hear this language all the time, this food is bad, meaning this food is unhealthy, or this food is good, meaning it’s healthy for you. And so I’m very short on stopping whoever I’m talking to you. I don’t care if it’s like, you know, my grandma, it’s like, stop talking about this. Let’s rewind a bit. And let’s, let’s find a different way to describe this food that you’re talking about. Because whether we realize it or not, when we label food as good, we we internalize that meaning. So if I eat a food that I deem as good, I am good for eating it. And because we are human beings, we eat things that are quote, unquote, bad for us. But if we’ve deemed a food bad, we put that morality on us, and I’m bad for eating. And we hear this language all the time. And what that means is, if I am bad, I must repent. I must make up for this, whether it’s through restriction or over exercising. But I’m here to say that no food is good or bad. There’s no morality tied to it. Nutrition is not all or nothing. Point blank. All foods provide nutrition, I don’t care what it is. Just because of food is less nutrient dense than another. It doesn’t mean it isn’t serving a purpose. So we can take a concrete example like a processed food. There’s so many processes Okay, let’s talk about candy. is sugar bad? Okay, you asked diet culture, you asked the news you ask, you know, your loved one who means well, oh sugars bad, we need to cut that out, right? Okay? Well, if you’re let’s talk about context, context is so important. If you were running, going out for a run or running a marathon and you need energy, that sugar is literally going to keep you alive. It’s going to get you from point A to point B. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this Kara. But I was on a podcast a couple years ago, and I said that I got some pushback because I said, you know, it doesn’t matter. Nutrition doesn’t matter when you’re running it nutrition doesn’t matter. It’s running as getting from point A to point B without pooping your pants. And I got pushback from a lot of people, but then I got, I got like, people love that, that that they wanted to on a shirt sold on this shirt. So that was really cool. Um, so some people are out there wearing like, running is getting from point A to point B without pooping your pants. So meaning, you know, so that’s an example as far as as a sports nutrition example. But food plays so many different roles in our life, right? When we talk about redefining what food means to us, something like sugar could be in a meal that tastes like home. You know, a lot of us are separated from our families during covid 19. I haven’t seen my family since Christmas of 2019. So in order to bring them their presence here with me, I like to make foods that my mom makes and she makes a damn good french toast casserole. Yummy, goodness, gooey thing. And that yes, it’s high in sugar. Yes, it’s not what is is deemed healthy in a diet culture world. But is that healthy for me? You bet it is. Because it feels my soul. It makes me feel connected to my, my mom, my family. And it leaves me feeling good. And there’s no room for guilt or shame in that. And again, if somebody is making you feel guilt or shame, then it’s time to look and be like, how can I set up boundaries here? Because it’s not the casserole you don’t need in your life. It’s that person who’s shaming you.

Kara 37:23
Right? And that’s immediately putting you in your social safety. Probably being home. Right? Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

Maria 37:33
Yeah. So that’s a big one. So that’s a really simple way to start bringing in awareness, you know, oh, I found myself catching my arm saying this is bad. How else can I describe this? You know, what are some descriptors that have nothing to do with nutrition or, or the the connotations that food has, like, let’s use descriptors, let’s use colors. Let’s use textures, right, let’s call food what it is. Let’s not call it a carb fat or protein. Let’s call it pasta and a burrito. You know, let’s call food what it is. So that’s a whole nother rant. Sorry, I’m getting off topic. That’s one that gets on my nerves.

Kara 38:11
Julie church, our nutrition director would say food is food.

Maria 38:15
Food is food.

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. So another something that athletes are, it’s common here. And again, it comes well meaning or well, intention, and especially from coaches or mentors, or even parents is this idea that if if you comment on an athlete’s appearance in a positive way by saying something, for example, like you look fit, right? It’s well intentioned. But instead of saying you look fit, maybe say what that really means, like, oh, you’re ready to go, you’ve put in the hard work, you haven’t missed practice, you’ve showed up by plotting the way someone looks. Not only does that person a disservice, but anybody who’s around listening. So whether that’s weight loss, you know, plotting weight loss for anyone, is reinforcing weight stigma for everybody. And so, it is never a good idea. When in doubt, do not mention body size, one way or the other. There’s way more things that we can point out as qualities and good athletes, right? We don’t need to mention their body size, because the person can interpret that as, Oh, I have to, I have to look a certain way to be fast. Not only does that athlete receiving a compliment, hear that, but the teammates hear that. And so it just, you know, there’s no reason to use it. There’s no reason to use it. So instead, really use concrete examples. Oh, you’ve, you know, you’ve been so dedicated that workout that you did last Tuesday was so great. Um, you’ve stayed injury free, you’ve taken care of yourself and those behaviors are not any outcome, but the

behaviors that are positive or to be praised.

Kara 40:03
Right? I’m so glad you’re bringing that one in. Because I think that comment is very rampant and especially the distance running community. And like you said, I do think it has the intense could be well meaning, but the impact can have a lot of harm. And it just it reinforces this, this idea that if you are doing those behaviors and to and taking good care of yourself and training well, that somehow your body would result in a particular way. And that’s just not the case. people’s bodies responds differently to training in their aesthetic. So it’s a myth that’s getting reinforced, that’s just yet very problematic. That’s a good one.

Unknown Speaker 40:39
Yeah. And it changes as we get older, right? Especially as women, we’re working with a different body every decade of our life. And so how many times do you hear a woman in their 40s or 50s, trying to compare their ability to when they’re in their 20s or 30s? Oh, I was able to, I was a machine when I was in my 20s and 30s. And I was able to do you know, do all these things and it’s not again, honoring, you know, where am I now? And you were good enough,

Maria 41:06
then you’re good enough.

Now. It’s, it’s that leaning and acceptance piece that is really challenging, but I don’t don’t think it needs to be that challenging. If these messages weren’t put out there in the first place,

Kara 41:18
right? Hey, what’s your next one?

Maria 41:20
Okay. So the next one is this idea that you’ve earned it, you run Well, you’ve put in the work, it’s your birthday, whatever it is, you’ve earned it. So instead of saying you’ve earned it, it’s your always deserving. You never have to earn your food, or your rest, for that matter. As an athlete, eating is a fundamental need, just like going to the bathroom, right, you’ve earned the right to eat just by being a living, breathing, sentient human being just period.

Kara 41:55
Yep, we have a didactic group where we talk about that, because so many people have the myth that what we bring in, or the nutrition that we take care of ourselves with. So much of that is used through our movement, when actually it’s a very small percentage that’s used for our movement, so much of our nutrition need is just in being a human that’s alive, stay alive, absolutely. Not.

Maria 42:22
Even if you were standing perfectly still think about your organs, your your heart means energy to pump 24 seven your lungs to breathe, your kidneys, your your liver, your metabolic organs are extremely active. And so it doesn’t matter. If we just sat in this chair and only moved our eyes back and forth, we would still need a significant amount of food every single day just to keep this operation going. So you can imagine how much more you need, if we’re doing purposeful movement. And we’re asking a lot of our bodies, right.

Kara 43:00
And I think that’s even like really important for the athlete who’s injured, injured, we need more nutrition, even if we’re not again, moving, intentionally moving our bodies. Right, we still need a lot of food

Maria 43:14
100%. And that’s why I so love, intuitive eating because it doesn’t matter, athlete or not, it does not matter. It doesn’t matter what stage you are in life, it doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or not scenting an active person, it does not matter. Because it’s just these this is these are my needs today, it’s going to be different tomorrow, it’s going to be different than next day, it does not matter. And it’s just so it’s really empowering that you don’t have to think that much about it. Because you just want to start just being so in tune and to those cues, if you just address them just as you would Oh, I have to go to the bathroom. I go to the bathroom. I come back. I don’t think about it until I have to go the bathroom again. And it should be that’s how much do is taken away. Yes,

Kara 43:58
yes. Fluid with changes. Okay, what’s the next one?

Maria 44:04
Okay, so the next one is I couldn’t think of a proper soundbite that we hear, per se but something of this concept of counting your macros is everywhere, like how many macros Do I need and what this does is again, it produces food to just carbohydrates, fat and protein. When again, you’re like, missing the rest of the cast, right you have your vitamins and your minerals and your you have all these like, again, so much nuance is missed. And so rather than counting your macros or focusing on these, again, these really popular, easy things to talk about in magazines, or, or diet culture, is saying food is greater than the sum of its parts. This is what what’s often referred to as reductionist nutrition or Nutritionism when food gets reduced to grams of protein. tene fat or carbs, carbohydrates, and it neglects to acknowledge other roles of nutrients and their synergistic relationships. So, in other words, how they work together. And so people can get so hung up on am I eating enough protein? am I eating enough protein? Well, let’s stop discussing nutrients outside of the context of food. Because that does a big disservice. And just this hyper awareness of, you know, kind of a hierarchy of nutrients. This one’s better than this one, and it kind of pits nutrients against each other, when really, they need all pieces to work together. And so I just, I’m just such a, that’s one thing I really hate, to be totally honest. The whole idea of macro counting, and that that’s even a thing. I feel like that’s been so frustrating.

Kara 45:48
I remember in the talk with the athletes, you gave the cake metaphor. It.

Maria 45:53
Yeah. So yes.

It applies to everything. So oftentimes, you know, people want nutrition information, they want to, you know, how many macros Do I need of, you know, this or that, or when I’m doing this, when we need to look at the foundation first and see, am I eating enough? am I eating in a reliable way? Am I skipping meals? Am I ignoring my body? When I’m hungry? am I eating past the point of comfortable fullness? By saying, Oh, I need to count my macros, or I need to take supplements and this and that. It’s like decorating the cake or putting the icing on the cake before we’ve even baked the cake. Like, we need to have a solid cake with a firm foundation. Because if not, when we put the icing on the cake, it’s just, it’s just gonna fall off. Right? And so going back to the basics, which again, is not a sexy message, that’s not going to get me Instagram followers or a book deal or a TV appearance, right? So going back to the basics, even though it’s not what people typically want to hear.

Kara 47:01
I would want to put you on a TV show.

message to me.

Unknown Speaker 47:10
My daughter, she said the other day, she’s like, I think the best Speaker I ever heard was Maria. Thank you,

Maria 47:23
Amy, thank you.

Kara 47:27
What do we have left? What’s

Maria 47:28

Kara 47:29
All right.

Maria 47:30
One thing that I feel, especially from, from a parent’s perspective, or again, somebody who is taking care of being the guardian of a younger person, or even even just yourself, asking the question, What are you eating instead of saying, What are you eating again, getting caught up in piggybacks nicely off of talking about counting our macros? Instead of asking, What are you eating? saying? How are you eating? So taking a step back and saying, Are you skipping meals? Do you have access to food? Are you responding to hunger, watching for abnormal eating behaviors. And what I mean by that is eating with funerals, when maybe you didn’t typically eat with food rules, excluding things from your diet, when there’s no medical necessity, feeling stressed, or anxious or preoccupied with food or feeling guilt or shame around eating, I think it’s important to bring up the impact that COVID-19 has had from a social and mental health perspective, we’re not getting the same amount of social interaction, human touch and our routines have been disrupted. So how does this affect our relationship with food? are we reaching for food for comfort? Oftentimes, that’s looked at as a negative thing. But again, going back to, we can look at it from the polyvagal lens of this is what I need to feel safe right now. This is our body coping, and oftentimes that gets shamed or vilified. How does the pandemic affect access to food, or loss of appetite due to stress? One thing that I felt at the beginning of the pandemic, do you remember when people were, you know, we didn’t know anything about it. And so we were going to the grocery store, and just buying tons of toilet paper, paper towels and in food. And so oftentimes that food abundance can create a lot of anxiety in people and how they approach food. And at the same time, food scarcity. I’m scared of food scarcity, so I have to buy a lot of it, but then that food abundance, and so that can cause some uncomfortableness to how we how we approach eating and how we approach food. And I think it’s also important to notice that along with, you know, we’re not getting the same amount of interaction. People who already are struggling with their relationship with food, might not be getting the care that they need right now because The services might not be available, because in person sessions aren’t available, because there are no virtual sessions offered. And so just, you know, I’ve got a lot of compassion to those who feel like they’re struggling alone right now, because that’s really hard.

Kara 50:16
For sure.

Maria 50:19
Okay, so one thing that we hear a lot is the idea that food is medicine. And I think it was, who was it was a Hippocrates that said, Let food be your medicine, medicine be your food was Hippocrates. I don’t remember. I think it was, I think I don’t know, it could be someone can correct us if we’re wrong. But food is not a substitute for medicine. This rhetoric can inadvertently put people off from seeking medical treatment treatment by creating a culture of shame around prescription medications. And the other thing is that it can propagate the fallacy that there’s this thing as eating perfectly. If I eat perfect, then I will live forever. I mean, that sounds like extreme. But that’s essentially the message of diet culture. If I eat perfectly, I won’t die. And that sounds extreme, but that’s what it is. It’s playing to that fear of death. But if I do this, if I do this, I can avoid all that, or I don’t have to be in pain, or I won’t get diabetes or heart disease. But the belief that food is medicine will almost inevitably turn eating into an entirely joyless process, because it leads to an unhealthy obsession, rule following. It can cause demonization of some foods and canonization of other foods. And so it almost always results in a very restrictive eating pattern, which could result in an eating disorder, which is not is I know, not the intention. But that’s what happens. Yeah, so food is food. Medicine is medicine. You know, food cannot replace essential medications. So don’t stop taking medications, just because a health guru on Instagram with a millions of followers told you so. Right. I love that. Okay. All right. This is the last one. All right. Last, but certainly not least, this idea that every meal, or every day needs to be balanced. First of all, I don’t even really know what balanced means. So when people ask me, like, how do I balance things? Like, I don’t know, the I don’t know the answer to a lot of my questions. What do I eat to fuel my run? I don’t know. What do I need to be balanced? I don’t know, what do you currently doing, right? But this idea of balance of what I’m going to say is getting all of your needs met happens over time, it doesn’t happen within a 24 hour framework, which is often what we’re told, our body doesn’t reset magically, once the clock strikes midnight, it’s not okay, I have to start counting my five a day. Now. Now that it’s midnight, I need to start over. So you can think of eating like training in that it has an accumulative effect. And it’s consistency over time, having a small scope of what balance means can again lead to that anxiety or preoccupation with food. An example I can give is I had a client that he would wake up in the morning, and immediately his day would be like, Okay, I have this food, how do I fit all the puzzle pieces in, and it’s trying to make everything fit perfectly to be able to get all the things that he needs in and it causes so much stress that just got so overwhelmed. And again, we can look at our ladder that we talked about the beginning that it was this a fight or flight? Oh no, how do I get all this in that it became so overwhelming, that he just went into a state of collapse? Well, then I’m not gonna eat anything. This is just too much right now, I cannot handle this. And so rest assured, if you’re giving yourself permission to eat foods on a consistent and reliable basis, you will get your needs met.

Kara 54:13
Yet such a place where I think perfectionism can be hidden at the end and in the good name of balance, like isn’t balanced, healthy. But then that could be another central piece of well, how will I be perfectly balanced? And like you said it in a small snippet of time that goes to this idea that we are machines because who can be perfectly balanced, right? I mean, that’s that is a total. Yeah.

Maria 54:40
I love that you said that question or the answer to who can be perfectly balanced is nobody no one. And so let’s correct that one by saying instead of practice makes perfect. Practice makes good enough. How can I eat in a good enough way? Yes. If I Okay, I’m really busy and I come home and all I have is this processed meal, I don’t have time or energy to prepare a home cooked meal. Well, so and so said that in order to eat healthy, I have to make all my meals from scratch. Well, if the option is to eat a processed meal or eat nothing at all, you’re much better eating the processed meal that is good enough, we are robust creatures, your body is going to get nutrition from that. And eating that and moving on. Again, it’s all about survival and in that mode, that’s that’s how we survive. That’s how we survive in a world that is complicated and messy. And so just to have this unrealistic idea of perfection, we’re always going to fall short, we’re always going to walk away disappointed. And so if we can let that idea go, it brings so much peace to your life,

Kara 55:57
and even just a name in this moment. Oftentimes, our clients will put us on pedestals pedestals thinking that we have the perfectly balanced life, right, and here we can both say that that again, is a myth.

Maria 56:11
Yeah, honestly, the pandemic, if you some people got like, really creative and like started cooking in the kitchen, I went total opposite. I’ve been going to the grocery aisle and getting frozen meals, and like making frozen meals at night. And honestly, I don’t, I do not care about cooking. Right now I have there’s no bone in my body that wants to I don’t feel creative. I don’t want to be walking around the grocery store. And that’s just, that’s where I am right now. Maybe it’ll come back. Maybe my zest for cooking creativity will come back. And you know, when it does? It does? If not, you know, I’m not gonna worry about it.

Kara 56:44
Yeah, exactly. This is awesome. Maria, is there anything else that you want to make sure we have on this that we haven’t?

Maria 56:51
Oh, my goodness, I’ll probably think of something at 2am. But as of right now, I think we did a pretty good job of covering a lot of good stuff. We could go on for quite a while talking about

Kara 57:04
your your passion and love of your work is so apparent. It comes through in the way that you talk and your your energy. And I just feel just very excited to have our listeners be able to hear from you and hear your the specificity of what you’re bringing. So I’m just I’m thrilled that we got to do this interview today.

Maria 57:24
Thank you so much. It means a lot Kara. Thank you.

Kara 57:27
I guess maybe to just asking the question, how can people find you?

Maria 57:31
Okay, great. Thank you for asking that people can find me, the easiest place to go is my website, which is just Maria del.my, full name, rd, which stands for registered dietitian.com and social media as attached to that, which I’m probably biggest on Instagram, or more active, most active on Instagram. But I also have a contact page where people can reach me. And one of my biggest values as a practitioner is communication. And so if you try to reach out to me, I try to get back to you very quickly. Because that’s something that’s really important to me. So if you don’t hear from me, that means I didn’t get your message because I’m usually really quick to respond. Awesome.

Kara 58:14
Well, I hope that you as listeners enjoyed this as much as I did in looking at this paradigm shift for everyone, including our listeners who identify as athletes have been able to have some ideas or tools or thoughts of what does it look like to tune into our bodies tune in to our wisdom, approach things with more complexity. And even if it’s not as sexy, I would love to just again reiterate that it can be much more effective and bring a lot more of liberation in our lives and freedom in relationship to food and movement and our relationship with our bodies. So if you are interested in opal and you would like to learn more, please visit us at www dot opl food and body calm. And thanks to David bazi for editing. Aaron Davison for the appetites, original music and Camille Dodson for administrative support. See you next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai