I have a friend that I have weekly phone dates with. She lives a few states away and she is a health care practitioner, like me, so our weekly dates ensure that we actually talk to each other at least once per month. Today’s call was shorter than usual because she called after having passed security at the Denver airport, and talked with me until she had to board her flight. During our talk, I listened as she navigated her way through an unfamiliar airport and debated on a purchase of breakfast/lunch to tide her over until she landed at her destination in a few hours. While she debated, we talked about how things were going in our lives and got to catch up a little, but the reality of her navigating the minutia of travel limited our quality of conversation. This is our pattern, and not something I think either of us is worried about. We have another phone date next week, and will likely be able to have a better quality conversation, then.
After hanging up with her, however, I realized that listening to her experience of trying to decide what to buy to feed herself was an excellent example of the skills that I want my patients to have by the time they are ready for me to transition them to maintenance care (When they are no longer under active care and are, instead, at a stable level of health and wellness that we seek to maintain with check-ins every 6-12 months).
The conversation with my friend went something like this:
Friend: “I need to get something to eat. This little airport store has limited options. They only have one green juice in the whole place?! Well, maybe I could get a cereal bowl. No, those are $3.50! Lunchables are the same price. Maybe that would be better. But I don’t want to eat the cheese, and wasted food bothers me, so maybe not. Also, I liked these as a kid, but think that may not be true now. Oh, there are nuts. Do you think peanuts or cashews would be better?”
Me: “I would say cashews have better nutritional value.”
Friend: “Yes, but they only have honey roasted cashews. The ingredients include corn syrup and peanut oil. Plus they are twice the price of the peanuts.”
Me: “Oh, well, in that case, the peanuts might be a better use of your money.”
Friend: “There is dried fruit, too. It’s $10!”
She ended up deciding to just buy the green juice and to prioritize eating as soon as she landed.
This situation is not unique. We all encounter this sort of thing in different ways, every day. How much money do I have to spend on food? What sort of food do I need right now? Do I need more fat? More protein? Are there any allergens I need to avoid? Will I like the taste of that? If I can’t find anything that works for me, can I tolerate waiting another few hours to eat? If I wait to eat, will I be able to accomplish the other tasks I had planned to do in the mean time?
Thinking through all these questions and coming to a decision that feels like the right one is mentally taxing. Added to that, you are likely in need of food during the decision making process, and your brain is using up all your available glucose to allow you to think through all these options. For some people, this process, alone, would be enough to make it necessary to choose SOMETHING to eat, because you have now used up all your fuel in thinking about this and will have an energetic or emotional crash if you wait another few hours to eat.
So, let’s assume that you are someone who is working on keeping your inflammation level to a minimum, have a desire to avoid processed foods, and have been unable to plan to have a snack with you when you are in the midst of travel. In an airport general store, your options are already limited. Maybe you get lucky and they sell apples or bananas. They won’t be organic, but at least they’re a whole food. If you need some protein, you might be stuck with beef jerky or nuts. At that point, you need to decide: how many chemicals, and of what kind, do you want to expose yourself to, in exchange for getting the fuel that you need right now?
This is the ultimate real-world scenario that I want my patients to be able to navigate. The best outcome is one in which they feel they did their best to feed their body, while minimizing stress on the body AND minimizing mental and emotional stress on themselves for knowing that what they are going to eat is not the best thing for them, but IS the best thing they have available, right now.
And once you’ve made your purchase; once you’ve decided that, for you, the salted peanuts are your best option, I want you to fully enjoy and experience the taste and texture and scent of snacking on those peanuts. I don’t want you to feel bad or guilty or like you have failed. I want you to LOVE eating those peanuts and appreciate the fuel they are giving you. And I also want you to consider the fact that you successfully navigated a tricky situation in the best way you could.
And then I want you to eat a REALLY healthy meal at the very next opportunity.
This is real life. These are the little hurdles we all face in our path to health, each day. Our office strives to help people learn how to jump these hurdles with minimal fuss so that they can go on living their best life. THAT is the point of what we do and THAT is the reason I became a doctor in the first place.