How do I know if I need to see a Nutritionist?

PLate with a knife and fork and a sad face drawn on it. pink background

When people think about hiring a Nutritionist they may often be thinking about wanting to change and improve WHAT they eat and this is certainly something I can help with, but there can be lots of other signs that you may not think about that could indicate a Nutritionist will be a really good investment for you, and a lot of these relate to WHY you eat the way you eat. 

Understanding this can be the key to changing WHAT you eat, but this is often overlooked, even by some Nutritionists themselves, and people rush into the WHAT but can’t change it as they haven’t resolved the driving forces which are WHY they are driven to eat in the way they do.

We are going to explore some of these signs and behaviours to help you consider some of the less obvious signs that a Nutritionist can help you.

Restrict, Spree, Guilt, Restrict

This cycle is so common and often people are not even aware that they are stuck in it!

Do you restrict certain foods, or restrict yourself to a certain amount of calories, telling yourself ‘I’m not allowed that food’.

Then you find yourself constantly thinking about that food, feeling hungry or restricted and never feeling satisfied with your food choices.

Maybe you feel you want to rebel against the restriction?

Either way, there is only so long before you can’t resist the food any longer and you eat it.  You often end up overeating because it has been so long since you had the food and you have promised yourself, ‘it’s only this once’ and so you don’t know when you will get to eat this again and therefore you have to make the most of it.

The restricted food becomes the forbidden fruit, the more you are not allowed it, the more you want it- it therefore feels like it has power over you.

After you eat the food, you feel guilt, regret and maybe even shame.  You tell yourself something like ‘I knew I couldn’t be trusted around that food’ or ‘this is all too hard I give up’ or decide the only way forward is to restrict yourself again.

Once restricted, the cycle starts again, but each time you ‘give in’ you feel less confident around food and more critical of yourself and over time this is eating away at your relationship with food.

A nutritionist can help you break this cycle so that you can be free to eat without rules and restrictions and stop feeling stuck in this exhausting all or nothing approach.

I can’t have that food in the house

So often people tell me they can’t have a certain food, like chocolate, in the house because ‘if I do I will eat the whole lot’.

This self-limiting belief often stems from those who have done lots of diets in the past and due to using external cues to tell them what and how much to eat and what they are not allowed to eat, that they have lost trust in themselves to be able to manage their own food choices.

This lack of trust can often be linked to the above cycle too.  If you overly restrict yourself of chocolate and then overeat it when you finally can’t resist any longer, then this gives you evidence that this thought that you can’t be near chocolate must be true, when in fact, it is not you that is the problem, but the restriction itself!

Foods are Good or Bad

Do you label foods as good or bad?

Salad is good

Cake is bad

By adding morality to foods, you are often inadvertently judging yourself due to the foods that you eat.  ‘I am bad for eating that cake’- this will link into your lack of trust around foods that could drive the thoughts above, but will also lead you to feel guilt for eating certain foods that you actually enjoy.

You can only feel guilt if you have done something wrong- it is not wrong to eat cake.

It’s the same with salad- if we eat it in the right amounts, it can be a great choice as part of a balanced diet, but if we only ate salad, we will not feel good and this would not be a healthy food choice. 

Cheat days

Do you ever say ‘I’m being naughty today’, ‘I have to burn it to earn it’ or ‘I’m being good today’

If foods are good or bad then you have to be good to ‘earn the food’ or ‘cheat’ to eat the bad ones.

When you have a cheat day, who are you cheating?

If the food was no longer seen as a bad food, could you just eat this without having to feel you have committed a crime that no-one must ever find out about- you only ate a chocolate bar!

They say you can never win if you cheat, and I think this is worth listening to- bin the cheat days and start winning at life!

The F**k it effect

Do you ever have a biscuit and then think f**k it- I may as well eat the whole lot now.  This is a really common way of thinking and most likely is linked to your belief that the biscuit is a ‘bad’ food’, so now you have broken the rules, eaten a bad food, you are bad/naughty for doing that and now there is no point in stopping as you have already messed up anyway.

This will then feed into your belief that you can’t be trusted around that food, which may lead you to restrict and well- you can see how one thing leads to another here!

The Self Critic

‘I knew you couldn’t be trusted’

‘This is too hard- you can’t do this’

‘You are lazy’

‘You are so greedy’

‘Why can’t you just have more willpower’

I could go on- recognise any of these thoughts.  Well, it is really common in those struggling to improve the way they eat to be their own worst self-critic.  This is something I am often working with people on in clinic as self-criticism is a self-defeating coping strategy that keeps people feeling stuck.

Think about it, if you had a teacher that just criticised and judged you all the time, you wouldn’t likely learn much or stick around to find out more- so why is this any different when it comes to learning how to change and improve yourself and the way you eat?

If you are a self-critic, you may well be comparing yourself to others a lot which leads you to never feeling good enough and having higher expectations of yourself than you do of others.  When expectations aren’t realistic, we are setting ourselves up for failure. 

When we are constantly berating ourselves it is not uncommon to look for comfort for relief from this and food can be a common place to try and find it, but with that critical voice, you can then be quickly drawn into punishing yourself for ‘messing up’ the diet and then falling back into the restrict, spree, guilt, restrict cycle again.

I’ll just have the salad

Do you often choose what you think is the lowest in calories, rather than what you really want?

This can backfire for several reasons.

1. Calories don’t always equate to the healthiest!

2. Food choices need to help us to feel full AND satisfied.  If you walk away still wanting more, you are likely to keep thinking about food and grabbing at other foods and probably end up eating more calories than if you just ate the food you wanted in the first place.

A nutritionist can help you to understand how to move away from this and understand how to build a balanced healthy meal without counting the calories or macros. 

Eating your emotions

A lot of the women I work with describe that they ‘eat all their emotions’.  If this is you too, you are certainly not alone.  It is actually really normal to eat for comfort and we do not need to completely remove comfort eating.  Food can evoke memories, warmth, connection, celebration and pleasure and this is the joy of eating.  However, if you regularly turn to food to manage your emotions and you don’t have any other ways to do this, then it can become problematic and ineffective.

There may a reluctance to face certain feelings and food helps you to distract from that, or maybe the food gives you a temporary release from the uncomfortable feeling and this gives you a moment of comfort, it’s understandable why people would do this.

The problem is it is only ever a sticking plaster and the wound is soon exposed again and so you have to get more food to get the same effect and so that cycle can continue- throw in the self-critic who probably has something to say about that and you then feel guilt, shame and like you can’t be trusted around food.

A nutritionist trained in the area of emotional eating can help you to find other strategies to manage those emotions, so you are able to meet your needs without turning to food.

I should…

Do you often hear yourself saying I should….

I should eat less biscuits

I should exercise more

I should do that diet that everyone in the office is doing

Well, if this is you, perhaps this is another sign that a Nutritionist could help you.  When we say we should we are looking at what others are doing or what others are saying, rather than what we need and want to do.

There is a common phrase in my world that ‘No-one likes to be should on’.

If you are ‘shoulding’ on yourself, it may be time to get help, support and clarity with your values and goals so you can say “I want to…’

You may think you are not maintaining changes because you have no willpower, but it is probably more to do with not having the right goal!

I am sick of thinking about food all the time

Do you constantly think about food?

Are you worried about each food choice?

Do you feel you have no brain space to think about the things that are important to you?

It’s exhausting, isn’t it!

Well, it doesn’t have to that way.  Again, this can be a sign that perhaps you are not eating enough or overly restricting yourself and this means the brain gets preoccupied with food because of it.

If there are lots of rules to follow- this many points, that many calories, make sure you hit your macros, don’t eat the bad foods…., then you have a lot of pressure to get your food choices ‘right’ and you will feel a failure if you ‘mess it up’.

The more rules and restrictions we place on ourselves, the more likely we will be clogging up our brain space with thoughts of food and this can lead to people losing the pleasure of eating- food becomes a chore and something to fear, rather than something to fuel, nourish and bring joy. 

Imagine a life where you are free to think about other things than just your next food choice- what else could you be doing that can bring far more purpose and enjoyment to your life?!

Working with a nutritionist to gently remove these rules and add more flexibility to the way that you eat means you can adapt depending on what is happening in your life, but still achieve the healthy diet you want.

The Diet Hangover

Here are some signs that you are suffering with a diet hangover:

  • You’re only measure of success with diet and lifestyle changes is your weight/dress size
  • You are trying to lose weight at the sacrifice of your own happiness and of other areas of your life such as meals out with friends
  • You see foods as calories rather than foods and feel fearful of high calorie foods
  • You feel guilt if you miss a workout and think of workouts as a way to burn calories or ‘earn food’
  • Worrying about every food choice / feeling guilty and thinking that one meal that wasn’t healthy is ‘falling off the wagon’

A properly trained Nutritionist can help to ‘cure’ this hangover so that you are not hung up on diet mentality as this can often be the thing that is holding us back.

The menopause melee

The menopause is a transition stage in a woman’s life, and this means we can change and feel different in ourselves and in our bodies.  Some of the symptoms of menopause such as brain fog and mood changes can affect your confidence and make you feel that you are not good enough and that you should be coping better, and this can add to your stress and often means you turn to food to help to manage your emotions.

There are specific things that are important to nutrition in relation to this life stage, and a nutritionist can help you to understand this, but I have recognised that often women in menopause need support with more than just the practical side of eating to find acceptance with the changes they are experiencing, they are fed up with beating themselves up and want to be empowered to be able to support themselves and feel their best.

So, this list is not exhaustive, but hopefully gives you some ideas of signs and symptoms that a nutritionist may be just what you need.

If you recognise any (or all!) of these signs, then why not get in touch!

N.B: not all nutritionists are trained in behaviour change, emotional eating, body image and compassion and so ensure your Nutritionist is Registered with the Association for Nutrition (AfN) and has the appropriate qualifications and experience if you are struggling with the issues described in the blog to make sure you get the appropriate support. 

Disclaimer.  This is general information and is not meant to be individual advice.  If you are struggling with your nutrition or relationship with food and want further support with this then please ask for professional help from a Dietitian or a Registered AfN Nutritionist.