I am a nutritional epidemiologist. Although this sounds complicated, it's not. I study the way diet leads to or prevents disease. I love examining what people eat and trying to determine how our diets are more similar than they are different. Those similarities can help identify if there are foods and eating patterns that can lead to a longer healthier life. The tricky part is identifying what people eat.
It has harder than you might think to quantify what a person eats in a day. People sometimes have trouble remembering what they eat. Sadly some people are ashamed of what they eat and don't want to provide a full picture of what they have eaten. People even change what they normally eat if they are trying to lose weight or they are celebrating a holiday or major event. All of these things together make it challenging to study what a person actually eats. But I love it! I read constantly to try to understand trends in eating patterns from a social, popular, and scientific perspective. Beyond scientific articles, I read diet books that are current bestsellers, blogs describing a new diet trend, and conduct regular dietary interviews with people in a variety of settings. All of these pieces of evidence help me piece together and better understand modern dietary data.
An occupational hazard for me is that colleagues always what to know what I am eating. Keep in mind I don't work with many other nutrition scientists. I work mostly with disease experts who are interested in applying the tools of my trade to their own field (heart disease, stroke, cancer, dementia, etc). When I go to scientific meetings (full of doctors, nurses and other scientists also trained in the health field), people will stare at my plate. Commonly co-workers will ask me not to judge them or say "we shouldn't order that with Suzanne here". The truth is I don't judge food, I study it. Since I don't judge food myself, the constant judging by others of my own diet drives me a bit crazy. It is a good thing I got teenage eating disorders in check because the constant scrutiny of my diet by highly educated colleagues makes me feel like I have to perform at every meal.
Even when I am not eating with colleagues, people will ask me "What diet do you follow?" or "What are you eating these days?". Although my favorite meals do change quite regularly, my overall diet doesn't change much at all. I eat very little meat (I don't like the taste, well other than bacon) and try to eat as many fruits and vegetables in a day as I can. I avoid processed food when I can but have been known to eat boxed macaroni and cheese when I am hungry. My primary goals with my diet are to be full, to avoid regularly consuming foods that have been linked to heart disease or cancer, and to not gain too much weight.
Luckily, I have been fairly successful since I lost the weight I gained after having my son 10 years ago. I basically lose and gain the same 7 pounds over and over again. I love losing the weight as much as I love gaining it back. When I get up to my top end on the scale (which I rarely actually check on the scale), I cut back on the amount of food I am eating. I might do a 16 or 24 hour fast 2-3 days per week. I might just try to eat less each day. For me, I found that when I gave myself permission to just be content, my own diet became much easier.
I know that is a generally very boring statement but don't worry, in future posts, I will tell you whatever "crazy" thing I am doing in my diet. My own dietary practices don't sound crazy to me but as I have shared above, many colleagues think I am a little goofy when it comes to my diet. I love green smoothies with pulverized kale, spinach, or mixed greens but some people do find this a bit strange. Throughout the nutrition section of this blog, I will discuss the intersection of nutrition science and personal nutrition. Hopefully I can prove that eating healthy can be fun, easy and a little adventurous! As my nephew likes to say bon appetit, you may eat!