I love nutrition. I love learning about nutrition, talking and teaching about nutrition, practicing different nutritional strategies . . . I guess you could say it’s a passion of mine. So, when I sat down to watch this week’s new Mindy Project on Hulu (yup, guilty pleasure!), I was pretty excited that the episode was titled “Danny Castellano Is My Nutritionist.”
Oh yay, an episode about nutrition!
But as the episode played, my geeky nutritionist bubble was burst by line after line of what the heck are they talking about? Was I expecting quality nutrition advice from a sitcom? No way! But what I got was a pretty big slap in the face as to how negatively many people still view healthy eating. Takes these three scenarios from the episode for example:
Danny serves Mindy a healthy bowl of steel cut oats for breakfast.
Let me preface by saying, I love oatmeal! I eat oats for breakfast almost every morning. Maybe I’m biased. But Mindy’s reaction? “What the hell is that? I’m expected to eat this?” She continues, “it is 9 a.m. on a Sunday. I need eggs, I need waffles, I need 4 kinds of pig’s meat . . . ”
The problem here? All the sudden oatmeal is portrayed as a bland, boring health food that is most certainly not suitable for a nice Sunday breakfast. Furthermore, foods like eggs, waffles, and pork are deemed nutritionally inferior and given a “bad food” stigma.
In reality, eggs are packed with protein and nutrients, and are one of the best foods to have for breakfast. And can you make waffles healthy? Absolutely! Whole wheat waffles topped with fresh fruit, maybe some peanut butter? I’m sold!
Danny prepares a healthy lunch for Mindy of chicken, brown rice, and greens.
Again, Mindy isn’t so thrilled with this food: “What’s with this green crud? Where’s my dessert?” To which Danny responds with a page of jokes, suggesting Mindy ought to read them to take her mind off of being hungry for dessert after her meal.
My biggest issue with this scene? Deprivation does not equal health. Furthermore, quality nutrition does not have to be plain chicken and rice (unless you love chicken and rice!), and should certainly not leave you feeling hungry and in search of distractions to keep from eating more. A healthy diet should be well-rounded in nutrition, appeal to your senses, and leave you feeling satisfied after eating, as well as energized (or just generally well) in your day-to-day life.
Mindy is stressed by work and under question from her co-workers as to why she isn’t eating a colleague’s birthday cake, and so she “caves” and stuffs her face with cake, only to be caught and shamed by Danny.
A disappointed Danny states, “you have no willpower Mindy, no willpower.”
Let me be clear. Diets and nutritional strategies that rely on willpower for effectiveness do not work! Why? Relying on willpower is essentially “muscling” your way through tasks that are very difficult and emotionally draining. The mental and emotional energy that it takes to flex this willpower muscle is finite, and it runs out relatively quickly for many of us. Blaming perceived failure of a diet on lack of willpower is like blaming not being able to hold your breath for 2 minutes on lack of willpower. Maybe this could be done with training and practice, but for most of us, even if we wanted to, our capacity to hold our breath runs out short of 2 minutes. For nutrition and health, a much better strategy is to make relatively small changes, practicing them until they become habit and require little thought or effort, and then moving on to the next.
It would be silly to believe that this sitcom was written to give sound nutritional advice. And while I recognize that the scenes discussed were likely exaggerated for comedic effect, the episode is still a testament as to how pop culture works to perpetuate some of the perceived “cons” of healthy eating. Feeling deprived, having to eat “boring” food, missing out on special occasions, and taking an “all or none” approach to nutrition are issues I hear my clients frequently use as reasons for not eating more healthfully. But the truth is, eating well and nourishing your body does not involve ANY of these! Maybe next time Danny Castellano decides to be a nutritionist, he will advise on finding delicious, satisfying food choices and incorporating balance into nutrition, but until then, I certainly wouldn’t hire him as my nutritionist!