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A Receipt That Shows All Your Macros, Calories and Gives Health Advice – Brilliant or Frightening? [What I'm Eating These

Posted Jun 05 2013 2:01am


Jelly Bean’s signature “disapproving” face – made even better by the fact that she is wearing her underpants on her head. This is what happens when you keep little kids in the car too long…

There was a time when this would have been my ultimate health-nut-on-a-mission dream. Ladies and Gents, meet Nutricate:


Why yes I did blur out the calorie totals! Don’t even think about comparing. It ends nowhere good. Trust me.  

It’s a restaurant receipt (in this case from an amazingly awesome eatery called ModMarket). But not only does it tell you how much money it will be deducting from your overworn Visa (holy CRAP moving is expensive!), it also breaks down everything you order telling you grams of fat, carbs and protein along with total calories and percentages of your daily allowance. Even more, it offers healthy bon mots and little bits of advice. The whole 16-inch receipt was packed with interesting info. Nutrition + Educate = Nutricate… Get it?

I got it, all right. In fact, I got it so well that I couldn’t stop thinking about it through my entire meal. I don’t know if these are common in other places but I had never seen one in print before. I’d heard of this technology but this was my first time watching it in action. It gave me very mixed feelings. (Unlike my dinner which was perfectly delicious and made me feel awesome.)

Several years ago this really would have fulfilled my fondest dieting dream. I dreamed of just being able to walk into a restaurant and order healthy food, knowing exactly what I was getting.

So why wasn’t I jumping up and down with joy? Because it was a dream that I actually spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about because that was back in my calorie-counting days – which quickly spiraled into macronutrient accounting, activity graphing and road-tripping to OCD land, first stop EDville days. I remember spending a crazy amount of time looking up each menu item on a restaurant’s online menu, trying to guess the likely ingredients, looking them all up online, totaling them, breaking them out by macro and finally deciding – based purely on mathematics and nothing on taste – what I would eat at said restaurant. Heaven help you if you tried to surprise me (commence mental calculations!) or switched up the menu on me. Daily specials were the bane of my existence.

That was not a great time in my life for gustatory pleasure. Actually that was not a great time in my life period. I’m embarrassed to admit now how much time I spent every day counting my calories. A lot. Too much. And yet maybe if it had been easier information to get, perhaps I wouldn’t have had to waste so much time? (Honesty check: Probably not. That deep into my eating disorder not even unicorn rides on rainbows could drag me out.)

I didn’t want the receipt. I didn’t want to know. I’m finally at a point in my life where not only do I not food journal but I rarely tally the calories in my head! I’m finally at the point where I order based more on what I want to eat and less about what I think I “should” eat. (Although I still do think a lot about what’s healthiest because healthy food makes my body feel its best and with 4 little kids I simply do not have time for a sugar-crash.) I’m finally eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full. (Usually. Not always. I’m not perfect.)

The other thing that bothered me about Nutricate is that it wasn’t my choice. You kind of have to take your receipt when they hand it to you or you look like end-stage Howard Hughes. I can choose whether or not to look up calorie counts posted on a menu online or in print. But I can’t choose whether or not I want that information when it’s printed on my receipt.

But I’m also a numbers girl. Once I had the information I had to read it. My one concession to sanity was that I hid the receipt until after eating my meal so that I wouldn’t feel that need to restrict if the number ended up being “too high.” When I did finally look at it, I felt strangely detached from it. The numbers didn’t reflect at all how delicious and filling my meal was. They had nothing to do with my satisfaction in eating it. In fact, the only thing that really stuck out to me was that I’d gotten a good amount of protein even though my meal was vegetarian and that made me happy.

It was with this on my mind that I came home (i.e. to the hotel that Jelly Bean constantly reminds me is “NOT HOME”) to find this e-mail from sweet Reader S:

Hi Charlotte
Love reading your blog. But l was wanting to know what you eat and don’t eat. I know you don’t eat dairy, but was wondering do you eat carbs and if so what kind? Also, do you still eat loads of fats?
Do you eat fats and protein with each meal? Are beans, legumes, and quinoa part of your daily eating plan.
I just get so confused when l read new research and it sais we should eliminate grains and eating mostly fat, protein and vegetable and then you get another study that sais we should mostly whole grains and with some fat and protein. Whas your take on this?

This is actually an e-mail I get a lot. A lot a lot. At first I was confused as to why anyone would want to know the particulars of what I do and don’t eat, especially when I have a known history of being a really weird eater. I generally don’t answer this question because I’m afraid of inadvertently feeding into someone else’s ED and making them sicker. (Holy balls of tempeh, I love you guys and only want you to be healthy and happy!) But I didn’t get the feeling that that was Reader S’s motivation. Rather I think it was more because of things like this: News service Rodale’s list of 14 Things You Should Never Eat .

Cue scary music. Eat tomatoes because they’re produce and produce is the best! But don’t eat tomatoes because they’re nightshades and nightshades are poison! But do eat them canned because you need the lycopene (especially if you have a prostate!). But don’t eat the canned kind because the cans are lined with BPA and the acid in the tomatoes leaches it out! It’s enough to make you want to bludgeon yourself with the can opener.

I feel for Reader S because I share her confusion. The research is so contradictory and it turns out that the more educated I get on this subject (and believe me I read everything that comes out) the less confident I feel in making recommendations. In fact, knowing the fickle nature of research, the more someone tells me they know the perfect way to eat, the less I trust them.

The only thing that has ever worked for me is to trust my gut. Literally. I’ve spent the last several years paying attention to how I feel before, during and after nearly everything I eat. (True story: I recently tried out a different breakfast every day for 14 days to see which ones gave me the best energy for my workouts. Winner: Eggs and amaranth. Loser (big time): Boxed “healthy” cereal.) It’s good to get educated on the basics of nutrition. Whole foods are best. Veggies are amazing. Everyone needs enough protein. Sugar does terrible things to your cells. That type of thing. Education is fabulous and everyone should seek it their entire lives. But once you get into the fine print, things can get murky fast. At best you’re a walking fountain of useless trivia. At worst you become orthorexic, like I did.

It then occurred to me, reading Reader S’s e-mail, that when I was at that confused point in my life, I would have found it helpful to know what a relatively sane person ate. So don’t take this as a prescription of what you should do. Don’t compare my food to yours. Don’t count my calories. But if you want to know what I eat and feel good about? Here you go:

On that above receipt? The mint fava bean salad and green chili were my meal. The “extra light dressing” referred to how much dressing they put on the salad, not that it was low fat. I just happen to not like my greens soaked and slimy. (The other food was for my husband and kiddos.)

And to answer your questions Reader S:

- I don’t eat dairy. Not because I think it’s bad but because I’m apparently lactose intolerant and it makes me awful when I eat it. I vomit. I get diarrhea. I have panic attacks. Not pretty.

- I love carbs. I eat a lot of them. Fruit is my favorite. I adore carb-o-riffic root vegetables and squash. I even delight in grains. That said, I tend to prefer my grains in their most whole form (i.e. not ground into flour.) I don’t eat much bread but I do love cooked grains like quinoa (which is technically a seed), amaranth, buckwheat (technically a grass), millet, oats and wheat berries. I eat some of the above every day. I don’t consciously avoid gluten.

- I do eat a lot of fat. I’m not sure what proportion of my food it is but I’m guessing it’s around 30%. Again, I like my fat as unprocessed as possible and enjoy coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed butter (no lactose!), and all kinds of nuts on a daily basis.

- Yes, I try to eat fat and protein with each meal. It helps me stay full. A carb heavy meal makes me sleepy and irritable, especially if it’s a lot of simple carbs. I also try to eat a veggie with every meal, including breakfast.

- I do eat beans, legumes and grains. I know they’ve gotten a lot of bad press lately. I’ve read all of it and, admittedly, it is quite convincing. I believe people when they tell me that they feel better not eating them. That said, I’ve taken them out of my diet quite a few times now and can definitively say that it does not make me feel better. I don’t know if that means I’m more evolutionarily evolved or that I’m oblivious to my internal inflammation. But whichever, I eat them and enjoy them.

- To answer your last question – and one that MANY people are asking these days, including me – all I can say is that you need to eat what makes you feel at your best. What makes you feel happy, satisfied, alert, energetic and strong? I firmly believe that there is not one “right” prescription for the whole of the human race. I think different people thrive on different types of diets. So try different styles of eating until you find what sticks:)

What do you think about the Nutricate receipts – dieting Godsend or eating disorder nightmare? Do you have any advice for Reader S?

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