The current war with food
The title for this post might sound a little bit dramatic, but I can’t help but compare the current trends in nutrition, dieting and anti-dieting as some sort of World War. This isn’t a typical war in which there are two opposing sides, but rather many different countries battling against each other for their voice to be heard. We have the Paleos, the Ketos, the Vegans, the IIFYMers, the Gym bros, the clean eaters, the health at every sizers, the anti dieters and finally we have the ordinary Joe-so who hasn’t got a notion what’s going on (and understandably so). We have so many different activists presenting with their experiences, passions and biases all wrapped into one. They are determined to conquer and annihilate any opposing narrative that stands in their way.
The one question I can’t help but wonder is, at what stage was health lost among the mess? Bloggers, nutritionists, dieticians, doctors and personal trainers have initiated online attacks as they are so desperate to be right. They have resorted to extremist approaches with fancy taglines and a convincing story, to capture a following and build their support to conquer. I will never support any one extreme ‘nutritional trend’, but I do believe we can learn something from every single one (yes, even the low carb loopers).
The problem lies with that million dollar question everybody wants to know the answer to, ‘What is the best diet?’. People want a narrative to believe, a leader to direct or guide, and they want to be seen by their peers as keeping up with the latest ‘in’ trend. They will follow the ‘experts’ – qualification or no qualification – regardless of the implications. This isn’t necessarily their fault as without learning any prerequisite knowledge to the subject at hand, how are they meant to know what’s right, wrong or what needs to be challenged? Gurus of these narratives can present some very convincing arguments as they throw in some scientific jargon for good measure. Somebody may finally get the motivation to take control of their eating habits, but due to volume of conflicting opinions available online at the touch of the button, this motivation can be lost very quickly. This confusion may leave them in a worse position than when they started, as they can develop a bad relationship with food.
I understand how confusing and stressful this is because I have been there. I have had my biases and supported a few of these narratives along the way. Initially, my beliefs aligned with those trends that promote physical health in the form of fat loss, weight maintenance and nutritional value. In no particular order, I have restricted carbs, tracked calories and counted macros. I have eaten ‘clean’ foods only, devoured vegan treats. inhaled cheat meals and obsessed over protein bars. I went from being what I would consider overweight for my body, to unnecessarily lean and unhealthly as a result.
When I was at rock bottom both mentally and physically, I decided that something had to change. When I made the connection between my mental health and my physical symptoms, I made the empowering and life changing decision to put my mental health first. I began to restrict less, ate more of the foods I loved and eventually progressed to the cessation of tracking calories and macros. Overtime, my relationship with food strengthened and it lost the control and power that it once had over my life. This helped me further understand the ideas behind the anti-diet and health and every size movements, but they still do not have my full support. These movements advocate for those who, like me, have suffered mentally with disordered eating, body image and self-worth due to standards that were defined by society.
Why do they not have my full support when it’s something so close to home? The advocates of these narratives have generally developed their passion to promote their beliefs as they have gone through the physical transition I have discussed above. They have learned the fundamentals of calories and the science of physical health throughout the years, to get them to the position they are in today. My issue is they do not pass on these essential facts and only promote a one-sided approach, to encourage mental wellbeing (physical health is often not up for discussion).
According to the WHO, Health is defined as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. I have yet to find one trend or narrative that encompasses both physical and mental health, so this is why I ask the question, where is the health? Health isn’t sexy. Trends are sexy. Stories are sexy. Controversial activists are sexy. Who knows, maybe #prohealth or #wheresthehealth will take off. #Balance is the same idea, but the IIFYMers took that completely out of context and used it as an excuse to inhale dominos and ben & jerrys on the regular. This is the first of my #wheresthehealth series in which I will be discussing multiple nutritional narratives and their associated pros & cons. I hope you will join me on this health-focussed movement, leaving your biases at the door as you read each one. Stay tuned huns.