While putting together a cookbook from a recent party I hosted, it struck me that it was a bit of a social experiment. The only guidelines were to submit a “favorite healthy recipe.” As I looked through the recipes, I noticed significant variations on the theme “healthy,” with some recipes focusing on reducing fat, calorie, or sodium content. Others called for the inclusion of ‘super-foods’ or addressed the special needs of those with food sensitivities or allergies. It seemed that there was little consensus on what makes a recipe healthy. For the most part, this is true. Over the last thirty years, in particular, we have seen our understanding of health and nutrition expand exponentially, but also our confusion. There are many reasons for this, such as problems with studying nutrients in isolation and study design flaws. Another significant issue is disseminating health material through the media. While I am sure that many health reporters are excellent at their job, I notice that some have a knack for skipping important aspects of a study, such as the discussion on limitations and the ability to generalize to a population, as they race towards the virtual presses.
While nutrition is important, I would be a horrible advocate for healthy living if I said otherwise, I think that we have an unhealthy obsession with food. Perhaps worse, we are quick to vilify or praise food based on headlines. We have food trends, just like we have trends in clothing. It is weird when you think about it. Undoubtedly, most of us are looking for some assurance that we will still feel spry when we reach 130. However, I fear that if our current trajectory continues, it will surely usher in the age of lab-created super-soups and sadness.
However, one of my greatest areas for concern is the never-ending pressure to eat a certain way and the general assumption that people can attain wellness if they just try harder. This way of thinking marginalizes the experience of those who cannot eat the way ‘experts’ say they should eat. There seems to be a near-obsessive focus, especially by health & wellness writers (this includes bloggers) that we should all buy organic, free-range, grass-fed, non-GMO, locally-sourced ingredients. Instead of encouraging, many otherwise well-meaning individuals actually discourage others from adopting a healthier lifestyle. Assuming that others are of the same socioeconomic status, cultural background, have the same amount of time or food availability, reinforces an outsider/insider dynamic. Worse still, we assume that what makes one individual healthier can be applied to all individuals. This is simply not true or helpful. Many chronic conditions, require specific diets that would make the average ‘health aficionado’ scream in horror. On that note, I decided to share some advice that I gained through personal experience and years of sitting through public health courses.
Practical Advice on Eating for Wellness
- Do not eat things that make you feel bad. If you become bloated, gaseous, or nauseated after you eat something, stop eating it. Also, make every effort to go to the doctor and get yourself checked out.
- Eat ‘real’ food as much as possible. If it grows or had a mother*, it is an ideal food source. Real food is not highlighter-colored ‘fruit drink’ or bread with 20-something ingredients. You don’t see cheesy-puffs growing on trees, so you should probably leave those on the shelf.
- Make the best choices you can for your particular situation and then let it go. Do not self-flagellate if you pick up a frozen pizza and a fizzy drink after a long day. Confession time– sometimes I am too busy to cook something and I order in or grab a frozen whatever.
- Purchase the best food that you can afford. If it is important to you and you can budget for it, that is great. If you can’t, that is okay too.
- If you have a specific diet to treat a health condition, stick with it. There is a reason your health team or physician has selected this particular plan. It is always important to do what is best for your health, even if it doesn’t conform to typical health standards.
* I acknowledge that vegetarians and vegans may disagree quite a bit with me on the “had a mother” statement. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, I fully support you in your food choices and wellness journey. Feel free to disregard that portion if you see fit, and instead focus on my mention of foods that “grow”.