Hold on to your hats, folks! I’m about to say some pretty wild stuff (at least for a dietitian): I don’t think what we eat is all that important.
This is not what I thought for a long time. I once thought food was the most important aspect of our health. I thought if I could just eat virtuously enough, organic enough, local enough, free-range-pastured enough, enough vegetables, fruit and fiber and low enough fat…that I could live forever. Or at least I could live long enough that the end would always remain just safely out of view and I would remain disease free and looking like the age of 33 until the ripe old age of 110.
That was incredibly naïve, of course. It eventually became clear to me that all the good nutrition (or exercise) in the world wasn’t going to prevent the osteoarthritis I was developing in both my big toe joints, nor the near-debilitating ache I felt in my back. Good nutrition wasn’t going to fix troubled relationships or mediocre jobs, and it wouldn’t stop me from turning a year older every single year. The truth of it was that food was actually preventing me from living a healthy life because it was all I focused on.
Because what is health? Is it just eating enough fruits and vegetables? Of course not. Health is comprised of many components: genetics, environment, spiritual life, socioeconomic status, education, stress, relationships, access to health care. Nutrition and exercise are a small part of a big picture. What good is a diet filled with wholesome foods but a life filled with chronic stress? What good is all the exercise in the world if it excludes time to build nurturing relationships? What good is a near-perfect diet when you can’t enjoy it without overwhelming guilt when it isn’t perfect?
(There is a time when food is the most important, however, and it’s when you don’t have enough. People struggling with food insecurity will likely find that food–affording, finding, preparing and eating it–is their number one priority.)
So here’s how I think food and nutrition are important: I think we need to enjoy our food. I think it’s important to have a relaxed attitude toward eating. I know that dieting is not working for us. I think that eating fruits and vegetables can help ward off, but are not guaranteed to prevent, some diseases. I think most of this can be achieved with a non-diet lifestyle. And I think it is equally important to feed our souls with good relationships, feed our minds with knowledge, ease our stress by treating ourselves kindly. Food is a part of our lives, but it cannot be the only part.