What Non-Diet Nutrition Might Look Like

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All foods fit. YES THEY DO.

One day last week, I found myself mentally running through what I ate that day – not for any reason other than as a memory exercise. I started tallying the different fruits and vegetables I ate just out of curiosity: peach, banana, green pepper, red pepper, onion, tomato, tomatillo, green beans, mushrooms and scallions. Wow, that seemed like a lot of fruits and vegetables – even for me! Yet I barely noticed it till I took the time and effort to remember.

I’m not trying to brag; rather, I just want to illustrate a point about what “normal” eating – aka, eating not-on-a-diet – might look like. I probably didn’t eat a whole serving of each of these vegetables – that’s a little too much volume for me. I may have made it to the recommended 5 servings, but I rarely count so I don’t know for sure. And not every day looks like this; some days I eat less produce (or food in general), others more. I’m convinced, however, that providing oneself reasonably balanced, varied and, most importantly, tasty meals on a regular basis will provide all the nutrients you need over time, and listening to our internal signals of hunger and fullness to guide our eating will ensure we get the right amounts. Good nutrition really isn’t that hard.

And yet, I didn’t eat like this when I dieted because I would have had to prepare the vegetables in such a way that they didn’t taste very good. In fact, when I dieted early on I ate very few vegetables and almost no fruit because I wanted to save every calorie for food I liked since I got to eat so little of it.

Since embracing a Health at Every Size® philosophy toward health, my diet quality has improved immensely from those days of restriction. How, then, I do I include fruit and vegetables so easily now? First and foremost, I make everything taste good. The peppers and onions came in a cheese quesadilla in a flour tortilla cooked in some oil I had made the night before, then topped with roasted tomato and tomatillo salsa (with some cilantro in there too). The banana may have had peanut butter or Nutella on it (or not). The other vegetables were cooked in a stir fry with pork in a sauce of soy sauce, brown sugar, sherry and sesame oil and served over white rice (because I don’t like brown) by my partner. And yes, it was cooked in oil and NO not some small diet amount, but enough to lubricate the dish and make it taste good.

But just as important as making food taste good, my relationship to food is such that I have the pick of all the foods available to me that I like. I’m also not going around in a state of chronic hunger because I feed myself according to my hunger and fullness. That means I’m not jonesing for something I can’t have simply because I feel like I can’t have it (a scientific phenomenon), and I don’t go around looking for the most calorically dense food I can find to fill a bottomless pit of a stomach. And in getting to choose any food I want, I choose foods that both taste good and make me feel good, which includes a variety of “whole” foods (a term I’ve come to dislike thanks to diet culture and healthism, but it is useful here nonetheless).

To be quite frank and not very dietitian-like, I am not a fan of using serving sizes to guide our eating. Like registered dietitian Ellyn Satter states in this article, I feel strongly that government-issued dietary guidelines take away permission to eat and leave people with disordered eating and probably a dislike of a lot of foods that are good for us. This especially rang true to me:

“The 2005 Dietary Guidelines…raised the recommendation for fruits and vegetables from five to nine a day. That is 4 1⁄2 cups of virtually naked fruits and vegetables—with only the smallest amounts of salt, fat or sugar. The intent, of course, wasn’t to satisfy nutritional requirements—four or five well-chosen vegetables and fruits a day and a similar number of breads and cereals is enough. The intent is to get us to fill up on relatively low-calorie food so we don’t eat so much. Such tactics defeat consumers’ best intentions. Well and interestingly prepared fruits and vegetables are tasty and rewarding. However, as any experienced dieter knows, trying to fill up on them— particularly when they are unadorned—is quite another matter. I have worked with far too many recovering dieters who have tried to do just that, and after a while they say that they simply can’t look at another pile of vegetables.”

Nailed it. When I was at Weight Watchers, vegetables were not recommended as a tasty, satisfying part of your diet – rather, they were something to be eaten to take up space in your stomach, to prevent you from eating other potentially high calorie foods that might actually satisfy you. I could not stand unadorned vegetables and mostly I just skipped them unless a particularly good recipe called for them. Fruits – why bother? You had to count those as points. My weight loss was not about health – it was about weight and societal approval. I did what I could bear, and while I could bear to be hungry, I could not bear to eat foods I didn’t like (although later on I would do this, too).

Fast forward six years after declaring my freedom from diets. I found out that a “well and interestingly prepared” vegetable is a thing of beauty, especially when I feel I don’t have to eat it. My diet rebel has a loud voice when it comes to “shoulds”, especially around food. I could experiment with foods to see what I truly liked.

Eating a balanced and varied diet that we like, aka eating competence does make us healthier – at least in terms of having better diets, physical self-acceptance, activity levels, sleep, medical and lab tests. ( And can you also imagine the wonderful by-products of people getting totally normal with food? No more boring conversations about what people can’t or won’t eat, about being “good” or “bad” with food, about having to punish themselves later for something they’re eating now. I mean, seriously, YAWN. We could talk about so many smart or interesting or fun things instead!)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what you eat isn’t nearly as important to your health and well-being as your relationship to food is. When you heal your relationship to food and eating, you’re free to experience the variety that is available to you without stress and drama. Let’s call a definite moratorium on food rules, get curious with our appetites and start exploring with gusto!

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Latest Dietitians Unplugged Episode!

Aaron and I talk with Andrew Walen of The Body Image Therapy Center about eating disorders in men. Give us a listen!

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I Forgot to Eat the Damn Cake

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I DID eat this cake.

A while back I wrote about my frustration when someone did that thing I now call the Dance of the Dessert, that “should I?/I shouldn’t!” thing and then they do and then they loudly proclaim their guilt to anyone in the nearby vicinity. Seriously: yawn.

Well, something completely the opposite of that happened to me the other day: I forgot to eat the cake. And until now, I didn’t even bother to talk about it.

You see, this is the kind of thing that might happen when you give up dieting and dieting mentality and embrace internally regulated, totally normal eating. You might do things like accidentally forget to eat some cake, even if you intended to. And you don’t feel that bad about it.

In my dieting days, I was definitely the person to worry about eating the cake (though I would still eat it because IT WAS CAKE). I was also the person to sneak back into the break room later on and cut off another “thin” slice and eat it furtively…and then cut off just another “tiny” slice because I I just couldn’t stop…and then I’d scoop up the icing dregs off the edges of the plate and lick the knife clean (apologies to all those who got to the cake after me…it was probably decimated). Ironically, I was the thinnest I’d ever been…but I still felt so wretched for eating that cake. More restriction would follow until the next cake or doughnut or brownie or tart or…

Last week reminded me how far I’d come since then. Two co-workers had birthdays, and therefore there were two cakes being served up during our weekly team meeting. I had just eaten breakfast and so wasn’t really in the mood for cake. I also have a sensitive tummy and I know putting too much in there first thing in the morning will be misery all day. So I declined the cake and planned to come back for some in the afternoon when I like to have a snack and would have a nice appetite for it – there was plenty and I was confident there would be some left by then.

The day wore on. I was out of the office during lunch so I didn’t get to the break room to see if there was cake left to have as dessert. I got back to the office and at mid afternoon had my current favorite snack of banana with Nutella (because Nutella is awesome). I went home.

Then it hit me…I forgot to go back and get a slice of cake. Damn.

It was completely my intention earlier that day to partake in cake, but in reality, I clearly wasn’t feeling it. And that is the wonderful thing about not being underfed or food-restricted all the time – you don’t eat cake just because it’s there and you’re starving. I also know there will be cake again, and that I will probably have some, which is why missing it this time wasn’t such a big deal.

I don’t tell you this story to brag about my internally regulated eating skills. I feel neither good nor bad about forgetting to get the cake. It was a neutral incident, so I don’t feel smug about it as I might have in my food-restricted days. My behaviors do not make me thin. They simply make me relaxed around food.

I’m telling you this because if you are still feeling crazy around food and it’s getting a bit much for you, I want you to know there is hope. If you are struggling with getting to normal eating, I want you to know that it does happen, and it’s a wonderful relief. Internally regulated eating is that happy place where you get to have your cake and eat it too…or not, if you simply don’t feel like it.

Have you registered yet for the Making Friends With Food FREE video summit?

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I was interviewed for this video series that talked to a whole bunch of experts on non-diet, non-weight centered, body positive health and nutrition – and the best part is – it’s totally free.

So get your dose of non-diet goodness with a video delivered to your inbox every day from July 25 to August 8 and register here now!

Dietitians Unplugged – Our This American Life Breakdown

Episode 12 is available now! Aaron and I had fun talking about the Tell me I’m Fat episode of This American Life.

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Baby Steps to Going Diet Free

Cover2Happy Canada Day (today) and U.S. Independence Day (Monday)! Ready to declare your independence from dieting?

One of the things Aaron and I hear people say quite often is that they are just not sure where to start when it comes to learning how to eat according to internal hunger and fullness cues. For this episode, we decided to reveal some of our favorite first steps to moving away from a dieting mentality and toward normal eating. If one thing doesn’t work for you, just try another. And remember, it’s all experimental, there are no hard-and-fast rules here (as there are with dieting), so be gentle and kind with yourself.

Kick back and listen, and then enjoy some yummy barbecue (or your party food of choice) this weekend to celebrate your independence from food rules. Oh, and leave off the side of guilt – it’s been sitting in the sun for hours.

Listen now:

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Special July podcast challenge: We’d love to get to 20,000 downloads by the end of July and we need your help – at this very moment we need 8,055 more downloads to reach that goal. We can do about half that just from our normal traffic but we need help with the rest, so if you like or even love our podcast, consider sharing it on social media.  And don’t forget to give us a rating and review on iTunes – this helps improve the marketing iTunes does for us. You will earn our undying love and appreciation (though know that you already have that for just showing up in the first place).

Be Your Own Beloved Update

I had a fantastic time in Vivienne McMaster’s Beloved Beginnings class. She really knows how to get someone to take a great photo, so much so that I’m excited to share a few of mine from the class. If you’re having trouble loving yourself in photos, Vivienne’s classes are the place to be. I’m hooked, so I hope to see you there in a future class!

HAES® and Illness

Food RxOne of my readers asked if I could talk more about how Health at Every Size® works for people managing certain medical conditions, specifically ones for which dietary changes are recommended.

There are indeed medical conditions for which changes in diet can help. Diabetes, hypertension and elevated blood lipids are the ones I work with most often in the aging population I serve in my job. Treating medical conditions and their associated symptoms with dietary intervention is called medical nutrition therapy (MNT), and all dietitians are trained to do this. I think HAES® fits well with MNT because HAES® is about supporting health, simply without a focus on changing weight. One can still aim to make diet changes that support a particular condition without having to focus on losing weight, because frankly there isn’t solid evidence to show that weight loss 1. helps to improve health long-term or reduce mortality in people with certain medical conditions (witness this recent finding  and this one too) and 2. is possible to maintain long-term (>5 years) for more than a tiny fraction of people even if it did improve health, therefore making this a temporary treatment at best that will most likely result in a higher weight in the long run.

On the other hand, some studies show that using a HAES® approach does improve health over the longer haul. In Linda Bacon’s study of a HAES® approach, non-dieters showed improvements in blood pressure and lipids at the end of the study. Dieters showed those improvements initially as well, but they lost those improvements as weight was regained, and many of the dieters (41%) dropped out of the study (while only 8% of the HAES® group dropped out), which means to me that the dieting intervention wasn’t a sustainable treatment for the long-haul.

We’ve established, then, that weight loss isn’t necessary (and might not even help) to improve health. How do you manage your medical condition nutritionally then? First, if you’re asking this question, I highly recommend you talk to a registered dietitian who can help you understand what will help and what won’t (and of course, I’d love for you to find a HAES®-minded dietitian, but that will definitely take some investigation on your part).

In my dietitian training and experience, I’ve found there are very few conditions which require heavy-duty dietary restriction. And I’ve personally found few people who can adhere to strict diets either. An internally regulated style of eating does support health, and the science says so too. Listening to your internal signals of hunger and fullness will ensure you don’t eat too much (or too little) for your body, and providing yourself with regular meals, as with the eating competence model, will ensure you eat a good variety of foods. I believe one can still manage medical conditions following an Intuitive Eating style, but if you’re having difficulty with the demand-feeding schedule, I wrote about Eating Competence last week for this very reason.

Within the framework of eating regular meals and snacks and using your body’s intuition to tell you how much and what to eat, dietary tweaks for various conditions can still be made easily. You can provide yourself consistent carbohydrate meals for diabetes (which is recommended by the ADA). You can aim for more foods lower in sodium if you have hypertension. You can aim to include one or two fruit and/or vegetable choices (that you like, that are prepared in a tasty way) at each meal which will benefit any condition. If you aren’t doing so in a restrictive way that leaves you hungry and robs you of permission to eat food you enjoy, this should work without causing too much drama. I’m of the mind that making a few changes while still feeding yourself regularly is way easier than making dietary changes while going hungry because you’re trying to suppress your weight AND manage your condition. One is self-care, the other is pure punishment.

I frankly think if you’ve made it as far as providing yourself meals that include the four food groups and you’ve tuned into your appetite and are honoring your fullness signals, you’ve already come a long way in managing a nutrition-related medical condition.

With all conditions, you still need to feed yourself regularly, you still need to feel satisfied and not deprived, you can still enjoy food with good planning, and you can still keep an eye toward nutrition without getting totally restrictive. The key, of course, is intention. Is it your secret intention with your dietary change to lose weight? If it is, you will undermine trust in your body to eat the correct amount for yourself; you will eat either too little, or foods that you don’t like, and eventually you will end up back in the restraint/disinhibition cycle.

You may also have to recognize that diet perfection is usually unattainable and unsustainable. Isabel Foxen Duke recently wrote about this problem and had this brilliant thing to say:

Are you comfortable with the possibility that you may not be able to follow your health intentions 100% of the time despite your best efforts? Because—as most binge-eaters know, but too often forget—the reality is that your food choices are not only controlled by willpower, but also by instinct— instincts that are impacted by biology, psychology, emotions, and a million other factors outside of our control. If “breaking” your decision to avoid a certain food makes you feel guilty, ashamed, or like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you because you can’t “stick to” your health choice, you may end up in “falling off the wagon” style binge-eating. (In other words, can you get down with the gray-area of self-care?)

There are a few conditions which do require steadfast restriction of some foods – Celiac’s disease and food allergies are a couple. In these cases, find suitable replacements. There are many non-gluten-containing carbohydrates that you can substitute in order to round out your meals. It’s not an easy diet, but it is manageable as long as you are feeding yourself faithfully.

If you’re still working on recognizing and getting comfortable with your hunger and fullness signals, keeping working on it. Honoring those internal eating cues is not contraindicated for any condition. If you struggle with internally regulated eating and managing diabetes, I recommend Michelle May’s Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes.

And if your doctor is recommending weight loss to help with a medical condition, I would ask what science-based evidence he/she is using to show that this a sustainable, long-term intervention that works for a majority of people, and also what interventions are recommended to “normal” weight people with the same condition.

HAES® and internally regulated eating do support health. Again, talk to a registered dietitian if you need help. Educate yourself from reliable sources: Web MD, Mayo Clinic, PubMed, CDC are some sites that will provide science-based information; crack-pots like the Food Babe and David Avocado Wolfe do not. You don’t need to diet to be as well as you can.

Dietitians Unplugged plug!

Episode 8 – The Beach Body Episode is available now! Listen on iTunes and Libsyn. Like our Facebook page to get all the latest news on our podcast and other non-diet podcasts. Our “challenge” to listeners continues to the end of May – don’t miss out on this fabulous chance to embarrass your hosts!

Becoming a Competent Eater

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Unconditional permission to eat this? Hell yeah.

Greetings lovelies! I figured it was high time I wrote about this particular topic because I’ve been seeing lots of comments here and on Facebook about people having difficulty becoming internally regulated eaters.

Intuitive Eating is fantastic and it was one of the books I read early on after quitting dieting for good. It’s one way to learn to eat normally – meaning, listening to your gut (literally) when it comes to knowing when to eat and when to stop, feeling relaxed around food, and feeling confident that you are eating exactly what is right for your body. Notice I didn’t say anything about it being a way to lose weight or a way to learn how to eat less. I just want to throw that out there – continually – so nobody is confused about what this eating normally business is all about. It is NOT about weight loss. Ever.

Anyway, as I said, intuitive eating is one of the ways to learn to eat normally – but it isn’t the only way. In my diet-ditching literary travels, I came across other philosophies, ideas, and models of normal eating. I’ll link to those at the bottom of this post, but for now I’m going to talk about my absolute favorite model, Ellyn Satter’s Eating Competence. I’ve been doing some self-study on this model and re-reading some of her books, and I am reminded that this was the model that really clicked for me. If you’ve been struggling for a while with intuitive eating, I suggest looking at this or some other models for normal eating inspiration. For now, I’ll just talk about Eating Competence.

What is the difference between Intuitive Eating (IE) and Eating Competence (EC)? The essential difference, to me, is that IE focuses on eating-on-demand; that is, figuring out when you are hungry, eating exactly then, stopping when you are satisfied, and then starting the cycle all over when you are hungry again, disregarding structured meal times in favor of listening to your internal regulation cues (there’s a bit more to it than just that, but for short form purposes, that’s the crux of it. Read the book for the full deal.).  EC also trains you to eat according to internal regulation cues, but relies on the discipline of providing yourself (and your family) rewarding meals at regular times, and the permission to eat as much as you like at each meal. Here is a more detailed explanation of the differences as written by Ellyn Satter herself. Both reject diet mentality and weight manipulation and embrace body diversity, both use internal signals of hunger and fullness to regulate eating, but one relies on meal-time structure and the other rejects it. I see both as useful models, and it just depends on what you prefer.

Personally, I love the feeling of knowing I have rewarding meals planned for myself – that feels like safety and comfort. It can be stressful to wait till I’m hungry to try to figure out what I’m hungry for AND how to get it. This works well if I’m out shopping and there’s a food court, but not at home where I have limited pantry space, or at work where I need to bring my lunch. So while demand feeding might work well for some, it just doesn’t work for me, especially if I want to have family meals every night (and I do). If you have kids, EC will be especially useful because you can all eat at the same time, and your kids will become competent eaters too.

So how does this meal structure thing work? There is definitely planning involved – but since we’re not planning to starve ourselves or trick our hunger, I view this as self-care, not external rule-following. You will provide yourself three meals (a must) and three sit-down snacks (if you need them) a day. Your appetite will eventually find the rhythm of structured meals once you are honoring it regularly. The meals must be rewarding – you don’t want to spend a lot of time coming up with meals you don’t want to eat. It’s a good idea to include foods from all of the food groups at the meals – a worthwhile guideline that ensures satiety. I suggest checking  Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family out of the library for the full deets – it’s not that long and it’s easy to read. I’ll also continue to write about Eating Competence and my suggestions of how to get there.

You will still spend time getting familiar with your internal hunger and fullness cues. There are steps outlined in Secrets that will get you there. I love step-by-step instructions for anything, so this book wins my heart not just for the structure component, but also some concrete how-to.

I can’t emphasize enough that this model hinges on unconditional permission to eat – whatever and as much as you like. Beware of impostors that try to take away that permission, with rules like “eat a vegetable before the rest of your meal,” “fill up on water so you’ll eat less” or “sit and chew your food slowly.” No “tricks,” just permission. If you find yourself making rules about how much to eat that don’t involve how much you actually want to eat, always try to come back to this statement: “I can eat as much as I want.” You don’t need to be perfect, just honest with yourself.

By the way, many dietitians know of Ellyn Satter’s pioneering work pediatric nutrition (the Division of Responsibility in feeding) so if you need professional help with this, be sure to ask your potential dietitian if she’s familiar with this work.

If you’re struggling with internally regulated eating, just know you have some options. There isn’t just one way to do this thang. I’ll never tell you one option is better than the other because it comes down to personal preference. Do some investigation and experimentation, see what works for you, and go for it. You’ll eventually hit meal-time nirvana and never look back.

Resources for learning to eat normally that I’ve read and recommend:

The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care by Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel

Overcoming Overeating by Jane R. Hirschmann and Carol H. Munter

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle by Michelle May (there are variations on this book for diabetes and binge eating as well)

Ellyn Satter’s website is chock-full of good information, much of it from her books, if you want to learn more.

 

Dietitians Unplugged plug!

Episode 8 – The Beach Body Episode is available now! Listen on iTunes and Libsyn. Like our Facebook page to get all the latest news on our podcast and other non-diet podcasts. Our “challenge” to listeners continues to the end of May – don’t miss out on this fabulous chance to embarrass your hosts!

Food is Not Medicine

rxI was at a party once and when a nice woman asked me what I did, I said I was a dietitian. She beamed and clasped her hands together and said, “Oh, that’s wonderful. Food is such medicine, isn’t it?”

I didn’t know how to respond at that moment. I was still recovering from years of restrictive eating, which had at one point taken the guise of “clean” eating, local eating, organic eating all for my “health” – when really I was just finding new ways to restrict for my weight. As I sautéed up a few stalks of chard in as little oil as possible, I would say things to myself like, “I’m gonna live forever!”

Obviously I cringe at that now. Why worry about living forever when the present is so miserable? That was my existence then – taking my medicine in the present in the hope of a longer future. I wasn’t happy then, so I was living as much in the future as possible.

But I couldn’t keep it up. Eating medicine is not as fun as eating food, and turning food into medicine is downright depressing. Food is food; it nourishes us, gives us energy, keeps us alive, and is necessary to our existence. Enjoyment of food is essential and here’s a great example of that: in a study from the 1970s, Thai and Swedish women were both given a traditional Thai meal1; the Thai women absorbed almost 50% more iron from the meal than the Swedish women, who were somewhat okay with the meal but felt it was too spicy. Then the traditional meals for both groups were pureed into mush and eaten. Guess what? Iron absorption for both groups decreased by 70% — even when eating their own traditional food. Why? Probably because for the most part, a pureed meal isn’t nearly as enjoyable as a non-pureed meal, especially if you’re not used to eating it that way. So, yes, enjoyment of your food is integral to good nutrition.

If you’re treating your food like medicine, holding your nose and shoving it in, or in a less extreme version, dutifully eating your “healthy” food but wishing you were having something else instead, you’re doing your body and your mind a disservice. The truth is, for most people, what you eat on a meal-by-meal basis is not as important as how you eat. Having a relaxed relationship to food, providing regular, reliable meals for yourself, allowing internal signals of hunger and fullness regulate your intake, and eating food you enjoy – otherwise known as eating competence  – actually helps you to be your healthiest self in respect to nutrition (I’ll explain more about eating competence in a future blog post). This is because people who approach eating this way tend to get the most variety in their diet, which ensures optimal nutrition.

Now, as a clinical dietitian, I do practice what is called medical nutrition therapy (MNT). There are certain disease conditions for which changing what you eat can help to manage that condition. But there is a big difference between disease management for people with disease vs. disease prevention for people with no disease. Eating low sodium your whole life will not necessarily stave off high blood pressure. Eating no carbs will not ensure you will never get diabetes. Many diseases have a genetic component, and eating a certain way does not guarantee that you will not get a disease. However, if someone is a competent eater, getting a variety of food reliably and enjoying their diet, this is the best disease prevention there is, since, as I linked to above, competent eaters have shown to be generally nutritionally (and socially and psychologically) healthier than non-competent eaters.

While diet can help manage conditions, it rarely cures them. Celiacs can strictly avoid gluten (which they must do) and live a very healthy life, but their condition is never cured by any particular food. People with hypertension can reduce dietary sodium to help manage their blood pressure, but there’s a whole host of other things they need to do too – exercise, manage stress, sometimes take actual medication. And you cannot cure cancer with food (I’m sorry, you just can’t). Food is important and will help keep someone with cancer alive because the body needs additional energy with a catabolic illness and while it receives actual medicine which really can cure. There is a reason we call this medical nutrition therapy and not medical nutrition medicine.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen food-as-medicine go wrong on too many occasions. One of my patients (a meat-eater) with MS was told by his doctor to go vegan to help manage his disease (for which there is some limited evidence). He did so, then gained 50 pounds and developed elevated off-the-charts triglycerides. He went back to his doctor who again said, “Go vegan!” to which he replied, “I already did!” After that, he switched to a different diet style he liked better that still managed to include lots of fresh vegetables, returned to his previous usual body weight, ended up with normalized lipids and generally felt pretty good. I’m not maligning vegan diets; it’s the diet-as-prescription mentality that can be the problem. A diet you don’t love is not good medicine. Too often, because of this food-prescription mentality, many of my patients think they can get good nutrition from a powdered supplement, and then develop all sorts of disordered eating habits to compensate for the actual food they are missing out on.

It’s true that many foods have medicinal properties. Cinnamon may help lower blood sugar in diabetics. Turmeric may have anti-inflammatory properties. Here’s the problem: will you start to sprinkle cinnamon on everything you eat even if it doesn’t taste good? I love turmeric – in a few dishes. A little goes a long way. But studies often show that in order to actually get enough of the medicinal properties of these foods, you usually have to have large quantities of it – more than you’d probably want to eat of anything in a day. Also, what we know about the synergistic properties of foods can so far fit in a thimble. Isolating compounds for their magic properties is reductive thinking at best. Food compounds interact with one another and we’re only just starting to understand this better now. Again, getting a varied diet will help you to get some of everything you need.

I know Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” and back then that made sense when they didn’t have a lot of actual medicines. But now we’ve got another problem which is a world full of disordered eating, so maybe it’s time to back off this food-as-medicine idea for a while.

So food does not need to be medicine, especiallly in the absence of illness. Food just needs to be food – delicious, enjoyable, varied, reliable fuel for your body – because that’s how it serves us in the healthiest way possible.

1Hallberg L., Bjorn-Rasmussen E, Rossander L, Suwanik R. Iron absorption from Southest Asian diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 1977; 30:539-548.

 

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