In the past years I have read so much on clean eating, “superfoods” and nutrition I could easily throw up about 5 different books on the topic, each a completely different philosophy on the perfect diet.
This doesn’t even include endless blog posts and magazine articles I’ve read in hopes to revolutionize my health, or (let’s just call it what it is) my figure. Funny how the mere desire to shed 5 pounds can send us into a determined tunnel vision which often causes us to majorly increase our intake of “healthy” foods, drastically restrict major food and make us, arguably, dogmatic about our diets.
Yep, it sounds kinda wacko, because it is.
If this is news to you, welcome to America. This is how we do things.
We are obsessed with nutrition. We love to encourage our already hearty appetites with the latest food trends, nutrition discoveries along with a variety of dietary identities (Vegan, Paleo, Gluten-Free, Flexitarian - one I may be guilty to proudly label myself as). Any poor soul entering our country for the first time might need a dictionary simply to understand our highly-informed and “highly-knowledgable” dietary lingo.
We are a culture fascinated with nutrition, or what Michael Pollan (author of the best-seller books Cooked, Food Rules and In Defense of Food) likes to call Nutritionism, the assumption that any food scientifically deemed “nutritious” is accurate and essential to our American diet. And yet, ironically, we are a culture whose debilitating health epidemic is directly affected by the way we eat. Obesity rates in America have doubled since the 80’s, from 15 - 30 percent. And if that isn’t enough, our unique relationship with health has helped us develop a new eating disorder called orthorexia: an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.
Clearly we have a problem.
We love to hear certain foods are good for us. We love motivation to indulge more in certain foods when endorsements promote their life-altering nutrients. (And God knows we need the encouragement to eat more.)
“Kale is chock-full of cancer fighting properties.”
“Greek yogurt will give you flat abs.”
“Dark chocolate prevents diabetes.”
“Sugar can enhance alertness.” (Yes, a direct quote from WebMD no less.)
Maybe I should have just titled this “First World Problems.”
We are a culture with access to all the food we want and need. We’re obsessed with our health and yet we couldn’t be more unhealthy, though I probably shouldn’t challenge that. Pollan refers to our dilemma as “The American Paradox”. Opposed to The French Paradox (the observation of the country’s low coronary heart disease death rates despite its high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat), Pollan explains The American Paradox as “a notably unhealthy population preoccupied with nutrition.” We have made a science out of what was intended to be simple and uncomplicated. We have analyzed and formulated what was created to be pleasurable and cultural.
“We are the only species who need to be told what to eat,” Pollan also subtly points out.
So how can we shed the average 12 lbs of fat we’ve all gained since the 80’s and return to a state of normalcy in our relationship to food, one that encourages Americans to think about things other than our diet? There are simple answers out there that to this national dilemma, but they may be more simple and pragmatic than we care to hear. Pollan has coined the phrase, and I would agree, that our journey to a healthier relationship to food and slimmer figure can be answered with 7 simple words:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Nutritionism, or this idea of the perfect diet, the one that counts grams of protein after training, that works to gulp down as many anti-oxidants as humanly possible in a daily glass of green juice, sacrifices countless simple daily pleasure in the name of idealism and nutrition.
We have more facts at our fingertips than ever before, more health foodies to replicate via Instagram and more diet fads to follow for the sake of perfecting ourselves even at the expense of experience and social graces, a cultural deficiency we don’t address enough.
But have we sucked the intended pure joy of health for the sake of nutrition? Have we complicated something that was suppose to be a simple, daily experience and made it an assignment, another To Do List? In our search nutritionism, have we shot ourself in the foot, fooling ourselves into thinking we’re healthier when we’re really just increasingly restrictive and obsessed?
Who knows how all thinking and obsessing are wreaking havoc on our health, anyhow!