An old Chinese proverb suggests "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness", and I read recently where someone suggested "perhaps we need to do both."
How true this is especially when we consider the number of fear-based, catastrophizing messages about food and nutrition that infiltrate social media outlets these days. Catastrophizing is an irrational throught a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. If you’re like me, you probably see and hear examples of this more than a few times a day with things like: “cow’s milk is toxic”; “sugar and carbohydrate-based foods are the underlying cause of all disease”; “GMO’s cause cancer”; “animal products cause heart disease and death”; and the list goes on.
There is a lot of darkness ~ and fear ~ in these statements and what’s even more sad is that these are actual statements written by “health professionals”, some with credible degrees and some not so much. But all of them have a book to sell, a blog to advertise, or themselves to promote for high-paying speaking engagements.
I’m always curious who these folk’s clients are, because the majority of clients I have worked over the years seem to be getting “less healthy” because of these messages. People come to me experiencing more anxiety and stress; increased cycles of restricting and overeating; more shame, guilt and clinical depression. And that’s just the mental side of things. Research continues to demonstrate that adolescents and adults are experiencing decreased bone mass (coinciding with decreased milk consumption); increasing waist lines (despite an increased use of low-CHO diet approaches); and, increased rates of heart disease (while the prevalence of plant-based eaters increases).
So, I guess if this type of approach was helpful, I probably wouldn’t react, but it grieves me so much when a 50-year old woman sits in my office for the first time tearfully expressing her pain from feeling so overwhelmed by all these messages. Or, the 16-year old athlete who can’t make a decision about what to eat because she doesn’t know “if something has too many carbohydrates that will lead to increased cravings, overeating, and a food addiction.”
Seriously, folks! When I started my nutrition practice, I carefully constructed my business plan that included a competitive analysis. Perhaps I’m just not that gregarious, competitive person by nature, but my perspective after looking at the competition was (and continues to be) that we are all in this health and wellness thing together. I am so passionate that people are able to find a way to feel good about their body, their eating, activity, health and their life (and there are many) - and whoever is able to help someone accomplish that is great. Of course, I am hopeful to build a thriving practice – but not at the expense of causing someone more pain or trouble.
I don’t know if some people just had a different physiology, anatomy, metabolism, chemistry, or nutrition textbook than me? Or, if science has just all of sudden discovered EVERYTHING there is to know about the brain, body, food and energy balance in the past decade? Please tell me if I missed something. I truly love reading research (I actually prefer scientific literature over a good fiction book any day) so I am fully aware that science is evolving and that we discover and learn new perspectives every day – it’s what I love about this field. So, unless I have overlooked or missed out on some Nobel-prize winning research, what I’ve seen is that for every five studies that suggest a low carbohydrate diet results in weight loss or health gains, there are at least five or more that can demonstrate the same results with a balanced diet. And, this illustration can be applied to each of these principles – cow’s milk; plant based eating vs animal products; GMO’s; organic food vs conventional food, etc. The reality is that some people may benefit from lowering their carbohydrate intake, replacing cow’s milk, or more carefully considering their selection of foods. But, to say any of these foods is the “cure all”, “toxic”, “dangerous” is smoke and mirrors and downright misleading!
So, to come back to the metaphor of the quote…regarding nutrition science, let’s continue to research and responsibly shed light on new developments that may make a difference in someone's life. But, to sit and scream from your virtual mountaintop that “the sky is falling” (or “to curse the darkness”) is sadly contributing to more health problems for a great majority of our population. And, if you (or your health provider) are someone who is truly passionate and educated on helping people improve their health and wellness, then you would know there is NOT a one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone!
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease