An Open Letter To Everyone Who Eats
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As a registered dietician, every time I begin a talk or a client session with "better nutrition is actually simple" I get looks that range from incredulous, to hopeful, to (frankly) pissed off. Read
I recently wrote an article for this website about why Paleo wasn’t for me. I got a lot of feedback on the piece: much of it was positive, but some of it wasn’t. (As we all know, opinions are like you-know-whats and everybody’s got one!) It’s certainly no fun to get mean comments, nasty tweets, or see your name trashed on Facebook. Many people apparently skimmed the piece and decided that I am a sugar-addicted idiot, desperately in need of a detox, who gave up on Paleo prematurely and then ate a whole cake.
Still, I don’t regret publishing it. I believe I was put on this planet to help others on their journey toward wellness, and I try to do that through my writing; I won't always please everyone and that's okay.
If you eat Paleo and I offended you, please know that was not my intention. As I said in the article, I love many things about Paleo, and I know it can be a healing diet. I could have written about my experience with veganism (I gave that one a REAL “college try” for a couple of years when I was younger) or many of the other diets I’ve been on in the past. It’s the diets that don’t work for me, folks, and it doesn’t matter which one. (Note that when I use the phrase “so and so didn’t work for me,” what I mean is: it did not improve—and in some cases it harmed—either my health or my overall sense of wellbeing.)
But let’s be clear about something: it’s nothing personal.
If I write about something not working for me, that doesn’t mean I am taking a swipe at your lifestyle. And it definitely does not mean I am taking a swipe at you. If you feel your life is made better by aligning with the principles set forth by a dietary philosophy such as Paleo (or veganism, or something else), good for you. I mean that. For many people, a dietary community seems to provide comfort and support, two things we can all certainly use more of in our lives. And if you follow a diet such as Paleo and it gives you relief from physical symptoms, then I think that’s great.
But if you use a diet such as Paleo as a way to restrict the foods you eat in order to control your weight, I don’t think that’s such a good thing.
And if your diet is your religion—if it makes you defensive and obsessed with being “right”—I don’t think that’s a good thing, either.
Come on, people. How can there be one right way when it comes to how we should all eat? We are individuals. We’ve got different biochemical makeups, different histories, different lifestyles, different taste preferences, etc. To say that there is one diet we should all be following is silly. (If that offends you, so be it.)
And to say that an otherwise healthy person must follow a diet that excludes whole groups of foods to stay healthy—that she shouldn’t be able to eat in a balanced way that includes all foods (and demonizes none)—is ridiculous.
I assure you that I am neither sugar-addicted nor an idiot. I am a very healthy eater: I eat lots of fruits and veggies (mostly organic and many from my own big garden), eggs from my chickens, grass-fed meats, wild fish, high quality fats, and all that good stuff. And, as I mentioned in my previous article, I have a degree in naturopathic medicine, I write a healthy recipes blog, and I recently wrote a book about simple lifestyle changes (many of them having to do with food) that you can make to get and stay healthy the holistic way.
As I also mentioned previously, I dieted excessively in my youth (you name the diet and I've probably tried it) to control my weight and really messed up my health as a result. It took me a long time and a lot of work to get better. Because of my experience, I think diets are bad news.
So why did I even try strict Paleo?
I was curious, I guess, since the way I eat and Paleo seemed to have so much in common. I had intended to try it for a full 30 days, but it so quickly brought up all those old feelings of restriction and my mind started to get wonky. That's why I needed to stop. When I wrote that I felt anxious and depressed, I promise you it was not because I was detoxing from gluten and sugar, it was because I felt like I had re-immersed myself into my old world of disordered eating.
Many people commented that I did others and myself a disservice by not sticking with the diet. They told me I did it wrong. That if it didn’t work for me, I should take the time to troubleshoot so I can try again and have it work out better. They said if I had only eaten more sweet potatoes, and more berries, everything would have been fine. But they missed my point: I eat just fine already, and that people like me are really better off without the rules and regulations of Paleo or any other diet.
Years ago, I spent my time trying to eat as little as possible. More recently, I spent my time trying to eat as healthy as possible. You know what I want to do now? I just want to eat what I want to, when I want to. I like sweet potatoes and berries but have no interest in eating them in large quantities every day. I am an active person and if I want to have a sandwich (on real bread! made with wheat!), I shall have a sandwich.
And if I want a piece of cake, I shall have one. If you can’t or won’t eat gluten or sugar, then don’t eat it. But my eating it does not affect your life in any way, shape, or form, so please…stop telling me that I did something wrong by eating a slice of cake. You know what? I used to control my sugar consumption very carefully but now that I’ve stopped making sugar “the bad guy,” I probably eat less of it than I did before. (You always want what you think you’re not supposed to have, right?)
I think many people out there are just like me. They’ll do well to drop the diets, and all the labeling of foods as “good” and “bad,” and to simply work on eating for nourishment (and joy!) instead.
Listen to your body, not to the author of the diet du jour. Eat plentifully of wholesome stuff and don’t eat so much of the stuff that’s not. Your body needs food (all different kinds and plenty of it) to do everything it needs to do. Don’t eat too few calories. Or fats. Or carbohydrates. (I’m serious about this: there's a good chance you're not eating enough, especially if you're a woman.)
Don’t deny yourself real foods that you enjoy. Make sure to move your body, get lots of deep sleep, and work on managing the stress in your life. Strive for balance instead taking healthy habits to extremes.
Do these things not because you are trying to change yourself into a more perfect version, but because you respect and love yourself. Do them because you deserve to be healthy and happy.
If you don’t agree with something (or everything) that I say here or elsewhere, how about we discuss things calmly? I see no point in yelling at each other online about whose diet/lifestyle is superior. And I invite everyone to show a little more compassion: to not put others down because they make different choices than you do.
Let’s be open-minded and inquisitive. Let’s be critical thinkers. Let’s keep learning. Let’s acknowledge that what works for us today may not work for us in six months or six years, and that what we believe to be a fact today may be proved a fallacy tomorrow. We’re constantly evolving and so is the information available to us.
I believe that we who strive to be healthy can inspire and learn from each other. But I think everyone must stop "needing to be right" in order for that to happen.
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