Food isn’t poison.

One thing I dislike about nutrition is how often we discuss eating as though it’s something incredibly dangerous that people must do just right or risk INSTANT DEATH.

When society has become so risk-averse that we can’t even enjoy food, you know something is terribly out of whack.

Barring allergies, intolerances*, non-functioning organs, and foodborne illnesses, food isn’t going to hurt you.

Because food? Isn’t poison.

Even in those exceptional cases, it’s the microorganisms in the food, the immune response of the body, or the lack of some vital function that is to blame. Not the food itself.

The worst food-related thing that can happen to most people is not having enough of it. Or not being able to digest select types of it. Or somehow losing (through various bodily fluids I won’t itemize for you) what nutrients they do manage to take in.

That’s when people get very, very sick, because not only can not getting enough of a particular nutrient cause a deficiency, it can also cause you to get too much of another nutrient, since that’s the only one you’ve got handy.

Not having enough variety can make you sick. Not having clean, safe food can make you sick.

In fact, plenty of non-foodborne diseases kill you by taking nutrients away from you. Cancer is one. Diabetes is another. Then there’s cholera and typhoid fever and all kinds of lovely things.

But food itself? Not inherently sick-making.

What else isn’t food? It isn’t medicine.

Eating certain types of it, or taking certain isolated nutrients, probably isn’t going to cure anything except an underlying deficiency.

But when does food masquerade as medicine? When you selectively take some of it away.

Taking food away is inherently risky, because your safest bet, mathematically, is to always get enough food with as much variety as possible. Selectively reducing that variety can cause nutrient deficiencies and excesses.

Whether you do it because you don’t have enough money, or because you’re just a picky eater who only eats the same six foods over and over again, or because of ethical or religious reasons, or because your doctor told you to, or because you’re trying to lose weight — selectively reducing variety carries an inherent risk.**

Fucking around with restricting your food intake, despite being treated by many people as a casual pastime, is not a totally benign endeavour.

It’s treating food like medicine, and medicine generally comes with side-effects.

Despite what the media and some healthcare professionals and the culture at large seems to think, humans actually have a finite capacity for consuming food.

Which is why it’s pretty rare that harm ever comes directly from eating too much food — harm usually comes from eating a particular food in such quantities that, by physical necessity, it displaces other foods that you need.

Not because that food is poison, or because you broke the universal law of How Much Should Be Eaten. But because you missed out on something else.

One of the riskiest things a dietitian can ever do to a patient is to take food away. It starts at a minimally risky, generally tolerable level with a mild therapeutic diet, and goes all the way up into the red at intravenous nutrition.

You only use intravenous nutrition when shit is seriously fucked up, and the patient can’t eat and absorb nutrients from the gut anyway. Why? Because it’s dangerous.

And why is it dangerous?

Because the patient is getting no food, which comes neatly packaged with enough inherent variety to naturally balance things out. Which means a dietitian had better do her math correctly, and better run labs on that patient constantly, to make sure nothing goes terribly wrong.

Can you get too much of a particular vitamin or mineral? Yes. But that’s not the same thing as eating too much food. If you have access to a decent variety of foods in adequate quantities, and your internal organs are more-or-less functional, it’s pretty fucking hard to eat enough actual food to give you a nutrient overload.

That’s why food, in most circumstances, is safer than taking supplements. Because there are built-in safeguards (distribution of nutrients in the food; nutrient density of the food; capacity of your own stomach) to keep you from fucking it up too badly.

If your body wasn’t adequate at regulating your food intake, and if foodstuffs hadn’t evolved that were good for humans to eat, we wouldn’t be sitting here in front of our computers in the year 2010.

We wouldn’t be alive to be as neurotic about food as we are. If food were poison, humans wouldn’t exist.

And I, for one, wouldn’t want to.

So, if food isn’t poison, and if it isn’t medicine, what is it? It’s food. It’s sunlight and air and soil and water and love, in edible form. It’s every creature that’s gone before you, and the thing you’ll be to those who come after.

It tells us we belong here — that we deserve to live, that we’re still here when we die.***

In short, it’s good. Food is everything that’s good.

*Which are very real, and very important, and you shouldn’t go around questioning people’s health conditions because it’s fucking rude.

**Which is not to say you can’t or shouldn’t ever do it, but that you take the risk into account and compensate for it somehow.

***How’s that for using the first law of thermodynamics?

As usual, the garden party will be held in comments. BYOB.

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95 Comments

  1. Posted February 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Amazing post! It’s sad and dangerous how we demonize food. Lately the phrase “addicted to food” / “food addiction” has been bothering me; um, YES, I’m addicted to food. I’m addicted to living, too.

    • Posted February 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I think compulsive eating is a real thing, and that it harms people. But I don’t think eating disorders are addictions, or that the addiction model is helpful in their treatment.

      Addiction is a specific term that should have a specific meaning that, by pure logic, does not include substances required to live.

      Sadly, they’re still fighting about what, exactly, addiction does mean, even in the scientific literature. But in my mind? Addiction will never include food or water or air.

      • Posted February 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        That’s it! I’m totally addicted to AIR! I’m joining a support group STAT to combat this dangerous air addiction.

        • Posted February 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

          seriously? That’s nothing. I’m addicted to water. I mean, I can’t go a whole day without drinking water at least 10 times. Hell, I can’t even go to the gym without drinking it… sometimes I can’t even sleep for a whole night without waking up and taking a drink. It’s gotten so bad that I carry a water bottle with me everywhere I go…

      • badhedgehog
        Posted February 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Exactly. You can quit smoking and never have tobacco, ever, not even the merest little puff of a cig. You can quit drinking alcohol, and never have alcohol, ever, not a sip. You can quit cocaine and never have it, ever, not at all. You can’t quit food, or you’ll die.

      • sannanina
        Posted February 2, 2010 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        I think the argument that they are currently using to justify the idea that people can be addicted to food is that food activates the same (or some of the same) brain regions in some people as the respective addictive substance activates in an addict (which I think is not a useful point to make since in my opinion these regions just have to do with perceiving a reward – and it is normal and healthy to experience food as a reward, at least if you have been deprived of food).

        Still, I think I could live with the “food addiction” idea if it wasn’t so destructive when it comes to treatment. It is not helpful for most compulsive overeaters/ binge eaters to cut out the food they find “triggering” completely – especially not since restriction often played a role in causing the disorder in the first place. As a binge-eater in recovery, I do find it helpful to have some “rules” – i.e., I usually don’t keep lots of sweets at home because I tend to overeat on them. Yet, that does not change that the two most important steps I have taken to recover is 1.) to eat sweets when I crave them (although when I am really hungry I first eat some “regular” food first and then decide if I still want sweets) 2.) do remind myself that even if I binge occasionally it is not a criminal act nor will an isolated bingeing episode harm me (in fact, feeling guilty about it has much more potential to harm me then simply letting it go). Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in the health field who think I must be deluded in order to follow this approach.

        • Kate
          Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          sannanina, it sounds like we have a similar approach, though there is one particular sweet that I can’t stop eating, and that one item I completely avoid, but otherwise, I don’t ban any foods completely.

          I have also found that it helps me to make most of my food from scratch, then I know exactly what’s going into my body and gives me some perspective of what’s in the food I’m eating. But some people don’t like to cook/bake, nor have the time, so that’s not something I think would benefit everyone.

      • emi s.
        Posted February 2, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        I disagree – I’m recovering from bulimia, and I’ve found it helpful to think of myself as addicted to binging and purging. I’m not addicted to food – I need food – but I am addicted to the binge/purge rush, I think.

        I think this addiction model is helpful in treatment, too. For example, just as it’s dangerous for alcoholics to start fantasizing about drinking, where they’d go, what they’d drink, it’s dangerous for me to spend too much time looking at recipes or food blogs, looking at the food, imagining eating it, etc. Both start the craving for the addictive behavior, the drinking or the binge. Luckily for me, if there’s something I really want to eat, I can just eat it (in a moderate quantity as part of a meal or snack) – hopefully before the food craving turns into a binge craving.

        • Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          I think this is a very good point. Maybe it is helpful to view ED behaviours themselves as addictive (in the same way other behaviours, like gambling, can be considered addictive.)

          Luckily, that still doesn’t require us to view FOOD as an addictive substance, or eating itself as an addictive behaviour.

          If the addiction model can actually help treat bulimia, then I’m all for it. What concerns me is how they use the addiction model to treat compulsive overeating (like in OA kind of set-ups.) I think it’s basically trying to treat disordered eating with what amounts to a diet. Which is also a form of disordered eating.

  2. Posted February 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    My best friend’s mother has, in the recent past, chalked up my friend’s mental illnesses to some sort of nutrient deficiency and recommended she eat potatoes. Raw ones. Lots of them. Because she read this thing online and…

    *headdesk*

    I can understand that your brain functions better, much like other muscles, when it is properly fed and cared for, which may include adding one thing or another to what you eat so you get Nutrient T or Nutrient G. But like you said, food isn’t medicine.

    • Posted February 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Raw potatoes? Was she thinking about potassium?

      • Chris Gregory
        Posted February 1, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        Resistant starch, maybe…raw potatoes are not good eats at all. But cold cooked potatoes have a form of dietary fibre that’s fairly hard to find otherwise (which is called resistant starch, and which is used to fortify some white breads to increase their fibre content).

        So I would definitely recommend eating cold cooked potatoes every once in a while, probably in a nice potato salad. I prefer the kind with eggs and bacon and cheese, chopped onion and maybe anchovies. Which, I think if you did the figures, amounts to a reasonably balanced meal on its own.

  3. Your husband
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    How’s this for a compliment: I was supposed to read that article and look for typos…but I got engaged and intrigued along the way. Oops.

    • Posted February 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      <3

      I think you should know that I wrote this whole thing in my pajamas, and then moderated all of the comments in my underwear.

      • Carolyn
        Posted February 1, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

        That rocks so hardcore. LOL

  4. April
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    A friend of mine linked me to this entry, and you’re officially going on my blog roll. This entry is full of lovely common sense, which is a breath of fresh air when people are talking about nutrition and food.

  5. Posted February 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful post. Well written.

    And thanks for defending food intolerance in your notes.

  6. Posted February 1, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    once again another brilliant post–the end actually brought tears to my eyes!

    I just have one question:

    That’s why food, in most circumstances, is safer than taking supplements.

    I am curious, maybe you’ve talked about this before and I missed it or wasn’t reading your blog yet, but do you think that taking vitamin supplements isn’t a great idea? I take a daily multi, vitamin D (I live in the Pacific Northwest where we have a major lack of sun) and omega-3 fish oil. I do it for backup and also try to make sure I’m getting foods that contain these things on a regular basis. Should I be doing some more research on whether this is really necessary?

    • Posted February 1, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      do you think that taking vitamin supplements isn’t a great idea?

      It’s really a personal thing and depends on where you live, what you eat, what health conditions you may or may not have.

      I don’t think taking supplements is a Bad Idea, Period, and a lot of people like taking them. Many people take them safely, and many of them pose very little risk. However, technically, supplements do pose *more* risk of causing nutrient imbalance (by giving you too much of something) than simply eating food does. And most people who are getting an adequate amount and variety of food do not need supplements.

      Nevertheless, for some people, the risks involved in taking a supplement are worth the peace of mind it gives them. You can always talk to your doctor about whether she/he thinks it’s a good idea in your particular situation.

      (I also take vitamin D, personally. But people need to be especially careful with vit. A, D, E, and K – the fat solubles – because they can build up to toxic levels in your body since you don’t excrete them in your urine. When picking a vitamin supplement, it’s a good idea to check the DRIs and make sure the amounts on the bottle are within the RDA — remember, you’re taking them ON TOP of all the food you’re eating. Here’s the RDA for vitamins and minerals.)

      ETA: I just ran across this article on vitamin supplements and their potential side-effects.

      • Posted February 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        thanks for those documents, that is super helpful (I appreciate the extra detail beyond the one-size-fits-all “daily value” on the bottles). It appears I am getting more vitamin D via supplements than “adequate intake” that I need, but not even close to the “upper limit” for women in my age group. I’m planning to ask my doctor to test for vitamin D levels next time I have blood drawn because I have a hunch I may be deficient considering how much just taking the supplements helps me be less lethargic (mentally and physically).

        • Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

          I’m in the Seattle area m’self, and yes, I’ve read we don’t get enough sunshine in winter to get adequate D. My doc also monitors my vitamin D levels and as of this fall I’m STILL low at 2000 iu a day.

          I also take B12, because I’ve a diagnosed deficiency in that too.

          • Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

            Another perfect example of how nutrient requirements are normally distributed.

            2000 IU is the UL (Tolerable Upper Limit) for vitamin D (50 mcg.) But for some people? It still might not be adequate.

  7. Jerome
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Hi Michelle, I just wanted to tell you that you are now the only fat-o-sphere blog other than SP which I check and read the comments on daily (the comments on most of the other blogs just use up my SW points too quickly). Great work moderating, and I loved this article. Thank you so much for writing it.

    Quick question: I’m vegan, but don’t take any supplements because, like you, I basically believe that I should be able to get what I need from food. I eat as wide a variety of foods (especially vegetables) as I can and I drink Silk almost daily (I’m gay and really don’t care about soy causing increased estrogen or whatever they say it does now), which is fortified with vitamin B12, the one thing that vegans can’t get from any food. I’m basically healthy (well, physically) but I do sometimes wonder whether I am going to end up with some bizarre disease down the line from a lack of vitamins x, y, and z. What do you think? I know you aren’t taking questions right now so please don’t worry if you don’t have time to respond. :)

    • Posted February 1, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      It’s good that you’re taking Silk with added B12 — that’s your most important base to cover. You also want to make sure you’re getting enough iron, and that that iron is being well-absorbed, since the iron you’re getting from non-animal sources is non-heme iron. There’s also potential issues with zinc and some other nutrients, but a vegan diet can definitely be more than adequate if you plan for this stuff. You might want to read this article for details.

      • Jerome
        Posted February 2, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

        @ Michelle: Thank you for answering my question.

        @ Chris Gregory: It really isn’t my job to explain this, but here goes. I’m an athiest, and going vegetarian and eventually vegan was, for me, a purely ethical decision that had nothing to do with weight loss or religion. To wit, I reached my highest ever adult weight as a vegan AND STAYED VEGAN (and an athiest) because I, personally, believe that it is the ethically correct choice. I am not one to prostyletize and would never try to harangue someone else into going vegetarian or vegan in that I am aware that my opinion isn’t The Truth and that everyone is on their own path; I would appreciate a similar level of respect for my choices. I’ve been trying very hard to avoid the word mansplain in this response. Whoops.

        • Jerome
          Posted February 2, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

          Rereading this comment, I just realized that I spelled atheist incorrectly not once, but twice!

    • Chris Gregory
      Posted February 1, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

      Uh, well I realise that being vegan is a popular choice, I think it’s very hard to ask a professional’s opinion about whether or not it’s a sensible dietary choice. I’m not a nutritionist, but from an historical or anthropological perspective, being vegan is not a tenable lifestyle. There has never been a group of people who have survived on a vegan diet (or a raw food diet, for that matter). Even vegetarian societies tend to be vegetarian through circumstance, but none has ever survived without any animal products. This is very significant: it’s saying that any group that was forced to subsist on exclusively plant material did not survive.

      While foods that are available to modern people are of significantly better nutritional quality than anything available in the wild to hunter-gatherers, it’s still very, very hard for you to subsist on a vegan diet with no long-term health issues (women are particularly at risk of decreased bone density). Most GPs will recommend that you at least eat dairy and eggs, and probably fish as well. I understand that there is a perception that food choices can reflect moral judgements or ethical behaviour (I personally don’t think they can), and that what you eat is your own business, artificially restricting your diet is never the best choice.

      • Posted February 1, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        Luckily, many of us live now in circumstances that make eating vegan (or various levels of vegetarian) a more than tenable choice.

        None of us is required to strictly adhere to the lifestyles of our ancestors — thank God.

        • Chris Gregory
          Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

          I think you’re opening up a big can of worms here…dieting and self-imposed dietary restrictions are closely related as cultural practices and almost identical in practice. I don’t see how you can condemn the one and support the other, when they are variations on the exact same theme.

          • Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

            One is done with the intention of weight loss. The others are not. In my opinion, that makes them totally different.

            You could make the same comparison between necessary therapeutic dietary restrictions and weight loss dieting. But you’d be just as wrong.

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

            That’s a flawed analogy: one is necessary, the other is a matter of personal taste.

            Removing certain foodstuffs from one’s diet for perceived social gain is always a questionable activity, whether or not it has an ideology attached. All forms of dieting are about ritualised health and bodily purity, and all material promoting restrictive diet practices promote the weight loss attributed to these forms of abstinence behaviour (see PETA’s adverts, for example).

            Most diet plans are about restricting your diet to certain foodstuffs, and the more modern diet books (Pollan) conflate these goals with ethical or moral imperatives. The weight loss is not the goal in itself. Increased social status is the goal. Just the same product with slightly different packaging.

          • Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

            I’m not going to speak for people who observe religious dietary restrictions, or who are vegan for animal rights purposes, since I do neither of these. But I do have a feeling they might categorize those decisions as something more than mere “personal taste.”

            I’m sure there are some people who restrict their diet as a means of attempting to gain social status. But I also believe there are people who do so for deeply held personal beliefs. As for who is who, I don’t know, and I don’t much care, because people are allowed to do what they want with their bodies.

            There are people who genuinely believe in fat acceptance who restrict their diet for all sorts of reasons you might not believe are legitimate. The lovely thing is, you don’t have to. But they still get treated with respect around here.

            ETA: I also just thought of this: as for true matters of personal taste, some people don’t like, say, broccoli. Or chicken. And those people might choose to not eat broccoli or chicken — thus, they choose to restrict their diet. That is purely a matter of personal taste, by definition, and probably not a means of trying to gain social status. And it is still totally compatible with being anti-weight loss dieting.

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

            Personal taste is not something to denigrate, but neither is it the same thing as virtue. I meant no disrespect, I just don’t think that you’re being consistent.

            Food shouldn’t be politicised. Eating should be a morally neutral activity. But that requires a certain atheism towards all claims to the contrary.

          • Jackson
            Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

            “Personal taste?” Deeply held religious and ethical beliefs are not a “personal taste” any more than your decision not to murder people (I assume you have made that decision). To trivialize it as a “personal taste” is utterly insulting.

            I’m sorry if I do not see the “social gain” that comes from people acting as though I am an alien because I choose to eat ethically, but if you are not in that position I suggest you not speak for us.

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

            Wah? I said that the *analogy* was flawed because weight loss dieting was a matter of personal taste, while medically restrictive dieting is sometime a matter of necessity.

            I didn’t mention religious belief, which is a totally different issue.

          • Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:02 am | Permalink

            Fair enough. But you did say “dieting and self-imposed dietary restrictions are closely related as cultural practices and almost identical in practice. “

            I took this to imply that all other forms of restriction are comparable to weight-loss dieting. Which I don’t think they are (see: religious and ethical restrictions.)

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:55 am | Permalink

            I did refer *specifically* to people who altered their diet for social status…

            Conforming to religious restrictions is a form of status-seeking within the group, but it’s of an arbitrary nature (I’ve known a few non-Jews who eat kosher as a dieting method, and I know Muslims who won’t eat hiram even though they don’t go to mosque). You don’t change religion just for the food.

          • Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:57 am | Permalink

            You don’t change religion just for the food.

            Speak for yourself, bub.

            I still have a problem with the idea that people choosing to eat differently for whatever reason is purely status-seeking. Which you did imply, about veganism. Which you compared with weight-loss dieting. Which I still think is a very poor comparison.

            But anyway, this is making me think a lot, so it’s not a fruitless exercise at all.

          • Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

            Just to be up front – I do not follow any religious or ethical dietary restrictions. Chris, while you make an important point about certain restrictions being chosen (being vegan or following religious obligations) it doesn’t seem to me that the reasons behind those choices are anyone’s business besides the person making them. When someone tells you they believe it is unethical to consume products taken from other living beings in an unjust fashion so they choose not to do so, why question that? Why assume their choice has anything to do with social gain? Why not take their explanation at face value? We are very fortunate to live in times/places where a person can be vegan and be healthy, keep kosher/halal and be healthy, etc. That choice in and of itself doesn’t hurt anyone else, and it doesn’t necessarily hurt the person who made it.

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:11 am | Permalink

            You’re completely right. I was just trying to point out that *medically* veganism is not the best choice of diet. I’m not advocating constant beef injections, I’m saying that there’s never been a society or tribe who have survived without eating some animal products, like eggs and cheese and milk. There’s no other long-term data to go on, but that’s a pretty good indicator that it’s not enough for the human body to run on.

            It’s your right to eat what you want. But if you restrict your diet to a potentially dangerous level, maybe it’s better to loosen up just a little instead of relying on supplemental vitamins. And again, I was responding to a question on a public forum. it’s just my opinion blah blah…I’m not the boss of anyone.

          • Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:13 am | Permalink

            I’m not advocating constant beef injections

            Really? Because I am.

            HOT beef injections. Constantly.

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:34 am | Permalink

            You should move to Australia. A hot beef injection is a euphemism for the popular working-class delicacy otherwise known as a sausage roll.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sausage_roll

            Note that they can be up to twelve inches in length!

          • Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:37 am | Permalink

            (We eat sausage rolls on Christmas morning. But we don’t call them hot beef injections.)

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 2:07 am | Permalink

            That’s because you’re not Australian. And we eat them all the bloody time. Covered with dead horse (which is rhyming slang for tomato sauce)!

          • occhiblu
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

            You’re completely right. I was just trying to point out that *medically* veganism is not the best choice of diet.

            Why were you trying to do that?

            I think you’re ignoring the fact that you were *responding directly* to a vegan’s question about veganism, and so very definitely set yourself up in the “I’m telling you why your choices are wrong” dynamic rather than the “I’m just sharing general information” dynamic.

            Having opinions or preferences or knowledge is fine, but it’s helpful to think about *why* you’re sharing those opinions or preferences or knowledge at any given time, and how that sharing might be construed as judgment rather than information.

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

            No, it was a person specifically asking if their diet was adequate. And I said that it probably isn’t. This has nothing to do with the politics of the decision or my opinion of the politics. That’s the only reason I said it. That the person did not like the advice is unfortunate, but which would you prefer, a flattering lie or the honest truth?

            The only long-term studies of vegan diets that I know of show an average six percent reduction in bone density compared to other diets (including standard vegetarian practices). This is a poor predictor for health in old age, given that bone breakages are a very considerable cause of death in the elderly.

            If your ethical considerations outweigh your concerns for your health, fine. This is the point: I’m not your boss. Lots of people engage in risk-taking behaviour all the time. It’s their right. But if they ask for approval, I’m going to be honest. That is an actual ethical position to take, by the way.

          • Posted February 2, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

            The only long-term studies of vegan diets that I know of show an average six percent reduction in bone density compared to other diets

            I’m not sure this is quite as irrefutable as you seem to think it is.

            No, it was a person specifically asking if their diet was adequate. And I said that it probably isn’t.

            And the problem here is that I don’t recall anyone asking for your advice.

          • Jerome
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

            Exactly (see my response above).

        • Alicia
          Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:00 am | Permalink

          I am just chiming in that I am a long-time vegetarian, in the process of moving towards veganism. I am staunchly anti-diet and am a bit taken a back that my ethical food choices might be compared to dieting. In many ways, I do not even consider my diet to be a ‘choice’ (though I understand that for many people, that is the way they see it), but rather a necessity if I want to live a happy, harmonious life.

          Religious and ethical food choices are very different than dieting, because there is no attempt to change the body (unless you consider organic eating an ethical choice? and thats a different kind of body changing…so thats a bit jumbled). I do not restrict my eating, that is, I do not restrict how much I eat…sometimes I eat a lot, sometimes I eat a little…sometimes I eat junk food….I do however, always restrict animal products. I will never eat steak, but I will certainly eat two three servings of mashed potatoes if I’m hungry.

          Cheekily, I have to say that if it is about changing the body, then chalk this up to a big ol’ failure for me…because I’m fat and happy (and animal free!).

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 2:04 am | Permalink

            I really don’t want to be mean, but you define yourself by what you don’t eat and for how long you’ve not been eating it, and then say that you are planning to ascend the social hierarchy of these things by restricting your diet even further. Then you say you are strictly anti-diet. Isn’t that contradictory?

            There’s an interesting article at the Hoover Institute, arguing that food is the new sex. I think that it is probably very relevant to the issues that have been brought up:

            http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/38245724.html

          • littlebird
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

            chris, any comment that starts out with “i don’t want to be mean” usually ends up that way. ditto “don’t take offense,” or “i don’t mean to be offensive” as prologues to a comment.

            if you don’t want to be mean, just don’t.

          • KellyK
            Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

            If you don’t want to be mean, just don’t.

            QFT

            I may be too cynical and overly snarky, but I tend to translate “I don’t want to be mean” as “I want to say something mean without you thinking I’m being mean.”

      • Lisablue
        Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        Your argument that veganism is not medically tenable is specious – to say that because something historically has not happened therefore means that it can not happen is flawed.

        Technological advances allow us to change behaviour from what is traditional to something new. Just as at one time we had never had a machine on Mars, yet now we do, now it is possible to live a healthy long life as a vegan.

        It does require research into what our bodies need (e.g. B12, Iron, D, etc) and how to get enough of those items in a healthy way. But there are many out there who successfully do. There are successful vegan athletes (including body builders), for example.

        Also, your statement that a medical doctor will tell a vegan to eat dairy and possibly fish is not true – certainly some will, as medical doctors have their own biases, just like the rest of the population. However, when I told my doctor I am vegan, she merely asked what I was doing to get Iron, B12, and D, and I told her. She was satisfied by that. I had a healthy pregnancy as a vegan, and I am raising a healthy vegan child.

        I’m getting the impression, also, that you believe people are vegan because it’s popular to be vegan – I gotta tell you, there are many of us who are not. I’ve never followed trends, not even the trends of those who are following alternative trends so they can be an individual just like everyone else they want to be like. ;)

        • Chris Gregory
          Posted February 2, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

          That’s all perfectly true. I was just pointing out that making the step from a vegetarian diet to a strict vegan diet meant increased risk. I think we’d all agree that too much restriction is unhealthy. A diet consisting solely of icy poles, for example. So where do you draw the line?

          Well, it depends on the individual, on their constitution and so on. There are no particular health risks associated with vegetarianism. How about a raw food diet? Well, fifty percent of women who adopt a raw food diet stop menstruating, so it’s not a long-term (generational) proposition. And as I said, cutting out *all* animal products has very definite risks. If health was your main concern, be vegetarian rather than vegan.

          That shouldn’t be a contentious thing to say, any more than saying that an all-icy pole diet is a bad idea. But because there’s an ideology attached to it, people become hostile and defensive on reflex, and, let’s face it, irrational.

          • Posted February 2, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

            I’m about to repeat my last comment, in case you didn’t see it:

            I appreciate that you’re on a roll here, and I think it’s a really interesting subject, to be honest. I’d love to read more about it.

            But my comments section is getting quite cluttered now, and I’m sensing some tension as well.

            Perhaps you could go into more detail about this on your own blog (not being sarcastic), and I’ll even link to the post, and we can have a discussion about it over there.

          • Posted February 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

            Also, people have the right to stick up for their beliefs without being called irrational, capice?

            And there’s quite a looooong piece of geography to tread between eating a vegan diet and eating an all-icy-poles diet.

  8. Michellers
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Fabulous post!

    I have treated food as medicine many many times in my life. I have restricted food for the many diets I have been on, but also because of my asthma–didn’t help–and most recently because I thought my colicky baby might be reacting to something in my breast milk–I didn’t eat dairy for 6 months but it didn’t help then, either. And I have noticed that when I do a classic elimination food plan (no wheat, dairy, soy, nightshades, fun, etc.) I actually do feel especially good…even though it doesn’t help my asthma I do think my skin looks better and I have a little more energy and a better attitude. But inevitably I start to really crave the missing food item and it slowly but surely return to my normal, albeit fairly sane and full of variety, way of eating.

    I think it is so fascinating and even wonderful to think that what I have always perceived as a failing (as in I don’t have the “willpower” to stop eating cheese forever) might actually be my body trying to communicate a real need to me. What a crazy concept, listening to my body!

    Clearly I am new to this whole HAES thing, but I am starting to have a little glimmer of hope…

    And now I must go eat some cheese.

    • Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      Hahaha, I love this comment. Enjoy your cheese!

  9. Alaura
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Great post!!! I’m a nutrition student at New York University (in the US) and I love the information you provide about HAES. I definitely think our dietetics program is lacking in this area. As someone “in recovery/recovered” from an eating disorder, I find the way nutrition is talked about often as a means to become smaller not only discouraging, but completely unhelpful and personally triggering. Thanks again for your blog. :) I’ve actually been following on twitter for a while without making it over here to read.

    In response to Chris Gregory, I find your post to be disrespectful and wish you would have chosen a better tone to voice your opinion. I don’t feel as though being vegetarian is a matter of taste for me. It was a decision I have made and sustained based on scientific fact and emotional intelligence in that I am able to honor what I feel and respect the feelings and food decisions of others.

    As far as my ethical restrictions go–I’m a vegetarian. The nutritionist I see had me read “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. I don’t know if anyone here has read it, but their approach is absolutely anti-diet and very much along the lines of HAES (or my very limited understanding of this idea). I’m vegetarian because I like the way it makes me feel to not eat animals. I feel that it’s right for me and not worth how sad eating them makes me. I also honor my body enough to occasionally eat fish and every so often (but rarely) give in to a chicken craving if that’s really what my body is asking for. :)

    • Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

      Oh yes, Intuitive Eating is very big in HAES circles. And so, so glad to hear from other nutrition students, always! Especially someone with an interest in EDs and HAES.

  10. Jackson
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    I want to like this article because I am at odds with an industry that makes foods out to be instant killing machines and tries making up for it by selling you acai extract and krill oil. But then you start talking about people who make religious and ethical choices, and I’m stunned.

    Interesting. You seem to think it’s “fucking rude” to criticize somebody for eating for a health condition, but it’s not rude to criticize somebody for following deeply held ethical and/or religious beliefs. This essay makes me suspicious that you have not met many of us who aren’t thinly-disguised crash dieters.

    So really, are you telling me that as somebody with an ethically and religiously restricted diet I have no variety in my diet? When I went vegetarian the number of different foods I ate skyrocketed. I’ve eaten foods I didn’t even know existed before then because I was eating a “normal” diet of a big slab of beef with some veggies around it. Non-vegetarians have some of the most predictable dietary habits I have ever seen.

    Because you know what? There’s a hell of a lot of food out there. Taking out some select food items because you in your heart believe it’s the right thing to do isn’t going to starve you unless you’re limiting yourself to a pretty grim diet. Do people do that? Yes. But you seem to be suggesting that anybody who has restrictions is committing a dangerous crime to themselves. I think that’s pretty arrogant.

    You seem to imply that by abstaining from things you eat we are being unfair to ourselves. But I’m assuming you abstain from all sorts of foods because your cultural upbringing has told you “don’t eat this.” I know of nobody personally who would eat a cat or a dog, or human flesh, and I’m the only person I know who eats beet and turnip greens. Are we all practicing some inherent risk by abstaining? Most religious abstinence is of a fairly small variety of food… pork, shellfish, beef, for example… no, really, do you seriously think not eating a few things because you believe God doesn’t want you to is an “inherently risky” action considering the wealth of variety this planet has for us?

    • Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

      Hold up, man. I’m actually on your side. Read the comments. To wit:

      You seem to think it’s “fucking rude” to criticize somebody for eating for a health condition, but it’s not rude to criticize somebody for following deeply held ethical and/or religious beliefs.

      I actually also think it’s rude to criticize people for ethical and religious restrictions. Just so everybody knows — I spent a lot of my time serving people with kosher and halal restrictions in hospital. So I am quite sensitized to these practices, and I respect them a whole hell of a lot.

      Are we all practicing some inherent risk by abstaining?

      Yes, we all are. But life is not a risk-free endeavour, and a lot of the risks that come from ethical/religious/medical restrictions are pretty small compared to the risks that come from restricting for the purposes of weight loss. Weight loss is, by definition, an imbalanced nutritional status. None of those other types of restrictions necessarily have to be, if we account for those risks. (See footnote **)

      • Chris Gregory
        Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:23 am | Permalink

        Hey Michelle! *You* were the one who brought religion into this! That’s a totally different kettle of fish…

        We live in a society in which most people can afford to choose what they eat. And with this freedom comes a whole lot of baggage. It means that what you choose to eat says something about how you see yourself and how you fit in with others. You cannot underestimate the importance of taste in secular society to maintain social hierarchies.

        By definition, what you choose to eat cannot be considered ethical, because eating is a necessity. It can only be, by definition, a matter of taste. So any dietary restrictions that are self-imposed (and not external, like religious or cultural requirements) are matters of taste and not ethics or morality. Not ever.

        • Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:26 am | Permalink

          See, I never would have thought that you viewed religious/cultural restrictions as externally imposed and necessary. I thought you were implying the opposite.

          Anyway, I’m going to have to take extra time to explain my thoughts on the similarities between those types of restrictions and ethical choices like veganism. Because I do think they’re more similar than dissimilar.

        • Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:37 am | Permalink

          So wait — I think I’m still a bit confused.

          Don’t you think that people follow certain religious restrictions not just because “MY RELIGION SAYS I HAFTA” but because there are actual ethical/moral reasons for those restrictions? Or is it entirely about symbolic spiritual purity?

          And this is an area where I honestly cannot guess well at the answer — I don’t know much about religious dietary practices from the inside, since I am not at all religious. Someone with more insight is going to have to help me with these questions.

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:26 am | Permalink

            I had a partner who was a food technologist for many years. She had to go way to a Muslim food conference once, for three or four days, with the guy going through which foods were permitted and which were not. Sometimes there were clear historical reasons (no pork), but other times, it’s just tradition.

            There’s debate about why religious food restrictions exist. Sometimes it’s because the stuff would make you sick, but not always. And then there’s fasting rituals and so on, and things like the sacrament, which go back to ancient Greece and beyond.

            On some level, sharing food with another person, particularly a stranger, is a way to give something of yourself to them in the hope that they will honour you in return. Animals that are killed are honoured so that their souls don’t get angry…

            The point being that if you believe in these things, then there are pretty clear rules for what you can and can’t do, and it’s not really up to you to question them. Myself, I don’t believe in any greater power, or the need for one to behave morally. So I’m either right or wrong.

            But you have to distinguish between religious rites and restrictions and secular ones. In secular societies you don’t have a God to say what’s right and what’s wrong. So virtue must be, as Kant said, a reward in itself.

            For something to be ethical or moral in a secular society, it must be universal. For instance, restrictions on killing other people, or restrictions on lying or cheating are pretty much universal. Otherwise it’s just a cultural value, something one culture believes in but another may not. Like thrift, or the work ethic.

            In this sense, the only meaning that can be attached to choosing one food over another is a cultural preference or a matter of taste. But eating one thing instead of another cannot be considered an ethical decision. Because some people have no choice, and eat what little they can get. How could it be ethical to tell them that they should starve?

            Sustenance is a right. Therefore, food is beyond good and evil. That’s about it.

          • occhiblu
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

            But eating one thing instead of another cannot be considered an ethical decision. Because some people have no choice, and eat what little they can get. How could it be ethical to tell them that they should starve?

            This makes no sense. Choosing to eat according to my own ethical rules can, in a very small way, decrease suffering in the world (whether that’s reducing animal cruelty, increasing profits for local farmers, reducing carbon emissions by boycotting non-local food, or whatever). That would be an ethical decision I am making about the consequences of my own eating. That has *nothing at all* to do with how other people eat, and it certainly has nothing at all to do with *dictating* how other people eat.

            By your argument, refusing to won slaves in a slave-owning society would be merely a “cultural preference.” Ethical actions do not require that an entire society go along with them; in fact, often the most ethical act is one that values principle over convention.

          • Chris Gregory
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

            Ah yes, compare me to a slave owner.

            How you shop in a capitalist society is completely up to you. If you choose your purchases according to some ideological specification rather than a use value, it’s all the same to me. The point is that you are then trying to claim some universal morality is in effect, that one product is good while another is wrong.

            Because food is a necessity, all food is morally neutral. The moral judgements you place on food are the result of your privileged position in a first world economy. You are confusing privilege with virtue. And that’s kinda fucked up, to be honest.

          • Posted February 2, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

            I appreciate that you’re on a roll here, and I think it’s a really interesting subject, to be honest. I’d love to read more about it.

            But my comments section is getting quite cluttered now, and I’m sensing some tension as well.

            Perhaps you could go into more detail about this on your own blog (not being sarcastic), and I’ll even link to the post, and we can have a discussion about it over there.

  11. Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post. Nothing brings home the fact that food is nourishment like watching a friend or relative die because they can’t get enough of it. Realizing that, in this ludicrous society, there are more than a few people who might actually admire a sick relative because they’ve gotten so thin. All you can do is sit there and think, ‘You want it so bad? I wish you could take it. Then, maybe, we could have them back.’

    People are just, so fucking, blind and so, godamn, stupid sometimes. It’s a wonder we managed to get this far.

    • Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:11 am | Permalink

      (blind /= stupid)

      Otherwise, agreed. Thank you and carry on :)

  12. Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    Well, my work here is done.

    *claps dust from hands*

    Now that we’ve all managed to piss each other off, what say we go for an ice cream?

  13. Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    Anyhow, I’m going to bed. Further commentary might get stuck in the moderation queue in the meantime. Night-night everyone.

  14. Posted February 2, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I read that book you said changed your life, and swore off dieting in the middle of it. It’s been well over a month now and my weight has not budged (it might be down a non-significant tad). Amazing. I never before would have credited my body with the ability to self-regulate, yet I am eating healthier by following my natural inclinations than I was when I was trying to coordinate everything, and enjoying eating a hell of a lot more.

    Every once in awhile, my body still acts like it’s been on a diet and goes nuts. I had nothing much in the house for dinner last night, was out running errands and saw a fast-food sign for a new sandwich that looked good, and ordered the fries and shake, too, like I would have last Fall. One thing led to another, you see. It was way, way, too much food and it wasn’t even all that good, yet I ate until I had a bellyache.

    My point? I think my dinner last night was poisonous!

    I love your blog. I think you’ve changed my life.

    • Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      I’m so, so happy to hear that book helped you, and that you’re learning to be at home in your body. It’s awesome, right??

  15. Steph G
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I have to say, as someone who’s a vegetarian, that, while I agree that food is not poison and that variety is definitely good, that not eating meat isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    I know that, in American culture, at least, a lot of time we like to focus on meat and complex carbs as the best stuff ever. Because it tastes good. It was that way in my family for a long time. Vegetables? Not nearly as tasty as meat. Vegetables were something you ate so that you could get to the good stuff (like sugary dessert goodness). I think that this sometimes inhibits us from trying the variety of yummy, edible things out there. After I became a vegetarian, I was kind of forced to start eating a greater variety of fruits, grains, and vegetables, because meat wasn’t taking up part of my plate (I do eat dairy products and eggs, but I try to get as much of my protein as possible from vegetable sources). And eating tofu all the time gets old. So I’ve started to become aware of all the things that I CAN eat (including some stuff, like beets, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, etc. that I used to not like at all as a kid). I probably eat more in terms of quantity than I did before, but I think the variety in what I consume has gotten better (though your post did make me realize I could stand to diversify even more).

    I could probably go back to eating meat, but I kind of feel that the way we raise animals and process them as food isn’t ethical. Since I live in an industrialized society where a wide range of food is available, eating meat isn’t necessary for me to survive. And, I also feel that, if I don’t feel right killing an animal myself for food, then I shouldn’t let someone else do the dirty work for me. I have no particular religious dietary restrictions (Christian, and I don’t even observe Lent…). I’m not ruling out eventually returning to eating some meat, but I would definitely only do so in moderate amounts, because, to be honest, I don’t even miss it. I don’t do this because I want to lose weight or anything like that (I’m an athlete, so if anything I want to build muscle), but I do find that my energy level is actually higher, that I digest more efficiently (inadvertently increased my fiber intake when I started eating more fruits and vegetables), and that I feel just fine and dandy doing what I do.

    • Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      I agree with you that not eating meat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And I love your point about how going vegetarian can increase people’s variety.

      Also, I hope I didn’t come off sounding like a variety fascist in this post. The point wasn’t to harp on variety as though ULTIMATE VARIETY is something everyone need aspire to; I was more trying to make a logical point that reducing variety carries a (sometimes small, sometimes large) inherent risk. And that, therefore, people who make drastic changes to their diet (mainly for the sake of weight loss) are actually subjecting themselves to more risk than just leaving their diet alone would.

      It is totally true that a lot of meat-eating people actually have LESS variety in their diet than non-meat-eating people. And those diets to play by the same rules of risk and probability that any other diet does, which is to say, they carry an inherent risk even though the people who eat them haven’t explicitly decided to remove any particular food from their routine. They’ve still restricted themselves in certain ways just by way of habit.

  16. Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    One time food is medicine is with an active eating disorder. Not sure if someone pointed that out…
    I totally agree though. I see so many parents feeding their children from a place of fear, control, disease prevention etc. Feeding from a place of negativitiy, avoidance and fear messes up the feeding relationship. I’ve seen these folks end up with kids who only eat mac n cheese or chicken nuggets, which even though they are organic is not OK. Kids are growing up afraid of salt, fat, calories in general etc. there are estimates that 20% of kids have feeding disorders which I believe is a direct result of our neuroses around food. Feed from a place of good sense, variety and nurturing.
    http://www.familyfeedingdynamics.com

  17. Arwen
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to say – on veganism/vegetarianism – I grew up vegetarian and ate that diet for many years for moral and ethical reasons. I had to stop for a time due to food insecurity.

    For whatever reason, I found I felt substantially better eating some animal protein. (And I was a champion in producing “balanced” proteins.)

    I eat many vegetarian meals – my comfort food and recipe box contain a lot of vegetarian choices – but even still, the idea of becoming vegetarian again makes me feel sort of claustrophobic and drained.

    Of course other people with other bodies have different experiences! I know many who are happily vegetarian and it feels like a better physical choice. But I just wanted to chime in that for at least one body – mine – vegetarianism is a moral diet that I might choose intellectually but that carries similar risks for me to restrictive/weight loss dieting.

  18. Lisablue
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    This post has certainly opened a can of worms!

    I agree with you that food restriction is unhealthy. What I’m hoping we can explore is what exactly restriction means.

    Historically (to take a page from Chris Gregory’s book ;) cultures only had the food available to them that they could find locally. And even now, if you’ve followed those wonderful photos that Peter Menzel took of families around the globe (The Hungry Planet stuff), it continues to be true that many groups of people have very restricted diets – not self-restricted, certainly, but restricted by availability.

    The concept I challenge is the one that says a diet* can have certain items removed (e.g. meat, since that’s part of the can of worms that’s been opened above ;), and replaced by other items (e.g. beans, nuts, dark green leafy veg and etc), and still be considered a restricted one.

    *here, of course, I mean diet as in “what you eat” and nothing to do with “how I restrict my caloric intake”

    • Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I see where you’re going. I would consider a diet, like a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet, to still be restricted, but if one is replacing the items removed with others that will make up for the lost nutrients, that is a restricted diet *for which the risks involved have been compensated for.* Therefore, it’s very likely to be a tenable, nutritionally adequate one.

      I would never say that every restricted diet (whether restricted by availability or choice) is an unhealthy one. I’m simply saying that, mathematically speaking, removing any food from the diet carries a (small) inherent risk. And, in the case of weight loss dieting, that risk is a significant one because it is intended to produce an imbalanced nutritional status (“negative energy balance”) by definition. And that imbalance ISN’T compensated for — the imbalance itself is the entire goal.

      • Lisablue
        Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        We are on the same page, then.

        Excellent!!

    • Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      (And holy shit, yes, did this ever open a can of worms. That’s fine by me, though, as long as no one loses their shit!)

      • Lisablue
        Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        Have you read the book “How to eat fried worms”?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Eat_Fried_Worms

        I loved it when I was a kid. Heh.

        • Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

          I never read it, but I totally remember seeing it on my school library’s bookshelf all the time. I’ll have to read it, finally. I love kids’ books.

  19. Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    You know what, though, everyone? Seriously? I love you guys. This has been a fabulous conversation.

    I’m considering changing the “Comments” label to “Salon du Muse” — a place for open, civil debate, the trying on, and then keeping or discarding, of various ideas.

    Love love love. Conflict doesn’t always have to be negative, emotional or personal. It can be classy, constructive, and mind-expanding.

    (Okay, so I’ve just outed myself as a giant dork. But still. I’m loving this. It’s how I want this place to be — open and welcoming, but also challenging.)

    • Posted February 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      I completely agree. This has been a nice break from biochemistry, nutrition, and gastroenterology (about which I have a test tomorrow, the anatomy and histology was today), and is tangentially related, so I feel ok with it.

      This issue of restriction is fascinating to me for a lot of reasons. I’m an American woman (and a medical student at that), so I’m surrounded by ED. I think about nourishment. I am a militant fat acceptor and HAESer. This makes school a bit of a challenge to civility.

      I was a vegan for a heck of a long time (mainly because of my disgust at CAFO/factory farming generally), and my body eventually felt worn out and awful. I added in some eggs (at the suggestion of my partner), and then, omnivory. My body, it likes the meat. And the vegetables of extensive and fabulous variety. All the while, buying meat and such from people I know, animals that have had a good life, some of which I’ve helped to slaughter (as an aside, I think this is really important in meat eating–knowing that you are taking a life, appreciating what that means, what you’ve been given). Through the veganism and all of it, I had, ahem, digestive issues.

      I cut out gluten (doctor’s suggestion). Better. I cut out grains. Even better. Yesterday I ate some South Indian vegetarian food just to see–fermentation aids in digestion and all. Nope, world of hurt.

      I feel weird even talking about the modifications I’ve made in my diet that work for me because I don’t want other people to think that I’m restricting my food in a way that tries to connote moral superiority or judgment of anyone else’s choices. I’m flapping lucky to eat the way I eat, to choose food over other purchases.

      And, I made the changes and lost some weight (not intentionally), and I feel like when I tell people about it I have to defend my anti-dieting-ness–like NO I WAS JUST TRYING TO FIX MY GUTS.

      Absurd. I’ll be thinking about this more.

      Yet and still, I have a chronic illness (that comes with a vitamin D deficiency), and so I eat to that as well.

      It’s so hard to make the difference between restriction for pathological reasons and restriction for reasons that make sense. It’s mind bogglingly hard to talk about how other people’s choices impact this issue.

      Also, most rambliest comment, and thank you for your top notch moderation.

      • Posted February 3, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        I had a chat about this very thing with my nutritionist this week – because I have PCOS, I’ve learned that pairing protein with carbohydrate and really focusing on high-protein foods makes my body feel better. I told her that the real miracle of how far I’ve come in treating my eating disorder is that I don’t view this as restriction but as a choice that I am making because it physically makes my body feel better (more energy, fewer sleepy crashes, etc.)

        Dieting never made my body feel better. It soothed the “control! better me! striving for perfection!” itch in my head but I never physically felt better when I was depriving myself or dealing with the resultant binges.

        And these changes, while they may make me mourn the fact that I have health issues that make them necessary, do not trigger binges. I absolutely know that I can, as my nutritionist says, always choose to eat the food in question. I just also then have to deal with the fact that there will be consequences for the way that I feel. Sometimes the consequences are worth it. More and more they are not…and the thoughts that go through my head as I decide what to eat are not about self-loathing or calorie-counting but focus on “hmm – I want that coconut cream pie but maybe I can wait until after dinner, because otherwise I know I’ll have an energy crash.”

        • Posted February 3, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

          This is a perfect example of how we learn to self-regulate our food intake without having to rely on diets and calorie counts to do so.

          Because we’re adults, and we are trustworthy when it comes to feeding ourselves appropriately.

          Thank you, Heidi.

  20. Anna
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME

  21. Posted February 2, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this. This fear of food still amazes me every time, and I’ve been waking up from a serious case of it the past few years. You really put things into perspective.

    I especially appreciated your framing diabetes in terms of danger from nutrient loss, with the hideous blaming attitudes around Type 2 in particular. Not that some fear-ridden blamers distinguish between types; I’ve heard some astoundingly ignorant comments aimed at Type 1, too. Food is often framed as an enemy here, and serious weight loss from illness is treated as a good thing. With Type 2, I only recently figured out and started correcting some deficiencies (Vicious circles: Diabetes, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies) on my own. Besides the straightforward energy deficits, this kind of thing is surely responsible for a lot of suffering and reduced lifespans.

    Excellent points about getting a good balance of nutrients through food, as far as possible. Balance is crucial, and rarely emphasized as much as “eat $FOOD and DIE”.

    Indeed, thanks for commenting on the appalling rudeness of loudly dismissing other people’s food intolerances. It’s not nice, but sometimes I can’t help but wish it were possible to give some boors celiac for a month. :)

  22. Lynn
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    First off, I love what you’re doing Michelle. You’re making a wonderful contribution.

    I enjoyed this post, and I have a follow up question: How would the possibility of lingering pesticides on produce and hormones and/or antibiotics in meat affect the (generally sound) “food is not poison” rule? While I don’t restrict my diet in any way wrt meat, fat, carbs, whatever, I still do worry about what might be in our food.

    Do you delve into this in your nutritionist studies?

  23. Vanessa
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    This is kinda old, but I just got here.
    I just wanted to say thank you for the intolerance little addition you made on this article. I know the article itself has nothing to do with intolerance to food but that little comment just made my day.

    I’m intolerant to sulphites and msg. Neither will kill me in the small doses that are eaten in a meal but both will make me wicked sick. If I go to a restaurant and ask for no onion or onion related bits in my meal due to an intolerance I get completely ignored. My husband just adds ‘she is allergic’ and sometimes they listen.

    Now I am Australian and I spent a good month in the states at the beginning of the year, and I had the best service and people actually listened to my issues and never brought me food I could not eat. Here it is a different story and I am forever sending food back or picking badness out of my meal that I am paying for the privilege to eat around the ‘bad stuff’.

    Why do people treat intolerance as a nothing? It’s not nothing for me or my husband or my family if I am either projectile vomiting or hiding a dark corner dehydrated with a migraine.

    -Crazy Onion Lady

    • KellyK
      Posted September 14, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Wow…that has to be really difficult and frustrating. I have no idea why people don’t take allergies or food intolerances seriously. Maybe because they don’t realize how serious they are, or have some weird assumption that people who say they can’t eat X are faking. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But if you go to a restaurant, you specifically ask for no onions, and you get onions, sending that back and not paying for food you can’t eat is totally and completely reasonable.

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