The rules of nutrition.

French version of this post here, courtesy Stéphanie Potin-Grevrend.

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cornwall general hospital 1897 - 50

First rule of nutrition: eat or die.

Second rule of nutrition: there are no other rules.

This is not something you are likely ever to hear from someone in my field, since we make our living by thinking up rules and then pretending they have been whispered in our ears by God himself, but nevertheless — it’s the truth, and I’m saying it.

Except for those of us who observe religious and/or ethical restrictions on the foods we eat, there really are no rules about what to eat.

I know this is disquieting, perhaps even frightening to you.

But, in fact, there is no stone tablet on which Jenny Craig or Dr. Atkins or Michael Pollan or who-the-hell-ever has etched any immutable Laws of Diet.

There are no Laws of Diet.

There is only one Law, which is this — eat or die.

That’s it; that’s all.

I could stop there, but I know that would upset people. We will now proceed to the hand-holding and handkerchief-wringing.

The words “rule” and “law” imply a directive that is established by a supreme, governing body (or deity), and which is imposed, sometimes violently, upon a population of lesser subjects.

Or, in the case of physics, a natural inevitability which occurs predictably under a given set of conditions.

And, except for eat or die, nutrition simply doesn’t work that way.

Here’s where I state the obvious: it doesn’t work that way because people are different.

Do we have ideas about what type of food is good for people with certain conditions?

Yes.

Do we have ideas about what type of food is good for the general population without said conditions?

Yes.

Do we know that over- or under-consumption of dietary components (vitamins, minerals, water, carb, fats, and proteins) can cause certain health problems?

Yes.

Can we treat or ameliorate some physical conditions through the application or restriction of dietary components?

Yes.

Do we have certain social norms and cultural preferences about what types of food to eat and how?

Yes.

Do any of these constitute authoritative, immutable, unchangeable, and inarguable rules governing what each individual must eat, think, and do, forever and ever, amen?

No.

No, they don’t — especially not among people for whom eat or die never enters once into daily thought. (I’m referring to you there, person in front of your computer wearing your favourite sweater, with a nice warm mug of preferred beverage at your elbow, and at least a vague plan of what’s for dinner? that doesn’t involve begging, a food bank, or hunting and gathering.)

If you choose not to abide by any of these rather rough and exception-pockmarked guidelines of how might be a good idea to eat if you’re a certain person in a certain situation, do the Food Police arrive at your door to arrest you?

No. (Not yet, anyway.)

Do you die instantly? Highly unlikely, severe food allergies excepted.

Because? There are no rules. Sing it with me now:

    there are no rules

    there are no rules

    there are no rules

    there are no rules

    there are no rules

Now then.

Are there ways to eat which will (potentially) optimize your functioning while minimizing (your immediate and long-term risks of) certain diseases?

Probably.

Are there ways to eat which will (possibly) undermine your functioning while increasing (your risk of) disease?

Probably.

And why do I say probably instead of striking out with a sexy, definitive Yes?

Because, while these are likely results, they are not inevitabilities. They are not laws. This is not a2 + b2 = c2.

It’s more like a2 + b2 = c probably, maybe, if x, y, and z are also present.

Because — let’s go back to being obvious again — people are different.

If you’re shopping for laws, try here. Take a good look. Notice there’s not one piece of dietary advice among them.

Why am I telling you all this? So you’ll have absolutely no idea now what to do with your eating, and throw your hands up in despair and head for the nearest Cinnabon, because, screw it, there are no rules?

No.

(Though if you’re tempted to do just that, I’ll totally understand.)

I’m telling you this because it is crucial that you be the one to decide.

I’m telling you this because you are in charge of this particular voyage, cap’n.

I’m telling you this because it is critical that humans operate on the basis of autonomy.

And I’m telling you this because you make the rules.

That Ultimate Authority? That guru, or nutritionist, or Oprah-certified megalomaniac you’ve been searching for all this time? Because you’re that desperate for someone to tell you what to do?


It’s you.

I’ll just let that sink in for a minute.

You’re either bouncing with delight, or sweatily clutching the sides of your chair right about now.

And here’s why: either you’ve accepted the idea that both your desires and your ability to appropriately respond to those desires are inherent, internal fixtures of yourself…

…or else you’re convinced that, deep down inside, you’re all id, and that you absolutely rely on some form of external superego to rein you in.

Because you believe you are bound, fated, to go too far if left to your own devices.

Because you believe you are absolutely, inherently, unreservedly, out of control.

And I’m here to tell you that you’re not.

I’m here to tell you that, as an adult person of the human persuasion, you’re inherently responsible, reasonable, and (basically) rational. If you’re alive, breathing, reading and processing this information, your body is (basically) functional.

You are not broken.

You are capable of this. You are capable of choosing what and how to eat.

You can do it on your own (or, if you have a history of disordered eating or certain health conditions, you can do it with just a little guidance that will teach you how to do it on your own.)

And if, right now, you feel like you just can’t, that is not your fault. You live steeped in a culture that tells you, over and over again, that you’re out of control and cannot be trusted. That your desires are bad, bad, bad, that your tastes are suspect. That you require rules, which, of course, often come oh-so-conveniently attached to someone selling you something.

You have become confused, which is only natural.

In fact, it’s entirely reasonable. Because you, and I, and all of us, have been targeted.

There are entire industries profiting from our belief that we are out of control and must be led by the nose. These industries collect massive amounts of money by making up rules that don’t exist and selling them to people who don’t need them.

Obviously, the propaganda works. And if it works on you, you needn’t feel alone — it works on all of us, myself included. A sustained, positive effort is necessary to work against it.

This is where normal, dare-I-say-it, healthy eating starts. Not with rules. Not with food guides.

But with media literacy.

With skeptical inquiry and critical thinking.

And, lastly, with this whole self-determination thing.

These are the fundamentals of navigating nutrition in a world where people (sadly, not of the charitably disinterested variety) are telling you what to do with your body 24/7.

Because when it comes to nutrition, there are as many rules as there are people, which is to say: there are no rules, only exceptions; there are no laws, only choices — all of which we are condemned to make for ourselves.

And I know that’s kind of scary.

But it’s also kind of awesome.

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I recognize this is a pretty radical way to talk about nutrition, and likely to spark a lot of discussion, disagreement, and possibly confusion. There are caveats and important distinctions to be made — and, as always, I’m totally willing to hash all that out in comments.

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82 Comments

  1. Lyngay
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I think I love you. Thank you for saying what is sometimes hard for us to understand. :)

  2. Posted October 5, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Michelle, I totally love you. Thank you for this.

  3. Rachek
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Fabulous!! Absolutely fabulous!

    I have only one small quibble, which is that not everyone can eat anything (which goes back to your everyone is different point). Some people, like those in my own family and myself, have food-related diseases or allergies, and eating these foods will cause malnutrition, illness, and death. But, as you say, everyone is different, food is a matter of individual needs, and there are no fucking rules that apply to everyone, blanket-like.

    So, once again, FABULOUS post! I am bookmarking this one for future reference. I heart you!

    • Posted October 5, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Some people, like those in my own family and myself, have food-related diseases or allergies, and eating these foods will cause malnutrition, illness, and death. But, as you say, everyone is different, food is a matter of individual needs

      Yes, exactly. There are definitely certain foods that harm certain people. This is the part that can get difficult to parse when we’re talking about Universal Rules vs. what is good for an individual, so I’m glad you pointed this out.

  4. Posted October 5, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Great post! I have a few people to send this to!

  5. Posted October 5, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I think, or at least, I hope, that this is going to become one of those posts that gets bookmarked and everyone refers to it as a classic– like Kate Harding’s “But Don’t You Realize Fat is Unhealthy?”

    And I especially needed to read this today. My anxiety has been getting bad and my eating habits are all out of whack, so it was really good to read this and have it translate into, ‘a handful of candy corn is not going to kill you, or even make you a bad person.’

    • Posted October 5, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Dude, I am eating candy corn RIGHT NOW. I am not even kidding! It’s one of my favourite things about October.

      Also, that’s an incredibly kind compliment. Thank you.

      • Posted October 5, 2009 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        Had a long chat with my new therapist on Saturday about food cravings (in particular, waffles!). As she put it, it is never BAD to eat a food. There is no moral value to a food. A waffle is a waffle is a waffle and if you want it, you should eat it. If you crave it three days in a row, then maybe you might think about if that specific food is answering a need that you’re not facing otherwise…but, as you say, there ARE NO FOOD RULES!

        For someone like me, who dieted so much of my life (and still suffers from issues around “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods) I have to work really, really hard to internalize that!

        • Posted October 5, 2009 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          “that you’re not meeting otherwise” that should be ;)

        • Posted October 5, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that is a good point. This is where I reiterate that, even according to a really nutritionally conservative organization like the ADA, there are no good foods or bad foods. And all foods can fit into a good diet:

          http://www.eatright.org/ada/files/TotatlDietNP.pdf

          Even where “moderation” is mentioned, with the implicit suggestion of restrained eating, I believe that we can reinterpret “moderation” as a force coming from within ourselves, when we’re eating well and are in tune with our hunger, rather than a set of rules enforced from outside.

          Same goes for “regular physical activity.” Our bodies have an appetite for movement. Honouring that is likely to result in moving well — no outside interference required.

          • Ulumuri
            Posted October 5, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

            “Our bodies have an appetite for movement.”

            That is such an awesome sentence. It just turns the whole “food is a reward, exercise is a punishment” thing on its head (not that food isn’t pleasant and all that, but it isn’t a *reward* or an *indulgence* or something like that, that is paid for with exercise – like I was always taught).

          • Elizabeth
            Posted March 21, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

            I feel really, really bad for people who look at exercise as a punishment because they are missing out on something totally awesome. That’s the one thing I really, really dislike about Jillian Michaels’ approach to fitness: to her, working out is an unpleasant necessity and must, out of necessity, be miserable to be effective. It *isn’t true!* Exercise can be fun, it can be joyful, it can even be spiritual! You just have to find what you like to do. Don’t like running? Fine. Don’t do it. There are a million other alternatives out there, from swimming or biking to walking to my personal favorite: dancing!

            I’m probably crazy, but I actually enjoy feeling my muscles burn with exertion. I celebrate every trickle of sweat down my forearms. It makes me feel alive. And if I don’t like the way an exercise makes me feel, guess what? I don’t do it. In fact, I refuse to take pilates because it bores the crap out of me, and I don’t care how effective it is or how long and lean my muscles will be. I guess my muscles aren’t gonna be lean and long, because I don’t like pilates.

            Gack; I’m rambling. I just… I really wish everybody could feel the way I do about exercise.

            Awesome website, by the way. I feel super-empowered. :) And you know, most of the people I really admire in the world (even physically) are pretty laid back about their eating. They just do what feels good.

          • Posted October 5, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

            “food is a reward, exercise is a punishment”

            One thing I learned living on my own?

            Food can be a reward for cooking.
            … or for grocery shopping.
            … or having the money for pizza delivery.
            … because after a few weeks of putting off grocery shopping, I didn’t have anything left to eat that didn’t require cooking. (I also didn’t have much to cook with.)

            Oh, and exercise can be a reward for finishing work at the desk job. :)

        • Anna
          Posted October 5, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          100% true, what you eat is your business. AND we can also do our best to look at the food source/production from an ethical standpoint. Just mentioning this because it really switched my perspective to do my best (NOT be perfect, and still not following rules, just general ideas) to buy ethically. It’s like, instead of worrying about *my* weight and blah blah blah, it feels *good* to be like, “I ‘m gonna eat a bag of chocolate. Ooh! Organic, vegan, fair-trade chocolates, yum!” All that energy I could use for body-hate, I instead use to look at positive contributions I can make while doing body-love. (And yes, that can cost more, but I can afford it, or when I can’t, I just buy the organic bulk stuff if I can and buy cheap stuff for the rest. Still not rules!).

          Imagine if all the body-hate energy went to stuff we love! That kinda becomes ethical then. Ethic imperative 1- love your body. Ethic imperative 2-work towards what you love, however you can (if you can)

  6. TuffyRules
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Sartre, CSICOP and your own very refreshing point of view in one post – I am so glad to have found your blog.

    As a 300+ pound woman conflicted between “must lose weight” and “health at every size”, I get contradictory messages from every direction – books and articles, a work-sponsored “wellness” program, TOPS guidelines, etc… I generally try to follow Willett and Pollan’s advice (if they contradict each other, it’s lost on me), and it creates a lot of internal conflict for me when presented with a conflicting “rule”.

    It’s such a worthy point that none of these guys get to make the rules and that their advice isn’t universal. It’s going to take some work for me to go from intellectually understanding that to actually not feeling guilty for managing my own nutrition as I see fit.

  7. Tenya
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I was referred over here from Shakesville. This is an awesome blog post. I’m a nurse, although not directly trained in a lot of nutrition get tons of questions and situations involving healthy eating and parsing it out from the paradigms I’ve learned (ie, How People Eat Unhealthily) from school and the real world, for myself and my patients, has been quite an interesting journey. There was some buzz a year or so ago about how badly it looks for nurses to be fat while trying to tell people about healthy eating, with the backlash focused on that nurses are human too and struggling with diets. There was never any discussion towards “maybe they are eating healthy but are, oh my god, not twigs!” I’ve had some weight gain over the past year or so which has had me very conflicted, and reading this plus an article in an occupational health nurse journal about health at any size has been really helpful.

    • Posted October 5, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Hey Tenya — glad to see someone from Shakesville! And a nurse, at that. My mom is a nurse, too, and I know we can both totally identify with the pressures on health care practitioners of all stripes to present a sort of idealized image of “health” that often undercuts our humanity and the natural diversity among people (even doctors, nurses, dietitians, and all the allied health professions, gasp!)

      There have been some really interesting journal articles recently about HAES in health promotion and patient education. I think I saw the article you’re referring to in the occ health journal – was it Australian?

      If you’re interested in reading more, I’ve been manically adding links to abstracts and full text in my right sidebar under “Articles.” If you have any to suggest I add, please let me know!

      • Tenya
        Posted October 5, 2009 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        Thanks!
        It was an American Association of Occupational Health Journal article(s), although I will warn it has big “this is a controversial article! but look at the citations!” disclaimers – wouldn’t want to go too against the grain regarding the ‘obesity epidemic,’ after all. The first part was a nice overview of the thin-craze over the last century and the lack of evidence regarding weight=health, the second is more focused on HAES as a healthy behavior program.

        Robison, J., Putnam, K., & McKibbin, L. (2007). Health at every size: a compassionate, effective approach for helping individuals with weight-related concerns — Part 1. AAOHN Journal, 55(4), 143-150. http://ezproxy.delhi.edu:2102
        Robison, J., Putnam, K., & McKibbin, L. (2007). Health at every size: a compassionate, effective approach for helping individuals with weight-related concerns — part II. AAOHN Journal, 55(5), 185-192. http://ezproxy.delhi.edu:2102

        • Posted October 5, 2009 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

          Oh yeah, Jon Robison! Very cool. Thank you for the links…I’ll be adding them to the sidebar.

  8. bgk
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I love this. Thank you.

    Rule One: Eat or Die
    Rule Two: There are no rules.

  9. Posted October 5, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Good post, nay great post! I am one of those people whose diets (and buy that I mean the totality of food that I eat) makes some people crazy. I buy local/organic for as much as I can source and pay for, lots of fruits and veggies and make all my own food. I make ice cream, cakes, bread, muffins, cupcakes, as well as “food food” mostly because its cheaper, and tastes better. People ask me all the time about this and look askance because I am a plus-size petite gal and my husband is tall and skinny. Eating like this he has lost 40 pounds where I am still carrying baby-weight from my last pregnancy (15 months ago). Its hard to convince people that I am making food because I LIKE TO MAKE FOOD. I eat fruits and veggies because I LIKE FRUITS AND VEGGIES. I am not critiquing them. I do not think that you are a ‘bad mom” random lady in the checkout line. The worst thing about talking about food with others is that they put on you all these loaded motivations. I must be doing X because of course I want Y! It’s like, “No y’all, I just like to bake, like other people like to paint or knit. Its how I relax.” Sigh. But that is how pervasive this thinking is, people drop it into ordinary conversations because OF COURSE I must be desperate to lose 40 pounds. The assumptions just kill me; they really do.

  10. shyvixen
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Awesome post thank you!

    I was just having a conversation with some friends about how so many people have become disconnected from why we need to eat and actually see food as an enemy.

    “Eat or die” – that’s all there is to it.

  11. Posted October 5, 2009 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Alright, brief pre-gig break to see if I can post comments about how fucking awesome you are from home. Here’s hoping: DUDE YOU ARE SO EFFING BRILL I DON’T KNOW WHAT.

    • Posted October 5, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      It worked! Yay!

      And thank you, of course.

  12. Posted October 5, 2009 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    What a frigging awesome manifesto! I love it. As always.

  13. Julia
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    THANK YOU.
    You are the coolest nutritionist ever. And the smartest.

  14. Emgee
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Love it! Love you!

  15. Posted October 5, 2009 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

    Today in my food sociology class I blurted out my more-or-less-unprovable theory that the "obesity crisis" is actually people freaking out at the notion that for the first time in human history there's enough food that a majority of the species isn't starving. We're evolving from "Did you eat?" past "Did you eat enough?" and I think the next question, "Did you eat well enough?" is so hard that people insist on asking "Did you eat too much?" instead. And freaking out about it. Because if personal-level "Did you eat well enough?" is hard, well then we'd really better not make our heads explode thinking about the social, political, and economic fucked-up-ness (fuck-up-ed-ness?) proven by the continued existence of famine and the like in the face of historically unprecedented food abundance. I don't know if I made that last point loudly and clearly enough. We'll see. Anyway. Thank you for the continued awesomeness.

  16. Posted October 6, 2009 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Wow. Exactly what I need to hear.

  17. Posted October 6, 2009 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I want to buy you a cinnabon.

    Your timing on this post could not have been more perfect for me personally, and the reminder was SO needed.

    So, thank you. Thank you!!!!

  18. linda
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about daring to trust myself so thank you, I really needed to hear it :)

  19. Jen
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Bravo! I knew I couldn’t possibly be the only person to arrive at the above conclusions. Love this blog!

  20. Posted October 6, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    “…it doesn’t work that way because people are different.”

    A-freaking-men! Thank you for this. :)

  21. Posted October 6, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    You are fantastic and I love you. Thank you for this.

    It really is awesome.

  22. Posted October 6, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    OK, I know you’ve received 30+ expressions of love, but can you live with one more?

    Michelle: I love you!

    This is such an important post although I fear you (and I, in my own small way) are crying out in the wilderness.

    I write a blog chronicling my journey to intuitive eating (i.e. getting back to eating the way we all did before we weren’t brainwashed by society), but I seem to have attracted a number of readers who are dieters. They’re lovely people, but they just don’t understand what I’m talking about:. “That’s good for you, but I need to count calories/ban certain foods/stay “on plan” or die, etc. etc.” I find it sad and frustrating.

    Thanks again for the amazing post. You have been on my blog roll for several months now.

  23. Amanda A. Evans
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Ok, that’s it… I am officially in love. Thank you for being out there, being you, and saying the sorts of stuff I REALLY, REALLY need to hear!

    On a separate but related note, any chance you could add a way to subscribe by email to your blog? I’m not so good at keeping up on blogs on my own…

    Thanks,

    Your brand new adoring fan :)

    Amanda

    • Posted October 6, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      Email subscription will be next on my to-do list, Amanda. Thanks for bringing it up!

      And thanks for the kind words :)

  24. Maureena
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Hi Michelle!

    This is a great post! The way you write about food is calm and remarkably objective. I am often struck by how many people seem to attach moral values to food/theories of eating. If you eat the right foods, preach your diet gospel, and atone for your sins (eating the ‘wrong’ things), you will then be thin/healthy/heavenbound. I think what you are saying has a lot of value for adults.

    But I do wonder how to present this to my children. They make choices about food within a broad range of foods I choose for them. But it is my responsibility not only to encourage them to eat and enjoy a variety of foods, but also to make sure they are getting adequate nutrition.

    A lot of child nutrition resources say that given a choice of healthy foods, children will over time eat pretty much what they need–if they are allowed to listen to their body’s cues. For my older son this is true, for my younger son it is not and I find myself telling him he can have the high calorie/low nutrition foods after he eats the high nutrition foods. So I am attaching values to foods and we have a situation developing where he most desires the foods I least want him to eat. I try to use neutral terms about the higher nutritional value of some foods vs. others, but I feel like the subtext of good/bad is there, and this could become or probably already is a power struggle between the two of us. Any advice would be appreciated!

    • Posted October 6, 2009 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

      Hey Maureena,

      That’s a really good question, kid-wise. I don’t know if you’ve seen my links to these previously, but Ellyn Satter has some good articles on dealing with kids and “forbidden foods.” Her basic advice is to serve sweets *alongside* the main meal, but not to offer seconds. As far as chips, etc., go, she also suggest those be included with the meal, but not treated in the same way as dessert.

      Anyway, here’s her more in-depth answer on the issue:

      https://ellynsatter.com/showArticle.jsp?id=752&section=279

      I also wrote a post a while back that talked about this.

      Hope this helps.

    • Emgee
      Posted October 7, 2009 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

      Maureena, I agree–that’s the problem I have with the program called Weigh-down workshop. It sort of implies that God only loves thin people, or will love you more if you are thin. I don’t find that anywhere in my Bible, but it still burns me…

  25. Kikilarue
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    It’s great to find you on your own site (although a bit late to the party) after reading your excellent Newsweek piece. I just added the RSS feed and wasn’t sure, in my info geek way, whether I should color the feed red for progressive politics or green for good living. ; )

    I had one thought to add after reading your own linked post and the Ellyn Satter article you recommended… Satter’s books might also be valuable for an adult who has no kids but is trying to ‘re-parent’ herself around food and intuitive eating. For some who are struggling to know their own appetites, as I am, perhaps it’s possible to remember oneself as a child and then use Satter’s guidance from that perspective. I know I’m much better at helping others than helping myself; this feels like a way to take advantage of that tendency while actually learning/rehearsing self-care.

    (Obviously everyone’s path is different, so this idea may be a non-starter for many. But after hemming and hawing, I decided to mention it on the off-chance that it might be useful for another reader. Hope I did right!)

    • Posted October 7, 2009 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      Kikilarue – you have a very good point, and, in fact, I know that using Satter’s books for children is definitely a way adults can teach themselves to eat normally. That’s actually how I first discovered her books, because I was trying to do that myself.

      The one that springs to mind is “How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much.” But there’s also “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” that directly addresses adult attitudes toward eating and weight.

  26. Posted October 7, 2009 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    You blew my mind once again!
    I’ve been trying to listen to myself regarding every aspect of my life, food included, for a while now.
    It doesn’t happen overnight, it took me about three years, a terrible doctor that led me to a breaktrough experience, a lot of theraphy and reading to start to allow myself be the person who takes care of my own choices. To be the person who knows better in a world that doesn’t agree with that statement.
    It’s hard work to deconstruct what you learned in a lifetime.
    But it’s the best thing to do for yourself, it’s the only way to become a person that honors thyself.
    I love what you write, the way you do it and your ideas. They are pretty much what I think too, but, not being a nutritionist and stuff, you know, I wasn’t “allowed” to have this revolutionary ideas.
    So you make my life better, easier and happier because is hard to have crictical views on the world all by yourself.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for being one of the people who gives me, not only strength, but also hope that are some pretty cool minds living in this world. All the best, Patricia (aka Papu Morgado)

  27. Ana Costa
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Michelle, thanks for this wonderful piece you wrote!!! It’s so energizing (is this word right?) and human I can surely hear you speaking!! Delightful!!! I am a Nutrition student from Brazil and recently learned about the Health at Every Size philosophy, and I truly believe in that!! ;O)
    I’ll keep reading your posts!

    • Posted October 7, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Yay! Another nutrition student! So glad you stopped by, Ana. Sometimes I need the feeling of solidarity :)

  28. Ann Sheridan
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    I wish I could have read this years ago. It’s taken me a long time to stop using food as my everything and to understand that I’m not big, I’m not small, I’m okay where I’m at.
    I’ve found what works for me, and it’s all things in moderation. So damn it, when I want that cupcake I’m going to eat it and I’m not going to beat myself up over it. And yes, I will eat those green vegetables, not all the time, but sometimes. I am in control of my own food choices and I’ll think before I eat, I’ll savor it and when the time is right I’ll do it all over again.
    Whew. I love your perspective and I’ll absolutely be back.
    THANK YOU!

  29. Posted October 7, 2009 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Hey, did you see this piece from Pollan in yesterday’s nytimes?

  30. Posted October 7, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    I just found your blog, and I think it’s quickly going to become one of my favorites!

    There are no rules, food has no morals. Love it!

  31. Melissa
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Hey
    Awesome post.
    The only other rule I really have is if I eat something and it makes me feel like crap, I don’t tend to gravitate towards it again.
    Other than that I eat so I won’t die hehehehe.

    • Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      if I eat something and it makes me feel like crap, I don’t tend to gravitate towards it again.

      …which is exactly as it should be, in my opinion.

  32. Ellis Manifold
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    A great blog to say the least! ~
    I find that you can follow your own ‘food rules’ and use that same path to reward yourself. The saying: ‘It’s the little things in life that make it worthwhile’ comes to mind. Maybe you’re tied to, or better yet, in the ‘gravitational’ hold of a structured diet, eating only certain foods because of societal pressure. You can feel good about breaking free of it’s hold by rewarding yourself with a ‘food goal’. Since there are no rules, you simply choose a time and place to eat what you crave the most. Me? well I crave breakfast at Mickey D’s, but I like to set a goal. Usually during some early, early morning while the terminaly biased anti-fat folk are still dreaming of that Tofu souffl’e that tastes like styro-foam after it was composted and filtered through a used jock-strap, (because they’re eating for other people, rather than themselves) I’m headed for Micky D’s to enjoy that great personal moment of food satisfaction and let those assumed rules go by the wayside. And I have to admit that once inside a Micky D’s I rarely come up for air, but who cares. For me it’s that good, and better yet, it works!

    You make a very good point Mitch, and you shower us with dollops of inspiration!
    I love you …. EM

    • Posted October 8, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      I HAPPEN TO ENJOY TOFU, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

      However, when it comes to McDonald’s, you speak the truth.

      I don’t go often, but when I do,
      I always get hotcakes
      and think of you.

      /poetry

  33. Posted October 8, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Wow – fabulous post!!

    I love it!!

    I should be on my way to work, but I got completely sidetracked by your thought-provoking post!

  34. Arwen
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    A rousing manifesto. Much love.

  35. Ellis Manifold
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Michelle,
    I wanted to clarify my point about Tofu. It’s not my intention to minimize or degrade it’s taste potential or nutritional value. One really cannot judge taste, anymore than they can judge colour, scent, sound, or perceived beauty, it’s totaly personal. My point was from one of personal experiance that left me with a poor impression. But otoh I have tasted Tofu in a style that was absolutely marvelous. So my ‘judgement call’ was intended only as an example of difference, not fact. I really do enjoy Tofu, but only when it is prepared to my ‘comfort level’ of taste. And, as you say, we are all different.

    Love, EM

  36. Posted October 9, 2009 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I needed to hear this today. =^_^=

  37. Maureena
    Posted October 9, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Michelle, thanks very much for your response and your Ellyn Satter book recommendations. Good advice!

  38. the anony mouse
    Posted October 11, 2009 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    Wow, wait there are no rules to nutrition? I mean, didn’t the Ten Commandments specify that shit? Cause I thought they did, and that’s how I’ve been living my life, so far.

    I like you. I really do. Your blog is smart, and fat-positive, which I adore. But this is stupid. Don’t be twee — you’re better than that.

    • Posted October 11, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Could you maybe…elaborate?

      Because I like to discuss things. I really do.

      Also, first rule of the internet: you don’t have to like everything on it.

    • Christina
      Posted October 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Nowhere in the ten commandments is food mentioned. If you doubt you can read Exodus 20: 2-17, Deuteronomy 5:6–21, and Exodus 34:11–27 as these are the verses outlining the ten commandments.

      The Jewish people were given a rule set of what food was clean to eat and unclean. These can be found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.

      Cleanliness refers to the ceremonial cleanliness, not nutritional value.

  39. Jenna
    Posted October 11, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    YAY! Screw the rules and the rule makers that make them up – I didn’t want to share my dinner with them anyway.

  40. amy
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    As someone with epilepsy on a super high-fat diet that controls my seizures, I love this. The looks I get sometimes when I tell people what exactly I eat – 40% whipping cream is a staple – range from disgust to nausea. For years I was ashamed of my “fat tooth” and wondered why I always craved it, it turned out that that was what my body needed to function. 60% fat/30% protein/ 10% carbs gives me better seizure control than 12 medications, a VNS implant, and having my right temporal lobe removed were able to do.

  41. Posted October 28, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I’d lean more towards the sweaty chair-clutchers, but I’ll be OK…
    After all, I’m SUPPOSED to be a highly-educated person & if I can’t handle my own nutrition, who the hell else can?!?

  42. Val
    Posted November 1, 2009 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    just :

    THANK YOU

    from the bottom of my heart ! :-))

  43. Posted November 2, 2009 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Here’s a radical comment for a radical post: Michelle, I think you deserve your own flag. Something I can wave from a stick and go “woooo-HOO!” when I’m reading your blog.

  44. Clio Bushland
    Posted November 9, 2009 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    I love this post. The fact that nutrition is about survival first, all else second is so often and so completely missed in our society.

    I am sorry that nurses and nutritionists and just about everybody are constantly compared unfavorably to an imagined ideal, and that our national unwillingness to come to terms with our bodies and our mortality translates into beating up on people for their body size.

    I love your blog and I am so glad to have found it and you.

    • Posted November 9, 2009 at 2:24 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Clio! I was so glad to meet you at the workshop, though I didn’t get much of a chance to talk with you. It was such a great experience for me, and really pulled together all my disparate ideas about nutrition and food. Thank you so much for all the work you and Ellyn have both done to inject some lucidity and sanity into the field of nutrition.

  45. SBarnacle
    Posted November 9, 2009 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    This is possibly one of my favorite posts ever about food. And as an amateur nutrition geek and foodie, I’ve read a lot.

    Referred from theangryblackwoman.com

    • Posted November 9, 2009 at 2:29 am | Permalink

      Wow, that’s a compliment — both from you and from The Angry Black Woman. It’s a blog I’ve admired from afar for a while now.

  46. pjnoir
    Posted November 10, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    “Eat to live” is fine but too many of us “live to eat”- same words, different order, makes all the difference.

    Rule#2 should be- don’t burn out your beta cells and f__k your metabolism’s funrace. Eat to stoke- not to choke (hey- maybe my new T-shirt).

    btw- I’m speaking as a type II diabetic and food choices is live and dead.

    • Posted November 11, 2009 at 1:54 am | Permalink

      “Live to eat” implies that people enjoy their food and look forward to it — I don’t see anything wrong with that. Naturally, it’s probably pathological to have your entire life revolve around food, but aside from cases of eating disorders, I really doubt that the average person lives this way.

      And, as far as beta cell destruction goes, I believe there’s an autoimmune response and/or insulin resistance at work there. I have serious trouble with the theory that otherwise healthy people simply “burn out” their beta cells by eating the dreaded carbs. I don’t know many people who mainline sugar 24/7, despite how the mainstream media likes to present the average American/Canadian diet.

      I understand your concerns, but even when it comes to diabetes, eating is rarely an immediate life-or-death situation (except in cases of *low* blood sugar, which is usally due to taking insulin or an oral hypoglycemic, not due to the diabetes per se.)

      I think people with diabetes deserve to enjoy their food as much as the rest of us — and I say this as someone who recently worked in a diabetes clinic.

      I think we all eat to live, obviously, and to some extent, we all live to eat as well — because food is a natural reward. Which is as it should be.

      • pjnoir
        Posted November 21, 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        I do agree that NO BODY ever got diabetes from eating too much candy or sweets. But we do differ in that the body has many system and glands that that have a time limit on them, growth and reproduction are but two. How the body handles carbs and responses with insulin is another, it is not a mere autoimmune response. The amount of HFCS and white flour carbs that an avg person eats before the age of 30 is far greater then our grandparents ever ate.
        I do not live to eat anymore. I use to eat 18/7/365. It wasn’t uncommon to hit two McDonald’s on the way to work, then gobble a big meal & snacks during work and top it off with ice cream and potato chips when I got home late at night- all the time, every day. I did enjoy living to eat- it all tasted great and I wanted it. I always felt cheated at buffets. I could bearly walk out of the place and all I was thinking was I could have and should have had some more crab legs and mash potatoes.
        Now I eat to live. I have repaired my metabolism over the last 18 months to where I no longer take any meds and eat pretty much the same stuff as the rest of my family. And as good as food was, it taste a lot better now. I eat less, spend less and still have a high rate of satiety.
        When food is a reward, problems occur. There are better rewards for whatever needs a gold star than mindless eating. I except to be able to have a normal Thanksgiving with my family, something I couldn’t do for a while, even with meds.
        Last point- if the American Diabetes Assoc ran the American Lung Assoc- we would all be smoking cigarettes. I have it all wrong.
        It is worth the time to recalibrate one’s metabolism and health.

        Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  47. Bobbie
    Posted November 12, 2009 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes I think you should change your title to psychonutritionist… reading your blog is so therapeutic. Like a bubble bath for the soul. :o)

    • Posted November 13, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      That is so incredibly nice. When I first saw this comment in my queue, it only showed the first line — “Sometimes I think you should change your title to psychonutritionist…” and I thought OH NO MORE TROLLS.

      So relieved to read a nice comment. And thank you.

  48. Posted November 16, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    First of all, I am all id, but have no desire to be reigned in.

    Secondly, this is the first post of yours that I’ve read and I am piqued by both your style (refreshingly informal) and your philosophy. I’ve been trying to get more and more into the nuts and bolts of health and have been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information coming from both camps. Confronted with this counter-intuitive information my brain is screaming, “Wait, I can eat what?”

    Of course, I do eat how I like and have no restrictions, and feel incredibly guilty for it because I’m worried that I’m sabotaging my body. My family has a history of heart disease, and it’s basically hung over my head since childhood when my uncle died of a heart attack.

    So, I will be digging around your place and, hopefully, learning a thing or two about healthy eating. Thank you for your writing. I have a feeling it’s going to be incredibly valuable to me.

    Peace,
    Shannon

  49. Posted November 27, 2009 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for this.

    I’m on the other end of the weight scale than most of the commenters here, but I still get the food judgments. Often either it’s too little and I must have body image issues, or it’s too much and I must have body image issues. And that’s not even going into what’s on the plate at the time.

    And I noticed in college that there was a weight below which a woman was pretty much assumed anorexic or bulimic, and not far above it was the weight where it was assumed going on a diet would be a good thing.

    This? Is a breath of fresh air.

    • Posted November 27, 2009 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      Isn’t it ridiculous how razor-thin the margin of “acceptability” is in our culture?

      • Posted November 27, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        In some cases, it’s not even ‘razor thin’.

        I had classmates in high school say I was eating too little and was I sure I wasn’t anorexic… fifteen minutes after looking at me funny for just how many of the school french fries or pizza I was having for lunch.

        I’m not at all sure that even at the lightest I’ve been since I reached adult height that I’d have been thin enough for the magazines.

        • Posted November 27, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, you know what, on second thought? It’s more like “non-existent” than razor-thin.

  50. laura
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Holy crap, this actually made me cry! I think I’m going to read it about 18 more times, and then maybe again.

    Thank you.

    It’s really freaking hard to be body-positive when my body (not me, per se, because let me tell you that my ass right now? Looks AMAZING) is not happy with me. This is such a good reminder that I’m a grownup, that I’m not broken. Dude. Thank you. Again.

  51. teri
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Michelle,
    I just discovered this blog. Thank you so much for these “rules”. After I read it, I have to tell you – I felt an actual, palpable (sp?) sense of *relief* and freedom! It was like a huge boulder was lifted from my brain (or heart, chest, emotions). Like I can breathe, like I don’t have to worry about whether I have the “right” kind of foods on hand . . . don’t have to frantically run to the store if I’m out of carrots, or whatever . . . I have lived with “weight problems” since I was eight years old. I am now 55. I have always been hard on myself – my family has also been a constant critical voice. My father died at 62 of congestive heart failure, and that is also always hanging over my head, that I am doomed to an early death because of weight problems.

    Anyway, I am so intrigued by these non-rules. Just feeling relaxed about food is such a strange new feeling . . . maybe if I was more relaxed, I wouldn’t binge or zone out . . . I am hoping so.

    thank you again.

    • Posted January 10, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, teri. I’m glad you found it helpful. There’s really too much stress and anxiety around eating sometimes, you know? That can’t be good for us.

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