Nutrition agnosticism.

On this blog, I talk a lot about the how of eating, with little attention to the what.

There are a few reasons for this.

One is my belief that, until you have a solid foundation for how to eat, it’s very, very difficult to make positive changes to the “what.” Before you can decide which food is best for you to eat, you need to be eating food, period.

Plenty of people who read this blog, and who I work with, have major trouble with this step. And this is why I’m here – this is the core of my job and my writing.

Another reason I don’t focus on “what” is because it is my opinion that nutrition is quite individual. Okay, it’s not just my opinion – it’s even tacitly admitted by the fact that such a thing as the Recommended Dietary Allowance for most micronutrients even exists – the RDA is based on a bell curve, which is a graph that says “some people need a tiny amount, some people need a lot, and most people need an amount somewhere in the very broad in-between.” Individuality is also the reason why the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range is a “range” instead of a single, prescribed number: people vary.

The idea that people vary is further confirmed for me by my education in clinical nutrition, which taught me that perfectly nutritious food for one person can constitute a major health crisis for another – because sometimes people have food allergies, food intolerances, as well as various diseases with a nutritional component (one big caveat here: not all diseases have a confirmed nutritional component or treatment – though we often talk about all disease as if it were caused and/or treated by diet. There simply isn’t evidence to support this.)

Different people seem to feel and function well by eating different things, and different amounts of things – this I’ve based on my own little observations about life and people and eating in general. You could also say that the existence of differences in cuisine by region and culture seems to fit this observation – especially in cases where a person suddenly stripped of their culture and its attendant foodways gets very ill. Which happens.

This leads into yet another reason not to focus on “what” – because health is more than just food, and food is more than just nutrients. And before you think I’m going there with this, I want to say that food is also much more than our hunches or culturally- or cognitively-biased definitions of “real food.”

“Real food” (a term I find almost as distasteful as “real women”) looks a lot different to different people. And here we revisit the Hierarchy of Food Needs again – and take a look at the second tier, which is “acceptable food.”

Hierarchy of food needs, in order: enough food, acceptable food, reliable ongoing access to food, good-tasting food, novel food, and instrumental food.

Food that would be perfectly acceptable to some people is abhorred by others, for lots of reasons. Heck, as a very mild microexample, my husband was put off when he learned that I made a regular habit of eating crayfish (I use the proper term “crawdads”, which is translated from the original Grandma-ese to mean “delicious tiny lobsters from the crick”), because to him they are bugs. And he doesn’t eat bugs.

On the other hand, I find his habit of putting ketchup into Kraft Dinner totally unappealing. Still. After living in this country and spelling things with extra u’s for well over a decade now. And neither of us is right or wrong.

Slight (very slight) cultural differences between central Canada and west coast USA, as well as different growing-up experiences, different families, different social norms, and different habits cultivated over years and years of living, play into these disagreements. So, imagine if you will, the much more extreme differences, on a much larger scale, that exist between various places and cultures all over the world.

Then you may get an inkling of how difficult it is to sum up (to borrow again from the original Grandma-ese) all good eatin’ in that one condescending term, “real food.”

It is similarly impossible, and I would argue undesirable, to divorce food-as-nutrients from food-as-identity and food-as-emotional-experience. All eating is emotional, remember? Even on a strictly biomedical level, isn’t it possible that the stress induced from being deprived of an emotionally meaningful, culturally significant food source might negatively impact your health? I think it might.

That’s not to say that sometimes the cost of some stress isn’t worth the health benefit someone may receive by cutting a particular food out of their diet, especially when that food is doing them direct and measurable harm – but it is to say that monkeying with food restrictions isn’t a purely benign practice. There are consequences to physical health, and to quality of life. Sometimes the consequences are overwhelmingly positive. Sometimes not.

(See how complicated this already is? Phew.)

And the last reason I’ve mostly neglected the “what” on this blog is this: despite having spent four school years allegedly learning what is the best, healthiest food to eat, I just don’t know.

I have a lot of learning to do in this area, and I have a funny feeling that it’s not just me who does. Nutrition is a young science, as fields of inquiry go, and it studies incredibly complicated systems – and I think we, as a species, still have a lot to learn about it.

So, I don’t know. And I caution you to be skeptical of anyone who claims, unequivocally, that they do.

My first foray into the world of figuring out what to eat was probably back in 1999 or 2000, when I did a Google search for “healthy eating” or “nutrition” or something equally vague. (I wouldn’t recommend trying this if you are struggling with disordered eating of any kind. Or if you just want to have a nice day.)

The results of that search, as you can probably guess, were bewildering and slightly terrifying. Guess what? They still are in 2012 — maybe moreso.

Of course a random Google search cannot represent Our Current Scientific Understanding of Human Nutrition, but it tells me a few things. It tells me people are interested in nutrition. It also tells me people are scared. Plenty of them are zealous, vociferous, and sometimes obsessive – and I believe this is because they are scared. It tells me that there is a lot of confusion, and a lot of mistrust of official guidelines on health and eating. It tells me there is a lot of dichotomous, black-and-white, all-or-nothing, good-against-evil thinking and discourse.

I can sympathize with all of this. I have, at various points, been guilty of all these things, and I probably still am, and I probably will continue to be. Because I am just muddling my way through this, like everybody else. My brain takes lots of the same shortcuts, and thereby makes a lot of the same mistakes, that all brains do in their attempt to find patterns and make sense of the penultimate human fear – the unknown.

If the unknown were a place, it would be a scary place to hang out. A dark closet, the place just beyond the circle of campfire light, the mouth of a black cave. The lack of light is really just imagery for a lack of information. A lack of information makes it more likely you’ll get into very bad trouble. Something might kill you, which is, in my opinion, the ultimate human fear. The unknown is death’s handmaiden.

Being in the unknown is like being out to sea. You very badly want something to grab onto, some solid sense of security instead of just endlessly shifting, changing, inscrutable depths of water – depths that probably contain something dangerous and deadly.

This means it is tempting, intellectually, to grab onto a theory, any theory, and there cling.

I don’t think people pick nutrition theories at random – but they pick ones that feel suited to their particular beliefs (ethical, observational, aesthetic) and that complement their worldviews. These are actually very good reasons, not some kind of humanoid silliness to be scoffed at from on high. It’s only logical that you’d be more inclined to align yourself with something that makes sense to you on multiple levels – but here’s where our sometimes-clunky habit of pattern-finding intrudes.

You generalize the theory to everyone else.

The one that seems custom-tailored for, uniquely-suited to, and perfectly paired with your life – which was the reason you chose it in the first place.

I want to stop for a moment and clarify something: I don’t think we always choose a way to eat that is best for us, physically or emotionally. I think we mess it up fairly often, but I also think having the freedom to mess it up is part of what being an autonomous human is all about.

Thankfully, in the absence of disordered eating, we can usually learn from feedback of various kinds whether or not the food we’re eating is doing us harm, and then we get to decide what to do about it. And I actually trust that most people have the capacity to do that, to make their own choices, provided they have some supports to help them (a safe and varied food supply, access to appropriate and respectful health care, shelter and enough food to eat, and the skills and facilities to prepare it, in the first place.)

So — back to generalizing. I think we do it because it makes the world seem like a less scary place. Taking that one thing to cling to and then extrapolating that everyone else can be saved if they will only cling to it, too, feels very reassuring. It feels like making sense of an incredibly complicated and counter-intuitive world. Unfortunately, in practice, it can also make that world a more miserable, divisive place, because it almost invariably results in judging other people’s choices, which are based on factors so diverse and complex that it might be impossible to truly understand them.

I also think that, in our current state of nutritional understanding, it’s inaccurate to generalize from one theory to one whole population, let alone the entire species. We simply don’t know enough yet.

So, at this time, I consider myself mostly agnostic on the subject of what to eat. Even my dearly-held theories about how are, I recognize, probably limited to certain people in certain circumstances — though many of them are readers of this blog. And I’m okay with that.

Tolerating ambiguity and not-knowing, I believe, is also part of the human condition. Floating in the water, accepting what can’t be seen, and making sense of our own experiences without assuming that those experiences are shared by everyone else, is about the best we, as individuals, can do.

One of my peculiar beliefs is that no one should need a degree in science or nutrition in order to figure out what to eat. No one should need to spend their day reading and analyzing studies in order to make a reasonable choice about what to have for dinner. (If you have the time, resources, and inclination to do that, then Godspeed and good luck.)

We might, at some point, have a better answer about what everyone should be eating for optimal biomedical health — and even then, this might not overlay neatly onto what type of food provides meaningful social and hedonic experiences, which makes it an incomplete answer, at best — but until then, we can guess that variety and not too much or too little of any one thing is probably a good idea.

Until then, we can take comfort that our life expectancy, at least in certain parts of the world, is the best it’s ever been. That we have cures and treatments for many diseases that once ravaged entire populations.

And until then, we still need to eat, which means we all need to tread water and make our own choices as best we can.

Consider this my official announcement that the spring groups of the Learn to Eat program are open for sign-ups until early April. If you want to work on the “how,” that’s the place to be.







33 responses to “Nutrition agnosticism.”

  1. Allison@thecrazyfat Avatar

    I love that hierarchy of needs, had to pin it immediately!

  2. karelys Avatar

    I wish you knew how your blog has changed me. It’s like going to church and hearing a sermon that frees you up and gives you tools to set in the right direction.

    I seriously don’t want to get all cheesy on this but it’s the truth!

    Thanks to frantically looking for “healthy eating habits” and googling lots of stuff to make me skinny I just can’t stand the thought of green apples. It’s like green apples is the short cut for healthy which is shortcut for skinny. Ugh!

    And green apples used to be one of my fave before I knew anything about being fat=ugly=youmustdietalways!

    That’s about the only time I wish I was a kid again. Other than that I love being a grown up and making decisions like one :)

    thanks for all your hard work and your posts. I try to blog and I see how hard it is to make yourself coherent and write within the confines of grammar (which I hate and break often).

  3. Lori Lieberman, RD Avatar

    A much needed post! My clients are often shocked (and somewhat dismayed) that I don’t tell them that they shouldn’t be eating cookies, or be consuming ice cream twice daily. What could she possibly be thinking? they wonder. To your point, after you’ve lived such a rules driven food existence, you need to truly focus not on the what, but on the how and the why.
    In time, the quality of your intake will evolve–and that might need some adjusting–but at the start of this process it’s best to not focus on the details of nutrition and nutrients. oNce you see that this works–that it changes your relationship with food–you’ll begin to trust. It’s a process, though!

  4. Kate @ Savour Fare Avatar

    Every time I’ve recently seen something touted as “healthy” I have to ask “What does healthy mean to you?” My husband and I got into a (stupid) argument this weekend over what constituted a healthier breakfast – a bowl of cereal with milk (cornflakes, in this case, and he adds honey) or an egg in thehole (multigrain toast, butter, egg). Him: Cereal! It’s lower in saturated fat and cholesterol! Me: But Cereal is just refined simple carbs! There’s no protein! And it’s further from whole food! It doesn’t satisfy you as long! Plus, there’s a lot of questions about the link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels! Finally he admitted that he liked cereal better, and that’s fine. If he wants to eat cereal, that’s fine by me. I chose poached eggs on toast, because I’m pregnant and if I don’t have a good dose of protein in the am I feel like crap.

    1. closetpuritan Avatar

      Actually, cereal is mainly complex carbs… well, cereal marketed to grownups usually is, anyway, I’m not sure whether Lucky Charms is more simple or complex carbs by weight. Simple carbs/simple sugars are things that taste sweet–sucrose, glucose, fructose, etc. Starches are complex sugars/carbs.

      Normally I would try to resist my annoying impulse to point stuff like this out, but I think that it’s related to a lot of our cultural issues with good foods and bad foods and what’s currently on the bad food list. I have seen quite a few places calling grains with the bran and germ removed “simple carbs” and calling whole grains “complex carbs”. I think there was at least once where Slate did it, for example. (I’m assuming since you said the cereal was “simple carbs” that it was not whole grain, since that’s the way these places have been using it.) I think “complex carbs” used to be “healthy” whether they were whole-grain or not, back in the low-fat days, and I suspect that a lot more people are calling complex carbs “simple carbs” in the post-Taubes’ What if it’s all been a big fat lie? article era.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Yes, I still remember the day when any “complex carb” (aka starch in any format) was considered healthy. Of course, with things like the anti-carb brigade, and the glycemic index, and the anti-grain brigade, it’s no longer that simple.

  5. Helen Avatar

    Thank you for this post! It really speaks to something I have been feeling for a while. I’m Canadian but I’ve been living in Japan for the last 15 years. My husband is Japanese and one of the biggest things we fight about it food. It has become a bit of a food war. He has his favourites which sadly seem to be things that I won’t eat, and my Western foods he’ll gamely try, but they aren’t always things that he likes.

    Despite what many people think, all Japanese food is NOT healthy!

    This entry/essay gives me good food for thought and I’ll try and bring up some of it with my husband. We are trying to compromise, but it’s hard!

  6. Ruth Avatar

    It’s an easy place to get stuck, isn’t it? I don’t know if it’s true for everyone who has suffered from disordered eating, but I have (still do, to some extent) and I’m a perfectionist. People talk about perfectionism like it’s a desirable trait, but it isn’t. All those sayings – “if it’s worth doing at all, do it right” or “measure twice, cut once” – they’re worth applying to some situations, and stifling in others. But they should never, ever be applied to food. It really is more important to just eat.

    I don’t like eating alone. I eat lunch alone most days because my husband is at work and I’m at home. If there’s ingredients for a salad in the house, even if I really don’t want salad, it’s salad or nothing for lunch. If there’s no salad ingredients, the lunch menu is shame and guilt for not having them in the house that day. Pleasure doesn’t come into it, because I’m not allowed pleasure from my food. I fight this every day I’m eating lunch alone and mostly I win (the good at eating part wins, I mean – not the “good” at starving myself part) but it’s really draining. And feeling mentally drained when you’re HUNGRY isn’t fun at all. But I can’t apply the knowledge that the perfect is the enemy of the good to most areas of my life, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I struggle with food, especially in the food-hating culture we live in.

    I have a genuine, non-self-loathing-related interest in nutrition. I like that I can look up things like “banana nutrition” and find out what minerals are in a banana, for example. I wish someone would make a nutrition database that didn’t include calories and fat as the only two nutrients anyone would be looking up. I guess things are “improving” – they shriek at you about the sugar content too, now. I really doubt it’s for diabetics and not dieters…

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Pleasure doesn’t come into it, because I’m not allowed pleasure from my food.

      This breaks my heart, Ruth. This must be so exhausting.

  7. eatingasapathtoyoga Avatar

    I’ve finally moved out of diet mentality & made peace with food. I’m working on the gentle nutrition piece, however, it’s challenging because I don’t cook. Cooking equates dieting to me, not love. Working on that shift. I’d love any words of wisdom.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      The cooking = dieting thing can be really difficult. My best advice is to try to change your standards for cooking. First of all, lower the bar – cooking doesn’t have to mean making every single thing from scratch, or having multiple courses, or having all fresh ingredients. Second, if you need to, throw out all your old dieting recipes, and start by experimenting with one normal recipe that comes from a regular old cookbook. I was just having a discussion tonight with one of my group members about cookbooks – and we’ve both found lots of good, basic recipes in Joy of Cooking. Try one recipe in a week, maybe, and allow yourself to continue eating whatever you’re eating already for the rest of the week. Then maybe next week, try another new recipe. Slowly you’ll build a repertoire of non-diet recipes that you might actually enjoy cooking and eating. Bottom line – if you don’t enjoy the food, you won’t be very motivated to keep cooking.

      1. eatingasapathtoyoga Avatar

        Thanks so very much.

  8. Ashley Avatar

    As always, a wonderful, inspiring, and insightful post.

  9. Rapunzel Avatar

    It’s just so…..hard. Like ridiculously hard. And it shouldn’t be this way, just to eat!

    I am currently on the most difficult diet of my life. I have honestly never been so unhappy, but I feel so backed into a corner that there isn’t anything I can do about it. It’s like my mental and emotional health has been taken hostage by my physical health…or is it vice versa? Sorry if that doesn’t make sense, but it does to me.

    The circle goes ’round and ’round in my head, forever debating between the right and wrong of a diet or the right and wrong of trying to make my way without the rigid rules of calories and carbs.

    I just typed out, read, edited, re-read, and then highlighted and backspaced two big paragraphs telling you about my diet and what it’s done to me. But I don’t want to bore you with that, there’s just too much to say when it comes to this situation I’m in. I don’t think I can sum it up efficiently!

    And then I read blogs like yours, which I love, but I also feel confused and torn. The guilt goes both ways–I feel guilty for wanting to believe that I don’t need this diet to be truly healthy because I do(?) need this diet, and I also feel guilty for being on this awful diet at all because I know it’s not healthy to be on it–at least not mentally and emotionally, which counts, right?

    So where am I left? Who’s right and who’s wrong? What’s good and what’s bad? How do I decide? I need to get on even ground; I need a “control group” within myself. If only my self-image wasn’t so poor. If I didn’t feel like my happiness was inevitably linked with my weight, then I could make an unbiased decision about whether or not to diet, and decide for the right reasons. If only.

    You’re amazing.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I just want to say, for your benefit and for everyone who might be reading these comments, that I have officially declared this blog a Guilt-Free Zone.

      You are not allowed to feel guilty about what you eat OR the fact that you are on a diet. You just aren’t – it’s against my rules :)

      You are on a diet for lots and lots of reasons, none of which have anything to do with you being a bad person. Very likely, a big part of your being on a diet is due to societal pressures that tell you, and that tell all of us, non-stop, all day, every day, that we should be dieting, and that dieting is the best way for us to care for ourselves, to prove our self worth, and to gain approval from other people.

      So of course you, and plenty of my readers, are dieting. Under that kind of pressure, it only makes sense that you would.

      You are allowed to be on a diet if you want to be. It’s not something I do, and it’s not something I recommend for my clients to do, but you are allowed to make your own choices about eating. You are under no obligation to follow my, or anyone else’s, recommendations.

      I do like to interfere with the assumption that dieting is always the best route for everyone, and I’m glad you’re here reading my disruptions. Even still – just because I don’t diet and I don’t like dieting, doesn’t mean that I don’t like you because you’re on a diet. It also doesn’t mean that I have the right to tell you or expect you NOT to diet. You are allowed to diet all you want, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else. And even if you’re still dieting when you wish you weren’t, it only means that you are going through the process of sorting this out for yourself, and that it can be a difficult and inconsistent process – not that you are a bad person who deserves to feel guilty about it.

    2. Lori Lieberman, RD Avatar

      In response to Rapunzel: Being healthy hardly fits with torturing yourself with rigid diet rules. And you can get sensible, level headed nutrition advice from reliable sources to help the overwhelmed feeling. But eating healthy does not equate with obsessing over calories or fat grams or carbs. It includes, as Michelle has made clear, a move away from rigid (and senseless rules) to enable you to listen better to your body and ultimately to be healthier. No one deserves to suffe as it sounds you are suffering!

  10. Judy, Judy, Judy Avatar

    “I caution you to be skeptical of anyone who claims, unequivocally, that they do.” For me this is the one thing I really wish people would hear. I’ve been doing it for so long it’s second nature and I get tired of defending myself when I do.

  11. Allison Avatar

    I thought I was free. Haven’t dieted in 5 years. But I realized I sort of trapped myself with, I think, orthorexia and “real” food. Got into reading about Weston Price, and Nourishing Traditions/ traditional foods… whole, real, unprocessed. On the plus, it helped me lose my fear of eating fats. But on the big negative, it has been highly triggering: I am now prone to a paranoia about processed food- even processed food that was considered healthy in the low fat days, like cereal or bread. I’m afraid of food that isn’t “real”. I’m confused and afraid about what to feed my one year old. I don’t want her to have neurotic food issues, but I don’t want to have the health problems the  (snobby) “real” food blogs I read warn about.
    With limited budget and energy, I fail at being a real food cook or eater.
    Your blog (and family feeding dynamics) have helped me in finding gradually balance in these matters. Thank you.

    1. jillian Avatar

      As a mom, I get that. But for ME, for MY daughter, I have decided that it’s more important to teach my daughter HOW to eat — that is, to prevent food hangups — than it is to teach her WHAT, exactly, to eat. Of course, you have to model that yourself.

      There’s a good blog on teaching toddlers good eating habits/attitudes, called “It’s Not About Nutrition”, to which I shall attempt to link —

      Perhaps you might think about cutting back on reading the Food Nazi blogs for a bit, if it’s feeding your fear. Your child will notice that you have fears surrounding food, and will pick that up. That’s more harmful in the long term than the occasional Chicken McNugget, I think. (Not that you’re a bad mom!!! Just the fact that you’re thinking hard about this stuff puts you way ahead of most people!)

      1. Slim Avatar

        And for what it’s worth, as we look for ways to eat that work for us (and look for ways to help our children find ways that work for them), I don’t like that site/blogger at all, nor the term Food Nazi. Not to slap any wrists here, but just to point out that even among people who are agreed on the general goal of “I would like to have a healthy relationship with food” or “I would like to figure out how I need to eat,” there are some approaches that are going to help and some, not so much. So seeing what feeds those needs and what sends you down the wrong path — no right food, no right blog.

        1. jillian Avatar

          Absolutely — no right food, no right blog. In general, though, I think that reading things that feed your neuroses is a practice to be avoided.

          For me, all the things I was trying to do to be a better/healthier person suddenly became more important when I had a child, because the only way to really teach your child those skills is to model them. Which is nerve-wracking, but sometimes good, because I know a lot of women will do things in behalf of their children that they wouldn’t do for themselves.

          1. Slim Avatar

            Exactly. It was so much easier to hum along doing whatever about food before I had kids, both because I wasn’t setting an example for anyone back then and because I didn’t have a ringside seat to the awful (to me) messages about food that are pushed at kids. Stuff like Dina’s suggestion that you give your kid a point for passing on chocolate milk just flies in the face of everything I’m trying to teach (and practice), but if it works for another family, well, enjoy.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            Kids are not my specialty, but yikes, that sounds coercive and pressuring to me, even though it’s supposedly done in a “positive” way.

  12. Rose Avatar

    I’ve read this entire blog over and over and over, and every time I start to count calories and freak out and go “I want to eat XYZ but it’s bad”, I come here and reload the page about permission and smile and take a deep breath and eat whatever the hell I’m craving.

    I grew up in a house where food was delicious but guilty, bad for you but oh so tasty, and where we ate great food but everything we put in our mouths came with comments and moans about the physical penance we’d have to do later–“Oh, this cake is going to take three hours on the treadmill,” “Oh, I’ll have salad now so that it’s OK for me to have pasta for dinner.” My entire family is full of wonderful cooks but we were never allowed to enjoy things without a price.

    I’m about to take my first real Mind/Body repair step and make a snack box. I have a tendency to get so scared by eating Bad Food and having to Do Penance for it later that I avoid eating until my blood sugar is so low and I’m rabid and bitchy and hungry that I eat whatever I see first, which is usually chocolate or cookies–which is fine and delicious but makes me feel crappy about twenty minutes later. I’m going to take a box and fill it with easy, fast food I love, so that any time I’m hungry I can eat and not have to freak myself out and worry, and I’ll have the crackers and cookies and nuts and everything in there. No letting myself get too hungry that I feel like shit because like you said in another post, that’s self-harm, and just not OK.

    The other thing is just learning to feel my body again. I love movement, I just do, but working out was always How You Lose Weight and how you Do Penance for eating, so I’ve avoided it because it makes me feel fat (I loved that blog post, by the way) and awful and crummy. So I’m trying to do it more but only when I want to, when I want to move, not when I want to to lose weight. It’s hard.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Permission is really the foundation of this whole thing, so I am glad you are practising it over and over and over again, as many times as you need to. I’m glad you’re going to try keeping some tasty food around. If you’re getting overly hungry, setting up a regular meal schedule might be something to consider at some point, too.

      With exercise (which is something I’m always working on, it seems, because I have such mixed feelings about it) it seems helpful to just be mindful and observe how you feel while you’re moving, and afterward. Making the connections between what feels good and what doesn’t, and what kinds of feelings you would like to get out of moving, seems to be (for me, at least) what builds actual intrinsic motivation and autonomy of choice with exercise, and gets you away from doing it because you Should or because of weight loss. A really excellent book on this is The Intrinsic Exerciser by Jay Kimiecik.

  13. Lynney Avatar

    This post reminded me of a great quote I saw on Twitter: “There’s a difference between nutrition and food. One is a Western, reductionist concept, and the other is a doorway to our infinite universe.”

  14. Bronwyn Avatar

    I distinctly remember sitting in our Vitamins and Minerals class at UBC, listening to the prof go on and on about one of the vitamins, then going…. “And we know it is involved in this, but we don’t really know what it does.” And almost every single vitamin ended like that, being involved in some cycle or bodily function, but the scientists having zero knowledge of what it did. And that was when I realized science does not always have the answers.

    I love how you phrased your idea of eating, our own “acceptable foods” and the generalization of our acceptable-food-belief and who should eat what. I recently watched the film Hungry For Change, wherein doctors and weight-loss-turned-health/nutrition-experts talked about how we should be eating as a nation, and basically we should all be juicing. And I just remember thinking, great idea, but not everyone can afford a juicer, do you have a way of addressing this at a level where we can fresh whole foods into food deserts? I think your analogy fits perfectly here, for some the foods and way of living would work, but for many it just wouldn’t.

    Sorry for the rant in your comments section!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      And almost every single vitamin ended like that, being involved in some cycle or bodily function, but the scientists having zero knowledge of what it did. And that was when I realized science does not always have the answers.

      This is basically what studying physiology was like, too. There’s a lot we don’t know yet.

  15. […] Michelle wants to remind you that, above all else, it’s important to eat. […]

  16. Sara Avatar

    I puffy heart your writing and agree with what you say. Keep those posts coming!

  17. julie Avatar

    Hi! Was just reading an article that compared people from France, Quebec, and USA about how much they knew about nutrition. People from US knew much more than people from France, who really had no idea about the fat content of their food, or what kind of fat, or caloric content, etc. Quebec was in the middle, closer to US. I think, at some point, too much knowledge just confuses, especially since nutrition is not well understood, and what little is really known is not integrated very well into actual health knowledge or usefulness.

    What I learned from all my dieting misadventures, not to mention taking a step back and trying to think this stuff through, is what my education and biases and upbringing tell me is healthy is not what I can eat and be sane or happy. I think you’re right, the how is more important than the what. As much as these hard-core low-carbers or low-fatters or vegan or whatever annoy me with their dogma and self-assurance, it somehow comforts me to know that we don’t really know what’s healthy or not all of the time. Or they may, but I don’t.

  18. Vickie Avatar

    I absolutely love this. I feel that a lot of the guilt and shame around food comes from parents trying (even with the best intentions) to control every bite of food that goes into their child’s mouth. We grow up being trained to look outward for what’s best for us, and in the process we lose trust in ourselves, in our abilities to know and fill our own needs without guilt. On this subject, I have written how parents can trust their children to know how to eat, and encourage their children to trust themselves. (In case anyone is interested:

  19. Amanda Avatar

    I found your blog and immersed myself in it for the last week or so. I am learning so much, and I have tons of reading to follow from links bookmarked thru posts or comments.

    I just wanted to add that I lived in Canada when I was little (then emigrated back to NY) and I still enjoy ketchup on my Kraft dinner once in awhile. Just a little squirt on the top. Add a cut-up piece of bologna and it’s yummmmm.

    Thanks for everything so far, I’m still working my way up to current posts and will be a reader as long as you’re a blogger. <3