I happened to read the results of a recent Harvard University Medical School/McLean Psychiatric Hospital study on eating disorders as well as an article by Michael Pollan entitled “Unhappy Meals” on the same day that a bunch of my husband’s health and nutrition newsletters arrived. The Massachusetts study announced real news (to anyone not in the field of eating disorders, that is)—that binge-eating disorder is the biggest eating disorder in the U.S.; the Pollan article made the refreshing point that, among other things, we’ve become a nation fixated on nutrients rather than food and pleasurable eating. The health and nutrition newsletters, however, contained the same ole same ole: eat your fruits, vegetables and whole grains and nix the fats and sugars.
It occurred to me, not for the first time, that while we’re bombarded with health and nutrition information daily, Americans are getting fatter and sicker as their relationship with food goes to the dogs. Everywhere we turn, we’re finger wagged about what and what not to eat. But for those with eating problems, what we’re not told holds the secret to health and happiness: how to listen to our bodies and feed them in a nourishing way. We’ve been hearing the same messages about “healthy” foods for ages, ad nauseam, with minor adjustments here and there. Most people know the basics of nutritious eating by now, and are tired of being shamed and preached to. The result is that they’re shutting down and eating what they damn well please, which hurts no one but themselves.
For once, I’d like to read a health or nutrition newsletter that spells out the underlying reasons why people overeat and binge, never mind the perfect meals they should put on their plates. We in the field know that why is the payoff question, and it’s time to educate the educators that they’re missing the point by a mile. People don’t habitually eat when they’re not hungry or continue when they’re way past full because they’re nutritional dummies. They do it from an inner drive that supercedes knowledge, common sense, and self-preservation.
Don’t get me wrong; eating nutritionally is essential to longevity and well-being. But until you’re a “normal” eater, forget about nutrients and focus on food. If you’re worried about endangering your health, study up on supplements and take your vitamins and minerals. Make “normal” eating your goal and when you’re finally more comfortable around food, start tweaking your diet to make it healthier. The end product—a well-nourished you and a positive relationship with food—will be worth the wait.