We are all bombarded with nutritional information. Mostly nutrition news comes from tertiary, non-expert sources who report on studies that discuss what we should eat and avoid. People are influenced on various diets by public opinion, the media, their friends and families and big food marketing strategies.
In the 14 years I’ve been practicing Naturopathic Medicine, I find people pay more attention to what others say than to their own intuition or experience. Even the act of selecting healthy food in a grocery store is most impeded by people’s lack of knowledge about food shopping and food preparation.1 Every time we eat we have the opportunity to make ourselves healthy or destroy our health. Food is either our medicine or our poison. How do we know which food is medicine and which food is poison. What’s healthy for me might be allergic for another. Bioindividuality dictates these differences.
Diets are meant to be temporary to help an individual reach a nutrition or health goal. While a diet might be evidence-based, the duration of the diet is not known nor if the benefits continue after the goal has been reached. But more important than putting someone on a diet is educating a person about what foods are good for them. Lifestyle disease is the body’s response to the cumulative effect of, not only a poor diet but a rotation of restrictive fad diets promoting a snakes and ladders game to metabolic disaster. The traditional diet asks a person to restrict calories which leads to weight loss, but usually muscle loss and a slower metabolism as a net side effect. This promotes yo-yo weight gain and loss and that leads to insulin resistance, one of the biggest risk factors for lifestyle disease.2 As a nation, in order to cure ourselves of the diet curse, each one of us needs to take responsibility and change our physiology slowly through a balance of whole foods nutrition. A philosophy of eating that incorporates detoxifying superfoods, individual preferences, ancestral home remedies as well as seasonal eating.
Science provides interesting solutions but the dissemination of the research also contributes to challenges that may not be helpful to the individual. Science is generally reductionist. It tries to weed out extraneous information to get to one point. An overly-scientific viewpoint on food consumption promotes a fear about eating wrong or disproven ways of eating as if there were one proper way of eating if only we could discover it. Orthorexia is a lifestyle syndrome involving obsessive thoughts and behaviors or perfectionistic ideals about food intake.3 A second problem with evidence-based nutrition is that when 10 researchers get together and discuss the accumulation of best evidence they are not speaking to the individual. They are speaking in generalities. No matter how much we know about the benefits of vegetables we want to know which vegetables are best for us. The pros and cons of dairy consumption will never be equal for each person. Evidence-based nutrition, on the whole, has not proven to be very helpful in reducing lifestyle disease. Unfortunately lifestyle disease continues to rise, while evidence increases. Rather than using a reductionist approach to address nutrition for an individual or population we need a holistic understanding for why certain individuals can benefit from foods that cause illness in others.
Why I reject most food on the supermarket shelves
I reject most food on the supermarket shelves because they are overly-processed, disease-promoting, contaminated with genetically modified ingredients, grown in poor conditions, denatured and unhealthy. As soon as some food has been deemed healthy someone is trying to sell it. Once food and nutrition policy comes into place the stakeholders all need their share of the money and this includes the biotech companies, the pesticide manufacturers, the big food manufacturers as well as government agencies. Currently, the food industry does not prioritize the best interest of the public nutrition but acts as a tool for moving product and accumulating wealth. This is not good for the individual who chooses to eat the Standard American Diet from most shelves in the supermarket, the supermarket being the market for the biotech and big food companies’ “safe” food products.
So with all these problems how does the individual have any chance of creating a healthy diet for themselves and their families? How does the individual wade through the muck of information to reach their health goals, which are dependent upon the food they are eating on a daily basis?
Eating for Meaning is a paradigm shift towards individual nutrition. Eating for Meaning is a way to address our constant need for food on many levels of our physical, mental, emotional, genetic, and social health. It incorporates the four principles that I have found to inspire people to changing behaviors around food. So I came up with the NAME Principle. Eating for Meaning is as important as remembering your NAME. Each of these principles are evidence-based, except Adventure, because it’s not a scientific concept. In fact, Eating for Meaning is not scientific in its theory. Rather, it’s a result of experience and creativity to inspire people to seek New ways of understanding their relationship to food. Eating for Meaning helps many of my patients address their own individual health challenges while bringing the need for bioindividuality to a public health level. I speak to as many people as I can in a way that encompasses diversity and variety, and all the while a therapeutic approach.
Nutrition is the most important aspect of eating.4 It is the main purpose of eating. Eating is not primarily about taste, convenience, and not security. Safety is important because nutrition is the most important aspect of eating. Food that is not safe to eat cannot be nutritious. There are alternate policy definitions for food safety as well which are practically irrelevant when we are talking about the individual’s daily need for good food. While nutrition is the most important aspect of eating, it is vital to note that a) macro nutrition provides sustained caloric demand to meet metabolic and hormonal energy requirements and b) micro nutrition provides the ingredients to replenish the nutrients lost in each aspect of cellular and chemical regeneration, elimination, and repair.
Adventure incorporates the love of food, variety, life and enjoying it in the company of others. Adventure re-inspires an individual to become familiar with different ingredients, nationalities and methods of cooking. The principle of adventure within a nutrition program brings family together with a common goal of providing the best nutrition in a fun and pleasing way. Food preparation does not need to be a chore because it is a foundation of our healthy existence and healthy food is a human right.
Mindfulness (or mindful-based eating)5 asks us to pay attention to the way each meal makes us feel. If we want to prevent or treat food-related illness the principles of mindfulness demands we stop and notice the immediate effect food has on the mind, body and energy. Mindfulness also involves paying attention to the world in which we live, from where and how the food comes.
Epigenetics6 is the medical science that studies the way our genes respond to their environment; the worldly environment, our home and job environment and our cellular environment. This is the science that makes it possible for us to inherit lifestyle diseases that didn’t exist 2-3 generations ago. This is also the science that allows us to defy our predestined genes so we are not passing disease to our children and grandchildren. Nutrigenomics is a subcategory of epigenetics that looks at how our genes respond to food nutrients that we consume or choose not to consume. Did you ever wonder why superfoods are super? It is because they have medicinal effects on the body. Superfoods provide nutrition but they also instigate a slew of genomic and cellular reactions like killing cancer cells, reducing inflammation and improving cellular detox so the entire organism functions better, creating a healthier normal.
As reliable tools become available to test for nutrigenomic individuality we can use these as a platform to build an individual diet. But only through trial and error of eating, eliminating and challenging, all the pieces come together so everyone can enjoy eating foods that make them feel good while reducing and reversing chronic disease. While the Standard American Diet is arguably the least healthy diet on the planet, conversely, a perfectionistic approach to eating should not override the simple enjoyment of foods that correspond to a person’s individuality. The new balance or common sense is the personal attainment for health while savoring, understanding and relating to food, the purest offering from nature.
Dr. Millie Lytle is a Naturopathic Doctor and the founder of Nat Med Coach. She has a passion for finding and filling gaps of care in the health care system. She holds her license in the District of Columbia, practices virtually and in New York City. Originally from Canada, Dr. Millie earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto, her doctorate from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and her Masters in Public Health from the Hamburg School of Applied Sciences in Germany. She is a published researcher, avid public speaker and author of Eating for Meaning. She is the director of Nat Med Coach and the founder of Virtual Health Club – providing supervised self-care to help you stay out of the doctor’s office. She sits on the Medical Advisory Board for the School of Applied Functional Medicine. Dr. Millie specializes in helping those address chronic fatigue with mind-body-spiritual well-being.
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