As a naturopathic doctor, I subscribe to the power of personalized medicine and the naturopathic medicine principle to treat the whole person. In my previous post, I discussed how socioeconomic status and social connection are just as, if not more, important in determining health outcomes than food quality.
For example, those who are financially struggling and/or from ethnic minorities are not only more likely to be sick, but this sickness perpetuates their loss of income. One reason for this could be that our “one-size-fits-all” medical treatments not only ignore the importance of personalized medicine, but often times are not tested on different races. This means that those who need health care the most do not have access to it, and, even if they do, it may not be effective for their bodies!
Thankfully, the tide is starting to change. Group visits and community care are coming in vogue and physicians are calling attention to the fact that health is more than restricting carbs and HIT exercise. Recently, the American College of Physicians released a statement for comprehensive health. It includes the topics of access to care, reducing financial waste and unnecessary administrative work, and removing financial barriers to receiving health care.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. This message is very far from where it needs to be in integrative health. For every podcast on nutrition, very few even have one or two episodes a year on economic disparity and social justice as medical issues. Rather, those who are more privileged to listen-in hear about all the dangers of the latest demonized food and the miracles of yet another dietary trend with expensive supplement protocols.
Where has this gotten us?
We are literally scaring the health out of everyone. Those who can’t afford “better” foods are shamed for not making it a priority. Those who have the means to “biohack” are frightened that they will succumb to “spilling their leaky guts” if they have one tiny bite of gluten.
There’s a better way. There has to be.
In this post, I will conclude my series on healthism. I will discuss how striving for “perfect” health could be contributing to more anxiety and some final food for thought.
Scaring the Health Out of People
I stated previously the pervasiveness of anxiety. The truth that is often overlooked in diet-culture is that people could be anxious, depressed, irritable, and disconnect because they are malnourished and, well, hungry. Focusing on detox and cleansing may be important for overall vitality, but not for true, lasting, healing. This is especially true if one is so obsessed with diets, they are never truly satisfied or nourished. There’s so much more to the picture of health than fixating over food.
We need to look at what’s going on deeper, the real issues in people’s lives.
I think it may be time to put the kale smoothie down and have a major heart-to-heart, but preferably not over Instagram!
In a write-up on Vice, the author states (bold emphasis mine):
Take this 32-page report from Blue Cross Blue Shield detailing the myriad ways in which millennials (my cohort!!!) will see their health decline and healthcare costs skyrocket over the next 10 years.
The real juicy tidbits concern the potential causes of what analysts here have identified as the millennial “health shock,” or a phenomenon they compare to the Vietnam War and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Analysts hypothesize that the major generational difference can be chalked up to rapidly increasing “behavioral health” problems, or things like depression, hyperactivity (meaning anxiety, ADD, and ADHD), and substance abuse. (These also happen to be the source of the most out-of-network spending, according to a study released Wednesday morning.) Between 2014 and 2017, rates of depression and hyperactivity increased 30 percent among millennials. Compared to Gen-X, millennials between ages 30 and 39 are less likely to die from boring old things like heart disease and cancer, but are more likely to die from accidental overdose, suicide, and homicide.
So physically speaking, we’re actually healthier than our predecessors, but statistically, it doesn’t really matter. As we chug our Soylents, spin away on our Pelotons, get 10,000 steps every day, and treat sugar like it’s poison, we still manage to be depressed as hell; are soothing our woes with substances that could (and will) kill us; and have crippling anxiety. To round it all out, analysts write that paying for these behavioral health problems stresses us out even more, which contributes to being less healthy.
As a millennial woman who goes on a jog most mornings; maintains a few no-alcohol nights per week; eats a balanced lunch hunched over at her desk; and currently has an unread email from herself, subject line “therapists,” in her inbox… I know nothing about the issues outlined in this report, personally. But best of luck to the rest of you suckers…
Why You’ll Never See a “Weight Loss” or “New Year New Year” Blog on this Website Again
Food and cultural heritage are connected. Part of cultural practices involves celebration with food. Dietary customs are not something that can be replaced by a simple checklist of ingredients to be approved by a healthcare provider.
Different ethnicities use food practices as part of their identity with their homeland. Deeming judgement on this decreases solidarity with one’s ancient connections and communities. No wonder Americans are the most health-obsessed, orthorexic, and highest healthcare spenders, yet some of the most divided, emotionally and mentally sick.
I think this movement for biohacking and anti-aging is helpful in the right context but missing a key point. It’s not necessarily the biochemistry to hack to live longest. What the centenarians all seem to have in common is not a specific diet or exercise practice, it is community and an enjoyment of life.
Yes, food is medicine. Whole, unprocessed foods that are phytonutrient rich will nurture our body, but using food as a moral issue and pushing out relationships that don’t think in alignment with the latest dietary diatribe is not bringing us closer to community-building and health. However, it is causing a lot of arguments, food confusion, isolation, anxiety and a very lucrative marketing plan for many.
Conclusion- Something for Us All to Ponder for Truly Effective Healthcare
You can’t “clean eat” your way out of loneliness, or “intermittent fast” yourself into self-worth. In fact, extreme focus on “healthy eating” can result in more isolation or stigmatization of those who don’t share one’s “food morals.” You may have things in common with your healthy friends, but what happens when eventually you hit the inevitable wall of trying to continue such an extreme life?
My hope is that healthcare will continue to advocate for “healthy” lifestyle practices, but rather than obsessing over what to eat, bring more focus on nurturing our bodies with foods and movement practices that vitalize our minds and body and increase social connections within our communities.
I envision a world where we strive to talk to our patients, not just about their aches and pains in their bodies, but also what is hurting their souls and lives.
We need to help each other in deeper ways than providing the best tasting recipe without carbs and move into a deeper discussion of why someone can’t afford to come see a doctor in the first place.
I am not pretending to have the solutions, but I do think we need to continue to ask the questions on how to get them.
If You Are Struggling with a Disordered Relationship with Food
Part of my practice is focused on Health at Every Size (HAES) and helping people heal their relationship with food to truly nourish their bodies and lives.
If you are struggling with dysfunctional relationships with your body, food, or exercise, you are not alone. Please, reach out for help. I am happy to either assist you myself or help you find the right fit for you.
If you find this message helpful and want a truly healthy life that incorporates food as medicine, but not as the most important part of your life, please share this post and comment below.
Be sure to check out my third article on the power of relationships and using essential oils to enhance the dining experience when breaking bread with loved ones.
I also previously wrote several posts on using essential oils for anxiety. Click here to learn more and access how you can use these gifts from nature to live a more serene life.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
For additional safety and medical information, visit my essential oils database. It includes a full category on how to use essential oils safely and potential drug interactions that can occur.
Please be extra cautious and be sure to check with your doctor if you have a seizure disorder. The Epilepsy Society of the UK lists certain essential oils implicated for their antiseizure effect as well as those that have stimulating properties.
If you and/or your physician are interested in consulting with me to assist with supporting the integration of essential oils safely into a therapeutic protocol, essential oils consultations are available.