As a naturopathic doctor who honors biochemical individuality, I offer individualized and personalized diets. They are centered around nourishing the body and spirit while incorporating food as a form of medicine.
As a naturopathic doctor, I believe optimizing one’s own health and wellness around food does not center around weight stigma, diet-culture, or obsession with a thin ideal. Rather, it is a return to honoring hunger cues, intuitive eating, and based on the concept that all body sizes and shapes fit into a health model where everyone thrives. This is the concept of Health at Every Size.
On my latest post on Saratoga.com, I just discussed my concern regarding how healthcare was transforming into a culture of “wellness diet” experts. This saddens me. It is based on the flawed science of “obesity.” It is not just inaccurate, but also promotes weight stigma, eating disorders, and a perpetual cycle of weight rebound. (source, source, source, source) You can read more about this topic here.
In my second article, I went into more detail on the importance of individualized nutritional approaches. Specifically, I explored how variations in genetic sequences can affect how the body processes and metabolizes certain nutrients.
In this third article, I will focus more specifically on the harms of basing food decisions on outside authorities, rather than what works best for you emotionally, physically, and relationally.
How Following Food Trends Can Cause Harm- The Dark Side of Going Gluten Free
Right now, the current trend in both diet-culture and healthcare is to go “gluten free.” To highlight more on how a one-size-fits-all diet can cause harm, let’s discuss the pros and cons of “going gluten-free.”
In a recent article, Navigating the Gluten-Free Boom: The Dark Side of Gluten Free Diet, the author explores the benefits and harms from restricting a whole food group:
In gluten dependent conditions the gluten free diet is the cornerstone of therapy, decreasing disease activity, improving health and quality of life and treating or preventing the associated complications. Gluten withdrawal implies strict and lifelong elimination not only of wheat, barley, rye, and wheat-contaminated oats, but also of numerous non-nutritional products where components of wheat are often added. Due to multiple reasons the diet is difficult to follow and the long-term adherence is decreased with time. The present review summarizes the dark side of gluten restriction where nutritional deficiencies, toxicity, morbidity, mortality, and mental health problems are reported. The aim being to increase awareness, avoid, detect and treat the side effects and to promote a healthier nutrition, for the patient’s benefits.
For those who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, wheat-related disorders, or celiac disease, gluten-free diets can be lifesaving. (source, source, source) However, any diet that restricts a whole food group needs to be done under supervision, supplemented, and implemented with caution. For more specifics on gluten-free diets as a therapeutic intervention, and its caveats, see my previous article here.
The Missing Nourishment in “Wellness Diets”
Besides the physical implications of creating deficiency syndromes that result from eliminating whole food groups, there’s also many other “side-effects.” These are often not discussed, because they are not easily measurable.
Let’s discuss how following a “dietary law” can impact social relationships.
The Healing Power of Breaking Bread with Loved Ones
Knowing what works best for your body and acting in an empowered way is different than prescribing to a way of living that is restrictive and cuts off nourishing relationships.
Truly holistic healing is more than assessing biochemical individuality, unique genetic variances, and organ system vulnerabilities. Supporting and optimizing health with nutrition, supplements, lifestyle, and essential oils is important, but not the full picture. Another major component often overlooked is sociogenomics, how our culture and beliefs can also impact our genetic expression and health outcomes.
Innovators like James Maskell have recognized the power of social connections and are advancing group medicine as a form of creating more inclusive and impactful healthcare. Although this is creating profound change, I’m afraid that we are losing a bigger piece of true communion.
This is our relationships and deep bonds with those who love us, even if they don’t necessarily think, or eat, like us. In our search for optimizing health, we are at risk for cutting out those who may not eat similarly, yet nurture us in so many other, non-dietary ways.
For example, the benefits of family mealtime are well-researched. These include improved academic performance, better family relations, decreased risk of substance use and harmful behaviors, better overall nutrition, and more.
As we “grow up,” and become too busy to sit down with loved ones, it appears we are not only compromising our nutrition, but this “food for our soul” as well.
It concerns me when some “health experts” advocate to sever any relationships that fall outside one’s current “food beliefs,” regardless if they had previously been supportive in other ways. This is in order to “avoid bad influence,” or “temptation.” (source, source, source)
I feel practitioners should be encouraging health, in all physical, emotional, and relational dimensions, as a tool for enjoying a more fulfilling life without restrictions, not causing more restraints.
Changing friends and relationships to achieve better health based solely on dietary and exercise practices (which are ever conflicting and changing) could be encouraging more harm through isolation and rejection.
I previously discussed the impact of isolation and how it is the number one risk factor regarding mortality outcomes in heart conditions. Not only will this shunning impact the family or friend who severs long-term ties, it will also cause the recipient to feel rejected and that is damaging for their health as well. (source)
Being Holistic with Food in the New Year
When avoiding the risk of being seduced by a pumpkin pie is more important than visiting Aunt Edna, Houston, we got a problem!
According to a recent study, those who have food restrictions may think they are being proactive in their health, but they may be trading the one risk factor of avoiding a “bad food” for another. According to Science Daily:
But when restricted from sharing in the meal, people suffer “food worries,” Woolley said. They fret about what they can eat and how others might judge them for not fitting in.
Those worries generated a degree of loneliness comparable to that reported by unmarried or low-income adults, and stronger than that experienced by schoolchildren who were not native English speakers, according to the research. Compared with non-restricted individuals, having a restriction increased reported loneliness by 19%. People felt lonelier regardless of how severe their restriction was, or whether their restriction was imposed or voluntary.
The study concluded that food restrictions and loneliness are on the rise and “may be related epidemics,” warranting further research.
To date, Woolley said, children have been the primary focus of research on the effects of food restrictions. A nationally representative survey she analyzed from the Centers for Disease Control did not track the issue among adults.
But increasingly, she said, food restrictions are being carried into adulthood, or adults are choosing restricted diets such as gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan for health or ethical reasons. Up to 30% of all participants in her research deal with restrictions, Woolley said.
“This is a problem that I don’t think people are quite aware of,” she said, “and that has implications for people’s ability to connect with others over eating.”
Being lonely is the most important overall risk factor of death from heart disease, not chocolate cake!
In one article, the authors highlighted how a small town in the UK decreased emergency hospital admissions and brought down health costs by the power of human connection. From one doctor’s inspired vision, “community connectors” and “health connectors” united their citizens to combat the negative health effects of loneliness.
Imagine if we started connecting people more rather than making them track macros! Could we have a healthier, happier nation as well?
I fear that the obsession with “fat loss,” “perfect diets,” and “the obesity epidemic,” is boomeranging us into a nation of very emotionally sick, eating-disordered, and isolated individuals. The trade-offs of staying within this societal norm is too harmful. It is having devastating effects on our emotional and mental health.
This is why I advocate for a type of holistic health that incorporates body acceptance at every size, nourishing foods, joyful movement, and living life to the fullest surrounded by fun and friends. These, to me, are the main ingredients of how we can truly heal.
Not everyone can be a size 0-2, like some authorities would like you to believe. However, everyone has the right to be healthy and take care of themselves with compassion and self-respect. We also have the right to realize that sometimes “sugar bombs” and “gluten-filled devil cakes” can be nurturing in the right context and mindset.
I hope you find a peaceful balance with your body, mind, spirit, and soulful connections this new year.
More to come on this topic in the future!
Bonus Tip: Using Essential Oils for Enhancing Your Senses and Relationships During Mealtimes
Previously, I discussed the basis of emotions. Understanding the neurology and psychology of our feelings demonstrates how the sense of smell and plant secondary metabolites can positively affect our brain and body physiology. This means, essential oils can also support healthy relationships. This is due to the fact that they:
- positively shift our moods with one sniff
- balance the gut-brain axis
- address physical and environmental health
- inspire hope, connection, joy and abundance
- assist with alleviating emotional toxicity
- boost emotional intelligence
All of these aspects will enliven your senses, enhance your taste buds, harmonize the mood of all individuals at the table, and result in an even more nourishing dining experience!
I suggest diffusing your favorite emotional blend as you break bread with loved ones.
The Last Two Top Holistic and Integrative Health Reads
This is the age of information overload.
I know many of you are already inundated with full inboxes and blogs you hope to get to. Therefore, I’ve decided to do away with the Top Reads of the Month.
You can check-in and scan through my updates at your leisure. I usually post multiple times a day, because I’m such an avid reader and want to share!
Click Here for December 2019 Top Holistic & Integrative Health Reads
Click Here for November 2019 Top Holistic & Integrative Health Reads
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.