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Healthy Eating Advice Shouldn't Come With A Side Of Shame And Blame

I am worried for my profession because people don't need more food shaming information.
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I was taught in the traditional way of nutrition: the "eat this, not that" message, and the idea that I knew more (and better) than my clients. However, once I started working, I saw things differently.

My clients may not have nutrition degrees, but they have life experiences (and access to Google) that are equally as important. Learning how to use the nutrition knowledge they lacked (or that was personalized with my help) without trumping their internal knowledge was key to health and happiness.

Sadly, I still see post after post of "knowledge-based messages" from registered dietitians online every day. Messages that are traditionally used to impart lesser known knowledge to the public who are assumed to be ignorant to this info. Touting the evils of processed foods, or how juice isn't a "real" serving of fruit are just two frustrating examples. I am worried for my profession because people don't need more food shaming information.

There is no set definition for "healthy"

There is no actual definition of "healthy eating," which is a good thing since it means different things to different people. Whether you are a health professional or not, when making the judgment that someone isn't eating "healthy," all this means is that they not eating according to your definition of "healthy."

If someone isn't eating "right" in your opinion, then chances are you don't know much about them, don't understand their reasons for doing so — not to mention the fact that how others eat is none of your business.

If you are a health professional and the person has come to you for advice on how to eat, then yes, this changes things slightly. The invitation to collaborate is already established, however, caution must continue to be used when dishing out advice. Understanding a person's reasons for wanting to change as well as their reasons for their current habits must be explored.

The number of people who don't already know that fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain important nutrients is very, very small.

Blaming lack of knowledge for people's "bad eating habits" is very nearsighted. Chances are you may not be really listening to them and their reasons for their current habits. If you are brushing their struggles aside as "excuses" or believe "if I can do it, anyone can," I invite you to check your privilege and explore if these sentiments help anyone change.

I would also like to say that there is no one definition of a "healthy person." Being of healthy mind, body or spirit is different for everyone. Healthy is not the absence of disease, it is far more complex than that.

If you are looking for an empowering and refreshing approach to health and nutrition, intuitive eating has been extremely helpful for anyone looking to have a more peaceful relationship with food.

Stop pushing simple and ineffective nutrition messages.

The number of people who don't already know that fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain important nutrients is very, very small. I keep hearing health professionals and the government talk about the hordes of people who just need to be taught about "proper" nutrition in order to make society healthy again (suggesting they will once again become good, productive citizens). Where are these people? And has anyone asked them why they don't conform to Health Canada's definition of healthy eating? My guess is that the definition of "healthy eating" is too narrow.

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As for the people who don't already know this, they are not going to miraculously start following dietitians on social media or log into Health Canada to read about the food guide. If the same old tired knowledge-based messages never resonate with them before, why would they start now?

Repeating these tired messages is perpetuating the idea that it is as simple as buying and eating these foods. It is not. Understanding why people make the choices they do, along with acknowledging that a wide variety of food habits leads to health and happiness, is needed. Not to mention that food habits have less of an impact on our health than uncontrollable social factors (such as the job you have, where you live and access to medical care).

Intuitive eating has become increasingly popular since the publication of a groundbreaking book over 20 years ago. It has been shown in many studies to be an extremely useful way of approaching food for better overall health and well-being, not to mention its association with healthier dietary intakes. Intuitive eating is far more than eating what you want, when you want. (You can learn more by reading this blog I wrote on the topic.)

Knowing doesn't magically lead to change.

We have been sold the lie that knowing something will lead to change. If I know that fruits are good for me, I will eat them more often. But we are forgetting three very important factors in change that all take place after acquiring knowledge: being ready, willing and able to make a change.

Why people may not be ready, or willing or able to make a so-called healthy change cannot be ignored. As a health professional, this is (in part) where my work lies. Giving advice or sharing knowledge is the easy part of my job and a part that is quickly becoming less relevant.

My advice to health professionals? Let's get out of the dark ages! And start to change our food messages from "healthy foods are good! Just eat them." (Or worse, shame and blame) to more compassionate and less privileged view of health and well-being.

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