As a dietitian in New York City I see a large variety of clients. From African Americans with Type 2 diabetes to Hasidic Jews with obesity and everything in between. They all may not have much in common socially, economically or culturally, but as for dieting they all seem to have the same story. I have come to believe that we as a nation think that wellness and balance is out of reach, that we must count calories day in and day out in order to achieve any sense of health. I am here to call this falsehood out and to dethrone this excessive wellness concept that has ruled for much too long.
America is obsessed with weight and wellness, yet the more fanatical we became the bigger we get. In 1960 approximately 13 percent of Americans were classified as obese; however, through the aerobics-crazed '80s and the present day smoothie infatuation the percentage has gone up to 34.
The story I hear repeated daily from different clients struggling with weight and nutrition-related diseases is as follows: "I wanted to lose weigh,t so I ate a lot less and l couldn't maintain it and have gained the weight back plus a little extra." I look at my clients and can feel their frustration, anger and desperation. They can't seem to win no matter what they do. They have tried it all from the grapefruit diet to eating only one meal a day to the shakes. It is a never-ending cycle of failure that just breeds more failure.
It's not about eating less, people, it's about eating more. Yes, I dare to say it, eat, eat, eat! Of course I am not saying you should get crazy on a full bucket of fried chicken or a massive bowl of nachos, but you should learn to enjoy and to eat. Caloric restriction may lead to a feeling of un-satisfaction followed by an episode of excessive junk food consumption. To eat responsibly means that you have a positive relationship with food. Food is a joyous and wonderful part of life and should be experienced. The three keys to wellness are education, access and inspiration.
Nutrition education starts with understanding what food is. Food can be broken down into six categories, three of them being energy-yielding: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Understanding what food is allows you to understand portion control and how to choose healthy options for long-term successful nourishment. Learning about the basics of nutrition is an excellent start to wellness. I recently had a client come in that didn't know what type of diabetes she had even though she had been diagnosed over a decade ago. Many of my clients don't know what a calorie is and are overall very confused about nutrition. With a little bit of education both of them are on track and working towards their nutrition goals. Education empowers you to begin to make healthy choices that will impact you for years to come.
Access, yes, there is a connection between poverty and obesity, but we must choose to be resourceful and use what we have to create a healthy lifestyle. Last year I worked with a client in a battered women's shelter who ate the food distributed by the food panty in her faculty and then added nutrient-dense products to the meal to add more nutritional value. With a little nutritional consulting she was unstoppable on her path to success. I thought to myself that if this woman can work toward eating healthy while living in one of the most difficult situations, so can others.
Finally, inspiration is the workhorse of the three keys to wellness. We must be inspired by the world around us, our loved ones and the possibility of the future. I am most inspired by one of my anorexic clients who struggled daily with her body image and dysmorphic disorder. Over the year we worked together I watched her fight to gain just a few pounds and strive for wellness. She would tell me throughout our sessions about the goal of enjoying a simple pasta dinner. She described the dishes, the ingredients, and the smells of the food cooking. Over time she learned
that if she wanted something badly enough and had the right support she could change her behavior and overcome anything.
To be healthy we must first desire it, we must want it so bad that we are willing to do the work to achieve it. We are all busy and tired but we must be stirred by desire, determination and tenacity to believe that we deserve to be healthy. Isn't it finally time to get off this merry go round of misinformation and enjoy the rest of this crazy carnival called life?