Q: “How can you tell if a friend is on a gluten-free diet?”
A: “They’ll tell you.”
Again and again and again… Same joke goes for paleo, low-carb, vegan and pretty much any organized dietary strategy that has a defining name and movement behind it.
Along with politics, gun rights, religion and abortion, is one of those areas where people feel comfortable not only sharing their views but do so with incredible conviction, passion and certainty. And yet, nutrition is anything but certain. Sure, we know there are patterns of eating that help in minimizing the risk of various chronic diseases, but those patterns are far broader and less drilled down than most nutrition gurus and zealots believe.
So, we were very interested in fellow blogger –Yoni Freedhoff’s – recent blog in which he calls for an end of nutrition as religion. More so, because Yoni is not just another disillusioned dieter. No siree! He is the Medical Director of the Bariatric Medical Institute and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa. Dr. Freedhoff has also been called Canada’s most outspoken obesity expert and his award winning blog, Weighty Matters, has at times been ranked the world’s top health blog by blog ranking service Technorati.
So what does Dr Freedhoff have to say?
First, he suggests that practitioners of dietary religion risk alienating friends through strict adherence to their religious commandments. Second, he states that diet adherents tend to use their online platform to frown upon any and all dietary strategies beyond their house of worship. To question their program or guru’s plans is akin to questioning their religious beliefs; and yet, unlike actual religious questioning (which would almost certainly lead to a thoughtful discussion), question dietary dogma online, and you can bet it will lead to a highly heated debate where anger and indignation can easily descend into name calling and personal attacks.
And even if you religiously avoid all cyber nutrition nuts, you may still be at risk. According to Freedhoff, although you may not have a stranger’s zealous scrutiny to watch out for, you’ve still got yourself. Dietary dogma, almost by definition, dictates blind faith and absolute loyalty, where breaking a dietary commandment is akin to committing a sin. And with sin, comes guilt. And if you feel guilt often enough, you might well decide to abandon your entire healthier-living, guilt-inducing effort.
Nutrition as religion demands perfection, yet perfection is an impossible goal. Remember, food is not simply fuel. Since the dawn of humankind, food has been used for comfort and celebration, and if your newly found dietary religion forbids foods you enjoy, my bet is you’re not long for that diet.
So what’s the solution? Freedhoff advises : the easiest question to evaluate any dietary plan or religion is simply, “Could I happily live like this for the rest of my life?” where the most important word in that question is “happily.” If the answer’s “No,” you’ve either got to get comfortable with adding in some sinning, or find another way to go.
Add in some sinning in the form of thoughtful, “worth-it,” dietary imperfections, and suddenly new lifestyles may transform from the merely tolerable to the actually enjoyable. Enjoy your lifestyle, albeit imperfectly, and maybe you’ll even stick with it.
Nutrition isn’t religion. Eat the healthiest diet that you can enjoy, because if you’re not enjoying it, it isn’t going to last, and tolerable isn’t good enough.
Go on, sin a little, on us. The good doctor will forgive you enough to forgive yourself.