The first thing I want you to do is go read this article by Heba Saleh, interviewing Adele Hite.
Seriously, read it. Go on. I’ll be here when you come back.
Now that you’ve read it, my commentary might make more sense. I’m going to pick out a few lines that I found particularly important, or relevant to the work I’m trying to accomplish in my own nutrition career.
1. “I would recommend my program at UNC, and for good reason. I recommended it to Pam’s daughter – she wouldn’t want her daughter to go through a program where Laura’s opportunities to learn and inquire are squashed at every turn. That is not the way that UNC operates at all.”
I think this is a really important distinction that Adele makes, and I’m so glad she went to the trouble of listing all the reasons why you might select the best nutrition program for your career goals. Often times, despite my obvious frustration with much of the material I’m presented in my program, I find myself constantly defending the RD credentials to people who think all RDs are mindless ADA (AND) drones who have no ability to think for themselves. I hope this article convinces you all that this is simply not true, and that there are RD programs available that do not ‘squash’ your opportunities to ask questions and delve deeper into topics. That’s something I love about UNC, and I’m really glad I am attending this program. I’m learning so much about nutrition, as well as the way nutrition policy works in the U.S., and overall the education I’m receiving is invaluable to my future career as a (hopeful) game-changer in the world of nutrition and public health. So if you’re looking for an RD program that supports an inquiring mind and encourages some level of dissent, I’d say UNC is a pretty good place to attend if you get the opportunity! I’m sure there are other RD programs out there as well that are open to students’ questioning of the material.
2. I was also one of these people; I was obese, struggling to lose weight, eating less and exercising more, and just being marginally successful at best. And people would give a most discouraging reaction, like “you must not be trying your best” or “you must be lying to yourself or others about what you are eating”. These statements are not only condescending, but also devaluing of another person’s human experience.
This comment really hits home with the message I brought up in my post about struggling with your body weight. Even though Adele wasn’t taking a Paleo approach to her lifestyle, she was still working as hard as she could at doing what she believed was right. For people to write her off and say ‘you’re not trying your best’ is a really ridiculous statement that I think comes up a LOT in the nutrition and health world. I think even people who are eating a perfect Paleo diet and exercising adequately may still never attain their ideal body weight. We’re not living in a diet and exercise vacuum here. Other factors play into body weight such as epigenetics, maternal nutrition, exposure to environmental toxins, gut health, chronic infection, inadequate sleep, and chronic stress. As much as you may try to imitate the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the truth is that none of us will ever be immune to external forces that may play a role in our health. So the idea that someone would criticize someone for ‘not trying hard enough’ when they’re doing their absolute best to be healthy is just unproductive and, in my opinion, unjust.
3. This is what makes being a nutritionist really important — to tailor advice to peoples’ needs. Well-trained nutritionists can help people evaluate the science, see how it applies to them, evaluate their own body’s messages, because that can be an art by itself. We haven’t been taught as Americans to understand what the body is trying to tell us.
This is something that I think will play a huge role in your success (or failure) as a nutrition professional. I think sometimes people tend to forget that blanket nutrition prescriptions for everyone rarely, if ever, work. Granted, I think the general Paleo/Weston Price guidelines are a great starting place for most people, but truthfully, there is a HUGE range in what people can tolerate in their own diets based on their genetics, lifestyle, and exercise choices. I hope that those ‘experts’ who are in the business of demonizing macronutrients or providing blanket recommendations for all people, regardless of extraneous circumstances, will consider this point when making dogmatic statements about what all humans should or shouldn’t be eating.
4. We do see a lot of zealotry or moralizing about food in the world, and I think it’s interesting especially when we’re looking at ancestral ways of eating. Do we look at the far, far past — the caveman’s diet? I’m taking a food culture and anthropology class and one of the things we know is that we ate a lot of insects and grubs when we were at sustenance-level eating, but I don’t see anybody zealously defending eating bugs!
This is another great point that Adele brings up. Not that I think grains are an ideal component of the diet, and Adele seems to agree that there is no obvious nutritional benefit to including grains in the diet, but I think some people tend to demonize certain foods in general. A good example of this is dairy: some people do great when including dairy in their diet, and others have horrible symptoms and side effects. And others will argue that ‘paleolithic man didn’t eat dairy, so why should I?” Does this mean dairy is evil? No, but dairy is one of those foods that is not universally tolerated by all individuals, and people need to determine whether or not they want it to have a place in their diets. I’d even argue that no food can be considered “universally tolerated,” so again, we’re back to the whole ‘individualization’ thing. Funny how that happens, right?
5. As long as the USDA and the HHS own the definition of “healthy”, there is so much we are unable to change — our agricultural food supply structure, the labeling of products, the advice we give people in medical care and health care systems, the information distributed in the media, our health educational system, all funding for studies — each one of those is tied back to the guidelines.
This is something that I think is so important that Paleo people start discussing. Part of why I’m getting a little tired of the ‘perfect diet’ discussions is that they’re way too narrowly focused on individual goals, and not nearly enough on the kinds of changes that need to be made in the way America eats and produces food. Sure, we all might have access to the Paleo foods we want now, but what happens if the government decides to enact a saturated fat tax like the one in Denmark? Or if health insurance companies start charging you a higher premium because your blood cholesterol is higher than 200 mg/dL? Or the government shuts down your local raw milk provider? If the Paleo community is too busy arguing amongst itself about ideal carbohydrate intake and the pros/cons of intermittent fasting, we’ll never have any impact on those important big-picture issues that may one day affect our access to the foods we consider healthy.
6. The best thing as I’ve said before is to join forces — those who are in the slow food movement, the agricultural reform movement, WAPF, paleo, low-carb, healthcare reform movement … all these people, if they came together as one and were willing to simply agree on the fact that what we’ve been doing up until now is not working, we can start to push for things to change.
This is the kind of work that will be undertaken by groups like the Healthy Nation Coalition in the (hopefully) near future. However, I think it’s super important that people in the Paleo community, who are already so passionate about healthy food and nutrition, start getting involved in political action that supports our vision for a healthy future in our country. As Robb Wolf said at PaleoFX, “We’re going to either make a policy shift on our own, or it is going to shift for us in the form of a failed state.” I think it’s getting to be that time where Paleo people start thinking more about the global impact of their dietary choices, and whether or not we live in a world that will support our right to choose healthy foods for much longer.
If you read the article (which I seriously hope you did by now), what did you take away from what Adele had to say about nutrition and food policy?
Chime in with your comments!!