When it Comes to Nutrition, We Must Know Better and Do Better

I need to start this post by saying that I’m not judging you for your food choices. And I’m not saying that I’m holier than thou. In fact, I ate a pile of potato chips dipped in a substance that contains several ingredients I can’t even pronounce in a work meeting just hours before sitting down to start researching this post.

But here’s what I am saying: the standard American diet is a problem. It’s a big problem. It’s contributing to the destruction of our planet. It’s causing disease at rates not seen in countries where people don’t eat how we do. The standard American diet is making the rich richer and the rest of us sicker.

And the powers that be don’t want us to talk about it. The drug manufacturers that profit off of our illnesses, the weight loss companies that need us to need a savior, and the processed food conglomerates that have to deliver profit to their shareholders would prefer that we argue amongst ourselves instead of turning a critical eye toward the status quo.

It’s better for them if we’re reluctant to talk about these things. It’s better for them if we scold each other for not minding our own damn business. It’s better for them if most doctors don’t get robust nutrition training in medical school. It’s better for them if we all just keep on doing what we’re doing.

But I call bullshit.

We must know better and we must do better. How that manifests for each of us is going to be different, but let me tell you what it looks like in my life.

Know Better

I read about Weight Watchers’ new app “Kurbo” a few days ago, which is designed to let kids as young as 8 track the foods they consume and label those foods “red, yellow, or green.” The marketing on their website promises kids that they won’t have to fight with their parents about their food choices anymore. It literally uses the word “fight.” All of the success stories they share begin with the number of pounds the celebrated child dropped on the scale.

This is really what the diet industry thinks we want to teach our kids? That they should think about food in terms of watching their weight? That food is something we argue with our parents about? That dropping pounds on the scale is how to achieve recognition?

I’m not buying it.

I’m going to stop here again to share a dose of reality on my personal journey. I used to love calorie counting. During my senior year of college, I lost 60 pounds through a combination of personal training and calorie restriction. And, it was pretty easy for me (because for me, my last year of college was kind of a breeze: I had no job, no real responsibilities, no kids to parent, no bills to pay — basically, I wasn’t living in reality).

In fact, it was so easy and my perception was that it worked so well, that even after I gained all of that weight back, I still spent the next several years touting its effectiveness. I loved it and my belief was that if I could just find the time to start again, I would be successful again.

But here’s the problem. Calorie counting and portion control didn’t change my relationship with food, at least not in any positive, healthy, or sustainable way. I went from thinking of food as something for pure enjoyment to thinking of food as something to be controlled.

But, when I fell in love with eating locally grown and produced foods, something that I never even saw coming happened. I realized that food isn’t something that should be controlled. And while it certainly is pure bliss and enjoyment most of the time, it’s more than just that. It’s also fuel. Done right, food will allow your body to feel and perform at its best, both physically and mentally.

For me, it was the combination of growing, preserving, and preparing healthy foods that taught me everything I needed to know about nutrition. Being amazed and inspired by our small, local farmers who grow a wide variety of foods (some of which I had never even heard of) helped a lot too. It was truly something that I, personally, had to learn by experience.

Do Better

Thankfully, Mother Nature taught me the basics of everything I needed to know just in time for my kids to grow up living those experiences with my husband and I every day.

Lest I confuse you, my kids enjoy Goldfish crackers and the occasional scoop of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. They can devour processed treats with the best of ’em when given the opportunity. No food is off limits in our house (except maybe Pumpkin Spice Spam, because that just ain’t right).

But, their favorite foods are Brussels sprouts, carrots, and kale, and that’s not because I’m in the running for Mother of the Year; it’s because they experience the magic of growing those foods regularly and feel all the good stuff when they eat them.

Our oldest is starting Kindergarten in a couple weeks. We’ve decided on a Nature-based homeschool curriculum for him and you can bet that growing our own food is going to be a big focus area for us. Nutrition isn’t something that we’ll reserve for Health class, but instead, an integrated part of every subject we explore.

My hope, and firm belief, is that there will be no room in my kids’ lives to “fight” with their parents about food when every day is spent celebrating it. There will be no need to count calories or color-code foods because they will understand nutrition for what it is.

We can’t wait for the food, diet, or pharmaceutical industries to save us. They aren’t coming. If we want to improve health in our American culture, we have to know better and we have to do better.

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