This year’s Nutrition Month theme is “Unlock the Potential of Food”. I love how this theme lends itself to lots of possibilities when it comes to promoting the importance of food and nutrition, and the work of dietitians. For its part, Dietitians of Canada has chosen five sub-themes: the potential to fuel, discover, prevent, heal and bring us together.
I’ve always said that food is more than fuel. It’s no secret that I love to cook and eat, and I believe that pleasure and eating emotionally are all part of eating well.
Still, I can’t help but wonder – when we talk about food’s “potential” and give it so much power, are we unintentionally stoking the fears we have around food?
Who’s Afraid of Big, Bad Food?
Perhaps you read that last sentence and you’re thinking, “Are you serious? Who is afraid of food?”
While it probably takes significant physical and/or mental distress for someone to be categorically afraid of food and eating, I would argue that fear around food is so normalized in our culture that you probably don’t even recognize it.
Think about how people talk about sugar, salt, fat, calories, processed food, chemicals, GMOs. Scroll through Netflix and you’ll find documentaries like What the Health or Super-Size Me.
We’re constantly worried about what’s in our food, what’s not in it, and what it can “do to us”.
Food Has Potential… but not That Much
Food is more than just a source of energy and nutrients. It can bring up specific emotions and memories. It can be a symbol of status or identity.
Although certain eating patterns are linked with better or worse health outcomes, that is about as far as the evidence goes. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. On top of that, food and eating are just tiny pieces of the puzzle when it comes to our health, and many studies don’t account for the multitude of factors that could be skewing the results. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from pushing keto, paleo, or whatever diet du jour as the be-all and end-all, and painting sugar, gluten or whatever “bad guy” du jour as the devil’s incarnate.
There is no single food that has been shown to cure or prevent disease, nor is there a single food that has been shown to cause it.
Nutrition researcher Dylan MacKay said it best in his article, Hey, Hippocrates: Food isn’t Medicine:
“Seeing food as a medicine can contribute to obsessing about macronutrient intake, to unfairly canonizing or demonizing certain foods, and to turning eating into a joyless and stressful process. […] I could eat the healthiest foods every day, but without medicine I would still die.”
Food is amazing, but we need to stop giving it more power than it deserves.
How to Embrace the Potential of Food
I truly believe that “unlocking the potential of food” really means unlocking the potential of you. I think that like food, sometimes dietitians are given more power than we deserve. Sure, we may be the “nutrition experts”, but nutrition is just one of the many reasons behind why we eat what we eat, and one of the many factors that influence health. Ultimately, you and your inner wisdom hold more of the answers. You are the expert of you.
Our culture of fear has left us with a lack of self trust around food and eating, so we turn to the “experts” instead of turning inward. To me, unlocking and embracing the potential of food means allowing yourself to be curious, experiment and be a mindful observer of the results, without judgment. There is no right or wrong way to eat. One food (unless you’re deathly allergic), one meal, or even days or weeks worth of eating is not going to make or break your health.
The more you let go of rules and “advice” and allow yourself to try something different, the more you’ll get to learn about yourself. Unlocking the potential of you.Unlocking the potential of food means unlocking the potential of YOU. #NutritionMonth Click To Tweet