Revisiting Eating and Wellbeing
Do you remember the questions about potatoes, bread and honey? Here’s some worked answers – and my current musings.
I asked you about a writing a definition of eating too. What I’m interested in is connected eating, which I currently describe like this: Connected Eating emerges from a philosophy (Well Now) concerned with reverence for life, collective healing, and communal transformation.
It seeks to re-orient eating narratives so they centre on respect i.e. dignity and justice. It offers a way of thinking about food and eating that values different ways of knowing and recognises the inter-relatedness of body-mind-society+. This means it integrates body cues, values, our experiences (including trauma), and the context of our lives; it teaches that food and eating serve an inter-connected range of roles and needs around vitality, pleasure, lineage, values, relationships, stewardship, emotions, identity etc.
Investigating Data Used to Endorse Dieting
Hopefully you’ll have been able to download the powerpoint where I go through the rationale for dieting and explore some relevant biomedical data. As you might imagine, it’s all horrifying. So please make sure you have something to turn afterwards that will restore your ok-ness and faith in humanity if needed.
And how do social factors come in?
Conventional public health messages advice people to cut down on salt. Do you know why – is it to prevent diabetes, high blood pressure, or gut problems?
The answer is blood pressure, and hence also heart health. (The link is arteries: high blood pressure can damage the blood vessels or arteries. Damaged arteries are more prone to develop plaques. If a piece of plaque comes free it can prevent the free flow of blood to the arteries leading to the heart. This can cause heart disease.) The way ‘reduce salt’ messages are presented makes it seem like there is unshakable evidence behind the advice, which isn’t the case.
First, there isn’t strong evidence to support population salt reduction as safe or effective for blood pressure control. Second, even if there was, dietary profile has hardly any impact on the incidence of high blood pressure in a population.
If not salt, then what? Can you come up with factors that could influence high blood pressure and heart health in a population. Think about conventional factors i.e. listed in public health leaflets, and social and historical factors.
Why are some people more affected than others? Why are some groups in a population more affected than others?
How much difference would dietary change alone through a low salt intake and more fruit and vegetables make to social class differences in heart disease?
If someone in a violent relationship has high blood pressure and cuts salt from their diet, what impact do you think this will have on their blood pressure?
Black men in the US earn 4 times as much as Black men in Cuba but have 9 years less life expectancy.
Why is this?
The research gives the answer as racism. despite this, dietitians still teach lifestyle change and obscure the risk to health of any discrimination.
Here’s an example of how to open up conversations using the Well Now Hall of 1000 people scenario.
Working with Groups
You might know of the activity where people stand in a line and then are asked questions about privilege and disadvantage. You take a step forward if you answer yes, a step backwards if you answer no. For example, are you confident you’re be taken seriously when you talk to a doctor? Would you expect to be treated fairly if you were pulled over by the police? Have you always had enough to eat?
This can be a very stark illustration of the reality of people’s lives. However, without due care it can also reinforce prejudice. This blog by Korin Miller is well worth a read. It includes a video of the activity and a clear discussion of some of the issues raised.
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(Why the scare quotes? I put “diet-related” in commas not because it’s not true, but because it’s not all the truth. I don’t think it’s the most useful truth either. Diet-related diseases of diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease are also power-related.)
- A way of thinking that relies on having two paired opposites of unequal value eg. fat/thin; gay/straight; fit/unfit. It fosters judgment and stereotype. Difference is used for comparison of worth rather than being celebrated and valued. Thinking in this way constructs absolutes and certainties. There is no scope for a middle ground or maybes or queering the pitch.
- another term for (1)
- another term for (1)
- A belief system in which the earth is devoid of any inherent Beingness or spirit.
- A term that describes a feeling or sensation that can be hard to pin down and put into words or even identity for ourselves.
- This is defined as “a global orientation that expresses the extent to which one has a pervasive, enduring though dynamic feeling of confidence that (1) the stimuli deriving from one’s internal and external environments in the course of living are structured, predictable and explicable; (2) the resources are available to one to meet the demands posed by the stimuli; and (3) these demands are challenges, worthy of investment and engagement.’ (Antonovsky, 1987)
- The theory of knowledge. It influences what methods and beliefs are seen as valid.
- A stance of openness to what is that declines judgement.
- A type of scientific method and attitude used to build knowledge on health and disease, located in a Western value and belief systems.
- Kindness that emerges from a stance of warmth and understanding.
- An approach to population health that seeks to understand the causes of wellbeing.
- This describes the fact that living in society shapes things like emotions and ideas.
- A recognisable system of ideas and ideals.
- A way of making sense of reality by separating an event or item into constituent parts and studying these in isolation from each other.
- The study of the nature of reality.
- A practice where European nations assumed control over other countries through warfare and genocide and deliberate destruction of land and culture.
- An ideology that understands health as a property of individuals and a function of ‘lifestyle choice’. and that highly prizes personal wellbeing.
- You are this.
- An ideology that endorses personal responsibility and seeks to reduce state involvement in social welfare as the best way to promote human flourishing. It is based on belief in the principle of free markets.
- a ‘generalized mode of understanding which accepts the existing social order as natural and not subject to meaningful challenge’ (Gramsci)
A world that sticks to the rigidity of all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t foster awe and respect for our bodies, or other people’s. Instead, it teaches us to compare bodies in a judgmental way where even ‘perfection’ comes at a cost. It sets us up to be non-accepting of difference. This creates unjust power imbalances in society that begin to seem normal and ‘ just the way things are’. With all this body bashing it’s not surprising our sense of body respect is bruised at best, and somewhat battered at times.
Can you write an A to Z of strategies to nurture body respect?
This can range from supporting people to experience self-worth and embodied pleasure, to activism and overhauling the entire education system!
This is a random assortment of resources. If there’s anything I’ve mentioned that you’d like a citation for, or more information about, please let me know and I’ll do what I can to find a source or make a suggestion.
- Fat, Pretty, and Soon to Be Old: A Makeover for Self and Society. Pub: A.K. Press (2019) By Kimberly Dark (scholarly, memoir)
- Heavy: An American Memoir. By Kiese Laymon. Bloomsbury 2018 (scholarly, memoir)
- Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. By Roxane Gay. Pub: HarperCollins (2017)
- Keith Jarrett ‘Emotional Cellulite (A Song of Grief and Courage)’. Poem In Selah. (2017) Burning Eye Books.
- Andrea Gibson. Spoken word poem. The Nutritionist.
- Recovery in the Bin. https://recoveryinthebin.org. A UK based critical theorist and activist collective. Website including links to free articles.
- Critical Psychiatry https://www.criticalpsychiatry.co.uk/index.php. A network primarily for psychiatrists, psychiatric trainees and medical students with an interest in psychiatry.
- Critical Dietetics https://criticaldieteticsblog.com Including an open access journal (i.e. free). A place for critical inquiry and exploration on dietetics that welcomes all relevant scholarship and engagement.
- Audre Lorde on The Masters Tools
- Hallmarks of White Supremacy
A Reminder to Go Gently
Remember, some of these questions might land deeply and feel unsettling. It’s fine to be unsettled – we need this for change to happen. It’s also true that there’s a point at which we can be too unsettled to engage with learning, which clearly isn’t helpful. We need a steady place in ourselves to return to (the body awareness exercises will help with this) as we adjust to new ways of being with food, emotions, knowledge and so on.
The most important thing for the learning and healing that’s happening here is that you explore your feelings and beliefs. This means being able to engage, and this means pacing yourself. Don’t worry about doing everything that’s suggested, amount doesn’t matter. It’s more important that you can be present with whatever you do, even for a short time and even for a tiny amount.
Last question, what are you looking forward to? Have you got any treats planned? If not, now is a great time to put something in your diary!
See you soon ~