Doctors and Nutrition

The science behind nutrition, if it can be called that, is extremely limited. Here is what we know: eat a variety of food, more plants and minimal processed food. That's it. 

If you read the unlimited literature on dieting and its supposed link to health, you would be led to believe that nutritional science is incredibly advanced, but the diet industry has a vested interest in propagating this lie. 

What's more surprising is the similarly unlimited diet advice from doctors. It has become commonplace for doctors to blame a substantial number of medical illness on diet and weight, with minimal evidence. On the heels of such a statement, medical professionals often launch into their own beliefs around food and diet, again without any way to substantiate their claims. 

Medical training includes very little nutritional education. Since there is basically no science to review, nutritional guidelines tend to only reference vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Precious else in medical education has merit. 

This fact means doctors' diet advice is based solely on their own opinion. They use their position of authority to trumpet their own personal thoughts about diet, exercise and weight, as if these opinions are fact. In a world where we are inundated by diet and exercise propaganda, mostly to line the pocket of big industries, this component of the machine is disturbing. 

Doctors tend to be naive about their influence on common societal beliefs. Each doctor lives in a bubble with their patients or cohort and often forgets the power of authority vested by the white coat. Pharmaceutical companies have used that sway for years to drum up business for new drugs. The exercise and diet industry has, perhaps less overtly, used that sway with less than savvy doctors to promote their beliefs and brand.

Without any way to combat the plague of striving for thinness, endless dieting and overvaluing exercise, doctors often support whatever company has the newest and greatest product and are just as suggestible as everyone else. 

The solution is less obvious than the problem. Nutrition education is a start for doctors, but the problem runs deeper. Weight and diet have become such a facile way to explain medical issues. Medical education needs to explain the true place diet has in our lives. The lack of scientific knowledge about food choice translates into a realm doctors need to avoid. Our job is diagnose and treat illness and to promote health. Treading lightly on topics we know very little about is advisable. Stick with medicine instead.


Exercise in Our Lives

Much of our learning about health and exercise has stemmed from large changes in lifestyle since the industrial revolution and especially in the last fifty years. Job opportunities in the first world have become increasingly sedentary. The human experiment of life with minimal movement and exercise has forced the medical world to explore the ways in which moving our bodies improves overall health and well being. 

However, clinical understanding of the health benefits of exercise has lagged behind the powerful food, diet and exercise industries. Capitalizing on the lack of information, big business took advantage of an opening to create a new narrative, and that storyline is much more compelling and powerful. 

Rather than explore how activity can enhance our daily routine in today's world, these for-profit businesses have used another convincing but ultimately cynical tack. The bottom line is a subtle attempt to place blame and responsibility for the lack of exercise on the individual.

Using guilt as the ultimate subtext for a business model has been very successful. Education about the type of useful exercise and the many ways to create opportunities to be active is much less profitable than convincing the public that exercise is essential and that the level of exercise can only be attained in classes or at a gym, in other words by spending money.

The effect of this misinformation is to create a cohort of young adults addicted to exercise and who feel they are not ok, and even cannot eat, without it.

Similarly for those at risk for an eating disorder, exercise has become a gateway to illness. The exercise industry encourages the urge to obsess about body and shape and as a means to justify the intake of any food. More and more, exercise is a cornerstone for young people to develop eating disorders. Instead of exploring the place for activity and movement in our lives, exercise is a personal responsibility and a source of self-assessment, almost always one that leads to negative thoughts about oneself. 

Prior to the sedentary lifestyle of many career choices today, exercise was not an activity but part of daily life. Just the act of standing, walking and taking care of life events helped keep our bodies fit and capable. The goal today is to fit time into our day for that movement, not to create an opening for industry to exploit our own insecurities and fears.


Eating Disorders in the Presidential Campaign

Fat shaming sadly has become a central part of the presidential campaign this week, a place this form of bias clearly doesn't belong. However, the high profile publicity of ridiculing women forces our society to face a hidden and malicious prejudice. 

Just as eye opening as the comment was the presidential candidate's shocking capacity to defend his statement as if it were completely acceptable. Needless to say, some media outlets exposed the callousness of the remarks, but it also became clear that fat shaming is not only an accepted form of attacking women but one accepted by a significant segment of the public. 

Outing this hidden bias exposed a dynamic women must struggle against every day. Just as important, these expectations of thinness, and the general acceptance of shaming women who don't fit into this image, encourages women, including young women and girls, to look into dieting at increasingly younger ages. 

The last few posts make clear the dangers of dieting: it is the most important risk factor for developing an eating disorder. And so the effects of fat shaming run much deeper than a mere insult. 

The overall effect of condoning this kind of behavior is an increased risk and even likelihood that girls and young women will develop eating disorders. Messages about body shape and weight are destructive in their immediate psychological effect and insidious in sustaining the high incidence of eating disorders in our community. 

As harmful as elements of the presidential campaign have been, fat shaming takes the misogyny on display to a new level. Using the largest political platform in the world to indirectly encourage severe, life threatening illnesses is despicable and represents a form of bias that must be fully exposed.