When Healthy Eating *Isn’t*

When people find out that I write about food, they frequently assume that I’m either about to pronounce judgment on what they eat, or that I’m about to dispense dietary wisdom. In fact I’m a bit of a dietary antinomian.


This isn’t to say that I don’t harbor my share of concerns about the state of agriculture, food, and eating in this country. I do. I’m concerned that diet-related disease and obesity disproportionately affect people who are poor. Government subsidies that make fast food cheaper than fresh produce also concern me, as does the blatant disregard for the life of God’s creatures that’s happening on factory farms. I don’t like seeing cereal marketed to children that’s 25 percent sugar by weight, or girls as young as three and four worrying about the ‘childhood obesity epidemic.’

But I’m equally concerned when I see how easily the devotion to ‘healthy’ and ‘righteous’ eating can take a pernicious turn and become legalistic, judgmental, isolating and even crippling. Not long ago, I met a woman who was deeply concerned about her granddaughter. “She doesn’t eat anything anymore! It’s not that she wants to be thin, she just thinks so many different things are unhealthy. She doesn’t eat grains. She doesn’t eat anything that comes from an animal. She tries to eat only things that are raw. She wouldn’t even eat this,” she said, gesturing to the home-cooked meal we were sharing.

{from my newest post at Christianity Today’s blog for women. You may read the rest here, if you like.}


3 thoughts on “When Healthy Eating *Isn’t*

  1. So I have a semi-related question regarding nutrition in general. Here are my thoughts: What if our concept of and definition for nutrition is too narrow? I think many today think of nutrition in a very limited sense, largely because they have heard that so many items can be potentially hazardous or “bad for you.” What’s ironic, I think, is that if we pool all of those things together, I think we’ll find justification to not eat anything there is. Just like I think there will come a time that science will inevitably draw the conclusion that living tends to kill you. Every kind of living. So a lot of this nutritional emphasis is subtlely conflated with our neurotic obsession with extending life and preventing death. Rabbit trail!

    Back to the point. It seems that just about every one of my friends and family thinks that certain foods and even certain groups of foods are inherently evil and are continually processed in the factories of the devil – yet we continually and shammingly indulge ourselves. Contrastingly, I’ve always presumed that sugar and fat and carbs were just naturally supposed to be a part of your diet. It’s just made sense to me, your body needs these things to function just like everything else. And yes, obviously, we have to regulate them. But again, science is “proving” that we have to regulate just about everything else (though I’ve heard some interesting stuff dealing with extremely high doses of vitamins), as an excess or deficiency would be detrimental to ones health.

    So I like to define nutrition as “anything the body requires (to an appropriate degree – which is variable across persons) in order to sustain itself.” Under this definition, there is a place for fats, sugars, carbohydrates, sleep, exercise, relationships, vitamins, minerals, etc. It seems to me to be a more honest approach to nutrition, though I’m biased! It vindicates us of our shame in a similar way that not being so legalistic and micromanaging with our food vindicates us like you suggest.

    So my theory/question is this: Do you see similar things happening? Do you agree with my wider conception of nutrition?

    On a similar note again, I think this neurotic obsession with perfection, ahem, I mean nutrition is transferable to our social, moral, economic etc. lives and therefore the antidote is also similarly applicable. But that’s just a half-baked thought.

    1. Yes, Stephen, I agree that most conceptions of health (including what “healthy food” is) are far too narrow. My upcoming book explores this question quite a bit. Cheers!

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