In the past few months I have had three people come to me, whom I’ve known for years, that have finally given up one thing or another in their diet in order to resolve various health issues.

The conversation usually involves them thanking me, surprise at how well they feel, and a discussion of dietary dogma: Do I need to follow gluten free, Paleo, vegan, raw foods, for life?

This is a question that is hard to back people off of, and it is frustrating for me as a nutrition science nerd and wellness advocate to get them to see — their well being, is way more complex then following one popular diet or another.

2013 was the year that opposing dietary dogma went to battle. More people gave up gluten in 2013 than I have ever known before, arguably for good reason. Dave Perlmutter’s “Grain Brain” made number one on The New York Times best seller list. Vegans got slandered for their non-eating-meat ways by the Paleos, and Michael Pollan  pointed to the problem with Paleo, and the idea that we aren’t really eating like our ancestors.

It’s a confusing mess in the nutritional world, and equally disconcerting is the polarizing meanness, and unintended consequences of the forest being obscured by those damn trees. By continuing to focus on one food, or one nutrient grouping at a time, we are actually missing the bigger picture. We have lost common nutritional sense, and have instead created polarization where one group lobs insults at the other.

Nutrition is about supporting health, about embracing the notion that we have to eat well to feel well overall. It is part of a wellbeing paradigm, of guiding people back to health, and feeling empowered to do so. Standing up on self righteous podiums, slinging arrows, where everyone seems to know the truth about nutrition with near religious fervor – despite the fact that, just as with religion, equally informed, equally passionate people hold altogether opposing views, is the insidious danger of dogma.

The theme of healthful eating is very well established. Variations on the theme, however passionately they are defended, are much more about personal preference, individual readiness, social and economic support, and biochemical and metabolic individuality.

People are ready to change when they are ready to change. When we are finally ready to feel better, as with the three people I mentioned above, the door is opened up for curiosity and more profound healing.  All three of them have now seen the overwhelming impact that food has on their health, and have begun the exploration into what feeling healthy truly looks like for them.

What doesn’t often get addressed, when an author is trying to sell a book, or the media is touting the newest nutritional fad, is bio chemical individuality. There is a lot of reading between the lines that has to be done.  Most doctors and authors are speaking to the general public, which means a standard American diet (SAD), full of unhealthy hydrogenated oils, refined, high glycemic carbohydrates, and copious amounts of chemicals. Any one diet, giving up this way of eating, will produce positive health benefits in the short term. It is the nuances of dietary choices that have to be individualized.

Read the literature you like, then read the literature you don’t like with equal fervency. Experiment with your own body, intuitive eating, and getting to know how your body feels when you eat certain foods. Don’t follow one diet protocol because it is what your peers are doing. The current crop of “all grains are bad” folks, had me jumping on the bandwagon, until I realized that after 6 weeks of not eating any starchy carbohydrates, my thyroid was slowing down. Thankfully, I remembered that there is a huge continent named Asia, whose people have subsisted off rice for centuries, and are known to have the longest life expectancies.

So here is my dietary dogma: Don’t eat like a moron. Eat wholesome foods, in a balanced array. Eat real food, not too much.  Listen more, pontificate less, get curious.  Diets can be good or bad with or without dairy, meat, wheat, grains and gluten; we have been coming up with ways to eat poorly for decades. Diet books, Big Food, and “experts” will always be there, to wage war, ready to vilify or glorify those that came before them, don’t jump into the fight. Value your health, not the side of the isle you land on, and help me make 2014 the year that we all learn to harmoniously co-exist.

 

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