Tag Archive | Diet (nutrition)

i surmise with my little eyes

A few years ago, I worked at a college full of bright and creative students. While there, I was invited to serve on a panel for a discussion on “Food: Society and the Environment”. During the event, one young woman in the audience asked me to describe the conditions I encounter in my practice as a nutritionist. Then, and still, I consider this a very insightful and important question, relevant to the issue of how we are feeding ourselves–on the personal and societal level– and what are its implications.

I have worked in medical and community environments as a nutritionist for many years, during a period marked by an increasingly modified and aggressively marketed food supply. At the time of that panel presentation, I was working at both that small, predominantly female college and a large Ob/Gyn office– so my clients were mainly women, ranging in age from about eighteen to forty. And, at the Ob/Gyn office, many of them were pregnant.

A history of poor dietary habits exerts its influence on the health of a society in more subtle ways than the common indicators of end-stage problems like diabetes, stroke and heart disease—but those are the conditions that get the ink. However, increasingly and alarmingly, I see many health issues with dietary or nutritional antecedents affecting young and middle-aged adults. Likewise, I see conditions once only ascribed to aging, presenting in younger people. Perhaps to best appreciate this– if you are more fully ripened– imagine yourself sitting in a college campus student union or going to a Lil Wayne concert. You are not having lunch at the senior center.

I would rather present this in a more artistic format, but for now, I must submit to a mundane bulleted list–along with this lovely painting of Summer by Cezanne. It consists of the conditions that I encountered while serving this young adult population–and only those which knocked on my door with at least occasional frequency–not rare occurrences. 

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance
  • Heartburn and reflux  (GERD)
  • Constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and digestive disorders
  • Gall bladder conditions
  • Moderate to severe obesity
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Food allergies
  • Behavioral disorders
  • History of frequent illness in childhood
  • Eating Disorders
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Toxemia of Pregnancy—a syndrome associated with high blood pressure and kidney involvement
  • Gestational Diabetes
  • Recurrent yeast infections
  • Severe skin inflammations
  • Orthopedic Problems

Bouncing between the two work settings, on most days I had at least one client starving and struggling with an eating disorder and one who weighed more than 250 lbs—who may also have been struggling with an eating disorder. As the numbers on the scale were both decreasing and increasing, so was the volume of the diatribe against the body. Both were distressing to witness–as was considering young, diseased gall bladders.

Some of these conditions are interrelated; and many are exacerbated by stress–another marker of dis-ease affecting our youth. The prevalence of these conditions also means that many of this millennium generation is on at least one medication, including those that treat depression, anxiety, blood pressure, heartburn, inflammation, behavior, and hormones. The use of these medications will result in increased prescriptions for erectile dysfunction and osteoporosis medications for this generation as well.

My contention is that young children who are exposed to processed foods, do not develop the ability to appreciate the more distinct and varied flavorings of more natural foods—especially those of the plant kingdom. Therefore, these more healthful foods are not incorporated into their food vocabularies. These young children grow into big kids and young adults, quickly accumulating the years that their bodies are exposed to altered, nutrient and enzyme-deficient foods.

Craving the whole foods that our bodies and brains require by design in order to function, an underlying “true” hunger festers and grows. The hunger is either pursued voraciously or feared and denied. Even in the middle ground, before too long, this compromised nutritional state can take its toll and the above conditions can manifest.

One of the difficulties of inspiring behavioral change in regard to eating and nutrition, and in explaining how food matters, is that it is not very easy to show direct cause and effect between food choices and health outcomes. Many might argue that they would prefer to just eat happily and without dictates—even at the cost of a possible slightly premature end.

Could considering the consequences that physically and emotionally damage us decades before the final blow serve to amend such an attitude? Attention to dietary change has become essential. Through positive food experiences may we begin to show that nutrition can prevent not only life-threatening conditions but life-limiting ones as well.

Any thoughts on this? Any reflections of how you eat/ate at this phase of your life? Please let me know.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

community-based nutritionist seeking michael pollan

A listless child, one of many kwashiorkor case...

Image via Wikipedia

The time has come for me to pay homage to the food and environmental journalist and writer Michael Pollan, whose book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, partially served as the inspiration for my blog’s name. I say partially because I am fully aware that I have been waist-deep in food dilemmas way before his book came to be.

Many years ago, when I was a mere neophyte in this work, way before food and eating was the omnipresent topic that it is today, I was simultaneously working my first nutrition job with a WIC-Women, Infant and Children Program in some small-town communities while also serving at a hip vegetarian cafe in a cool college town–all the while trying desperately to figure out how to feed myself. By day, I talked the language of subsidized foods; by evening I enjoyed brown rice and salads with sunflower seeds, sprouts, and lemon tahini dressing; and, by night, I chowed down more than my share of the wonderful cookies we baked at the cafe.

Though I knew how to address pellagra and beriberi, I could barely identify, let alone address, my own anxious eating. Back then, in the late 1970s, I also had friends who were struggling with serious eating disorders–but the terms anorexia and bulimia were barely widely recognized. And, I still thought that the main problem with nutrition was hunger in remote places on the globe. Starving children in Biafra fueled my imagination and passion for helping when I was a kid and inspired my decision to become a nutritionist. Today, I don’t even know where Biafra is. Are there no longer starving children in the world or have they just gotten lost and forgotten in this modern feeding frenzy?

In 1981, my husband, Peter and I found ourselves seemingly teleported to Dallas, Texas in my Oldsmobile Cutlass with our total life belongings and two cats–for the purpose of a new job. For us, it was a strange new world. Though I still held strong to my Frances Moore Lappe-inspired vegetarian lifestyle and its accouterments of grains and legumes, my heady purist beliefs were no match for that southern heat. One day while staggering around the city looking for an apartment, we stumbled into a Mexican restaurant. Suffering from heatstroke, we feebly ordered some food. I slipped back into consciousness just in time to see Pete about to dig into some dish covered in carne. Honey, I managed to say, we don’t eat meat. Though we did preserve our herbivorous habits in that cattle raising land, we dove headfirst into 7 Eleven’s newly christened, enormous 32-oz. Big Gulp in order to quench our super-sized thirst. It was just the beginning of the marketing of many super-sized offerings, and it was then that I began to realize that the food universe was shifting.

Within just four years of finishing my nutrition studies, I was working in a clinic addressing eating disorders; and only six years later, I found myself in another clinical setting witnessing the cusp of the obesity epidemic. Neither of these issues was ever addressed in my schooling. My nutrition education taught me about the functions of macro and micronutrients; gross deficiency states; approaches to some diseases and food chemistry–but it never really talked about food–where it comes from, how it itself is nourished, or about the importance of quality and vitality. Nor, how to eat it. Thankfully, by then, I had figured out for the most part how to separate my emotions from my eating, so I was a little better equipped to tend to the cares of others–just in time, for the food and eating tornado had really begun to swirl.

I am grateful then for the prolific body of work and its attendant context that Michael Pollan has so poetically brought to us–rounding out the story of understanding food. However, as it clarifies, it adds to the complexity of my work–and so too, to my dilemmas. Trying to translate this information for the folk I speak with on a daily basis is not easy.

Just the other day, I had a chat with my adorable new friend, Tomazeo, a kid in one of the schools where I work. At just eight-years-old, he is really smart and has good penmanship. He told me his teacher says he is a role model. When I told him that nutrition was a big word, and we were going to write it on his folder, he told me that he knows lots of big words, including especially, absolutely and scrumptious. I agreed that those were quite big words. I asked him if he knew what scrumptious meant and he said, “Especially yummy in the tummy”. I said, “Absolutely.” His big brown eyes then asked me, “Are hot dogs healthy?” Oh my, tracing a hamburger from bull to bun, is one thing–a hot dog is yet another. How do I break the news to this innocent child that scrumptious may actually not be so easy to define.

I am guessing that Michael Pollan got stuck in this quandary as well, which led him to publish his elementary primer, “Food Rules-An Eater’s Manual” which he describes as ‘samizdat’ nutrition. I am not familiar with that big word, and I doubt Tomazeo is either, but Pollan uses it to promote a cultural reference point “as an informal and unsanctioned way of negotiating our eating lives.”

If anyone sees or knows Michael, please let him know I am out here and I could use a big chunk of samizdat. To get his attention, tell him that I think he and I have sprung from the same natural island habitat. A vague mention on his website supports but does not confirm, my suspicion that we are from the same exit off of the big native walking path. We may have hunted the same forests, foraged the same fields–and maybe attended the same high school. Emphasize that I am down here in the trenches and need reinforcements to help me with those who are not yet in the choir. Just today, from Stephen Colbert, I learned that those 32-oz. Big Gulps had actually increased to 44-oz. since my last swallow so many years ago. Yikes!

But, mainly thank him for me. He has truly helped to change and widen our understanding of food and nutrition by leading us to understand what we are eating, where it has come from and its many implications for our health and environment. His investigations have accelerated the positive redirection of policies and practices that we are beginning to finally see come to fruition. And, I bet his writings are now included in most nutrition curricula.

And, just one more thing if I may. While only a few know this about me–and have now probably forgotten–I was a (junior) high school cheerleader–yes. Though I have certainly lost the school spirit thing, this may be a reason to revive my hometown pride along with some perky and breath-draining chants. So when you do speak to him on my behalf, can you add in a little — Goooo Michael!!!!– to help cheer him on? Thanks so much.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health,

Elyn

my plate

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Don’t eat anything

Your great grandmother wouldn’t

Recognize as food.

by Michael (Pollan)