You know the feeling: you hear a song on Spotify shuffle, you tune into the local radio station, an in-the-know friend plays you a record – and you’re in awe. You become more than a fangirl. You follow the band’s online presence, you make a point to see every show. You support even though no one know, you cheer because they make you feel something you’ve never felt before – or maybe felt all along.
And then the world picks up on it.
In the last few years, being healthy, and specifically, eating healthy has become a “trend.” And in the midst of this health revolution we’re having, there is a conversation that is not going on right now: Marketing health as a trend diminishes its value, its credibility, and its true lasting power on a person-to-person basis.
Look on billboards and advertisements the next time you step out to start your day: what do you see?
Gluten-free. All natural. Organic. Real.
Magazine covers tell us about the “one diet we all should be following,” and bookstores overstock the window shelves with the latest bestseller on our bods. Which, of course, all pique our interest, because it’s new, exciting, and speaks to our desire to be our very best selves….as well as our desire to be a part of a movement, something bigger than we are. Something we can connect with.
The great thing about the healthy living trend is that it means there’s a slew of information at our fingertips. Like, an unprecedented amount. People who’d never consider drinking greens now gladly experiment at their local juice bar. That man or woman who used to mock “hippies” at the grocery store is now actually reading labels and questioning restaurant chains. Huge media outlets and high-profile celebrities (Beyonce!) are making healthy living a part of their brand, giving it a cool-kids feel it’s never really had before. Heck, the fact that my parents watched Fed Up together on a freaking Friday night means that this movement is real. It’s now officially hip to be green.
On one hand, viewing health as social klout has gotten the more people eating whole, minimally-processed foods on a regular basis. And hey, the more, the better! The more information out there about the benefits of a health-filled lifestyle, the better off we are as a society. Surely we want to see our society’s obesity epidemic decline, our culture’s heart disease levels decrease, our diseases and deaths become sparsities, not statistics. Healthy is cool and that gets us on board.
On the other hand, the lines between cool and uncool are being drawn in very thick ink. Whereas once-upon-a-time (well, #iwish) we used to have buzzterms like low fat, fat free, and “diet” drilled into our stomachs, now we’ve got an emphasis on uber-health. Paleo. Gluten-free. Sugar-free. All-natural. Healthy fats only. Complex carbs only. Calorie control. Non GMO. Unprocessed. Etc etc etc. And let me reiterate: none of these things are inherently bad or harmful. It’s the spin on virtuosity that’s hurting us, the idea that it’s my-way-or-the-highway.
How about the people who are now eating turkey sandwiches instead of pizza for lunch? How about those who choose a cup of greek yogurt for a snack instead of a bag of potato chips? How about the one woman who is trying so hard to make positive changes in her life but everything she reads and everything she sees tells her that something is “bad” or “off-limits?” It can seem daunting, so daunting that she gives up altogether. I’m overwhelmed by rules, she thinks – and she quits altogether.
Our emphasis on uber-health is estranging those who just need some time to adjust.
If healthy living – and specifically, healthy eating – is a trend right now, that inherently means that at some point it will morph into something new and noteworthy. It means that the media will no longer flash “organic” or “unprocessed” in our faces in favor of another new buzzword or concept.
Our emphasis on uber-health fails to realize that health is an ever-evolving journey, not just a fixed destination.
The thing about healthy living, true healthy living, is that it’s completely individualized and customizable. How wonderful that we have this wealth of information at our fingertips, that the latest research and moreover, common sense points, are being embraced by huge name brands and retail outlets! My fear is that much of it could turn into a flash in the pan, that these decisions might be being made by those big brands out of a desire to nab the general public, not serve the general public. And just like that band you loved for years before the world caught on – I don’t want this wonderful movement of healthy living to fade back into the dark as a forgotten one-hit wonder.
To eat well, really eat well, we need to take advantage of all the wonderful information that’s at our fingertips right now. We need to take this opportunity to educate ourselves, because never before have we had this kind of information at our fingertips.
And then we need to listen to our bodies, open up our eyes, and take what works for us to fit our lifestyle. At a sports game or concert and you’re hangry with no veggies in sight? Go for the thing that looks most like real food you can find – then go have a blast with your friends. Having trouble in the breakfast department when all you’re used to are pop tarts or frozen waffles? A cup of yogurt with some berries is a great step in the right direction. I know that I personally love to snack on popcorn, and not always the air-popped kind. Most websites will tell me I’m doing horrible at the whole “eating” thing. But I know, with a lifestyle that is mostly plant-based and garbage-free, and a past that involves both bingeing on candy and cookies our of boredom and eating so strictly it endangered my well-being, my conscious choice to enjoy some kettle corn is one that feels balanced for me. Just because your meal is not food blogger material or the nutritional value of your one snack isn’t as “clean” as the trends say it “should” be, I promise, as long as you are making an informed decision, you are doing more than okay.
Eating well does not have to be an all-or nothing scenario. We owe it to ourselves to make healthy eating and healthy living more than a trend. Because just like that awe-inspiring band you found long ago with the one single everyone went crazy over, your lifestyle deserves respect and reverence whether it’s in vogue or not. The foods you eat and the way you live can make you feel things you’ve never felt before – or maybe felt all along – if you stop keeping score and follow your truth.
What is one decision you’ve made in the last month to live healthfully on your own terms?
Very well said. This RD approves.
Thank you, Melissa!
Heck to the yeah! I love this message and think that it’s so important. Let’s talk about it! As someone with some chronic health issues, I’ve definitely struggled with self-blame when I think I’m not being “clean enough” or “vegan enough” or whatever the trend is this week. Now I try to be at peace with being “mostly healthy”, but I can get triggered by all the media.
The same messages come up around meditation, yoga, etc. As someone who spends a lot of time training people to be more mindful, I think it’s also important to recognize that no one expects you to become a monk. If you just make small efforts to incorporate more health into your life, that’s probably much better for you than the stress of trying to be perfect.
Ooooooh nail on the head, Lauren. Media is so freaking triggering – and until we actually see that it’s happening, then we notice it ALL over the place. Huge props to you for being at peace with “mostly healthy” which in my opinion is the healthiest you can be 🙂
P.S. Have I told you I love the name of your site? I feel like I have. But just in case. I love the name of your site.
Thank you for this. I’m making a conscious effort to be kinder to myself, whether that means patience for the process, or laughter at the whopping piece of chocolate cake day. That I have the opportunity to make that choice, to eat consciously instead of mindlessly, to have compassion instead of use food as a weapon. It’s a process. But truly accepting the process, and forgetting and remembering again.
This is so fantastic. “Laughing at the whopping piece of chocolate cake day” and patience for the process – so much yes. Thank you for your comments always, Julie – they add so much to the WANT community.