Updated: May 11, 2020
by Keegan Abernathy, MS, LDN
The American Culture of Eating
Take a moment to contemplate our societal relationship with food. What comes to mind? Perhaps you see a barrage of T.V. advertisements flickering across the screen of your mind. What are these messages telling you? They most likely are emphasizing how important cheap, fast, and easy food is in order for you to sustain yourself. We live in an environment where such messages are constantly being sent to us, reminding us of the 24-7 access to fast food. This is one lens that our culture sees food through. Eating food is a cheap and mindless task that can be a sensory bomb for our mouth to further distract us from what is going on within and around us.
However, there seems to be a shift culturally in regards to how we, as human beings, want to experience and relate to food. Nutrition has become an ever-expanding topic in our culture. In many regards, people want a deeper connection with real food. This is a wonderful shift from the fast and cheap culture of eating. However, I feel that our culture also has a tradition of being obsessive in regards to what foods and ways of eating are “good” or “bad”. Food trends are always rising and falling in America. For years, fat was seen as the cause of the ever-rising chronic disease crisis in America. Now, high-fat low carb diets, such as ketogenic diets, are used therapeutically for weight loss and the reversal of metabolic disease states 1. Research in the field of nutrition is always evolving as more clinical trials are completed to assess the nutritional benefits of specific ways of eating. A problem arises when research in the field of nutrition is touted as fact by various forms of media. One day the internet tells you coconut oil is bad for you, the next it is good, then bad again.
We live in a world with ever-increasing access to nutritional information and, sadly, nutritional misinformation. As a nutritionist, I have seen many clients come in the door who know so much about the field of nutrition. In many cases, these clients are juggling a combination of too much information and nutritional misinformation in their minds. Such clients feel overwhelmed nutritionally. They don’t know what to eat and are constantly experiencing fear around food because they are conflicted about what is “good” or “bad” for their health. Indeed, there was a time in my life where I simply had no idea what I should or should not eat myself. Subtle fears would enter my mind because I knew, or at least I thought I knew, so much about nutrition and its effect on my body.
Some overwhelming thoughts that have surfaced in my mind concerning nutrition and health include:
I should not eat this apple, if I have SIBO it will feed an overgrowth of bacteria in my intestine and cause GI symptoms. This apple could hurt me.
I need to take probiotics. If I have elevated levels of pathogenic bacteria in my colon, probiotics are needed for me to feel better and reduce the population of such overgrowth.
I should not take probiotics, it could potentiate my IBS-like symptoms. Some people with IBD actually have a relapse of symptoms when taking them. So, I should not take them.
Grass-fed butter is high in beta-carotene and n-butyrate. These are great nutrients for colon health. Butter is probably a good thing to eat if the source is quality.
I should avoid butter and dairy due to the proinflammatory mechanisms that casein causes in the small intestine. Dairy products could hurt my belly.
For some of you, these thoughts may sound familiar. I call this a nutritionally overwhelmed relationship with food. Diagnostically in mental health, this is referred to as orthorexia, a disordered eating pattern rooted in an obsession of eating only healthy foods. Nutritionists, doctors, dietitians, media sources, or research articles have replaced the wisdom of our bodies. I believe this has resulted in a cultural disconnect from the lived experience of our body and the simplicity of eating real food. Our bodies may be giving us clear messages on how to eat, but we dissociate from this intuition out of fear because of an overabundance of nutritional knowledge swimming in our minds.
Do not mistake this analysis as an attack on the amazing work and research in the field of nutrition being conducted by qualified practiti