Spring Greetings Fellow Herbies and Foodies!
Nutrition counseling has always been part of what I’ve done, first as a nurse practitioner and now as an herbalist. I had an “Ah-ha!” moment about 15 years ago regarding the importance of diet in influencing health vs throwing yet another drug at a problem.
I was working as a nurse practitioner at a community health center and had the joy and challenge of bringing health care to a rural underserved area. I drove a mobile unit to migrant camps, churches, pow-wows and did a lot of health screenings, teaching and referring to local agencies. Nutrition information was a biggie.
I dutifully filled out forms, assessed results and followed the American Heart Association dietary guidelines. The end results? Not that remarkable. So, we blamed the fact that people didn’t know any better, weren’t motivated enough or didn’t try hard enough (does the word ‘lazy’ start coming to mind?) I worked with dietary students and helped lead classes with LOTS of handouts on low fat diets, more and better exercises, etc. Still, the needle wasn’t moving much.
In addition to the above, there was the economic/social challenges of dietary changes: not a lot of money (if they had Food Stamps it wasn’t for very much), many worked 2 jobs or very long hours at one job and were left with little energy OR time to do a lot of cooking/food preparation, plus the fact that there were very few grocery stores but LOTS of mini-markets/gas stations around. And what do those places have in common? Cheap, highly processed/refined, high carb/fat/salt foods.
Eventually Food Stamps got approved to be accepted at local Farmers Markets. Some of the local churches teamed with nutritionists and taught folks how to quickly prepare fresh vegetables at home. What followed was people started to talk about fixing more meals at home; kids started to try new foods (THAT means a lot); people started looking a little happier (we didn’t measure that aspect, but we should have) and feeling a little better.
Now, we still talked about how low-fat diets were THE way to move forward, but just by changing the TYPE of food created a ripple. That is powerful stuff!
Shortly after this experience I attended a continuing education conference and there was a drug rep for one of the popular new (at the time) statin drugs for cholesterol. When I told him about the above experience, he dismissed dietary changes because “…diet change is OK, but you are just not going to see the same results as you would with this drug. This drug should be in the drinking water! It’s so effective!! Besides, people don’t want to change their diet….”
However, at the time I was seeing several clients that were taking statins and having quite a bit of muscle discomfort, despite the drug insert saying that muscle pain was a mild yet common occurrence. (This is not to be confused with a rarer side effect called rhabdomyolysis. This causes severe muscle pain, liver damage, kidney failure and death.) I realized I would never again look at the drug industry the same way.
If I could transport myself back to that time, I would not have advocated for low fat diets and I would have thrown some herbs in the mix but that wasn’t where I was focused at the time. What I DO know now is that one diet does not fit all body types. Some do better with lower carbohydrates, others do well with vegetarian diets. And some do better with intermittent fasting. The point is: every body is different and even the same person will change their diet over the course their lifetime because we are always changing. What worked for us in our 20’s may likely not work for us in our 40’s, 60’s or 80’s. Meat eaters become vegetarian, vegetarians become meat-eaters. High carb becomes low carb becomes intermittent fasting. (We haven’t addressed food allergies or gluten issues but that’s for another day.)
So, enjoy that apple. With a nut butter. Or not. Better yet, eat that apple with mindfulness and pleasure. Be comforted that all things change and we can change too.