when did being healthy become so unhealthy?

27th January 2015

when did being healthy become so unhealthy? | jessica cox nutritionist

Being healthy, or a ‘clean eater’ is the new black. From celebrities releasing clean living lifestyle and recipe books, to well known chefs preaching their own health journeys as a saving grace for all, to online food bloggers fighting it out for the most likes and best selling ebooks and apps. Being healthy has become an industry that everyone wants a piece of.

Promises of great health, vibrancy, weight loss and newfound youth are a lucrative selling point. Healthy is big business, and big business means big dollars. Everywhere you look a new product or product line is claiming to be the best; more organic, more sustainable, more carbon footprint friendly. Detoxing is hip, and the industry has responded in all its glory. Juice detoxes, detox powders, meal replacements, enemas, colonics and more.

As a nutritionist amongst the social media world, I have been asked multiple times what my thoughts are on popular detoxes and weight loss programs now ruling the roost. Big brands like Isogenix are sweeping the market with their health claims and promises of decreasing your waistline.  The more questions I receive about programs such as Isogenix and so forth, the more it becomes evident that there exists a wide sweeping confusion pertaining to the current healthy living bombardment.  At this point in time I find myself at a cross road where it’s time to stop cursing at the television and the internet and open up an important dialogue with you all, no matter how many feathers might be ruffled.

First and foremost, following any sort of nutritional program that has not been catered by a professional to suit your requirements is generally asking for trouble. Ask yourself these questions for instance. How does the company marketing and selling a blanket approach system really know what your lifestyle involves? How does that company know what your daily food intake is like, how your digestive system functions? How do they know the level of which you are able to tolerate a detoxification?

For instance, what if a company is marketing a meal replacement shake as part of their protocol that is based on whey protein when you are unknowingly sensitive to whey. You start on their shakes and bars and wonder why you feel terribly bloated and run down. Alternately, perhaps you’re digestive system is compromised from a gastroenteritis infection two years ago from that overseas trip in Cambodia. You start your detox and end up in all sorts of pain and discomfort, attached to the toilet seat for days and days on end.

My point is that we are not robots. We all require a different approach. I don’t care if you are a well marketed multimillion dollar corporation, a chemist or healthfood store shelf detox program, or even a practitioner only  product program. At the end of the day people need to be seen as individual people. Just because one protocol works for one person (or a select group) does not mean that it is going to work for the masses.

Furthermore, replacing meals and snacks with shakes and bars, detox powders and juices is ultimately leaving the body deficient of real wholefood. Wholefood contains an abundance of nutrients and phytochemicals beyond comprehension of any supplement or shake. Of course juices will have more antioxidants than shakes and powders, but they are deficient in enough amino acids and essential fats to support the body’s detoxification processes on their own.

Now I must put my hand up and say that as a practising nutritionist, I do use detoxification (or, as I prefer to call it, ‘gut rejuvenation’) within my clinic, however I choose from a wide range of options after thorough testing methods to ascertain what is the most appropriate for each person. The detox protocol is then used to compliment the right wholefood intake for an individual’s needs. Often this process needs to be approached with caution, and must always be done at the right time and at the right dosage for that person. If that person experiences discomfort or side effects they have a practitioner there to contact and guide them through the most appropriate steps.

So what of these other popular, dietary based health trends? The popularity of current ‘clean eating’ exclusion diets such as paleo/ketogenic diets along with sugar-free diets and vegan diets, which are all forerunners for the limelight. Now, now vegan readers, I know a vegan diet wasn’t always a fad, it was and still is for many a way of life. However it cannot be overlooked that the vegan diet has become part of this new marching band of clean eating processions.

These currently popular diets include protocols such as cutting out carbs and eating high protein and high fats, or cutting out sugar altogether, or going raw vegan. Who on earth is right? Breathe my friend, because no one is right. The thought that one specific dietary approach can suit the masses is ludicrous. As aforementioned, just because a dietary approach suits one person’s constitution doesn’t mean it suits the next person. I’d say its generally a good rule of thumb to approach a suggested dietary protocol with caution if the person spouting off about it believes everyone will feel just like them by following their protocol of choice.

These detoxes and diets have one major element in common. They are a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. If you are currently considering such a program or diet, please keep an open mind as to what you are being told by the corporation or personalities marketing the concept or protocol. Ask yourself, does this person have the qualifications to be preaching this product or lifestyle? Do these views seem quite extremist and far-fetched? Does replacing my meals with powders really teach me anything that will give me the results after the powders are gone?

So why are detoxing fads alongside exclusion dietary protocols based on achieving optimal vitality and health ruffling my feathers so much? Surely it’s a good thing that people, especially young people, are being inspired to be healthy instead of eating burgers and drinking soft drink. 

Having the viewing field that I do as a practicing nutritionist, I have seen a frightening shift over the last 3-4 years.  A rise in eating disorders amongst the young, a rise in deprivation and exclusion diets with no professional support, a rise in vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and most worryingly a rise in anxiety and fear surrounding food. People are genuinely scared of what to eat.

They are scared that they may eat the wrong thing and that it may not be healthy, that the wrong food choice will inflict resounding harm. This fear has them so petrified that they would prefer to not eat, or narrow down what they do eat to a ‘safe’ area, which commonly includes organic vegetables with some activated nuts. Ironically, people who are generally eating healthy are now feeling inadequate unless they are adding green powders to their smoothies and cooking everything in coconut oil. It has simply all gotten out of control.

Exclusion diets and one size fits all detoxes are misleading, and most worryingly dangerous. They are spreading a narrow, idealistic concept that will simply not work for each person in the same way. As a nutritionist who see’s the effects of these ‘clean-eating’ exclusion diets on real people day in and day out, I can 100% say people are more often left depleted, exhausted, confused along with dangerously deficient.

So I guess you’re thinking, well what should I eat then huh?  I still want to take care of myself so tell me what I should do! First of all, stop freaking out that everything you eat is toxic if its not activated or if it’s from the carbohydrate family. Secondly, start focusing more on a realistic balanced approach. Balance is about finding what foods suit your constitution first if you have digestive or health concerns, and then getting a balance of your macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats) on a daily basis, alongside plenty of vegetables and moderate fruit, give or take life getting in the way occasionally.

Fundamentally that’s it. Being healthy should be easy, it shouldn’t be exclusive or expensive or separatist. Being healthy should be just as it sounds, being healthy, for body, sanity and mind. 

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