I have to admit I’ve been struggling with this blog lately.
Part of me wants to be in the ancestral health space and talk about the amazing ways we can biohack our bodies through diet and exercise and deeply scientific understandings of the principles behind humanity.
Part of me wants to talk about body image and disordered eating and health at every size and the psychology of learning how to love yourself or at least get comfortable in the skin your in.
Both of those things should be valid, but I feel like the chasm between the two—at least on the internet—keeps getting wider.
Because the argument keeps coming back to using “how you look” to determine how healthy your body and mind actually is, and I think pretty much everyone is guilty of it.
Why Can’t Ancestral Health and Health at Every Size Be the Same Thing?
For some reason, “health at every size” seems to be positioned (or at least understood) by people as something different from eating ancestrally.
Because if you’re eating ancestrally, you’re supposed to automatically lose weight and get a six pack. Right?
But in reality, if you’re eating an ancestrally appropriate range of foods or even a medically necessary diet, you may not ever look like Raquel Welch a la One Million Years B.C.
You might still be “at every size.” In fact, your body might need to be “at every size.” Like mine. I wasn’t a fertile, functioning female when I was trying to look like the above picture (ironically by NOT eating biologically appropriate foods). Now, I have a significantly different sized body, but I try to feed it the right things and not obsess about it.
Yet it seems to me like “health at every size” (or maybe its “eat the food”) is focused on “eating everything in moderation”—including processed non-food foods, even when they’re clearly causing detrimental health problems that have nothing to do with weight or body image…which means that the focus isn’t necessarily on health, just on not being restrictive, which, in theory, is absolutely awesome.
But there are whole forums dedicated to ripping apart any blogger who operates under the notion that certain foods are more food-like than other foods—and the line between being health-conscious and orthorexic gets reduced to nearly invisible in those peoples’ eyes.
On the other side, there are the Paleo perfectionists who are so #PAF that their abs cause abrasion on the computer screen, and anyone who doesn’t look, feel, and perform as perfect as they do obviously aren’t “doing it right.” Not only have they healed all of their physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional disorders by putting more butter in their coffee, but they operate on the principle that healthy eating is healthy living, and healthy living is the only kind of living—and while they’re living their ridiculously restrictive, rule-bound lives, the rest of us are inching obliviously to our grain-fed graves—without a six pack and rippling muscles.
What absolutely kills me about both groups of people is that they assume that there’s only one expression of health, and it is entirely predicated on a) your size/muscularity/leanness and b) your ability or inability to follow or break rules.
On top of ALL of that, there’s also the fear of triggering people who don’t need to be triggered—and the fear of offending people who are offended that people can be triggered in the first place.
What I mean is: some people need to throw out their scales and empty their refrigerators of “safe food” until they understand the concept that weighing and measuring and restricting is not a good measure of worth—or a sustainable way to live. Some people need to use a scale and wear a FitBit or follow a meal plan because it’s the only way that they can start to understand how their bodies work, and they’re motivated, healthily, by these tools. And, unfortunately, the wrong people are weighing and measuring and restricting—and the wrong people are not. And they’re all mad at each other for presuming that one or the other group is doing it wrong.
In other words, I don’t use a FitBit. I try to switch up my food and I no longer say “no” to going to restaurants, even if there’s gluten in the french fries. Or even if there’s french fries. (And, goddamnit, I’m eating the french fries WITH ketchup, thankyouverymuch.)
But then I go an interview a person like Jimmy Moore, who is helping people learn how to eat a fairly “restrictive” ketogenic diet in order to manage some severe health problems. Am I a hypocrite? A horrible person? An authority not to be trusted because I’m showing people how to hate their bodies?
And this is where my head explodes, because the answer is: maybe. Not intentionally. But, despite the fact that I see nutritional ketosis as a way to manage diabetes and heart disease and epilepsy and actual obesity, someone’s going to listen to the podcast and say, “I should try a ketogenic diet so I can lose 10 pounds,” and they’re going to be the someone who doesn’t need to lose 10 pounds. Someone’s going to listen to the podcast and say, “I’m going to read this book because I hate my body and I want to go ultra-low-carb to force it into submission.”
Even though that’s not the intention at all.
And there’s nothing I can do about it. Except maybe never blog or podcast or talk about health at all.
But I honestly believe that there is health at every size, but it involves making healthy choices based on what your body needs. Not obsessing about them, but being aware of them. For someone like Jimmy Moore, that’s probably more butter and less bread and a higher level of attention paid to what he’s eating. For someone like me, that’s probably also more butter and less bread, but also fruit and starchy veggies and, hell, why not sushi with white rice on occasion, and far less focus on the how, what, and when of every meal?
I’m not talking about meal planning. I’m not talking about carb cycling. I’m not talking about biohacking or eating to perform or IIFYM or using food as fuel. And I’m not talking about weight loss, restriction, or rules. I’m talking about understanding what nourishes YOUR body, no matter what size or shape it is. I know that it’s going to be nearly impossible to overturn decades of an embedded cultural discourse, but I believe very strongly in ancestral nutrition—and I also believe very strongly in the idea that we’re not all meant to look like Raquel Welch.
So, is it possible to be body positive and to promote the idea of unrestricted eating while still believing in the power of ancestral nutrition and acknowledging that some people need to use changes in their diets as medical intervention? I don’t know, but I’m damn sure going to try.
All of that to say: I had a great time talking to Jimmy Moore on today’s podcast about his book and the work he’s doing as a patient advocate, blogger/podcaster, and two-time book author. Nutritional ketosis is not for everyone, and if you’re dealing with disordered eating, I’d suggest starting somewhere else—but I do think that this is a great read and has the potential to help a lot of people who need to make big changes to their health status—no matter what their size.