ColumnFeel a little creeped out by all the health coaching happening? You’re not alone.
The other day, I saw yet another acquaintance post something about their magical experience this summer with some life-changing health plan. The words of the post carried the excitement of when something happens in your life and you want to share it with your friends, but also the creepy feeling that they were trying to sell something. They had decided to get into the business of health coaching.
I’ve seen a lot of this over the past couple of years. People that try the latest This Will Fix Everything And It Will Be Easy program and then are so convinced by the results that they become an ambassador or coach for the program that they are so convinced is the solution to the world’s eating problems. “It’s only going to take you 21 days to get back on track! Join me!”
When did everyone decide to get into the business of health coaching?
As a friend put it, “it’s a pyramid scheme.” It’s true that whenever I see these kinds of things, I get the creepy feeling that it’s less about health and more about making money and running a business.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with health coaching. In our modern world of processed foods, pesticide laden produce and the trifecta of fat, sugar and salt, we aren’t very healthy and we do need to change what we eat. But often, we don’t know how. Food education is dictated by the food lobby, and as the average time spent in the American kitchen drops, we have a worse and worse understanding of what we’re putting in our bodies. It makes sense that we would need some direction.
But is the direction that we are getting the right one?
I can understand where the fanaticism spawns from, and I am happy that people out there are thinking about what they are eating and are starting to feel better in the process. When you start eating well, you start feeling good, and when you feel good, you want to talk about it. Why? Because we live in a culture where most people don’t feel great, and when we feel great ourselves we want to help others to do the same. I myself believe in challenging people to think about what they eat and their health, it is after all why I write this column.
The other thing that makes these initiatives successful, and gets people excited about being an “ambassador” for them is that eating well takes a community. While eating well is first and foremost is a personal choice, it helps if the people around you are doing it too, and often these health initiatives provide that community, giving people a support system that they can plug into.
Diets give us a tribe. They give us a definition. They give us a reason to turn certain foods away. We can say “I’m doing the [insert diet here]” without having to accept personal responsibility for our eating choices. We are subscribed to a dogma, if carbs don’t fit in, then we won’t have them. When we don’t have a tribe that dictates our choices, it’s a lot harder to turn down that oversized serving of fries. “I eat what makes me feel good and try to find a healthy balance of real foods,” isn’t the answer anyone wants to hear when they offer you a piece of chocolate cake and you turn it down. Way better to respond with “I’ve given up [insert any ingredient here] for the next 30 days as part of the [insert diet here] and I feel amazing! Do you want to try it too?” Not only did you just turn down the cake, but you also just made a potential customer.
No wonder it feels like a diet pyramid scheme. The same friend wrote to me, “there is no trending food fad called ‘eat this delicious thing that you cooked and go for a walk.'”
It’s true. Telling someone to eat something tasty and go for a walk isn’t going to make you any money. Because it doesn’t involve any tablets, or any workout machinery or any special type of blender/food slicer/dehydrator/whatever other fancy contraption people are selling these days. It just involves real food and taking the personal responsibility to listen to your body and give it what it needs. That doesn’t have a catchy name, and therefore, it can’t be a trend. And if it can’t be a trend, then what’s the point in following it?
Here’s the deal. If anyone is selling you a meal replacement shake, be it Soylent or otherwise, smile, nod and say “I prefer real food, thank you very much.” Cut our processed foods. Eat more vegetables. Drink more water. Go for a walk. Or a run. Or a hike. Or a bike ride. Don’t go to fast food restaurants, even the one that brand themselves as “healthy.” And please say no to butter in your coffee. Coffee doesn’t deserve to be ruined in that way.
Can’t we all just be part of the Real Food Tribe? The one where there are no diets involved? The one where moderation is the name of the game, but not all the time, and we allow ourselves indulgences every once in awhile, but don’t drive ourselves crazy when we have them? Can we embrace food instead of demonizing it?
There isn’t a special trick to good health. You’re not going to eat a certain thing for 30 days and have it magically change your life. Being healthy is about having a well-rounded approach to real food every single day of your life. It’s not trendy, it’s a lifelong approach, and the sooner we embrace that, the better off we will be.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Image: John Watson