Myths about health abound in our society. Health is often confused with dieting, being thin and engaging in punishing exercise. The idea of health is also often used as a way to shame people into restricting their food and hating their bodies.
Today, in part three of our interview, professor, researcher and registered dietician Michelle Neyman Morris reveals more facts about being truly healthy.
Specifically, Morris shares accurate information about Health At Every Size (HAES), valuable resources on nutrition and how readers can distinguish between good science and marketing ploys.
Q: What are the biggest myths about healthy nutrition or healthy eating?
A: That there is “one right way” to eat well, that there are “good” and “bad” foods, that there are “super” foods that will ward off all evils, that you can and should lose weight and keep it off if you have a BMI greater than 25, that eating well is too expensive or takes too much time—these are my top 5 favorite myths.
Q: We’re inundated with news and research on a regular basis about what’s supposedly good for us to eat and what isn’t. How can we distinguish between sound science and marketing ploys and become better informed consumers?
A: Always ask critical questions about the food and nutrition research presented whether in a peer-reviewed scientific journal or on the nightly news. When you can, go back to the original source of information and ask: Who funded the research? What was the sample size? Was there an adequate control group? Were the findings replicated in other populations? Are the conclusions drawn through the lens of confirmation bias? Was correlation mistaken for causation?
Remember, many government entities as well as professional nutrition and health organizations are influenced by the food industry so it’s best to do your own research and not just rely on the conclusions conveniently presented.
Also, keep in mind that many have a lot to lose with a HAES approach to wellness. The diet industry alone stands to lose $50 billion a year if we accept and respect the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
If nothing else, ask who stands to gain and who stands to lose with any pronouncements of how much and what we should and should not eat.
I will add that in over 25 years of studying and now teaching and conducting research in nutrition, I’ve noticed that the benefits of eating a primarily whole foods, plant-based diet seems to have stood the test of time.
I’ve also come to appreciate though nutrition education research and experience that people eat foods, not nutrients, and that beyond physiological needs, there are psychosocial, cultural, religious, and safety/comfort needs, among others, met by food in our lives, and that these are important to consider as well.
Q: Many people misunderstand the tenets of Health At Every Size. What do you think are the most common myths (and facts behind them)?
Myth #1: That those who promote and practice HAES are opposed to weight loss.
Not true. HAES is a weight-neutral approach. Outcome measures don’t include weight. Some people practicing the HAES tenets may lose weight, some may stay the same weight, some may gain weight. After I became a more mindful eater I gained weight because I’d previously been restricting below my body’s set point, or natural weight when I primarily eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. For others, weight may or may not change, but this is not the focus for HAES practitioners.
Myth #2: That all fat people are healthy/fit.
Nope, just like all skinny people aren’t healthy/fit, some are and some are not. We can’t make assumptions about anyone’s behavior based on their body size and shape. The problem is that weight stigma is prevalent and the current “war on obesity” in our society gives us permission to make assumptions about fat people’s behaviors without questioning the health behaviors of skinny people.
Myth #3: That surely as a nutritionist and RD at “some (arbitrarily defined large) size” you can’t endorse HAES.
Wrong again. As a HAES RD, I advocate for Health at EVERY size. Respect for diverse bodies, mindful eating, and joyful movement—these work for everyone and if you dispel myths #1 and #2 above, this myth falls apart!
Q: If readers would like to learn more about nutrition, what resources do you recommend?
A: First, I’d like people to learn more about food. Marion Nestle’s Food Politics and Michele Simon’s Appetite for Profit are illuminating about the influence of food industry on nutrition policy.
Also, I’m a fan of Ellyn Satter’s work including, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. For information on HAES, I’d recommend Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight, Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth (which addresses the social justice case for HAES), and The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) website (www.sizediversityandhealth.org).
For those who’ve struggled or know someone with disordered eating, I’d recommend Judith Matz’ The Diet Survivor’s Handbook and Beyond a Shadow of a Diet. I’ve mentioned some of the texts we use in our curriculum on mindful/intuitive eating earlier.
For those interested in learning about efforts to transform the dietetics profession, check out Critical Dietetics at www.criticaldietetics.org. I’m currently helping Linda Bacon edit her nutrition text, Eat Well, For Your Self, for the World, so stay tuned….
I’d also say listen to your body, become a mindful eater. Visit a farmers’ market and talk to the people producing your food. Plant a garden if you have space and enjoy!
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about healthy nutrition, your research or a related topic?
A: I’m hopeful because this generation of dietetics students is being increasingly exposed to HAES. In addition, more senior RDs and other health care professionals are recognizing the need for a paradigm shift since diets, as well as fear, shame, guilt, and stigma, have not worked for the vast majority of people. Those working in HAES for decades have paved the way for those of us coming up.
In fact, there are many RDs who endorse HAES, and over 70 have signed a petition to have our professional organization in the U.S. establish a HAES Dietetic Practice group. If you’re a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) you can sign the petition at: http://tinyurl.com/haesdpg
Also, you can join the HAES RD listserv that currently includes over 140 RDs and other nutrition professionals from around the world. Send an email to: HAESRDfirstname.lastname@example.org
Much progress has been made and much remains to be done!
More About Michelle Neyman Morris
Michelle Neyman Morris received her PhD in Nutrition from the University of California, Davis. She was a lecturer in the Nutrition and Food Science Department at San Jose State University from 1996-2000, where she also completed the Dietetic Internship (DI). Dr. Neyman Morris is currently Interim Chair, DI Director and Graduate Coordinator in the Department of Nutrition & Food Sciences at California State University, Chico. She has co-authored numerous peer-reviewed manuscripts, and has received teaching awards and several research grants, including a CSU, Chico Lantis Endowed Professorship. Her research interests include nutrition education across the lifespan utilizing the Health at Every Size® (HAES) paradigm. Dr. Neyman Morris is committed to increasing the presence of the HAES approach in dietetics curriculum and practice. She moderates an international listserv for HAES dietitians, and implements and evaluates HAES curriculum at the undergraduate, graduate and DI levels, with research outcomes presented at regional and national conferences.
Thanks so much to Michelle for speaking with me and sharing such valuable information!
P.S., Check out my interview with Jen Gargotto at her blog, MsMorphosis, where we chatted about body image and big appetites.
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Last reviewed: 6 Apr 2012