What is healthy anyway?

October 3, 2008 rooroo

I like to think I live a reasonably good lifestyle, but I think the constant bombardment of messages telling us to be healthy could potentially be… well, unhealthy. I think the UK has a bipolar relationship with food, and the pendulum is about to swing in a direction that could cultivate a potentially damaging relationship with it, moreso than there already is at least. I have a lot of respect for Jamie Oliver trying to encourage people to learn how to cook, but I think the TV chefs of the world have done things the wrong way round.

I noticed a lot of this healthy eating drive gained a lot of momentum when there was talk on television shows of buying eggs from happy chickens and eating meat only from animals have been raised in the utmost optimal of conditions, and to do otherwise was tantamount to animal abuse. This message had been lingering in the background for a while, but it has only come into the spotlight in the past year or so. If people who had no idea how to cook and were living on take-aways everynight – had they been taught the absolute basics first, learning to cook and more importantly, enjoying it – then critiquing where our food comes from and how it’s produced would have come later. Give a man a fish yadda yadda yadda. I just don’t see the point of telling someone the beauty of a hardback when they can’t read, then bollocking them when they choose to watch TV instead.

I don’t want to get into a debate on the socio-economics over mass production of meat, the giant supermarkets or free range eggs, I think I wanted to draw on a point that I mentioned ages of blog posts ago, and that was how we seem to moralise our behaviour in food choices. I was at my mum’s place a few weeks ago, and offered her a couple of biscuits I had made. “Oooh, I don’t know if I should, that would be very naughty!” Now if my mum’s diet consisted of processed foods, high in sugar and modified fats etc, perhaps I would have understood. But my mum eats a variety of lean meats, fish, fruit and vegetables grown in her garden, pulses and wholewheat products. Yet still she has conditioned herself to behave like a mischievous child when presented with something that falls out of her perception of ‘healthy’. Something ain’t right with that.

Not that I blame her, or my friends who do it either. Women especially are told about the consequences of giving into ‘tempation’ and how ‘naughty’ certain foodstuffs are. Diet products are now gearing towards a snack shaped hole in the market, not content with giving people crappy tasting meals, now they have to worry about chowing down (and spending money on) crappy tasting snacks – as if the desire to snack is inherently bad – I think it’s perfectly ok and normal to have a snack between meals – listening to your body saying, “Hello, some food in here please!” is a step in the right direction.

So behaviour towards food isn’t necessarily in great shape, yet now we’re being told to step up a gear in the healthy stakes, being kindly shown on packaging what the nutritional breakdown is – in traffic light form, how quaint – and how to feed our family good meals on budgets etc. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it can become a huge preoccupation, bordering on obsession. Don’t believe me? Have a discussion with the mother of a toddler about Petit Felous, a controversy that I never knew existed.

I watched Dana, the 8 year old anorexic last night, and while her story is an extreme one, it shows how thought processes can go wrong, despite the ‘healthy’ messages around us. For some of the people she was being treated at the clinic at, it started with cutting out chocolates, sweets etc entirely, then changes eventually lead to things like jumping up and down on the spot for exercise when exercise equipment was taken away. One of the women who runs the clinic said people are now being saturated with messages about healthy this, low-fat that, no carb this, that we potentially run the risk of damaging generations to come.

I’m not trying to put forth the message that it’s a big slippery slope; what I’m trying to ask is: is a diet and lifestyle that ticks all the right boxes always going to be healthy? We perceive what is healthy on different levels too, so it’s difficult to set a standard, but my bottom line is that a healthy attitude towards food, exercise etc is sometimes more important than what’s going in. If you’re eating well most of the time, and you want to have a slice of chocolate cake once in a while, for goodness sake, have it! You will not gain 5lbs overnight for a single slice! It does not make you bad, it should not be a temptation, you don’t have to modify recipes to make your favourite thing, ‘healthy’. Let them eat cake!

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Entry Filed under: body image, food, musings and tagged:

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