Healing Power of Physical Health 2
Posted on August 8, 2014
To continue our conversation on physical health as the basis for all social, emotional, and mental health, today I would like to discuss diet. These topics have been personal focuses of mine over the last couple of years. As with exercise, I’ve also realized that by not bringing up diet with clients, I am missing opportunities to address some key drivers of all other aspects of well-being.
I spent the first several years of my career in residential juvenile justice and child services settings. I never paid much attention to the diets we served the youth in our program. One day, someone handed me the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, and my eyes opened (and a few tears fell). With the health cost of our Western diet fresh on my mind, I realized we were feeding the kids in our care some of the worst food possible.
Corn dogs, frozen waffles, French fries, pizza, tater tots, and plenty of whole chocolate milk and Kool-Aid to wash it all down. I was always taught in psychology class that above all, we do no harm. I struggled whether “harm” included a steady diet of fatty, unhealthy food that lack the nutrients needed to sustain health, not to mention recover from trauma. When I started to talk to people about improving the menu, I often got two responses: “This is better than they ate at home,” and “This is all we can afford with the funding we have.”
We did not tolerate our staff physically or emotionally abusing our clients, but we seemed all too ready to hand them food that would decrease their energy, mood, overall well-being, and ultimately their length of life. We also missed the opportunity to educate them and have them experience the firsthand benefits of a healthy diet. Do you give up your right to health once you enter a “system” where food is provided for you?
There are many barriers to implementing a healthy diet, whether as inpatient facilities or in our own life. Cost, knowledge, and geographic access are real barriers to having an adequate, much less healthy, diet. I’ve been to several talks at conferences about how impoverished areas are often food deserts, without access to affordable healthy food. It is hard to live healthy when your options are fast food and convenience stores. Even if a healthy option exists, few people have been educated about what it means to eat healthfully. Even the sacred food pyramid has come under heavy fire, and if your school lunches were like mine in the Midwest, they were not much better than what we served in the residential settings where I worked (Oh, the memory of country fried steak and bad pizza!).
I think as helpers it is important for us to have the conversation with client about diet and, when possible, help bring healthy options into impoverished food deserts. Most clients have at least some choice in what they eat, even if that choice is limited for financial and geographic reasons. As those that serve those living in poverty, it is important that we address diet on the individual and community levels.
Food is the energy that powers all other aspects of health, yet those that need this energy the most often have few options beyond putting bad fuel in their system. In recent years, there has been much written on the ethical, environmental, and health impact of our diet in the West. As healers in our communities, it is important we do not turn a blind eye to the impact of food (and its production) on the well-being of the individuals and communities we serve, and the world we live in.
I’m wondering if anyone else has had similar insights about the food choices facing your clients. Would love to hear your thought and any actions taken in the comment section.
Last note: As many of you know, I’ve gone to a plant based diet. I usually don’t talk about this a great deal, but thought I would take a risk and put my reasoning in the comment section in case anyone is interested.