Experts say a healthy relationship with food is the heart of wellness

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

With the increasing amount of at-home fitness videos circulating on social media, many students are getting caught up in the latest and greatest fitness products and workouts. Haile Thomas, speaker and health activist, is helping to bring nutrition back into the conversation. 


Thomas recently spoke to SIUE about how to focus on nutritional health and making wholesome meals. Her goal comes from personal experience: after her father was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, Thomas said her family went through a life-changing transformation with food.


“Everything changed, not only my perspective on food but also on my perspective on wellness as a whole and how important it was to prioritize it,” Thomas said. “My mom sat in the car [after my father’s doctors appointment] reading this unbelievable long list of side effects. We couldn’t fathom, as a family, having my dad take or go down this route of taking traditional medicine.”


Thomas said after her family looked at treatment options, they decided to go against traditional healing methods of medication, instead changing what they eat completely. 


“[My mom] was noticing there were potential alternatives to going down the traditional medication route. One of those alternatives was healing through food,” Thomas said. “We started to really become empowered by the knowledge we acquired together.”


Within a year of changing their eating habits, Thomas said her dad completely reversed his diabetes diagnosis. Today, 12 years later, Thomas said she continues her journey with food and nutritional wellness through teaching communities how to prepare nutritious meals.


Cindi Inman, SIUE instructor and undergraduate program director of nutrition, said people have known for a while how overall physical wellness is heavily tied with what people eat. She said eating for the purpose of a balanced lifestyle goes beyond battling diseases.


“As dietician[s], we try to tweak a person’s diet individually to make it healthier and less calories, so they can lose some weight,” Inman said. “[This is done] without doing any drastic diet. It’s just a matter of really individualizing it.” 


Inman said someone who focuses on their diet heavily is more likely to turn to fad diets, which she said aren’t a long-term solution to a good relationship with food. 


“The mentality is, they think [they] could do this diet or whatever plan for a long time,” Inman said. “But when you look at a lot of these [diets], they are so restrictive and very few people can continue in such a restrictive way.”


Senior nutrition major Annie Gantt, of Springfield, Illinois, said it still surprises her how diets don’t work for everyone. In fact, she said most fad diets don’t live up to their promises.

“There isn’t one diet or one way that you can eat that is superior to another way,” Gantt said. “Nutrition is always changing. New information is always coming out and it can seem very stressful or overwhelming, but all you can do is do your best at making healthy choices.”


Instead, Inman said to leave the restrictive diets in the past and move into a lifestyle that will allow a person to lose, gain or maintain weight. She said intentionally restricting oneself from a specific food or food group can lead to binging that food at a later time.


“People might [say] ‘I’m never going to have a brownie again,’” Inman said. “You have your last brownie and that’s all you think about now. Then two weeks later, you have the opportunity to have a brownie and you eat the whole pan.”


Gantt said the importance of the public understanding nutrition beyond the textbook definition can benefit everyone.


“People don’t always see the connection with nutrition and preventative health and that’s what a lot of nutrition is about,” Gantt said. “[The goal is] trying to communicate to the public how your diet and your daily lifestyle is more of a preventative measure. [Also] to prevent you from getting illnesses and diseases.” 


With the social media boom of the last few years, Inman said the correlation between how we view food can be connected to our engagement with these apps. She said how we view food has changed into how others view food and the endless amount of content put onto social media doesn’t help.


“These girls are almost brainwashed with the idea of, ‘This is the magic pill to make me lose weight,’” Inman said. “Our society has a bit of an issue with food. It’s about truly enjoying [food] and when you’re eating, you eat.”


In the last few years, Inman said people’s relationship with food has become more complicated. At the end of the day, she said we have to realize food is our source of nutrition and we have to consume it.


“A car needs gas to move. We’ve got to have food to move,” Inman said. “All of a sudden, it’s turned into, ‘If I eat this I’m a bad person’ or, ‘If I eat this I’m a good person.’ It’s all about judgement and shaming. It’s kind of gotten out of control.”


As people’s knowledge of nutrition evolves, Inman said she hopes people will learn to have a better relationship with their food and start seeing it as a source of energy and not the enemy.


“Sometimes when people [eat without restricting], people will lose weight,” Inman said. “They are paying attention to their body and they aren’t overeating. They’re enjoying the food and not kicking themselves for having a brownie, ice cream or whatever. It’s about building a better relationship with food.” 


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