The escalating national and global health crisis
Our relationship with food is getting worse. If food were our partner, we’d be in couples counseling right now. There have been a number of recent studies and reports that illustrate how damaged our relationship with food has become.
Did you know that the CDC completes more than 400,000 adult interviews every year to gather information about their health? This kind of information goes a long way in determining how best to address public health issues as well as guides research funding.
The latest research from 2020 found that the number of states in which at least 35% of residents are obese (body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher) has nearly doubled since 2018 – 16 states now have an adult obesity prevalence at or above 35%. A similar trend was also observed in children. According to this paper circulated last week by the CDC, looking at a sample of 430,000 children between March and November 2020, BMI increased at nearly double the rate it had in the same period before the COVID-19 pandemic.
These findings echo those of other research released in the past few months. A study published in August 2021 by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that rates of overweight and obesity have soared among children measured in California between the ages of 5 and 17.
Plus we know that 10.5% of the U.S population is diabetic (almost 9% globally have diabetes), which is 34.2 million people, and these statistics are projected to continue increasing. In 2000, the American Diabetes Association projected that there would be 29 million people with diabetes by 2050 ‒ we’ve sadly hit that number and then some.
Health Coaches, on improving our relationship with food
We have to help our communities build better relationships with food and help them identify when that relationship isn’t working for them. As Health Coaches and health and wellness advocates, we are often privy to conversations that focus solely on whether foods are “good” or “bad.” This is only part of the equation, although vilifying certain foods isn’t necessarily the answer. We must instead shift the conversation to help people identify the areas of their lives that impact how and when they eat, especially the foods that contribute to diabetes, obesity, and metabolic conditions.
One way would be to empower clients, friends, family, and communities to identify their healthy and unhealthy interactions with food. If, as a Health Coach, you’re asked, “Is ice cream okay to eat sometimes?” you could respond with a clarifying question that prompts the person to think more critically, such as, “Well, when do you eat ice cream?” If the answer is “When it’s a treat and I’m really enjoying it with someone or even by myself,” then it denotes a healthy relationship with that food. If a client responds, “While I’m standing at the freezer door, usually late at night, or when I’m bored, nervous, having trouble sleeping, or stressed,” we know that’s an unhealthy relationship.
A Health Coach friend of mine of Italian heritage was appalled by America’s fascination with what she called “beating up on pasta,” meaning it seems like everyone thinks that pasta (and gluten) is bad. She noted that her family’s large Sunday meals helped her develop a healthy relationship with food, which adds value in her health coaching work.
She told me that those meals brought people together, kids learned how to cook, everyone contributed, people ate together, and there was a ritual to the event. When I asked, “Was there pasta?” She replied, “Of course there was pasta, and there will always be pasta!” This underscores the role that our environment plays in our eating habits and relationship with food.
Empowering others by teaching IIN’s concept of primary food
This isn’t to say that tackling climbing obesity rates can be solved by this route alone; there are many other avenues we must support and promote to help improve people’s metabolic health, like making access to healthy food more equitable. However, teaching our clients, family, friends, and communities about primary food is critical. This term describes the areas of our lives that feed our souls – our relationships, careers, spiritual practices – and when those are in balance, we feel whole.
The story with my Italian friend? It demonstrates the power of family and community on our well-being, from our emotional health to physical health. Feeling nourished through this primary food helped her realize how important it is for her clients to understand the impact of our environment and circumstances on how we feed ourselves.
Through this lens, let’s commit to empowering others to be advocates for themselves and their futures, and finally reverse those stark health projections.