Why I hate nutrition but love food

I just finished up a module for a firefighter peer fitness trainer course titled “nutrition”. Typical for any exercise or medical based training, food is put in as an afterthought. I was dreading this module. I expected government recommended, food pyramid based information; I was not disappointed. The same rhetoric that has been rammed down our throats for years was presented, only this time with math. By the end of the module, I realized what the problem was: “nutrition”. I despise the word and everything it stands for.

 I don’t believe in nutrition, I believe in food.

Nutrition talks about calories and macro-nutrients for 90% of the time, and then briefly mentions the importance of micro-nutrients. It talks about macro ratios and recommended daily values. Nutrition holds calories in, calories out as god like.

Nutrition focuses on the components of food, rather than the whole machine. Nutrition assumes that we have the scientific ability to fully understand food, our bodies, and the interaction between the two. The problem with that approach is that every time we discover something that does not mesh with nutritional advice, backers of nutrition must scramble to adjust their beliefs. Trans fats anyone?

If you believe in nutrition you teach people to flip the package over and use the nutritional information label. You learn to use a calculator to take the caloric and macro amounts to figure out what percentage of your daily values you are taking in. When you believe in food, you teach people to turn the package back over and say “Holy shit, this is KD. This is not good food.”

If you believe in nutrition, you could tell me the total calories in a can of soda. If I asked you the caloric value of a cup of broccoli, you would not be able to tell me. You might even tell me that it doesn’t matter. You would be right. Calories do not matter when you believe in food.

If you believe in nutrition, you would say “it is great that fast food companies now have to provide nutritional charts for their food.” If you believe in food, you would not be able to decide what the worst part of that statement is.

If you believe in nutrition, you would say things like “chocolate milk is the perfect post-workout fuel”. If you believe in food you would say “chocolate milk is never a good choice” because you would not be easily misled by clever marketing campaigns.

If you believe in nutrition, you praise the low saturated fat qualities of soybean oil. If you believe in food you wonder how the hell you get oil from a soybean, and then you wonder should you get oil from a soybean.

If you believe in nutrition you treat caloric excess. This approach fits in wonderfully with current medicine; treating the symptom. If you believe in food, you recognize caloric imbalance is only a symptom, and you treat the cause.

Nutrition believes in scientists, food believes in pastoral farmers.

Nutrition requires establishment buy-in. Food requires opting out.

If you believe in nutrition, you believe in quantity. If you believe in food, you believe in quality.

All of these discussions came up during the 90 minute module; a slide for each one and some discussion on the beliefs. Occasionally the instructor would ad-lib his own dated beliefs on dietary advice. Talk about how salt will raise your BP, or how lower carb diets only decrease your water retention and are dangerous because “all that cholesterol just plugs up your heart”. At one point he even went down the road of how caloric balance is all that matters, and even went so far as to say “you could eat a diet of only Snickers bars and still lose weight’. This stuff all blew my mind; I always assumed that people who gave advice like this were just urban myth. When you read about this stuff the people saying it are always just referred to as “they”, I did not think that people like this actually existed. Advice like this is still given in this day and age, and is recommended to people who are expected to give dietary advice.

The makeup of the class was split. One group was the traditional Muscle & Fiction readers who loved the presentation, except when the instructors recommended against supplements. The other group is the more modern, functional group. We read books rather than magazines, we know how to perform a snatch, we understand what work capacity is. At one point an argument broke out in regards to chocolate milk as a post-workout drink. On one side were two well muscled guys who were covered in significant body fat. On the other side were myself (33yrs, 6’ 205, 8%BF) and my friend who is one of those weird hybrids that are starting to pop up (the muscled triathlete, 6%BF). It got a little bit heated, and we just agreed to disagree.

After the class a couple of guys came up to my friend and I to talk about the chocolate milk thing. They said the most glaring thing in the argument was the difference in body composition. They asked us to tell them more about food.

Unfortunately, I am not allowed to give food advice to my fellow firefighters, I can only give nutritional advice. It is the only mandated form, and I must stay within my scope of practice. Fortunately, the day was over and we were off the clock; so we talked about food.

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