Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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The case for breaking up healthy eating and physical activity

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Have you ever noticed that healthy eating and physical activity are often lumped together? I’ve worked on Healthy Eating Physical Activity (HEPA) teams and seen Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) strategies and Healthy Eating Active Fun (HEAF) programs. If you haven’t already noticed it, you probably will now that I’ve introduced that thought to your brain. The thing that I’ve been wondering lately is “why”? At what point did someone say, “hey, let’s lump these two health behaviours together”? And what was the reason for that?

On the face of it, if you’re thinking about healthy eating and physical activity purely from a weight management standpoint it seems to make sense. Most people trying to lose weight will incorporate some sort of combination of the two. Although there are people who will argue that one of the two is more important than the other, but generally in our minds they’re linked. But does it really make sense? I don’t actually think that it does.

On the one hand, you’ve got a health behaviour that involves choosing, preparing, and ingesting food. On the other hand, you’ve got a health behaviour that involves moving your body. These are not two sides of the same coin. They are two completely separate coins. Yes, they both have positive effects on our health and they can both contribute to reduced risk of certain chronic diseases and conditions. However, they are completely independent activities. You can absolutely eat a terrible diet and exercise regularly. You can also eat a super healthy diet and be highly sedentary. If you really wanted to lump health behaviours together why not pair healthy eating and alcohol consumption? Those make far more sense together than physical activity and healthy eating do.

I think that putting physical activity and healthy eating together all the time diminishes the importance of both these activities. It implies that neither is important enough to focus on, on its own. Allowing organizations and those in healthcare and related industries to focus their efforts on one over the other or to spread time thinly across the two. I think it may also help to perpetuate the notion that these behaviours are only important for weight management. When you hear about the two together, what first comes to mind? Is it enjoying a healthy life or is it a certain degree of torment undertaken to stave off obesity?

It’s time for physical activity and healthy eating to break-up. This relationship isn’t healthy and it’s affecting everyone around it. We need to recognize that these behaviours don’t necessarily go hand in hand and that they each have things to offer. If we actually start to value healthy eating and physical activity independently for their own strengths we might be able to improve our own individual relationships with both of these behaviours.


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Should doctors have to be “healthy”?

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While the question of whether doctors should be “required” to be healthy is an interesting one, I think that it’s the wrong question to be asking.

When looking at “health” this article focused solely on several health behaviours including being obese, smoking, or having a prescription drug problem. It’s my understanding that in any profession if a person is experiencing an addiction that affects their abilities to perform the duties of their job that they should be relieved of those duties until they are able to manage them again. Smoking and being obese are two different stories. Smoking is an unhealthy habit that in this day and age no one should be engaging in. However, I don’t think that smoking necessarily impacts a persons ability to do their job unless they’re an athlete or a trombonist. Obesity is a whole other kettle of fish.

Obesity is not a health behaviour. It may be the result of certain behaviours, medical conditions, or medications. While obesity is linked to many chronic diseases it’s not necessarily unhealthy in and of itself. It’s also not the only measurement of health.

If we’re going to punish doctors for engaging in unhealthy behaviours then we should be revoking the licences of those who drink alcohol, eat trans-fats, don’t wear a seatbelt, drive more than 10 km an hour over the speed limit, sit for the majority of the day, are anorexic, don’t wear a helmet when biking or skiing, and so on. You get the point, right? It’s about engaging in unhealthy behaviours, not about the outcome of that behaviour; especially when it can result from circumstances other than lifestyle choices.

If we’re going to say that doctors who are obese can’t practice then we should be saying that doctors who have lung cancer can’t practice, not those who smoke. Which is utterly ridiculous.

I’ll admit that I find it somewhat worrisome that doctors who are overweight are less likely to broach the subject of a patients weight with them. If someone’s weight is having negative consequences to their health then their doctor should absolutely be discussing it with them. That being said, the article focuses on doctors providing dietary advice. Something the vast majority of them are ill-equipped to do. How about referring to dietitians, the regulated healthcare professionals who are experts on food and nutrition. Novel idea, I know.

Finally, I like the points that the author of the article made that doctors are facing the same life stresses as the rest of us. Instead of blaming them for making poor life choices we should be making working conditions such that it’s easier for them to make healthy choices. The same should be said for all professions. We need to get away from the notion that productivity is related to being tethered to a desk and a screen and create workplaces that foster healthy employees.