Why I’m Not Watching “What the Health”

Warning: This post may contain disordered eating triggers in the form of mentions of specific foods or fads. Proceed in the way that will make you the happiest. If you’re not in a place where you feel you should read this, please enjoy my favorite Youtube cat video.

Like most people who are active on the Internet and social media, I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about the new Netflix documentary What the Health, which argues that animal products are causing various health concerns (pretty much all you need to know). Honestly, it was barely on the periphery of my thoughts until yesterday when the article sharing and comments and posts rolled in full force, and a lot of people seemed to have a strong opinion, so I gave it more consideration and here’s where I’m at: I will not be watching this film anytime soon, likely never – and here’s why.

I’M NOT IN THE RIGHT MENTAL PLACE

Let’s get transparent here for a second. A year ago, I started to really embrace intuitive eating (a lifestyle that doesn’t include frequent dieting? That not only “allows” food freedom, but encourages it? Sign. Me. Up). Then, in January, my car was totaled by a semi on the highway and I sustained injuries that sent me to physical therapy. My therapists took exercise off the table, and I started counting calories and weighing myself everyday with the gravity of a wedding dress fitting hanging over my head. Thankfully, a friend helped me see what was going on, and once I did, the scale went into the trash and all my tracking apps got deleted. Note: I understand that this is a deeply personal struggle for many, and I am not glossing over how difficult it can be to overcome disordered eating. I am simplifying this point for the sake of brevity.

Now, I’m feeling flexible and confident in my food choices most of the time. I won’t lie and say that the voice telling me to perfect my bridal body or to not touch that [insert food here] is silent. But it’s much quieter, and I don’t feel insane around food anymore. 

That being said, I also know my personality pretty well (holla at me, other ENFJ’s). To quote my personality description, ENFJ’s “sometimes feel problems that aren’t their own and try to fix things they can’t fix, worrying if they are doing enough.” While being sympathetic to others is certainly a trait I wouldn’t give up, it’s hard for me to not shoulder burdens that aren’t mine, and to recognize the difference. 

What does all of this have to do with this documentary? Well, for one thing, I know I get really caught up in documentaries. I saw Forks Over Knives and wanted to start juicing for every meal even though I know from my nutrition background that that’s not a sustainably healthy way to live (nor is it one that will help your relationship with food any). I’m also in a place where I am actively tuning out external voices that are echoing the one I still sometimes hear – that change is needed because I’m not enough, physically. Lately, my body is feeling more and more enough and I love it. It’s learning how to do headstands, it can frost cupcakes in a neat swirl, it can hug my loved ones, and it tells me what it needs. I’m choosing to trust my body, because it knows best – not a movie.

IN SCIENCE WE TRUST

For all the claims about how this or that or the other diet will save your life and make you more popular, we have studies about how different foods affect our bodies. I’m not going to delve into the hard science here because frankly, we haven’t enough time in the world, but never forget to view things critically and not just emotionally. Part of science is thinking about science scientifically, aka not taking one study or movie at face value and instead doing research on your own. After reading a detailed review of the movie, it’s clear that all of the content is provided by people who are really passionately against the idea of eating animal products. But, for example, if I wanted to get an idea of the public’s opinion of One Direction, do I ask the teenage girl in the “Future Mrs. Harry Styles” shirt (this is absolutely not criticism from me as I’m a Directioner well into my 20’s), or do I ask a few different people as well? I’m hoping you’re with me that the well-rounded version is the way to go, because science includes analysis and diversity.

FOOD ISN’T FAIRY DUST

I saw a book the other day entitled “How To Not Die” which is an attention-grabber if I’ve ever seen one. Without getting too morbid here, I’d like to bring light to the fact that this is not exactly a plausible claim. If there was a food that fixed allthethings and made us live longer and our skin more smooth and gave us increased lung capacity and the ability to fly (dramatic, I know) wouldn’t we know about it already? Because I would think that this it would be all anyone talked about! This is my answer to pretty much every question I get about a nutrition fad (like drinking hot water with meals so the heat burns the fat for you? What? No), and frankly, it works here too.

WHAT EVEN IS “HEALTHY”?

You can eat all the kale you want, but if that’s all you’re eating, how’s your mental and emotional health? I can tell you right now that the last time I restricted, I was miserable and I didn’t even recognize it. My thought process wasn’t “This food is making me so sad, because it’s not what I actually what I want to eat and I’m eating it anyway.” It was “Why do I hate this? Why am I ‘failing’ at this thing that so many others are ‘good’ at? I must be honestly just the worst.” I would do anything to never feel like that again. The life I’m working to cultivate now includes a huge definition of health, and eating the buttercream at my cupcake shop job, taking time for the movement that feels good in my body, and tossing together salads and sandwiches and pasta and burgers and whatever sounds good, because stress is so not worth it. To quote Shannon Miller, “If food were only for fuel and never for pleasure there would be no need for taste buds.”

MY POINT IS…

The Internet is a very powerful tool. Video is a powerful medium. And fear is a powerful emotion. It’s important to recognize all of these things, and to keep your own best interest in mind when you’re choosing what information to digest and what to tune out (easier said than done, I know). It’s okay to not do what everyone else is doing. It’s okay to choose your inner voice over the voices of Facebook and Google and Twitter and the news. It’s okay if you don’t want to be scared into decisions, and would prefer to make them based on intuition and education. And if you’re with me, let’s hang and find something less radical to watch together on Netflix – like Friends for the 1000th time.

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Need more info on food flexibility? I’m loving this post and this post.