Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Context of Healthy Eating - In memory of Kirsten Swanz

On March 30th, 2010, my sister Kirsten passed surround by loved ones. She was 28 years old. Kirsten’s memory is vivid with me now having just crossed the 1 year anniversary of her passing and her liberation from the prison that was her physical existence during the last 3 years of her life. With the emotions so raw, I am reminded how her mental suffering stretched back so much further.

My sister died from complications from diabetes and an eating disorder. Her body and her soul were literally starving for nourishment. Looking at my sister, the deprivation was obvious. She was young, her mind was sharp, but her body had succumbed to the ravages of aging well before her time. Her kidneys had stopped functioning and dialysis was an every other day occurrence. She battled high blood pressure and Kirsten’s vision was qualified as legally blind. She had two toe amputations and her bones would fracture under the slightest stress. Anyone looking at my sister knew her health was degenerating. My sister was in the minority. For the majority of our population we don’t see the decline until the health situation becomes dire. As we look around today the disordered eating behaviors aren’t so obvious. Rest assured it is there.

I share my sister’s story to honor her memory and hopefully inspire others to avoid a similar journey. The issues that burden our culture regarding food, nutrition, and health are immense. There is no magic pill that will suddenly resolve this dilemma. As a society, we are over-fed, over-supplemented, over-medicated, and well under-nourished. The nutritional starvation we experience isn’t simply a description of the void found in the nutrient content of industrially grown and processed food. In fact I contend that it is equally the result of the emotional, or lack thereof, connection we have with our food and the people we eat meals with. The beauty of this problem is that it doesn’t require money to resolve. It simply necessitates a shift in the way we think about our food.

Healthy eating isn’t all about organic food. The term organic has become a buzz word exploited by industry to advance the sales of more of the same. Just because it is “organic” is no guarantee that it will support healing and sustenance. And in addition to the words describing a food, the context in which we consume it is crucially important. An all organic meal eaten while driving 60 miles an hour down the highway rushing from one appointment to the next while stressing out about how overwhelmed we are can’t possibly nourish our body the way food is suppose to. Conversely, a non-organic, non-local meal prepared with mindfulness and intent, consumed with those dearest to our hearts, and reflected on as a blessing to our body and soul will give us exactly the nourishment we need.

I am not saying the quality of our food doesn't matter… it absolutely does. The diseases of the past, those things that killed the most people even just 75 years ago were infectious diseases. The times have changed and people are still dying. Today though, entire cultures are dying from lifestyle diseases – cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. So the food does matter and we must realize the context from which we consume our food is a simple area that deserves serious attention.

Food has the potential to be the most powerful medicine we have. Greater than any drug now and any we may ever find. The context, the manner and means with which we consume our meals defines our relationship to the food. Food itself isn’t good or bad, organic or not. The benefit or detriment to our health from food is based primarily on the quantity, frequency, and context from which we consume it, our relationship with it. We must stop ascribing human qualities like good or bad to the food itself. It is just food.

Relationships on the other hand can be good or bad and I am sure most of us have experienced examples of both. Relationships of all sorts provide the opportunity for personal growth and betterment. Relationships are built on the foundation of the behaviors and the habits we as individuals bring to them. These behaviors and habits can be observed, understood, and replicated by those we hold most dear. Health is contagious. Build a solid foundation for yourself and your family by slowing down and eating together. Focus and cultivate a healthy, mindful relationship with food and eating. This will carry over to every meal we consume; with every person we break bread. This is the space from where true nourishment and genuine health will come. It will help propel us all into our most healthy future. It is a simple step with profound effects that we can all start embracing today.


J and S said...

Dear Dr. Swanz,
I ran across your comments tonight looking for something else. But the sting of your words hit me hard. As a recovered Anorexic, I have suffered for 21-years with the memory and temptation to take up the cross of control in my food in the name of being "skinny". My mind is warped and forever scarred. I was lucky! I stopped my disorder alone when I was 17 because I woke up one day and realized that I may not be able to have children, nor would I live if I continued down my path of obsession. So, I stopped.
Yet--- at 40, as a mother of 5-beautiful children, I look at my flabby body with disdain due to my culture, irritated at my mind for not just moving forward. Still sick, but feeling like I have "recovered". My new journey??? Finding balance, learning to protect myself in other ways and being fulfilled with what I have been blessed with.
I am sorry for your loss. I am grateful you share your talents with others and look forward to following your blog.
The very best--- still caught up in my mind....
Sharon McDonald

Peter Swanz, ND, FHANP said...

Thanks so much Sharon for visiting my blog and sharing your own experience. Health and life is certainly a journey where balance is crucial to staying on our path. We each must find our own motivation, our own drive, the "why" that can propel us and inspire us forward. Gratitude is our blessing that reminds us what that motivation is. Congratulations on your hard work and your beautiful family. Your daily recovery is a testament to your love for yourself and for them. It is also an inspiration so that others can see what is possible.
Peace and health always.
~Dr. S

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