The term "healthy eating" makes me cringe. And the fact that it does makes me sad because I became a dietitian to help people truly be healthy, and I have a passion for science and human biology. Studying nutrition seemed like a good fit. I've since come to realize that "health" and "wellness" are synonymous with dieting and thinness. And that our culture's attitude towards food, nutrition and health is actually very unhealthy.
Sadly, dietitians are a big part of this problem. We are taught in college how the body works, how it utilizes nutrients, and what an optimal diet looks like for optimal physiological functioning. As a student I certainly lived in a magical world where I believed that if we just told people about this they'd understand and choose to eat better (note my judgment attached to others' eating and the implied belief that it's all about willpower).
The translation of the science into eating is where we start to lose people. If I give someone with heart disease a prescription for a low sodium diet or someone with diabetes a meal plan for counting carbs I've now made food much more complicated for them, and probably very confusing. It's hard to sit down to a meal and enjoy your food when you're trying to figure out how many grams of this or that you've eaten. It is also very discouraging – because behavior change is hard. Especially behavior change that is being forced upon someone like a punishment for their health problems. Adults don't want to be treated like little kids, and nobody likes being shamed.
We've also created a problem through the messages that we're sending people. Labeling foods as good/bad or healthy/unhealthy sets up overeating the good/healthy foods because of their health halo, and overeating the bad/unhealthy foods because our brain says that we are breaking a rule and might not get to have this food again so better eat it all now. The public also believes things like gluten is bad, carbs are bad, sugar is bad, fat is bad, sodium is bad, fast food is bad, soda is bad, candy is bad, pizza is bad, and so on. And the public has become convinced that to be healthy they need to eat clean, avoid processed foods, eat mostly fruits, veggies and lean protein.
The diet industry makes billions of dollars per year selling people on the notion that if they just eat less and weigh less they will be happier and healthier. And for the consumer who doesn't want to diet the old fashioned way of restricting calories, carbs, fat, etc., there's the diets that allow you to eat the foods you really want like the cookie diet or liquid diets where all you drink is chocolate protein shakes that "taste so good" (let's be honest, no they don't). While dietitians will preach against fad dieting, you don't have to look very hard to find books that are diets written by RD's, or to notice that the advice they give or articles they write often resembles a diet and subscribes to the belief that thin = healthy. If an entire profession of food and nutrition experts can be brainwashed, it's easy to see how the general public is too.
When asked what I do for work I've started hesitating to disclose that I'm a dietitian, because 99% of the time the response I get is some variation of, "Maybe you could help me lose weight." If I qualify my response by saying that I'm a dietitian who treats eating disorders I often get the response, "I wish I could have an eating disorder so I could lose some weight, but I like food too much." Sigh…
Landing in the field of eating disorders has been the best thing for me. There is now congruency between my personal and professional beliefs when it comes to health and nutrition. Every day I get to help my clients redefine health to include balance and flexibility with their eating. And I get to do it with an amazing network of like-minded colleagues. My family and friends are sometimes surprised to hear that I often eat cookies or candy as a snack with clients, or that I might eat pizza with a client to show her that it's not harmful. I celebrate when someone is able to eat fast food without guilt, restricting, compensating or overeating. Because this is all part of healthy eating.
Healthy eating is not about weight loss. It's about feeding your body in a way that is enjoyable and makes it feel good.