Let’s face it. Over the last few months, there’s been a lot of stress in the world and when there’s a lot of stress, many of us take it on with our appetites. Yeah, it’s been pretty easy to justify snacking in the middle of a global pandemic, a historic election season and the general tension of being an American in 2020. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, we do need to be mindful not just of how we’re eating, but of how our eating is affecting us.
This article is part of a fall wellness series RELEVANT is producing in partnership with Unite Health Share Ministries.
Nicole Mesita is a dietician who lives in San Francisco who has a passion, in her words, to “help people of all shapes and sizes discover body peace and acceptance through the unconditional love of Jesus.” She spoke with us about why she’s not a fan of dieting, what a better alternative for healthy eating might look like is and how to be mindful of others who are struggling with food issues.
Tell us a little about what you do?
Eating disorders are one of the deadliest mental illnesses. It’s actually second, the first one is narcotic usage. People don’t really realize that, and they also don’t realize that the number one cause of eating disorders is dieting. People are dieting at a younger age, they’re going on diets earlier and what we know about diets is that 95 to 98 percent of them don’t last. They result in weight regain, and even more weight gain. There’s metabolic problems that can happen.
So, an eating disorder can really derail someone from God’s calling on their life. It’s one of those mental illnesses that a lot of people want to have too, because if they lose it, then they’re afraid of the consequences, like weight gain and loss of control.
It is a really hard one to break free from. When I talk to my clients and they’re telling me 95 percent of their day is spent thinking about food and their body, that’s not biblical. That’s the opposite of what God says in Philippians” think about things that are praiseworthy. God doesn’t want us being obsessed about our body.
I hear you talking about some of the dangers of dieting and diets, but you’re a dietician.
I promote what we call mindful eating or intuitive eating. God gave you, me and everyone hunger and fullness signals. Those were innate in us when we were babies. We cried when we wanted food, and then we stopped when we were full. So I’m teaching people to go back to hunger and fullness signals. Eating when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, honor what it is that you actually want. God does give us a variety of food that we do crave, and those things aren’t wrong to crave. Sometimes you’re going to crave a big salad, other times you’re going to crave a burger.
So my job as a dietician is not only helping people foster this healthier relationship with food and their body, but teaching them how to get back to those innate signals that they had when they were kids before diet culture took them away from those things.
Do you see spiritual connections to healthy eating?
I think we’ve created this idol about physical health where physical health only looks a certain way. What the research really tells us is that it can look a variety of ways, and God created us all with different body sizes. If we’re idolizing a certain body, that’s not spiritual. You can achieve health no matter what your size is. That’s not saying that every person is healthy, regardless of their size. It’s just saying that you can achieve health no matter what your size is, and it’ll free you up to really focus on your spiritual health, which is more important.
There’s so much research about spiritual health being tied to being overall health like lower blood pressure, lower stress and all of those things, but our culture equates physical health with being thin and looking a certain way. Research is telling us more and more that just isn’t the truth.
This summer increased a lot of our stress and a lot of us fell into unhealthy eating and maybe unhealthy drinking habits. Do you have any advice for people whose stress has them eating too much, not eating enough or maybe just eating at odd hours?
I think the first thing I would ask is for people to get curious about those things. If you are saying, “Hey, I’ve been eating a lot more than usual,” or “I’ve been eating at random times in the night,” I would say ask yourself about why that might be happening. Not in a judgmental or accusatory way, but just a genuinely curious way. Because oftentimes, the way that we eat does directly affect what is going on with our mental health and the stress that we’re experiencing.
It really takes a lifetime to unlearn some of the weird ideas we’ve picked up around not just eating, but healthy eating.
Right. The Church also holds its own beliefs about them too, and they can actually be super harmful. We’re often not creating a very inclusive environment for people with larger bodies in churches, and that’s absolutely heartbreaking. You’ll hear about different diets in church Bible studies, or people will make jokes about gluttony. It’s just totally heartbreaking as a dietician to hear my clients say, “I don’t feel comfortable going to my church because of these comments.”
How can we all be more aware, not just of our own possible unhealthy eating habits, but of the need to be sensitive to others who might be struggling?
I think really just being aware of weight discrimination and how that affects people in larger bodies. The stigma for those individuals increases cortisol in their body, and cortisol is a stress hormone that, makes you, funnily enough, gain weight. We’re just creating this cycle of stress causing this weight gain, and that’s a thing that people really can’t control either.
Read more about Nicole’s work at Body BLoved.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's executive editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.