Discussing Women’s Health
A more nuanced conversation needs to be had about women’s mind-body wellness. This is especially true when it comes to the connection between diet, emotional and physical health. With women making up 56% of Americans actively dieting, an unpacking of the word ‘diet’ is a necessary place to start.
Ideally, ‘diet’ would be used to describe everything one does eat as opposed to what one doesn’t. This would imply the presence of an education surrounding proper nutrition as well as an understanding of the role a balanced gut plays in achieving whole-body health. While this is something we can hope for moving forward, before we can make a conscious shift away from ‘diet’ as an exclusionary term, society must first reckon with the havoc caused by the “thin ideal.”
Around the turn of the 20th century, a greater importance was placed on being slim. By the 1920s, calorie counting was common practice. Assigning numerical values to food, with the goal of standardizing dress size, paved the way for an oversimplification of eating, and forced food into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ boxes.
Even still, this semi arbitrary categorization negates the emotional ‘good’ associated with the crunchy mouthfeel of a potato chip, or the pleasurable dopamine surge of a piece of chocolate. It also conveniently overlooks the ‘bad’ connected to the trauma of a force-fed vegetable. Together, this showcases the importance of expanding the connection between diet and emotional health to not only include a strictly scientific conversation about the gut-brain axis, but also disordered relationships with food and the importance of eating what you love.
With the inclusion of these concepts—both underscored in the practice of mindful eating — one receives a more holistic education on food/eating’s role in emotion/physical wellness. Importantly however, this is not to say that women are the only ones who need this more nuanced education. Nevertheless, with 75% of women reporting disordered eating behaviors and being the targets of unhealthy diet advertisements across media platforms, it’s safe to say that having inclusionary conversations with women can help facilitate the necessary unlearning needed in order to lay a healthier foundation from which one can make informed decisions and learn about sustainable mind-body wellness.
Once this reeducation takes place, space is created for more particular conversations like those surrounding the female microbiome and the role it plays in a woman’s unique health experience. Without first accepting an inclusionary dietary perspective and the multifaceted nature of food’s role in our emotional and physical health, the importance of vaginal microbiota and healthy pH may fall on deaf ears.
Taken all together, it is clear that ‘diet’ is a loaded concept, and seeing it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is a gross oversimplification. With movement away from an ‘ideal’ and by mending inherited trauma surrounding different diet practices, we allow for a more personal understanding of diet’s link to mind-body wellness.
Ariel Suazo-Maler holds a master’s in nutrition from Columbia University and has spent years studying the genetic and neuroanatomical underpinnings of schizophrenia, the neurophysiology of taste perception, and the role of nutrition in depression and anxiety.