Embrace Wholeistic Not Holistic Health

Embrace wholeistic, not holistic health. #health #dietitian #wellness #nutrition #holistichealth

I want to kick off this post by saying none of this is meant to bash integrative/holistic nutrition. Nutrition is a relatively new science, and there's so much still to learn. Things that were considered "out there" and "not evidence-based" when I was in school are now considered mainstream. And I often use integrative approaches in my own practice, so this is definitely not about having a problem with holistic health.

What I do have a problem with is any kind of approach to health that only focuses on food and exercise (and in this case, supplements) without looking at wellness with a broader lens. 

According to the American Holistic Health Association, this is the definition of holistic health:

"Rather than focusing on illness or specific parts of the body, this ancient approach to health considers the whole person and how he or she interacts with his or her environment. It emphasizes the connection of mind, body, and spirit. The goal is to achieve maximum well-being, where everything is functioning the very best that is possible."

Cool, cool. Same.

Holistic health also targets the root cause of a problem, rather than treating the symptoms, which I can also get down with (although sidenote here, I do want to note that sometimes that isn't always possible, and there's no shame in having to use medications or anything else to cope with symptoms that interfere with life). 

Unfortunately, mainstream holisitic health seems to have become more about specialized diets, detoxes and supplements - and potentially harmful ones with veeeery little science to support their use. When I hear the word holistic now, I cringe a bit, which I think is probably unfair to the many holistic practitioners out there who really have in depth, specialized, and science-backed knowledge in their field. 

The problem with this diet/supplement-focused approach to health is that it doesn't actually achieve what holistic health sets out to do - consider the entire person and emphasize the connection of mind, body and spirit. To me, throwing an elimination diet and supplements at a problem isn't any different than a doctor throwing medications at a problem. 

It also isn't very holistic to be on a restrictive diet that damages your mind by causing stress. If you're so stressed out about what you can't eat, or you can't go out and be social because of your dietary limitations, then that diet isn't actually healthy. There may be some situations where a short-term elimination (then reintroduction) diet is indicated, but it needs to be undertaken with a good understanding of the potential risks vs benefits. 

Instead of pursuing holistic health, I encourage you to think about WHOLEistic health. Your health is so much more than what/how much food goes into your body. Wholeistic health puts mental health on par with physical health, by not making changes to improve physical health that are damaging to mental health. It emphasizes social connection, sleep, stress management, spirituality. It also recognizes there are some determinants of health we may not be able to change, like certain medical diagnoses, facing stigma or socioeconomic status, and perhaps pursuing acceptance, taking medication to deal with symptoms, and learning coping strategies is more useful. 

If you're struggling with a health condition and looking to holistic health for answers, that's totally okay! But before doing something, ask yourself if it impacts your wholeistic health. And of course, as with any provider, make sure if you're working with someone that they're well qualified. There are a ton of integrative dietitians who really know their shit. I would check out the grad directory at INFA, which is a integrative training program run by two dietitians who really know the science. While it may be hard to find an integrative provider who is also HAES and IE friendly, you have the right to set boundaries and ask not to be weighed or pursue weight loss as part of your work with them. Even if you're not working with a dietitian/provider who markets as a holistic provider, don't be afraid to ask questions! While I don't consider myself an integrative dietitian, I use a lot of integrative practices, and if a client asks something I don't know about, I'm always happy to research and look into it.