Thoughts on the “Food Babe” Way of Life

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Vani Hari, otherwise known as the “Food Babe”, is a food activist, author, and blogger that dedicates her life to label reading, clean eating, & holding fast-food companies accountable for the chemicals that they use in their foods. She doesn’t have a degree in nutrition, exercise science, or health & wellness, but she has made a living by investigating the ingredients found in many fast-food restaurants and name-bran foods, such as Kraft and Chick-Fil-A. She challenges the integrity and validity of many fast-food restaurants and name-brand foods, such as Kraft.

Some people praise her values & claim to be her faithful followers (The Food Babe army), many medical professionals, scientists, and registered dietitians question the validity of her health philosophy, & the research to back it up. 

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I, like the Food Babe, am a health advocate. I myself have suffered through the consequences of buying into the diet-industry, food advertising agencies, & supplement distributors. I have walked through recovery from orthorexia and anorexia, something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I purchased Hari’s book in order to educate myself on some of the nutrition information (or misinformation) that is circulating the web. After all, The Food Babe Way is a New York Time’s best-seller, so there is no question that it has influenced many people. I decided to publish this article because I want to protect my peeps, & I want to make sure they know what nutrition information is valid and backed up by science, & what is not. Here’s my take on the “Food Babe Way”:   

I truly believe that the Food Babe means no harm. Her intensions seem good and pure of heart. She found healing through a diet that helped her lose weight, re-energize her body, and get off medications. She calls out big businesses for using unnecessary food dyes, artificial flavors, and other additives, & she truly wants healthy options available to all people. I don’t blame her for what she does or the diet she consumes. If it works for her, it works for her.

I agree on some of her nutrition principles, & others, not so much. As someone who spent hours working on medical nutrition therapy (MNT) case studies, studying for Nutrition in Disease, observing nutrition appointments, and receiving MNT for my own eating disorder, I must point out some fatal flaws in the beliefs that she is preaching. We run into issues when the advice that she is giving to other people lacks scientific validity & evidence-based research, and insists that if you don’t eat her way, that you cannot have a balanced, healthy diet.

Things that I like about the “Food Babe Way”:

  • She advocates an “anti-diet” approach, criticizing diets such as the paleo diet, gluten-free, low-calorie, low-fat, & detox cleansing. Evidence does show that dieting almost always results in weight gain or disordered eating/eating disorders (see my post Destruction from Within: 4 Reasons why you should Stop Dieting TODAY for more information.)
  • She encourages her followers “the food babe army” to consume 6-8 servings of fruits + vegetables a day. This does align with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.  
  • She explains easy ways to cut down on unnecessary sugar in the diet. The academy of nutrition and dietetics wrote a position paper on the subject (which you can find here!), providing us with the latest research related to sugar intake. The academy points out that not all sugar is threatening to health, but that too much of is can contribute to chronic diseases. “Consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive sweeteners and nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS) when consumed within an eating plan that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations. A preference for sweet taste is innate and sweeteners can increase the pleasure of eating. [However], higher intake of added sugars is associated with higher energy intake and lower diet quality, which can increase the risk for obesity, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. On average, adults in the United States consume 14.6% of energy from added sugars.” In essence, the general consensus among the professionals in the field of dietetics is that we don’t need to cut out sugar, we just need to consume a little less. 
  • She interviews restaurant chains & food manufacturers, taking a closer look at what we eat and why they use those ingredients. If the Food Babe wants to spend all of her time reading labels & picking apart food ingredients at local restaurant chains, that’s fine with me. She does her best to hold them accountable. There are probably many ways that restaurants can improve the health & quality of their food, so if she wants to help change that, I am good with it, but I also do know there is only so much we can control and change with all of that. Don’t be deceived, a meal from a Chipotle or Chick-Fil-A is better than no meal at all.   
  • She shares her recipes & meal plans for people who are working towards a healthier lifestyle. Some of the recipes in her book are helpful & taste good. I’m always up for new recipes and trying new foods. 

Things that I don’t like about the “Food Babe Way”:

  • She suggests eating ONLY foods that are organic, non-GMO, antibiotic-free, preservative-free, nitrate-free, artificial sweetener-free, clean, and 100% whole. This is a diet in it of itself. No more nature’s own whole grain bread for you, says the Food Babe, because the added sugar and chemicals will cause us to become fat and sick. Only sprouted-grain organic bread, or no bread at all. No granola bars. No deli meat. No creamer in your coffee. No granola. No cheese. Unless, of course, it meets the Food Babe standard of approval. 
  • In her book, she makes the claim that chemicals such as growth hormones in meat, antibiotics, refined and enriched flour, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, carrageenan, MSG, dough conditioners can cause chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and depression. 
  • She labels kraft mac & cheese as poison (come on, who does that?!)
  • She focuses on weight & “being fat” often, exhibiting negative self-talk & low self-esteem. 
  • She ignores the biological, social, psychological, and lifestyle aspects that contribute to each of the chronic diseases listed above.
  • She doesn’t address food insecurity.
  • Her diet isn’t attainable, substantial, or affordable enough for the majority of the U.S. population.
  • Her diet is not “one-size fits all”, which can be problematic for a number of reasons. 
  • Although she advocates for “anti-dieting”, her way of life is actually a diet in it of itself.  

The premise of the Food Babe’s philosophy is built on partial truth. Yes, fruits and vegetables are definitely a big part of a healthy diet. Cutting back sugar will (most of the time) improve our health. Maybe some restaurants & food manufacturers aren’t using the best possible ingredients in their foods. There are definitely ways that all of us could fine-tune our diets & eat a little healthier. She did lose weight and become healthier when she started eating more whole, real foods. 

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But…

She misses out on the most fundamental principle of proper nutrition, that the number one priority of nutrition intervention is adequate intake. 

What does this mean? 

Consuming an adequate intake of food means consuming enough food to keep us alive, alert, & active. It doesn’t allow us to just survive, but rather thrive on the energy and nourishment that enables us to pursue our passions and fulfill our purpose. Adequate intake is the number one priority for any person, regardless of how “healthy” that food may be. 

The Food Babe doesn’t advocate restricting calories or food intake. However, for individuals who lack the knowledge & resources to follow a diet as rigid as hers, inadequate intake is a very high possibility when food choices are limited and low in calories.

I refuse to tell a college athlete that they cannot drink protein shakes, gatorade, eat granola bars because the chemicals and added sugar in that food will kill them. 

I refuse to tell a child that they cannot have breakfast if they don’t eat a fresh egg on non-gmo, all natural, whole grain bread. 

I refuse to advocate against Monsanto because I know that it helps feel thousands of hungry men, women, and children each day.  

I refuse to tell my future clients that the foods that they are eating will cause anything, because evidence-based research tells us that illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and depression are caused by multiple factors, including family history, environment, genetic info, social interactions, exercise routine, stress levels, & diet. Not just diet. Never just diet. 

I refuse to tell someone in eating disorder recovery that a chocolate milk shake is going to make them “fat and sick”

I refuse to tell a single mother of 4 that she needs to stop feeding her children non-organic food. 

I refuse to label any food as “good” or “bad”.

I refuse to tell my future clients that certain foods will make them fat. 

I refuse to tell my future clients to avoid all food that has added “chemicals”, because there really is no way to know how much is enough to be harmful. 

I refuse to let my future clients to be deceived.I refuse to promote or support a diet or lifestyle that advocates label reading, calorie counting, or the banishment of certain foods or food groups. 

I will help my clients find a diet that works for them, based on their lifestyle, preferences, & resources. (Most people do not have the financial resources, time, or desire to drink a green juice each day, buy only organic, avoid GMO’s, & only buy range-free, anti-biotic free, grass-fed meat, even if you do live in Williamson County.) 

I will present them with evidence-based nutrition information, & help them decide what they want to do with that information.

I will tell my future clients to buy fruits & vegetables, regardless of whether or not they are organic. 

I will help my clients make simple, realistic lifestyle changes.  

I will encourage them to eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein, & dairy, and less sugary snacks, drinks, & white bread, however, those foods will never be off limits. 

I will feed my children the ever so “poisonous” mac and cheese.

I will encourage cake on birthdays, ice-cream on a hot summer day, & girl scout cookies from the neighbor across the street. 

I will encourage a diet that is balanced, has variety, & is rich in vitamins and minerals. 

I will encourage intuitive and mindful eating. 

I will encourage daily activity + movement, doing the exercises feel the best for our minds and bodies.   

I will give my long-term care resident a “sugar packed” ensure shake to help them decrease their risk for malnourishment.  

I will make cookies with my children on Christmas Eve.

I will enjoy a date night with my husband at a restaurant that doesn’t tell me all of the ingredients that they use.

I will enjoy candy at the movies.

I will eat a cookie when I want to, & save it for another day when my body is full & satisfied.

I will eat the delicious meals that my dad makes on the weekends, even though I know he has a tendency to use more butter & salt than I usually eat. 

I will eat to live, not live to eat. 

 

What I won’t do, is put up with lies from the profit-seeking, deceiving, & corrupt diet industry. There is only so much we can control about the health & well-being of our bodies. Some individuals workout every day, eat-clean, meal prep, & only eat organic food, & die at a young age from a heart attack, car wreck, or stroke. Others drink soda & eat “junk food” each day & live to be 90 years old. 

I eat sugar. 

I eat kale.

I eat processed foods.

I eat organic foods.

I eat non-organic foods.

I eat GMO foods.

I eat non-GMO foods. 

I eat fruits & vegetables. 

I eat granola bars. 

I eat food that comes from my dad’s garden. 

I eat food that comes straight out of a package.

I eat at Whole Foods & Sprouts.

I eat at Olive Garden and O’charleys. 

I eat chips + carrots.

Sometimes I have dessert, other times I don’t. 

 

I run & I walk. 

I jog & I skip.

I jump rope & I dance. 

It’s all about balance

As with the “Food Babe Way”, my way isn’t going to look the same as yours, & that’s okay, because everyone is different. The purpose of this post wasn’t to attack the Food Babe by any means, but rather to point out that her way isn’t the only way. The Food Babe Way may be the best way for you or someone you know to begin adapting a healthy lifestyle; for many people, it isn’t, & that’s okay. 

Find a way that works with your lifestyle, preferences, health concerns, & resources! Just remember, balance, variety, enjoyment, nutrient-dense, & sustainable. Examine your diet & exercise routine, & take steps to work towards developing your own health philosophy & make it your own. 

 

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