Is ‘National Nutrition Month’ a Recovery-Positive Campaign?
As registered dietitians dedicated to the prevention and evidence-based treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating, we found ourselves asking the following questions leading into National Nutrition Month®:
- Does National Nutrition Month® (NNM) align with Eating Disorder/Disordered Eating (ED/DE) recovery?
- As Health At Every Size® (HAES) informed professionals, to what extent might we ethically support participation in this month-long campaign focusing on nutrition and physical activity to our clients, our peers, friends, loved ones…ourselves?
The quick answers?
- A little bit, kind of, sorta…
- Proceed with caution
Here’s a more in-depth look at our perspective:
Let’s begin by explaining a little bit more about NNM! NNM was created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the largest organization of food and nutrition professionals in the United States. AND defines NNM as follows:
What is National Nutrition Month®?
National Nutrition Month® is an annual nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign, celebrated each year during the month of March, focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.
– Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)
We’ve done a thorough review of the National Nutrition Month website for 2019 and wanted to share some thoughts with you.
What we appreciated about this year’s theme:
- The 2019 NNM theme is self-titled (“National Nutrition Month®”) which makes it more inclusive of many different topics of discussion – including eating disorders and disordered eating! Win!
- Many of the educational materials encouraged making sustainable changes towards achieving balanced food and movement routines that are individualized. We love this approach!
- Mental health and motivation for change (which are totally intertwined with eating and moving our bodies) were not excluded from the conversation!
What we could have done without:
- The language! Reviewing the NNM website brought up a much larger conundrum – the way we speak about nourishment in our society. The language we use to address nutrition and movement is morally charged. The “good/bad” or “right/wrong” polarization is not recovery-positive and continues to drive us farther away from seeing food as just food and moving our bodies as joyful and drives the shame wagon. Shame does not motivate people to adopt health-promoting behaviors.
- Weight management. Encouraging weight management through portion control and calorie tracking is not an approach that is respectful and accepting of all body shapes and sizes and promotes the message that larger bodies are inherently in need of “fixing” or must be controlled in some manner. Nah, nah, nah. Not buying it. Weight management is not weight neutral. It’s not HAES-informed. It’s not recovery-positive. It’s oppressive and unethical to prescribe disordered eating behaviors to people living in larger bodies. Also, there is a body of evidence against it.
*Caveat: National Nutrition Month was not created specifically for those in recovery from ED/DE, but for the general United States public. However, even so, language equating terms such as “weight management” and “portion control” as being “right” can be harmful for at-risk populations and creates unnecessary vulnerability to developing ED/DE behaviors.
Suggestions for observing NNM in ED/DE recovery:
- Celebrate how far you’ve come! Take this opportunity to reflect on how eating and movement patterns have become more sustainable and balanced.
- Set goals. How might you propel your recovery forward this month? What would it look like to take steps to strengthen our relationships with ourselves and with food, movement, and recovery?
- Increase your food variety – try some new foods this month!
- Take up space and use your voice. Be in a larger body. Be fat. Exist as you are.
We love our field, our colleagues, and the wealth of valuable knowledge provided by AND, and we hope to continue to shift the way nutrition and wellness are presented to the general public to be more inclusive and less stigmatizing!
Check out what other ED/DE clinicians have said about NNM over the years:
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