The food we eat undoubtedly affects our health. Eating food with more fiber decreases the risk of colon cancer. Decreasing red meat helps lower cholesterol. People with diabetes need to eat less simple carbohydrates to manage their condition. I, as encouraged by specialists, aim to eat 10g of salt a day to better manage my POTS and faint less. However, people have a tendency to make lofty, unrealistic health claims about diet.
Anyone who has a chronic illness knows that diet is one of the most suggested changes nosy acquaintances, friends, and family make when they hear about our chronic illnesses. Some argue that they mean well, but I think the “have you tried cutting out gluten” phenomenon has a lot more to do with the people suggesting it rather than the people who have to hear it over and over.
People want to believe that diet does more for our health than it usually does. They want to believe that we have more power over our health than we do. No one, including myself, wants to believe that when we get sick we may get sick forever and that no matter how hard we work we will always be managing our condition rather than being cured. The reality that some conditions will always be a problem no matter how little gluten, refined sugar, non-organic, and GMO food we eat is a hard pill to swallow.
People don’t want to imagine that they could become permanently sick, really sick and without a cure; the idea terrifies them. So they blame the chronically ill. It is easier for them to believe we just aren’t eating well enough or trying hard enough to get better than. It is harder to acknowledge the truth that we are all just one unfortunate moment away from a lifetime of chronic illness that can be helped and managed by a healthy diet, but that will never go away.
What these people don’t understand is that the majority of people chronic illnesses have tried a lot of diets. Some of these I am embarrassed to admit as a science enthusiast, but I have tried gluten free, fructose free, simple sugar-free, vegan, paleo, juicing only, vegetarian, and a raw diet. I often get the comment that I didn’t try these diets for long enough or I just didn’t do them right. Blaming the person rather than the treatment is a hallmark of pseudoscience. If I can’t stick to a diet because it makes me feel worse it isn’t worth doing. A truly healthy balanced diet doesn’t take months to feel good, is inexpensive enough that people can afford it, and is realistic enough that people can stick to it.
Chronic illness support groups jump on this bandwagon to a hurtful extent. What diets work for some people do nothing for others, but there is a tendency to insist that if it worked for them that it will work for everyone. There is a tendency to judge others for not trying hard enough if they aren’t trying the same diet that worked for them. A lot of these diets are based on pseudoscience and can actually be really unhealthy. It is important to encourage a healthy balanced diet without judging people for eating the way they do.