Is maintaining a healthy lifestyle one’s responsibility, or a privilege? It’s time to start asking the harder questions, and recognize the health care disparity that exists in real life.
BY: LIZ BRINKMAN, RD
Let’s take a moment to talk about real life. Real life is code for everything that influences our best intentions.
Real life can be a small thing, like all the math homework that is beyond the parent’s comprehension such that we turn to Google and YouTube instructional math videos for two hours almost every school night. And, we always thought ourselves to be good at math.
Or, real life can be a giant thing like discrimination.
It might sound like, “We ran out of food! I thought you were getting the groceries, babe!” but also “We ran out of food! I ran out of money so we can’t afford groceries, sweetie.”
The term for all these influencers is Social Determinants of Health (factors that affect health beyond genes and lifestyle). The bigger picture of what impacts one’s health due to the circumstances they live in, such as access to healthcare, cultural stigmas, and stress levels.
Someone could be following the perfect diet according to our dominant wellness culture’s standards. But, all those antioxidants from fruits and veggies cannot stand up to the effects of systemic oppression, generational trauma, and, yes, even something as small as the chronic stress from nightly homework struggles.
Asking a person to “just eat more vegetables” is like handing them a teaspoon to dig the foundation of their home. In some cases, the pressure to incorporate the darlings of diet culture into meals may only add to their distress and suffering.
So why are we talking about this?
Before I continue, I will disclose that I’m a white, thin, non-disabled, cisgender, heterosexual, mother to four non-disabled and neurotypical children.
I’m a college-educated health professional, multiple-car owner, homeowner, and insured in all possible ways.
I have access to and regularly receive healthcare and mental health counseling. I enjoy regular contact with a circle of trusted, loving friends and family.
I have full citizenship as did generations of family members before me. I can take a midday nap in a soft, clean bed and an evening walk in a safe neighborhood.
And folks like me have been centered in most conversations around health policy-making, despite having zero social determinants of health.
If you identify with my privilege and position, please consider the following:
First, check in with yourself right at this moment. Is this conversation about your privilege making you feel uneasy? If so, I get that. I’ve been there and I find myself there regularly. Those feelings are valid.
However, I invite you to exchange your discomfort, confusion, and even anger for someone else’s freedom and access to quality equitable, compassionate care.
Second, stop trying to run the show. You are relieved of your duties as an expert savior. Ask questions, pass the mic, and pipe down to listen when others who are not in your place of privilege talk.
I myself have found these two steps helpful through many failed attempts as a nutrition professional when I entered into encounters with my privileged agenda in mind and my perfect food lists in hand. At best, it was ridiculous; at worst, it was disrespectful and possibly harmful.
Here’s the truth:
The current weight-centric medical model (with the practitioner as the sole voice of expertise) is so powerful that people will erase their own stories in an attempt to comply.
My biggest responsibility now as a health professional is about getting people to tell their stories. It’s creating the space for people so they feel safe and attended to in a way that compels them to want to tell their stories.
It’s not about getting them to be exactly like me.
It’s helping people to take their own story seriously. To validate their own experiences, emotions, doubts, confusion, distress – that’s the work.
It’s asking the important questions.
What matters most to you today? What is the problem as you see it? What is working for you? What is not working for you? Where are you getting your information?
This is the way to partner with someone for real health and healing, where we reflect back all the ways real life is hitting them in the face day after day.
We get to say, “I see you. I hear you. I believe you.”
And, maybe, if we’re lucky, “Here are the resources I have to help you.”
Because people may not remember what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
If there’s only one takeaway that you’ll get from this, please let it be this –
Find out what your privilege is, and how it might be creating a blind spot in your grand vision. Something that might be limiting you from deepening your relationship to others in your life and work.
Helping others in their health is admirable. Let’s do it better.
Adapted from the original post.
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Liz Brinkman, RD is a private practice dietitian who runs a Phoenix-based nutrition practice, through which she sees clients both locally and virtually. Specializing in Intuitive Eating and eating disorder recovery, Liz’s mission is to empower women to find healing and hope as they navigate the chaos of diet culture, and reconnect with the answers they already have within. When she’s not working, you can find Liz at her dining room table surrounded by family, neighbors and friends. Whether playing Uno, helping with homework, or sharing a meal, her hope is that people push back from the table feeling more restored, anchored, and accepted than when they sat down. Learn more and connect with Liz at Liz Brinkman Nutrition.