I’m sitting in a fancy, Madison Avenue ad agency conference room at a brainstorming meeting for one of our biggest clients – a global food brand. Our task? To create a campaign for a classic breakfast cereal that’s struggling to attract new eaters. Ad folks, legal, a dietitian, the brand manager, and a few others are kicking around ideas until we land on a message everyone is convinced will resonate with the brand and even more importantly, with younger Americans: X cereal is the best cereal because it gives you more energy. The agency loves it. The client loves it.
Consumers want more energy, and as the dietitian and lawyer agree, this cereal delivers the most “energy” based on its nutritionals. This cereal will deliver “more energy” as it offer three to five times more sugar than any other cereal in its competitive set. We high five and head off to creative development, as I ignore an internal twitch – I, the only 23-year old in the room, wouldn’t eat this cereal, it’s a sugar bomb!
Fast forward to circa now. Mea Culpa says me, the dietitian, sitting in my office across from stressed-out, frustrated patients seeking help to get better health. They know better health comes in large part from better nutrition, and every person who sits across from me has tried to follow at least one nutritional recommendation, most have tried thousands (yeah, thousands), but still arrive here feeling a failure. After hearing about their health goals and taking their history, I diagnose them (and you): Nutrition Whiplash.
Nutrition whiplash: n. A state of confusion, frustration, anxiety, and concern resulting from ongoing, frequent exposure to conflicting advice on the same nutrition topic; a state requiring a virtual neck brace to reduce exposure to nutrition advice.
Yes, America, no matter if you are healthy and want to stay that way or are trying to get healthy, we all suffer the same, preventable affliction. For decades now, food marketers like myself laid the groundwork for it, and you all bought what we were saying – on TV, on package, in-store, and from celebrities (really, how similar is your digestive problem to Jamie Lee Curtis’ and did she really heal her chronic problem with one probiotic yogurt daily in two weeks?).
We’ve reached epidemic levels of marketing messages and increasingly dramatic (if not hysterical) food trends. We’ve embraced drinking activated charcoal (what we use in ERs as a life-saving effort to eliminate poisons), adding butter and coconut oil (or only its best part) to coffee, no longer chewing vegetables in favor of letting a blender do it for us, and ditching grains to eat like our ancestors, Fred, Wilma and Bam-Bam. We are nutrition whipping from egg-less eggs to only whites to whole eggs to the blueberry battling the blackberry only to have Acai berries get in a few punches for the “best” fruit for you to skipping all fruit as fructose became the devil.
We’re listening to contradicting advice, and trying to digest and implement it. We’re investing time, energy, and finances – doing the work but not getting the results. But we sure are paying for it. It’s never been a better time for diet programs, products, books, television shows and podcasts. But it’s never been a worse time for our own health.
There is a silver lining – for me, certainly – and now for you. My frustration hit uncontainable levels. 15 years after my awareness that “more energy” should not come from “excessive sugar” and prompted me to pull a career 180 — to swap my power suits for a white coat and become a dietitian – I recently realized this is the time to right some of the wrong messages I was a part of creating back in the 90s.
These days, I’m helping cure those now grown-up kids who were reared on smacks, loops, and two scoops of raisins of their nutrition whiplash, and seeking to help them raise children resistant to the disease. The antidote to nutrition whiplash is better nutrition simplified. It’s the knowledge that we know what your body wants, uses and needs and, equally important, what it does not. And I have a lot of help, and as such, a lot of hope.
To wit, check out what Sam Kass (ex-White House chef & Let’s Move executive director) said at a recent gathering of those seeking to improve our food system.
“We don’t have a nutrition knowledge problem, we have a marketing challenge,” said Sam. “Take happy meals. If some fast food chain promises you a meal will make you happy—and we tell you vegetables give you fiber—who do you think will win every single time? We all want the ‘happy.’ We won’t win until we can market our food the way they do theirs.”
I high-fived him.
What I know for sure, thanks to the many lessons I learned on the “dark side” as an ad exec, combined with all of the nutrition research we now have and results I’ve seen hundreds of patients achieve under my care, is this: we won’t win (better health from better nutrition) until we make better nutrition simple (to understand and to implement, daily).
Better Nutrition Simplified is the plan that helps you understand your nutrition needs from the place they begin, your body’s physiology. It starts with what you are doing right, after all, why not give yourself some credit where it’s due and earned, and helps you see that you are not a health hot mess but rather need to identify what is not working and fix it, not perfect it, but learn to fix it with better choices. It’s so simple it fits on one page and comes with a free, quick user-manual. You can also check out my Better Nutrition Simplified Program which will put an end to your Nutrition Whiplash and is an easy, hassle free way to receive weekly information from me to help guide your journey towards better health.
Now you can carry on with the fun fads – though I might not sip charcoal often – and I love the blender for all the quality liquid nutrition options it can enable, nutrition can be a project, a hobby, and you can certainly explore all the food pics on Instagram. You can also choose not to. You can be vegan, paleo, Pegan, Qualitarian, avocado-maniarian (ok I made that one up but I think its coming ;), but no matter your diet plan label your plan must be grounded in the BNS pillars. Because no matter what you choose to include or exclude, you don’t get to skip any pillar and you won’t get better health from lesser nutrition. It’s that simple.