The success of the diet and exercise industry is based upon the theory that we all have the choice to make the “right” decision to eat better and workout. We see this message in health promotion advertisements with a picture of a bag of chips on one side and a healthy salad on the other with the caption, “it’s your choice”. We tend to blame and shame “the victim” when we hear of people dying of cancer after a life of smoking or judge the fat woman for getting diabetes after a lifetime of binge eating.
I used to teach courses on healthy eating and exercise prescription and during each course there would inevitably be that one person who underlines the importance of personal responsibility. We chose to eat junk food, we chose to sit on the couch, and my personal favourite…we chose to do drugs. Perhaps to many, this remains to be challenged and the idea of “free will” , “self-control”, and “choice” is one we have integrated into our lives and constructed our identities around. If I can choose to manage my weight or eat a salad a day, everyone else can; and if they can’t they are “out of control” or “lazy”.
What if I told you that your “choices” in life have a relationship to the negative experiences you had as a kid? What if I told you that if you had the misfortune to experience four or more of these experiences you would have a greater chance of experienceing mental health issues, physical health issues, obesity, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, addiction, and the like?
Well….that’s what I’m telling you. Without getting into too much (boring) detail, a study was done in the 1990’s examining a large population of people – around 8,000 – for a long period of time – from childhood to adulthood. The study was called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study and continues to inform health care practices while sealing the coffin on the belief that health behaviour is as simple as making a choice. I have added a link that breaks the study and its findings down in a way that I can’t (if you so wish to explore it further). Additionally, this research has been reviewed and revisited up until recently and continues to support the original research findings.
How we experience childhood impacts who we are and how we behave into adulthood. “Just doing it” isn’t good enough when you are left with the emotional pain of a traumatic childhood experience. With more attention being placed on mental health and more public and professional awareness of trauma, I believe we are moving into a more enlightened approach to health and this excites me. For those who feel judged and shamed by ignorant onlookers making negative comments about what you do, what you eat, and how you live, I am sorry for that. It may take some time before we all get on board with this new perspective shift.
Until then, tell those haters to go eat a fat laden, gluten enriched, full sugar chocolate cake while sitting on the couch and binging on nachos dripping with cheese (that’ll teach them).