MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH, PART 2: WHY “HEALTHY” ISN’T ONE SIZE FITS ALL, NEURODIVERGENCE, AND SENSORY ISSUES
Everything you commonly know about “healthy” is wrong. Nice dramatic phrase to start things off, right?
Let’s talk about “healthy,” and why the concept of healthy is, by and large, bullshit, and why the concept of “healthy” that’s constantly seen and assumed is pretty detrimental to everyone’s mental health.
We’ll also cover how neurodivergence and health come into play, how sensory issues that are more common than people think prevent bog-standard “healthy,” and how to take care of your own well being without needing to completely change your life.
Of course, throughout all this, we’ll be talking about mental health, guilt, and shame that are associated with the fitness and health industry.
To begin, yes, we do use “healthy” in our advertising. To be perfectly frank, it’s something I’m not super fond of. If we use any other terminology, such as “nutritionally complete” or anything, then our marketing has huge, significant dips in performance, because it’s not a concept that most people can, or want to understand at a glance.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that in marketing, the emotion and idealized concept needs to be carried through at a glance, and technical stuff just gets glossed over. Generally speaking, people aren’t looking to decipher phrases in marketing, so some amount of simplification is necessary, at least as the first step.
As much as people claim they want to have the most accurate information possible, we (and just about everyone else who does marketing/advertising) have unfortunately found that what people say, and what people actually engage with are very different things.
This, in and of itself, makes it a tightrope that we need to walk-- We utilize the word “healthy” in order to convey the general scope and idea of things, and then generally begin to break it down from there, specifically without the kind of claims you’ll usually see from other companies. Nothing about weight loss, nothing about improving this or that, and definitely nothing about how it’ll make you basically turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger at his peak.
Rather, we like to discuss more about the philosophy behind our ingredients (hey, like this blog you’re reading now!) and the actual nutrition behind it, so that people can extrapolate their own needs from the nutrients present.
Does this require more teaching, more education, and more explanation? Absolutely. But I believe it’s also the fairest way to present things, without pointing at shoddily constructed “studies” and clinical trials with huge conflicts of interest and questionably put together research methods.
For an exploration of “healthy,” let’s first dive into something that’s often repeated and “common knowledge,” to the point that many, many people love to tell us about (see the comment section of our v3.0 patch notes for reference): Sodium.
This one’s easy. Sodium bad, right?
Not so fast. The answer is, as with everything, it depends.
First and foremost, sodium is a necessary nutrient for the body. One of the reasons why we crave it so much is simply that, back in our caveman days, sodium was difficult to come by, so making it a cravable taste made it more likely for us to seek out adequate amounts of it. Our body’s muscles and general cell functions are heavily reliant on the sodium-potassium pump, and so we require an amount of it each day in order to function properly.
Well okay, then, even with that, too much is bad, right?
Hold your metaphorical horses there, and don’t take a single hoofstep further. And also don’t ask why that metaphor had to be so weirdly detailed.
First, let’s ask this question: How much sodium is too much?
Easy, you might say, the daily recommended value is 2,300mg per day. So anything beyond that is too much, right?
Well... yes, no, and maybe. See, the 2,300mg per day is based purely on a 2,000 calorie diet of an average American male, as that’s what the old nutrition studies were generally based on. Even then, hypothetically, the average American male actually consumes and needs slightly more than 2,000 calories now, since our average height has grown, so that doesn’t even necessarily hold true anymore.
A smaller man might need less, and a taller woman might need more. Even more than that, we have to take their physical activity levels into account-- Someone who’s sweating a lot, either through working out or through their physical labor job, would need significantly more sodium than someone who sits in an air conditioned chair all day.
In the case of someone who’s sweating and using a ton of physical energy, you need to supplement with sodium in order to stay “healthy.” Because of sodium’s bad rap, we’ve been conditioned to think of what we need to replenish during exercise and hot days as “electrolytes” instead, but guess what? Salt, made out of the chemicals sodium and chloride, are electrolytes, with sodium being one of the primary electrolytes you lose through sweat.
That’s why sweat tastes salty, after all!
A personal anecdote to this is that sometimes, when I’m super busy and mostly surviving off of Vite Ramen without added salt, and then some protein shakes to cover my protein intake, I will be severely tired even though I have technically the requisite amount of calories, macronutrients, and rest. What’s missing here?
Well, simply, salt. Being someone who tends to both sweat easily as well as works out, my daily requirement for salt is significantly higher than the FDA recommendation. This means that if I were to follow “healthy” salt intakes, I would be actively sabotaging my own health.
For me, the “sodium unlocked” versions of Vite Ramen are “healthier” because of my lifestyle, and having lower sodium Vite Ramen without additional salt/soy sauce can cause ill effects if my intake isn’t high enough.
That very reason is why we have a range of products, from our normal flavors that have locked 33% sodium to the sodium unlocked versions, which are flavor forwards and also more beneficial for people like me.
And what’s even crazier? Japan, who generally speaking, averages shorter and smaller than the average American, has a daily recommended value of 2,900mg, which is a full 26% higher daily value than the FDA recommendation. Overall, Japan has much lower blood pressure and much better heart health than the USA. Strange, isn’t it?
The simplest answer to this is that there is no singular factor, but rather a whole host of underlying issues that can cause problems. There’s also some arguments about how the studies on sodium were conducted, but that’s not for the scope of this blog post.
Oh, also? As an aside, we don’t just stuff salt into sodium unlocked versions. Soy sauce for shoyu style broths, kombu and bonito for dashi stock bases, even unseasoned chicken, mushroom, and other ingredients all have sodium in them. When we’re making flavors “sodium unlocked” it’s because we’re able to add more of these high quality, umami packed, complex flavor ingredients in, not just salt.
Not gonna lie, makes me a little grumpy when people turn their noses up and say “why don’t people just learn to add salt” to our sodium unlocked versions, when we put a lot of work into the addition of delicious, complex ingredients that just happen to contain sodium in.
Anyway, let’s keep going.
We’ve covered that different people’s lifestyles require different amounts of sodium, but what about different body types? Someone who’s super tall and lanky will require different amounts of sodium compared to someone who’s shorter and stockier, but also built like a boulder with muscles rippling out everywhere. Similarly, different genetic markers will make different people process sodium differently, and the amount of water and other liquids will also factor into the sodium you need, or don’t, and a million other things!
This is extremely important to understand, because the FDA guidelines are just that: guidelines. They’re a good reference point to begin understanding and building out your own personal health journey that works for you. What works for one person may not work for someone else for factors entirely out of their control, and shaming and putting guilt on others for not achieving the same results, despite the person being completely different, is absurd and asinine.
Faced with nutrition needs, the go-to response should be that this thing worked for me or that this thing has proven to be exceptionally useful for me, and speaking to what you’ve experienced. This does come with the caveat that there is sufficient nutrition education on the baseline of bodily needs and functions, but even then, there are some wild variances in what works in some people, but not others.
This prevalent culture of health trends, fitness gurus, and other industries pressuring people repeatedly about them being a failure for not being “healthy” according to a hyper-specific definition is causing extensive body-image and self-confidence issues, with misconceptions on health, ill-defined goals, and poorly managed expectations everywhere.
This leads to eating disorders, severely impacted mental health, and a warped perception of what’s considered “normal”. Those Instagram models you see? Photoshopped. That hugely buff guy who has a six pack year-round? Taking enough PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) to make an elephant sick. The person saying they lost X pounds doing this newfangled thing? Completely lying and got liposuction and surgical enhancements along the way.
That sounds disheartening on the surface, I know. But the reality is, what’s often portrayed and sold on TV and social media are goalines which are designed to be unachievable. If the fitness goal is easy to reach and attainable, then why would you buy another fitness course from them after you reach it? Better that they blame you, shame you, and guilt you, saying that it’s your fault that you’re not “healthy,” it’s your fault that you don’t have 6 pack abs, it’s your fault that you feel the way you do.
With that, let’s take another step back and re-evaluate health from a basic principle. What exactly is health, and therefore, healthy? What exactly is fitness?
For me, health, and being healthy is simple. It’s defined as taking care of yourself the best you can, feeding yourself with the best nutrition you can, and taking some time out of every day to practice self-care.
You’ll notice in that definition, there’s no bodyfat percentages, there’s no blood pressure targets, there’s no hit markers and strict guidelines and numbers to hit. Why?
Well... Simple. Not everyone’s goals are the same. That’s really all there is to it. Does this mean that you’re practicing health and being healthy by gorging on chips and soda?
Surprisingly... Yes. But sometimes. Sometimes, like I mentioned in the blog post before this, we just gotta go nuts and indulge, release that pressure valve.
But other days? Take just a little bit of time and effort to do something that takes care of you. Self-care isn’t just about resting and not doing anything, after all- Self care is sometimes hard. It means that sometimes you gotta choose the lower calorie version, or not get dessert, or force down that protein shake you reaaaaally didn’t want to drink that day.
But other times, taking care of yourself means resting, not working because you’ve already pulled 80 hours that week, and it’s okay that you skipped brushing your teeth for that one night because your mind is completely numbed and you just need to sleep for 24 hours straight.
In other words, health and being healthy is, like everything, contextual in nature. The person working 80 hours a week of physical labor does not need that quinoa and kale salad. They need a burger and soda because they forgot to eat and need to fill in thousands of calories that they’re missing over the course of the week. The person who’s been sleeping in all the time likely does not need that nap, but maybe just a little walk in the sunlight, a little bit of stretching to get the body limbered up, and some water.
Generally speaking, the importance of nutrition goes:
Macronutrients (Protein, fats, carbs)
Micronutrients (Essential Vitamins and Minerals)
Non-essential nutrients (Phytonutrients, antioxidants, etc)
Often, we focus way too much on the least necessary parts while neglecting the most important ones. Look, as much as people like to talk about the beneficial properties of antioxidants, you’re not going to care much if you have scurvy from lack of vitamin C, or protein poisoning from a lack of fat in your diet, y’know?
By and large, nutrition is important, but understanding what parts of nutrition are more important than others can play a big part in taking care of yourself. All of this isn’t saying “Everything is healthy!” but rather that everything and anything can be healthy in the right context. Learning what is the best for yourself at any given point in time is a personal journey.
After all, the definition of “healthy” is different for everyone. Not everyone wants to be a bodybuilder, and so not everyone needs 200g protein every day. Not everyone wants to be the picture of perfect health, and some people derive more enjoyment from exploring new restaurants every week. And, of course, not everyone enjoys quinoa and kale, so not everyone can eat in the way that the market likes to pitch “healthy.”
And, the worst part of it is simply that if we’re constantly bombarded with messaging that we’re not taking care of ourselves, we’re not healthy unless we have some unattainable physique, then the additional burden that puts on your mental health can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You can have the exact, calculated nutrition pumped directly into your veins and a statue of a physique... and it would all be for nothing if you were put under insurmountable amounts of pressure and stress. You would fall from that perfect health status quickly, with your body falling to ruin no matter how much nutrition and exercise you had. We cannot take care of our bodies without first taking care of our minds.
Which brings me to the next point: Neurodivergence means that some people physically cannot choose to eat certain things. Our minds are inexplicable and mysterious. Personally, I often have many moments where I desperately crave a certain food, but I cannot for the life of me figure out exactly what that food is; all I know is that it’s definitely not in the house.
If I try to eat anything, even if it’s something that I normally enjoy and like, my throat just kind of... closes up. My body (or is it my subconscious?) just refuses. I’m sitting there, bowl of noodles that I normally love in front of me, trying to coax this big, near 30 baby-like subconscious to eat, but every time I lift the noodles up and put them in my mouth to start chewing, my stomach turns and I feel like gagging.
Why does this happen? What causes it? I genuinely have no idea. I am, generally speaking, not picky. I eat and enjoy everything from blue cheese to liver to mushrooms, and didn't even find the notoriously stinky surströmming (Swedish rotting fish) to be bad. For me, it’s not necessarily the food itself that’s causing me to not want to eat it-- It’s just that it’s not the right food at the right moment.
And no, before anyone suggests, it’s not because “the body craves certain nutrients.” Look, there really aren’t any nutrients fast food fries provides that Vite Ramen or something homecooked wouldn’t. Cravings are psychological, not physiological in nature.
I’m not the only person who has issues like this. Nor is it the only type of food aversion that exists. Because food rejections can be deeply personal, deeply psychological, and ingrained in a way that requires therapy and other training to overcome, it can be damaging, and even detrimental to force people to eat a certain way.
This is compounded by the fact that sensory issues can often be compounded into those factors, and be an original root cause of some problems. The simplest one to mention is people who have the genetic factor which makes cilantro taste like soap- No matter how much you force them to eat cilantro, they’re probably not going to enjoy it, and force feeding them cilantro will only cause them further distaste as more and more negative memories are formed surrounding it.
And yet, this is not the only form of sensory issue that can be present. Whether textural, olfactory, taste, visual, or some other thing, we cannot sit here from our outside vantage point and say, “Oh, just try it enough and you’ll like it.” That’s often not the case. Some people simply cannot, on both a physical and mental level, enjoy certain foods, and that’s okay.
If you were to ask mainstream health gurus and “nutritionists” (by the way, nutritionist isn’t a protected term-- Anyone can call themselves that. Dietician is a protected term, on the other hand, and is what most people think nutritionists are), then they would likely prescribe fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, the usual kind of thing you might think of as “healthy food.” But for people who cannot stand the grassy, vegetal taste present, or people who despise the texture of whole grains, this is completely and utterly infeasible.
Do they, then, not get to be healthy? Do we just say, well, you’re screwed, there’s only one way for you to be healthy and that’s it?
Absolutely not, I say.
I am one of these people. Vite Ramen was created because often, the only thing I would be able to eat was noodles. Similarly, Nanoboost was created to further assist in these issues, and allow people to introduce hard to get micronutrients in their food where they might otherwise not get them.
Concerning Nanoboost, I’ve heard it sometimes asked, “Couldn’t people just take multivitamins?”And my answer is, yes, absolutely, and if that’s your preferred method, then by all means! We’re simply offering another option for those people who have sensory issues with swallowing large pills. Gummy vitamins unfortunately don’t provide a lot of crucial minerals like calcium, magnesium, and so on; generally speaking, because large pills are just about the only way to get those nutrients normally without consuming dark leafy greens and the like, Nanoboost offers a new option to introduce those minerals without needing pills.
In my first blog on Mental Health Month, I discussed the idea of support, and that’s what the philosophy behind everything we make is. They’re not meant to replace fresh cooked meals, they’re not meant to be the only thing you eat, and they’re not meant to be the miracle cure to anything. They’re meant to create options, allow for more space, more wiggle room to live life the way you want to while being as healthy as you can be, within your own, unique, individual needs.
See, everyone deserves to be healthy. And we should be creating more options for people to be able to fit “healthy”, as defined by them, into their lifestyles, not shaming and telling them there’s only a few paths towards being healthy. We are not privy to each individual’s lives, needs, and desires, and thus would fare poorly in determining a broad scope of “health” that’s one-size-fits all.
This seems to run a little contrary to how Vite Ramen is designed, and on the surface, it certainly might seem so! Vite Ramen is designed, however, in the same way that the FDA guidelines are designed- In a general scope, for a general population, with some of all the things our bodies need, and yet still with enough wiggle room for those who want to customize and tune it to their own needs to be able to do so.
Healthy isn’t black and white, nor is it shades of grey. It’s a multivariate spectrum, and a palette that looks different to everyone who looks at it. Our bodies are, after all, very good at homeostasis, and we’re able to access a much larger variety of food than our ancestors ever were. Our progress with self-care, our progress with our relationship with our health is about the long term, and as always, progress is never linear. We fall sometimes. We rise sometimes. And that’s okay.
I’m not here to say that I specifically have a solution. I’m not saying that it’s easy, either. All I’m here to say is that the way “health” and “healthy” is thrown around is largely detrimental and destructive to our health, whether it be mental or physical. All I want to get through to you, dear reader, is to take a step back, look at your own priorities, your own view of what you’d like, and what makes you happy, and pursue that. Chase something that legitimately makes you feel genuine happiness.
We all deserve to be healthy. And to be healthy is to be personal. To be healthy is to not be dominated by stress. And most of all, to be healthy is to be happy.
Try to do that, alright? Take care of yourself.
-Tim Zheng, CEO/Founder Vite Kitchens