There’s a better way to cover diet, fitness, and health

Most food is neither magic nor toxic.
Most food is neither magic nor toxic.
Image: Reuters/Jose Luis Gonzalez
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At Quartzy, we’ve often advised against making New Year’s resolutions. But we’re breaking that rule this year to make something like a resolution ourselves: a new style note for 2019, aimed at ensuring that the way we cover food, health, dieting, and exercise aligns with our fundamental values.

Those values:

  • We seek to be inclusive in every way—including race, gender, sexuality, and age. In our coverage of health and dieting, we do not assume that everyone has, or wants to have, a particular body shape or size.
  • We hold our reporting on health to the same high standards as the rest of Quartz’s coverage, meaning we cite only science and research that is credible, ideally published in peer-reviewed journals, from reputable scientists.
  • While Quartzy often seeks to provide services to our readers, in the form of tips, guides, hacks, or recommendations, we are not here to tell you what to eat or avoid eating for good health, which diet is the best or the worst, or to ascribe morality to food or fitness choices. We may cover new research on particular foods or approaches to eating or exercise, and we may tell you about foods or recipes we find delicious, but we know there is no one perfect health system that works for every person. 
  • In all our coverage, we aspire to the ideal of a “spirit of generosity,” which is a foundational value of Quartz. We do not shame anyone’s food choices, fitness, or body shape. The goal of our lifestyle coverage is to help our readers feel good in a way that is tied to an internal state of being—energetic, informed, engaged, content, calm, and joyful.

We are not the only ones reexamining our approach. (In particular, we found the excellent style guide that SELF released in June to be instructive.) A shift is underway in the way the world talks and thinks about these topics. Dieting is no longer aspirational; “wellness” is. But, as Rosie Spinks has written, “much of this modern wellness culture is simply diet culture 2.0.”

Indeed, not enough has changed. Obesity is still widely misunderstood, and fat people are still discriminated against and mistreated by the health-care system. “Years from now, we will look back in horror at the counterproductive ways we addressed the obesity epidemic and the barbaric ways we treated fat people—long after we knew there was a better path,” Michael Hobbes wrote in an influential piece for Huffington Post’s Highline. As he argued, “It’s time for a new paradigm.”

Quartzy recently published a guide to the language of diet culture, pointing out some of the problems with terms such as “detox” and “clean eating,” and what they really mean. We’ll be keeping those meanings in mind in our own reporting and writing.

Here are some of the other ways we strive to put our values into practice:

  • We don’t use weight or weight loss alone as a proxy for or direct measurement of health.
  • We don’t assume our readers are all eager to lose weight, and we don’t assume smaller is better.
  • We don’t equate youth with health or beauty. We don’t advocate “defying” age.
  • We don’t suggest exercise as an atonement for eating or drinking, and we don’t describe rigorous forms of exercise as more admirable than moderate exercise or movement.
  • We don’t describe food as a “miracle” or a “poison.” Most food is neither magic nor toxic, though there is evidence of some foods’ beneficial properties, and of the risks of eating too much of other foods.
  • We don’t assume that just because a food is lower in calories, fat, sugar, or certain chemicals, it is better than other foods, nor do we assume that eating less is a worthy or aspirational goal.
  • We don’t use the words “chemical” or “processed” as a blanket negative.
  • When talking about maintaining health, we don’t limit the conversation to diet and exercise. There are many other indicators of health, including mental health, community ties, environmental factors, sleep, and stress levels.

In other words, we understand that a lot goes into what makes a healthy human.