As a follow-up to my posting last week, I thought I would share with you some insights I’ve achieved in the interceding days, and it’s important (although perhaps a tad redundant) to point out that the opinions and view expressed below are entirely my own. First, I must admit that I’m surprised (although I shouldn’t be) at the antidotal effect of having written down that entire litany — excising that demon from the dusty innards of my brain gave me the opportunity to examine it as an entity on the outside of my mind and has given me a better perspective and some much needed clarity. That perspective is this: I’m not alone.
The anxieties and regret I feel about the food I eat and the dietary choices I made leading up to my visit to the doctor’s office are not only common, they’re part of a national eating disorder. I, like millions of other Americans, am completely bamboozled by all the bullshit that’s out there regarding nutrition and diet. There are convincing sounding arguments and justifications for practically any dietary approach you can imagine, and though much of it is pseudoscience and quackery in advertising we believe it readily. When you add a celebrity or a comely spokesperson to the solution being sold there is an appreciable amount of traction added. Better still, add a celebrity or celebrity-approved doctor, nutritionist, or authoritative-appearing person and your solution becomes as good as gold — you sell millions of books, diet planners, food brands, you name it. It’s a multi-billion dollar confidence scheme, and we buy it because it’s all aimed directly at our mortality.
The businesses behind the food industry have a lot of money, power, and influence. They fund most of the research that gets published, they lobby the government with their ample coffers and influence policy to put their products on the top of the food pyramid (rather now the choosemyplate.gov diagram) as well as the supermarket shelves… and it’s all a part of big money marketing.
The big businesses don’t give two wet shits about our health because none of this is about health… it’s about profit, and lots of it.
So is the solution then to return to a more fundamental and historical diet and way of life; perhaps to adopt the Paleo lifestyle? Let me make one thing absolutely clear: I am neither for, nor against the Paleo lifestyle, but I am reading Dr. Marlene Zuk’s book, Paleofantasy as a contrast to Liz Wolfe’s Eat the Yolks. There are components of the Paleo lifestyle with which I agree wholeheartedly, and then there are parts which I find to be naive, too idealistic, and fanciful. A natural, whole food diet is probably a very good idea; this is something which I have come to truly believe. A return to a fantastical “Garden of Eden” way of living is not only not possible, it’s too simple and it ignores two things in which I staunchly believe: evolution and genetics… not to mention the fact that the byproducts of civilization (e.g. trash, industrial waste and pollution, ambient radiation levels, light and noise pollution, you name it) have forever altered our ecology (air, water, and soil are all polluted to some extent) and there probably isn’t any going back. That means the only things left to do are to move forward and adapt; something human beings have been doing (with mixed success) for a pretty long time now.
I’m learning more and more about the love/hate relationship we have with our food, and just picked up Consumed: why Americans love, hate, and fear food by Michelle Stacey; I can’t wait to start reading it. I think it’s fascinating and something worth exploring because I not only wish to educate myself about nutrition in general, I also want to understand why we have the attitudes we have about the food we eat. That mixed attitude is referred to as “the omnivore’s dilemma,” a term coined by anthropologists looking into prehistoric human dietary practices and it’s defined by Michael Pollan (in his book titled The Omnivore’s Dilemma) as the confusion we feel from having too many choices in what we eat. Human diets are complex… really complex. Koalas, for example, have it easy by comparison: they have very limited dietary possibilities and that equals to no quandary (or resulting angst) when determining what they will eat. Of course if their very limited food source disappears, they’re goners. Humans can pretty much eat anything… pretty much. We aren’t tied to one specific source, and we’re adaptable enough to tolerate a wide variety of foods… but unfortunately, we’re not born with the ability to intuit which foods are good and which are bad. We have old fashioned trial and error for that, and the results can be… well… deadly.
Businesses and their marketing divisions/firms are acutely aware of the existence of this dilemma and they exploit it with some truly fantastical claims… which we buy because they attach safe words to their products like “healthy,” “organic,” “natural,” and others — you know the ones. It’s all bullshit. The only health they’re concerned with is the health of our wallets, and they’ve mapped a pretty good way to get at the money in there.
Allow me to forewarn you before I go any further, the big caveat here is that there is no one easy answer. We humans like blanket answers; i.e., answers that apply to everyone so that we don’t have to make uncomfortable decisions or think too much about this crap. Worse still: we’re more than willing to co-opt our decision making to faceless institutions and industries (like governments, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Energy, and more), or to be directed by them because we want to believe in the security of perceived authority — life is easier when someone else is responsible for you, as opposed to when you are responsible for yourself. After all our parents taught us that we should mind authority and place trust in our institutions (I’m not knocking the hard work parents do… I’m a parent, and it’s not an easy path… but that’s a subject for a different post); school taught us the same thing. What they didn’t teach us is that our institutions — our government and big businesses — are subject to greed and corruption… but that’s not their fault… that’s our fault.
Since we are willing to co-opt our decision making and blindly put our trust in the big institutions, we allow them to operate with little or no oversight. And where the oversight provided by the government is too strict, industries and institutions will simply leverage more favorable legislation by hurling a metric shit ton of money at the problem… the money they, no doubt, got from us by first scaring our pants off and then selling us their products to combat that fear. It’s also important to note that I suspect many “grassroots movements” are started by big business as a means to pacify groups and organizations who are making noise where they’d prefer no noise be made. I know that sounds paranoid, but my typical means of expression is decidedly imaginative and geared toward fiction — if I was writing a story about this, that’s how I’d plot it… it just seems most feasible and makes sense… to me, anyway.
In light of this the only things left for us to do are to educate ourselves, or fall back on the old trial and error method. I prefer education, myself… since I’m not a big fan of risking my life trying to decided which berries are not poisonous. As I mentioned before, there are no easy answers and certainly there is no one answer that is true for all of us… I have no secrets to sell, no wonder drug or super food to purvey… I just have some accrued wisdom to share, and I hope that it serves you well in some manner or another. Some of it is as easy as: don’t eat the stuff you’re unable to tolerate and read those damned labels. Everyone raves about how healthful and beneficial fish is, but I’m in the lucky 2% who’s allergic to both fish protein and shellfish… so it’s dangerous for me to eat. If you’re allergic to wheat, for the love of the Universe, don’t eat it. Likewise for dairy, or nuts, or seafood, or anything else… Just don’t eat that stuff. Don’t try to force something on yourself because someone tells you it’s supposed to be good for you. I know I can’t eat fish, but a few weeks ago I tried some flounder in an attempt to take the advice of various health professionals, and guess what? I had a minor allergic reaction (hence why I chose a whitefish as opposed to a very fatty fish on which to experiment — this after I tell you that I’m not a fan of trial and error, go figure). Just don’t do it, okay? Please?
Listen to your body. Believe it or not, when you’re wolfing down a mega-meal and your stomach starts to hurt it’s because you’re full and it’s time to stop. Just stop. Put the leftovers away and enjoy it later, or better still: share the leftovers with a buddy (I’m notorious for not eating leftovers). Our bodies send us all sorts of signals all the time, and we do ourselves an extreme disservice when we learn to ignore our body’s attempts to communicate with us. It’s like when you ring the bell for a stop and the bus driver just keeps on going; I don’t know about you, but that pisses me off. Your body gets pissed off too and you won’t like what it will do to you if you continue to ignore it… believe me, I found out for myself. Listen to your body cues… I’m re-learning to listen to my body because I taught myself to ignore it through forty-some odd years of lifestyle; it’s an ongoing process but I find I’m truly feeling better.
Finally: keep your body and mind active and engaged. Life is busy and we are often pulled in more directions than we are able to move in. Contemporary life is also full of stress and worry; we’re all constantly bombarded with things that need to be done, things to which we need to attend, things we need to do for others, bills, work, assorted other obligations… you name it; we all have ’em and nothing is going to make all that stuff go away. Although the temptation to alleviate that fatigue by vegging out in front of the TV or the computer is strong, it’s pretty important to ignore that and do something else. Walking is a great stress reliever — it’s amazing how well you can sort stuff out and analyze all those things you have on your mind while you’re walking (or jogging, or bicycling, or gardening, or <insert your chosen physical activity>). The idea is to engage your body in the activity of sorting your mind. For your mind, you might consider taking up a craft or an artistic outlet (paint, draw, play music, write, etc.); do word or math puzzles; read or listen to audio books… make that super computer inside your skull process some stuff other than the shit that’s stressing you out… put it to good use. What you eat is only part of the big picture that is the complex wonder of the human body and mind.
This whole thing isn’t over for me… not by a long shot. I have a lot to learn, a lot to consider, and a lot of distance to cover before I’m satisfied by what I learn. I broke up with my old doctor (the one who tried to sell me hormone injections and that ridiculous diet I didn’t need), and I’m scheduled to see a different doctor in a couple of weeks. I’ve shed a considerable amount of weight — about 45 lbs. the last time I checked. I’m hoping that I’ll get a better picture of my health and how I’m doing, so I can better plan my ongoing dietary and nutrition needs and so I can get back to writing and reading stuff I prefer. This has been an ample, time consuming distraction and I’m really feeling the need to do something different.