Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Idiocracy Meets the American Diet

I'm not a nutritionist or health expert. I don't profess to be the smartest or most educated person you'll ever run across and I am certainly not infallible (there's a reason this blog is named Learning Curves). However, I do have a bit of experience with dieting. I've done Atkins, the Rice Diet, Nutrisystem, the Master Cleanse (aka Lemonade Diet) and everything in between. I've even done calorie restriction to the point of becoming anorexic. I lost weight. I gained weight. I beat myself up and placed my personal value in that magic number on the scale. I also almost died.

What did I learn from spending countless dollars on books, programs, special "diet" foods, sugar-free this and fat-free that and carb-free mystery foods? Well, what I unlearned was how to eat, what it felt like to be hungry and to trust my body's needs and abilities.
We eat because the clock says it’s time to eat. We fill our plates with too much food because the plates are large and that’s what everybody else is doing. “We confuse thirst for hunger and food for love,” May says. {excerpt from an interview with author Michelle May, a physician turned health coach}
I unlearned so much of what is supposed to be innate, the simple act of supplying my body with fuel, that I have yet to relearn it after declaring myself "diet-free" a few years ago.

My thoughts...and this in only my opinion...is that the diet industry, along with Big Ag and those genius marketers, have basically brainwashed the average consumer into thinking humans cannot survive by simply eating food when their body indicates it's hungry. We've been convinced to ignore our cravings (which can often indicate a true nutritional need) and substitute food-like products in an effort to "trick" our brain into thinking it's satisfied.

We eat low- or no-calorie "desserts" (sugar-free jello, for example) as a way to fill our ever expanding stomachs while depriving our body of actual nutrients. Which means we will have to eat even MORE lo- or no-calorie foods in an attempt to make our stomachs feel full. And if we ever go back to eating "real" foods we will have trouble feeling full on "normal" serving sizes.

We convince ourselves that bacon is "good for us" because some caveman supposedly ate a high protein diet thousands of years ago (but he didn't drive to work in a car, sit around and watch TV for hours, and play on Facebook all day). So, we bastardize a diet like Paleo to include processed meats as long as they "hold the bun". Of course, my philosophy is that we convince ourselves bacon {or insert your favorite food here}is good for us because we want to believe we will do anything to get healthy but really, we won't. It would be like eating the same foods and calories of say, Michael Phelps (who sometimes eats around 12,000 calories a day when training) but never swimming a lap...and then wondering why we don't have his physique.

Battered and then deep fried Twinkies are used for "buns" on this bacon burger...and why not...this is 'Murica!
In this country (U.S.) the "gluttonous movement" has gotten to the point of being a ridiculous (and embarrassing considering how many people across the world, and our own country, go hungry). It's as if people are trying to give a big F-you to health and purposely eating the most fattening, sugar laden abomination of "food" ever imagined. There's even a series from Thrillist called Fat Kid Friday which publishes "this week's most ridiculous eats". It showcases real menu items like Porky Cake Batter Ice Cream Sundae (cake batter ice cream topped with caramelized pork belly bites and chicharrones tossed in cinnamon and sugar, then drenched with bacon-caramel sauce) and the Breakfast All Day Burger which is a hamburger topped with fried hash browns, a fried egg, bacon and maple syrup.  

I mean, it's like we can't stop ourselves when it comes to shock-value regarding our food! People think it's funny to push the 'envelope' when what they are really doing is destroying themselves. Even Subway, whose profits soared with the Jerad campaign, has resorted to offering Frito loaded sandwiches! We think we have free will but based on the number of people I see jumping on this bandwagon I beg to differ. Can anyone tell me what exactly we are trying to accomplish?

The human body is highly adaptable, which is one of the reasons we are still here. But it also has it's limits when bombarded with garbage on a daily basis. There's pollution, the highly processed foods we eat and the chemicals/hormones/drugs/toxic bug sprays that cover our not so highly processed foods, the 'fragrances' added to our shampoos, lotions, soaps, deodorants and the toxins that get released from the plastic packaging our apples and carrots come in or Glad containers we use to store our leftovers.This accumulation now has a name...chronic inflammation...and it's been linked to a plethora of illnesses.
 Our bodies have become virtual dumping grounds for the tens of thousands of toxic compounds that invade our everyday world, setting the stage for a slow decline in health. The EPA estimates there are more than 20,000 chemicals that our bodies cannot metabolize. Unable to be excreted from the body, chemicals find their way into our liver, and then migrate to fat cells throughout the body where they are stored. Studies show that most of us have between 400 and 800 chemical residues stored in our cells. {Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine}
There's also emotional stress, something many people don't want to deal with because we think it's a sign of weakness. And some people are "happy" being prescribed drugs to mask their symptoms because it's 'easier' and deflects the feeling of responsibility. Somehow it's understandable to 'blame' the diet industry and marketing minds behind Big Ag and the conflicting research behind the USDA for our choices (I can't remember if eggs are good for us now or not) and our desire to eat like crap but it's a mark against us, as individuals, to admit that somewhere along the way we also forgot how to express our feelings, were made to feel even worse if we did so and lost our ability to cope.

So now we are really screwed. We don't know what to eat and can't get out of our own way to go back to the basics because we can't trust ourselves to do so. We've been told to trust our doctor even though she may be working off of old science (and might not be the picture of health herself). We are so conditioned to dismiss any "new" scientific research that puts the responsibility in our hands instead of the surgeon's knife or pharmacy's pill. And we will believe any new fangled diet book that comes along and revere it as if it was the word of God even if we have no idea who the author is as long as it promises us we can lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks without exercise and without giving up our favorite foods.

We also still can't seem to wrap our minds around the fact that the foods we eat can affect our emotional state and our stress levels which contributes to our chronic pain. And this often creates a vicious cycle.
I guess my point is that we can take back control of our minds. We can educate ourselves (it's really not that hard) and climb back into the driver's seat. Some people will want to do so...and some will continue to complain, whine, and seek attention by playing the perpetual victim to 'things' beyond their control. But it's within reach for all of us because we are born with the innate ability to not only survive but to thrive. There are things we need to unlearn and others we need to relearn but the path has been cleared for those willing to take that walk.

Further reading:

“Perfect Weight” and “What Are You Hungry For?” by Deepak Chopra

“Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung

“Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful” by Susan Albers

"Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health", "The Thrive Diet" and "The Thrive Cookbook: 150 Plant-Based Whole Foods Recipes" by Brendan Brazier

"Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything Else" by Geneen Roth

The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food by Michael Moss (full article)

"Death By Supermarket: The Fattening, Dumbing Down and Poisoning of America" by Nancy Deville


  1. We are conditioned to eat food that is not good for us. We have been conditioned to not want to eat naturally good foods that support our health: vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and some grains. We have been beat over the head with the "you need a lot of protein" that people don't even look at the foods I just mentioned. I eat a whole food plant based diet and since I started eating this way I haven't been sick. I don't count calories and I eat a lot of food and I lost 25lbs and returned to my weight and energy of when I was 25 and I am in my 40's now. Real food is the answer.

  2. Aqiyl, I couldn't agree more. I've been a vegetarian for most of my life and recently moved to a more fully plant-based, whole foods diet. In the past I made mistakes by simply substituting "fake meats" in place of real meat and being basically a "junk-food" or lazy vegetarian. I made the switch after reading Brendan Brazier's book while training for my first marathon. I'm currently working on cleaning up my diet even more by eliminating certain grains and opting for more alkaline grains (I'm not afraid of carbs at all). I've been enjoying your blog and love that you address this issue in your posts as well.

  3. Thanks Lynn I am glad you are enjoying my blog. I love carbs too, good carbs that is. Some grains you might want to look into are spelt, kamut, and amaranth (amaranth is a pseudo-grain and is really a seed). Though I do eat these grains they are still a smaller part of my diet. My diet consists of mostly fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I am glad you are cleaning up your diet even more. Wonderful!

  4. Hi Lynn~ I came across your post and had a quick question. I was hoping you could email me when you get the chance, thanks! - Emily


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