Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Roadblocks on the Way to Better Eating

People know that they should "eat better" to be healthy. We may be arguing over the particulars of what is "healthy" until we all become enlightened breathairians, but the basics are obvious. Michael Pollan says it well: "Eat food (real food). Not too much. Mostly plants." If so many people know this, why aren't they doing it? Having spent years after my plant-eating-enlightenment bothered by this question (and secretly enjoying observing people's behavior like an anthropologist), I have some findings to report.

1. Most people don't understand the extent to which diet effects your health.
Folks... It's a big deal. Mainstream society has managed to create a brainwashed stupor, ignorantly denying that food has anything to do with rising rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Truth is, diet can make a huge difference, and it makes a bigger difference when you start thinking about it BEFORE your first heart attack or you've got diabetes.

2. Most people are surrounded by other people who are eating unhealthy foods, and thus it's antisocial to make alternative food choices.
Everyone LOVES to drag you down to their level of consciousness and project their own shame onto you. They must corrupt you, who has so evilly decided to do something good for yourself, by ostracizing you for your new choices or trying to coax you back to the dark side you by waving donuts in your face. It's amazing how things can revert to elementary school in such short order.

3. Most people don't care about themselves or their lives enough to want to be healthy.
They may appear to love themselves, but most of us are self-conscious wrecks, unsure of who we are or what we're doing here. At a certain point, people become disillusioned and may not want to live anymore at all. If you subconsciously don't want to live, you're not going to go out of your way to live longer.

4. Most people are addicted to the foods they eat, and thus changing their diet is more like breaking an addiction than a casual walk in the park.
Dr. Neal Bernard is an MD famous for his research on the addictive qualities of certain foods based on the neurochemical cocktail they serve in your brain. He found that sugar, chocolate, meat, gluten and dairy all produce an opiate or opiate-like effect in the human brain. Dairy, for example, actually contains morphine (a highly addictive opiate)  (50). Apparently it is made in the cows liver and provides incentive for calves to keep calm and keep drinking. On the topic of meat, Dr. Bernard mentions something that shell-shocked me in his book "Breaking the Food Seduction", : "An April 2000 survey of 1,244 adults revealed that about one in four Americans wouldn't give up meat for a week even if they were paid a thousand dollars to do it." (62) In other words, there are chemical addictions at play that can make it super hard to quit eating those things. The process is no easier than quitting cigarettes. Over-consumption of sugar, meat, gluten and dairy is the biggest contributor to the major chronic diseases of our time.

5. Most people think they don't have the money, time or energy to eat healthy food.
Many people may not consider the healthcare bills they have as a food cost, but in a way they are. Preventative health is cheaper, and sometimes that means spending a little extra on better food. However, there is a lack of education and empowerment among people with less wealth around health issues. It is the impoverished population in America that has the worst health problems. Diabetes is a big issue among that demographic, which can be prevented, improved and sometimes cured by the right diet choices.

6. Most people think "healthy" food tastes bad.
According to Dr. Neal Bernard, our taste buds have a three-week memory. In other words, the first three weeks in which you are eating things that are decidedly different from your normal diet (ie. not heavy in fat, sugar, dairy, gluten and salt), it's probably going to taste like crap. You won't feel satiated. You'll have the kitchen wanders (ie. open fridge door, close fridge door, walk in other room. Repeat.). That's why it's important to give yourself at least three weeks to try it out. Once your tastebuds are retrained, vegetables seem like the best thing in the world. You might think I'm off my rocker for this, but the last few days the only thing that's sounded good to me is straight up raw greens. I had a green smoothie for lunch and dinner today (1/2 banana, some cucumber, ginger, kale, parsley, cilantro, apple, spirulina and stevia) because I WANTED it. On top of that, I gave up sweeteners for stevia in the last month, and now even the thought of maple syrup is repulsive to me. Of course at first, I felt like I could punch someone for some chocolate cake.

7. Most people don't know what it feels like to be really healthy, and thus don't know how much better life is when you are.
As you are exposed to more years of the Standard American Diet (SAD), you gradually fall into unhealth and get used to its debilitating side effects--less energy, less mobility, lower mental clarity--and forget what it feels like to he healthy. From personal experience, when I eat healthy food I feel like a superhero-ninja-warrior who could kick a villain in the head and put him out cold, and hug 300 people in a half an hour. When I don't eat healthy food, I'm in the same boring and irritable rut as everyone else.

8. Most people (especially Americans) feel entitled to do whatever they want.
 Food is part of this. If someone tells them not to eat a hamburger, that is a personal assault on their individual freedom. Rather than seeing the love or care in a friend or loved one encouraging better diet choices, they get angry and swirl into a fit of egoistic self-righteousness and go scarf a Crap-In-The-Box hamburger.

9. Most people that want or need to make a diet change are ashamed of what they are eating, which brings up trauma every time they are faced with the idea.
When humans are experiencing trauma, the typical response is fight (argue that it's not true/ defend our choices) or flight (change the subject). Having gone through various stages of being "the crazy girl who eats funny," I have had a lot of conversations with people about food and health. When people discover that I eat a healthy diet, it is as if I have personally insulted their eating choices. "Well, I could never do that..." or "I seem to be doing just fine with what I'm eating..." or "But isn't that hard? It's not really realistic for the rest of us." or "I had a cousin who was vegetarian, and he didn't do too well." If people were feeling secure about what they are eating, they wouldn't feel so offended by my choices. People are just trying to justify what they know isn't working for them, and they don't have the strength to change.

The point of this post is not to discourage you, but to make you aware of the complexity. Rather than getting mad and frustrated when you try and fail, better to take the attitude of "good on you for trying" (says the guy from the movie 'Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead' who cured his Urticaria and obesity by fasting on fresh fruit and veggie juice for 60 days). Remember that life is precious, there is love and beauty all around us, and making the whole food switch could change your whole life for the better.

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