I personally think this is such an obvious idea that it hardly bears discussing, but it’s been to my attention that some consider my thinking a little left of center. One of the things I see on a fairly regular basis on My 600 lb Life is patients who are given a general medical exam and are malnourished. You wouldn’t think someone weighing 650 lbs would be malnourished but it’s not about the quantity of food or caloric intake- it’s about quality. If all you needed to be healthy is a lot of calories, then these patients would be in tip top physical condition, but their diets are generally just an overblown version of what we all eat: processed foods, fast food, sugar and simple refined carbs, essentially, things like pizza, burgers, fries, packaged/ boxed foods, sodas, pastas, breads, crackers and cookies. This is what the majority of the American public eats: stuff they can get easily at the supermarket or fast food restaurants. The problem is that there isn’t a lot of nutrition in that list above. How much nutrition is in the pasta? Honestly, most of it comes from whatever sauce is on the pasta, because the pasta itself is generally just white flour, water, a little fat and maybe a couple eggs. How much nutrition is in the pizza? Again, depending on the toppings, maybe some meat, some veggies, the tomato sauce and then it’s the crust, which is again white flour, water, a little fat and maybe an egg. Don’t get me started on the soda!
Our diet is making us sick. I hear a lot on 600 lb Life: “what I’ve depended on all my life [for comfort] is killing me.” Food is a comfort and a pleasant distraction for a lot of people. I am no different: many times I’d watch my favorite tv show with a pint of my favorite ice cream or another favorite treat. It was great watching a show I really enjoyed with foods I loved. The problem was that not only did it happen too often, but I was feeding my body junk. This is important because we’ve all heard the expression “we are what we eat;” think about what that really means, because as trite as it is, it’s really true. What we eat is taken into our bodies and into our cells and that’s what our bodies use to repair, to grow and to fuel our minds and our bodies. Remember the last time you put cheap gas in your car? Remember knocking, pinging, the motor missing and the crappy mileage? We are giving our bodies the equivalent of cheap gas and expecting premium performance. You aren’t going to get it on pizza, tortilla chips and burgers.
When I was a kid, the idea of food sensitivity wasn’t as widely discussed as it is now. There were people who were “allergic” to some things, mainly peanuts and shellfish, but the idea of being sensitive to gluten was unheard of. The “milk allergies” I heard about sometimes eventually became lactose intolerance, but generally, people who had problems with things like milk, cheese or gluten were just thought of as having “digestive problems” and were sent to their doctors, who usually prescribed all kinds of medications. The whole idea that maybe people should change what they are eating was just weird, like those people who don’t eat meat (generally for some religious reason) or those who don’t use any kind of animal product (vegans). The idea of using food as the basis for your health was another one of those extremist ideas. Modern medical thought holds that food is food and medicine is medicine, and they should not be confused with each other. The idea of treating your digestive issues such as cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation by changing what you’re eating was bizarre- go to the doctor, man, and get a pill!!
I have to admit this whole idea of food being the basis of being healthy was really weird to me too, and it wasn’t until I started eating healthier and paying more attention to ideas like Paleo living, ancestral health and other ideas that more conventional people (hi, mom!) think are on the fringe or just plain quackery that it occurred to me that maybe they aren’t nutters- maybe they know what they are talking about. The idea that what you eat makes you healthier is a pretty basic idea, but no one really stops to think about things that basic, especially since we all see the labels on the food packages we buy: “Fortified with 11 vitamins and minerals!”; “Vitamin D fortified!”; “100% of Your Daily Vitamin C!” Our food is healthy and full of vitamins and if we eat these foods, we’ll be getting all of our vitamins and nutrients and we’ll be healthy- right? Ummmm….. I’m not really sure anymore. I don’t think it’s that eating a Standard American Diet will make you unhealthy (unless you eat too much or eat only the junk food, which- let’s face it- is most of us), but I think now that eating less processed foods and more whole foods can make you healthier. If you eat the way the most Americans who are trying to be healthy eat, then yes, you do eat some processed foods and some junk foods, but most of the time, you are trying to eat the healthy stuff: salads, vegetables, fresh foods and fresh meats. Most people I know, with families especially, are trying to feed their children fresh healthy foods, but the problem is that they are looking at the labels and think that they are giving their kids lots of nutrient dense foods. In that peanut butter and jelly sandwich, how much nutrition is there? Maybe it’s a ham and cheese sandwich, but how much nutrition is actually in it? What about the rest of the lunch? Is there an apple or carrot sticks or a bag of chips? Milk to drink or juice or a “juice drink”? How about what’s for dinner? Spaghetti with meat sauce and salad or veggies? What about breakfast? The healthy breakfast we see on the cereal commercials: a bowl of cereal, milk, toast/ bagel, and juice? That sounds pretty standard for the “ideal” American family meal plan. Seriously, that sounds like what I wished I got to eat when I was a kid- my “family meal plan” growing up was no breakfast, sandwich (PB&J or pimiento loaf), chips, juice drink and dinner was usually hamburger with rice-a-roni. While I may not have grown up malnourished, I definitely grew up fat.
Once I started paying more attention to what I was eating, it made perfect sense that I could be eating better. One of the ideas that made me want to do the Homer Simpson head slap (D’oh!!!) was that idea that “we eat what we eats eats,” and maybe that’s not so healthy for us either. This is the idea that yeah, I’m eating lean hamburger, so that’s healthy, right? Well, if the steer was fed grains and corns which were treated with chemicals or were GMO, the chemicals and GMOs became part of the steer which became the hamburger I ate that becomes part of me. Hmmm- let me think about that. So now the GMO corn treated with herbicides and pesticides is now part of me, via the “healthy lean hamburger.” It’s also lacking in all the Omega-3 vitamins and nutrients that grassfed cattle eat. I am however getting a boat-load (or steer-load) of the lectins in the grains that the steer ate and whatever other inflammatories come with the grains. It’s all part of the food chain. (If you really want to hear a horror story about food chains, read Pearl S. Buck’s Silent Spring!) The grass grows untreated on the prairie and the steer eats the grass and we eat the cow, so the nutrients that make up the grass end up in us as well. This is the benefit to the grassfed beef over the grain fed beef. This is the benefit to the free range eggs, because the chickens that make the eggs are making them out of a healthier diet (usually free range chickens eat all vegetarian diets with some bugs and some grass mixed in- not always, but it’s the idea).
I think we can all benefit not only from making sure we eat foods as close to their origin as possible (ie whole apples instead of applesauce) but also paying more attention to what that food eats. It’s the difference between grassfed and conventional meats, organic broccoli and broccoli grown with herbicides and pesticides. This is where healthy starts. If you eat the healthier foods, they become a part of you and your muscles, bones, and cells are stronger for it. If you’re eating the poor quality foods, how much longer will it take you to reach “healthy” if you’re starting with a substandard framework? If you build a house with crumbly bricks, you are always going to be repairing the crumbling brickwork. Anything good you eat is going to go to shore up the deficiencies in the less than stellar foods you’re eating. I’m not telling you to ditch the Top Ramen and start eating only organic vegetables and wild caught salmon, but that wouldn’t be a bad idea, if it sounds good to you. I am saying that paying more attention and making the better choices can really benefit you in ways you may not have thought about. I recently heard a podcast about protecting your thyroid (hypo thyroid is another genetic gift in my family) and I was a little concerned when the podcaster (Elizabeth Benton) said that in first world countries (like the USA) we often get too much iodine which can adversely affect the thyroid but she also said diets high in selenium can be beneficial. Oh great! What the heck do I eat that has lots of selenium in it?! Turns out that the lamb I eat usually more than once a week has lots of selenium, as does the chicken I usually eat for lunch and the eggs I eat on weekends. Between those three foods alone, I probably get a lot of selenium. Not that I was trying to, but I was glad to hear that by focusing on eating healthier I was already benefiting my body and possibly cutting off a potential problem before it became one. (Only time will tell there!) This is a good example that supports my decision to eat healthier foods and I think it helps to justify the costs. Yes, my grocery bill has gone up but the food is better quality and it is offset by the lack of junk food I don’t buy anymore. Yes, six boxes of rice-a-roni are cheaper than six bags of broccoli, but the broccoli is a lot better for me. I’m also full longer after eating the broccoli and not eating a bag of chips and salsa afterwards.
Maybe 20 years from now, everyone will recognize that I was wasting my money on expensive stuff that I didn’t need or maybe everyone will realize that cheap processed foods make you sick. We just have to wait to find out where that arrow hits! All of us can only make the best decisions we can with the information we have. For myself, I’ve eaten a whole lot of processed foods and I eat more whole natural things now. I know from experience when I do go back and eat the processed stuff again, it doesn’t taste as good as it used to and I don’t feel as good afterwards. That alone is enough for me. I like the way I feel and I like knowing that I’m not only building better healthier habits, I’m building a better healthier me (hopefully, with a healthy functioning thyroid too!)