A few thoughts on food

In 1949, Dr. Elmer M. Nelson championed an opinion that I believe is at the foundation of our national health crisis: “It is wholly unscientific to state that a well-fed body is more able to resist disease than a less well-fed body.”

This position was and remains commercially expedient, but it is not, nor has it ever been, true. Our bodies are in a constant state of sustaining themselves on the fuel we provide. If the fuel we provide does not deliver adequate nutrition, we will break down. This has been proven hundreds of times in hundreds of ways. It is the very essence of a scientific statement.

The most prominent breakdowns in today’s America are linked to excessive sugar consumption (fructose, specifically): obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Sugar is a problem on its own; on top of that, when we eat a lot of it, we’re probably doing it at the expensive of eating moderate quantities of the quality foods we require for good health.

I have lately noticed the suggestion that we should tax bad food and subsidize good food. While I like the idea of food subsidies going to organic food and vegetables rather than corn and wheat, I’m a little wary of the idea of taxing “bad food.” This is entirely because I do not completely trust our authorities to arrive at an accurate picture of what constitutes “good” and “bad” food. I would wholeheartedly support a tax on soda, but what if policymakers adhere to the outdated idea that dietary fat and cholesterol are inherently bad? Good sources of fat and cholesterol are essential for nutrition and health.

These days, I am one of the healthiest eaters I know. I eat so well that my body is healing itself from a thyroid condition that is commonly labeled “incurable”. (Proper credit should also be given to my whole foods supplement program – mostly Standard Process). Even so, I can think of three things in my diet that might be erroneously portrayed as “bad foods” and taxed under such a policy.

  1. Butter. Butter is part of my healthy diet. It would probably be a bad idea to eat it by the scoop, but I hope that not many people would find that notion appetizing anyway. I imagine that some butter is bad – specifically, butter that comes from cows that receive hormones and antibiotics. But that becomes a question of the source, not the food itself.
  2. The same goes for red meat. I eat beef that comes from grass-fed cows, not Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs. CAFO meat is a travesty – but again, that’s the fault of the source, not the food. Legumes (beans, lentils) are not a healthy choice for me. That being the case, if I could not eat meat, I would likely be unable to maintain adequate levels of protein consumption. A food that is necessary for the healthy nutrition of some people probably should not be labeled “bad.”
  3. Salt. I don’t eat processed foods, so my diet contains almost no salt. The salt I sprinkle lightly on dinner is kosher, mineral-rich, blah blah blah. I probably wouldn’t whine too much about this one, to be fair. I consume little enough salt that a tax on it wouldn’t be terribly meaningful to my budget.

That’s just me. What I’m learning on my road to health is that we all have different nutritional requirements. There are certainly people out there who do well on legumes, or who have no problem with whole grains. I’m not one of them. Those are examples of good foods that are not good for me. I’ll bet my ancestors probably didn’t eat much of them, and thus my body is inherently unsure of what to make of them.

If I were to have a point, it would be this: I think that as children we are not taught to perceive the connection between what we eat and how we feel. I believe that this disconnect in our own body awareness sabotages our efforts at good health, because on some level we would love to believe that all foods are created equal; that organic beef is equivalent to CAFO beef; that a calorie is a calorie; or that all sugars (glucose, fructose) are the same. It would be a lot easier for us if we could eat anything that our society calls food and still be healthy, but it’s just not the way it’s working out. “You are what you eat” doesn’t quite sum it up. But what we eat and how healthy we feel are inextricably linked – they are two sides of the same coin.

The Patient Patient

Here I will share a few details about my journey to create health.

Between 13 and 15 years ago (sometime in high school), I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Syndrome, which is an extreme form of hypothyroidism and classified as an autoimmune disorder. I was informed that eventually my body would destroy my thyroid gland, and that I should expect to be on medication for the rest of my life. There was one wonderful endocrinologist who set me up with a stable dose of Armour Thyroid, and that’s what kept me feeling well and functional for the 13+ years between then and August, 2011.

In August 2011, two things happened. First, I started talking to my mother (whom I adore) about the possibility of trying the Atkins diet. My weight had been slowly but steadily creeping up over the years, and though I didn’t look horribly overweight, the number on the scale suggested that there was a problem I should address. My mother and I decided to try Atkins together, for moral support. This meant cutting out sugar, bread, and all other major sources of carbs.

I went through sugar withdrawal (the use of “withdrawal” here is not an exaggeration – try cutting ALL sources of sugar, HFCS, honey, syrup, etc. out of your diet for 2-3 days and you’ll see what I mean). I declared that I could never imagine giving up bread. I despaired when I realized that eggs – a major Atkins diet staple – gave me a bad reaction if I ate them for more than three days in a row. But the sugar withdrawal cleared, and I reassured myself that I could survive without bread for a while, and I found other things to eat for breakfast. And then the second thing happened – my husband and I had the good fortune to begin working with a wonderful and gifted chiropractor / nutritionist. She told me that she’d worked with other thyroid patients, and that if I could strictly adhere to a handful of dietary guidelines, that my thyroid gland could heal in about two years.

Heal. As in, completely. As in, cured. It was the promise of total wellness, something I’d stopped thinking about because the idea that I would never know it was too painful. And she was putting it in my grasp.

I agreed to the guidelines, which are as follows:

  1. No sugar. This includes ordinary sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, agave, evaporated cane juice… just about every ingredient that tries to fill sugar’s shoes. Even baking with unsweetened applesauce has proven problematic. I also put Splenda (sucralose), aspartame, and all other artificial sweeteners on my NO list. I am deeply skeptical of artificial sweeteners because let’s face it: they are not food.
  2. No grains. This includes wheat, rice, and corn (which is not a vegetable, no matter what the food pyramid would have us believe).

I’ve added a few restrictions of my own to the list, based on personal experimentation, but those are the two most significant. Courtesy of the no-Splenda clause and a few other things, I would classify my diet these days as more Paleo than Atkins. By the time I had followed these guidelines for three months, I’d lost almost thirty pounds. And on top of that, a personal miracle occurred: my decade-plus stable dose of thyroid medication dropped by a third. Food is the medicine that heals. I eat vegetables, meat, nuts, some fruit (not too much), and potatoes (my go-to filler food for preventing further weight loss).

And just this week, a year later, it happened again. My dose is now a third of what it once was. I don’t miss bread or sugar anymore, and I’ll tell you why. Now that I’ve stopped eating junk that hurts me, I can hear what my body tells me. And my body says “I want to be well. That’ll make me sick. I don’t want it.”

In about a year’s time, I expect that I’ll be able to report that my thyroid gland has healed and I’m medication-free. I’m looking forward to it.

Upheaval

A few massive changes recently came into my life that have me feeling reflective. First, on Saturday, November 3rd, I realized that I had hit a new mile marker in my healing process. Details on this in subsequent posts. Second, on Monday, November 5th, I was laid off from a job I’ve had for the entire seven years since graduating from college – at first I was stunned, but I’ve come around to seeing it as a great opportunity to revitalize my direction in life. Third and final, on Tuesday, November 6th…

…NO! Not the election! I turned thirty. A lot of people seem to feel anxious about getting older or self-conscious about their various ages. I don’t – I’m excited about my age. I’m not sure why. Maybe I’ll figure it out in another post.

The funny thing is, because I had such a personally significant birthday on such a nationally significant Election Day, I feel somehow obligated to have an Opinion about the whole thing. While I do have political opinions, I usually don’t voice them, because I’m opposed to getting caught up in the negative noise that arises when the aggressive disagreements take hold of our national consciousness.

For no reason I’ve yet identified, I’m making an exception this time. My Opinion regarding this election, 2012, is two-fold.

  1. The Anti-Christ was not a candidate for either party, in any local, state, or federal election. I state this explicitly because based on the aforementioned negative noise, I suspect it may come as a shock to some.
  2. There are many spheres of discussion that come to center stage during political campaigns. In my opinion, the single most fundamental consideration is that of human rights. Every single person in the United States is a human being, and every single human being is equally deserving of the rights, respect, and protection of his or her government. If the public perception is that one political party attempts to protect and afford rights to every human being equally – regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation – and the other does not, THAT will and should be the deciding factor of the political discussion.

Whatever mess this beautiful, blessed, shipwreck of a country is in, we’re all in it together. Once we can all treat each other with respect and decency, we can be confident that any steps we take towards a brighter tomorrow will be taken together, and not simply by some at the expense of others.

Overly simplistic? Unrealistically idealistic? Perhaps. But it’s important – so today, I’m willing to live with that.