I have a friend, MK. He doesn’t know it, but I often call him my reality check. I call him this because very often, when I write something without fully thinking it through (which is most of the time), he is there to intelligently present either an opposing view or even better put, a wider, more global view. I’ve thought of him over the past several weeks as I’ve watched several friends write posts on Facebook that have essentially said, “if you eat processed food, you will die!” While I fully encourage the concept of healthful eating, and I also believe that eating solely processed, packaged foods is not good for your long term health, I have trouble with statements like these. They fit right in with the “worried about the cost of organic eating? how about the cost of getting cancer? Now THAT’s expensive!” I can’t tell you how many friends have posted that one. The issue I take with statements like these is two-fold:
1. Making an absolute statement like, “eating that Oreo will give you cancer, make you obese, turn you into an addict and give you diabetes” is very much like handing out “You’re Fat” notes on Halloween to kids you perceive as fat. It’s not bullying per se, but it is still meant to make the Oreo eater feel guilt and embarrassment. It’s not nearly as brutal nor as clumsy, but it still paints with broad brush strokes that reveal only a surface understanding of the more detailed biological mechanisms. It is just as incomplete and can be damaging to those who blindly follow. Let’s be clear, eating an Oreo is not going to give you cancer or diabetes or make you obese. In fact, eating a whole package of Oreo Cookies will do none of those things either. What “eating Oreos will make you obese, give you diabetes, turn you into an addict and kill you with cancer” lacks is the second half of a statement, something along the lines of “if that is all you eat” or “if you eat a whole package every day for months and years on end.” There is nothing wrong with occasionally enjoying four or five Oreo cookies smashed at the bottom of a glass of whole milk…just don’t make a regular habit of it. The phrase sugar addiction will often come into play in these discussions – the argument being that sugar is more addictive than cocaine or morphine. Sugar addiction IS real, but again, the second half of the complete thought is almost always left off…for some. There have been studies that show sugar addiction is real in rats, and to be honest, even though there may not be specific scientific studies that show the same in humans, the unscientific (albeit occasionally misleading) eyeball test tells us a different story. That being said, not everyone is predisposed to sugar addiction or even the side effects of sugar intake – that is something that many “experts” will either forget to mention or don’t know or even worse, willfully omit.
2. Organic and fresh food is more expensive. It just is, there is no way around that. But to try to appeal to people through the “well imagine how much cancer is gonna cost you when you get it eating all that cheap, packaged inorganic crap” doesn’t take into consideration the fact that A. not all people actually have access to organic food (heck, some people in this country don’t even have easy access to fresh veggies and fruits – see Detroit) and B. some people simply can’t afford to buy all organic all the time. For some people it becomes a choice of eating and going to bed with a full belly or eating a lot less and going to bed hungry. I can’t claim to know what the numbers are but I’m pretty sure that constant hunger doesn’t do the brain or the prospects of longevity any favors. What’s the cost of an underdeveloped intellect due to near starving conditions? What’s the cost of growing up with a weak body because you couldn’t get enough calories into it due to an insistence on buying only organic?
Now don’t get me wrong. If you CAN eat fresh veggies and fruits, and you CAN afford to buy organic, you probably should – the less chemicals and fewer packaged foods we put into our bodies the better. But you have to balance that with a little common sense. Our bodies are incredible biological machines. Our cells turnover every 7 to 10 years. Our bodies do a fantastic, albeit not perfect, job of cleaning out the waste. Some Oreo Cookies and Milk here or some McDonald’s there or a few Snickers bars at Halloween or feeding your kids some prepared chicken nuggets now and again are not going to kill you or them, make either of you fat or cause cancer. Occasional treats, if truly treated as treats you have occasionally, can actually be good for you mentally, and we all know that our mental health is just as, if not more, important as our physical health.
You do what you can with the budget and resources you have available.
Ultimately I believe it comes down to moderation. If you eat a healthful diet in general, don’t let the internet health “gurus” and “experts” out there make you feel bad about hitting Burger King on a road trip or jamming a few candy bars after a big race. Again, just don’t make it a regular habit. I’ll admit right now, I swiped a mini Kit Kat, a mini Baby Ruth and a mini Almond Joy from my daughter’s Halloween bag to have as a snack while I wrote this blog post. They were tasty but honestly, they will probably be the last candy of any kind I eat before Thanksgiving. It’s not because I have some incredible will power. I’m not fighting some urge to have chocolate. I simply don’t crave it, and having it every now and again never changes that.
As my father has always told me, “everything in moderation” remembering of course that moderation will not work for some.
The bottom line for me is that those who write, tweet, or blog about health and fitness issues need to be careful with the size of the brushes with which they paint. If there is one thing having an autistic daughter has taught me it is that we are all on a spectrum, and what may work for some may have the exact opposite effect on others. Blanket statements rarely hold up under scrutiny because we are not carbon copies of each other.
We are all different.
***The one caveat I will put here is this – if you know that you have an addictive personality, or have problems with self-control, then it is probably good to avoid the cookies or the fast food altogether or at the very least keep them out of your home so you are not regularly tempted by them. You have to know yourself – working with your strengths, protecting yourself from your weaknesses.