Monday, September 3, 2012

Health & Happiness

We all want both health and happiness in our lives, right? Most people strive for both, and it could easily be said that often one leads to the other. But what if you had to choose one or the other? Yesterday I was standing in line at Trader Joe's and overheard some small talk between the customer in front of me and the cashier. They were talking about what looked like some type of energy/meal bars that the customer was buying and she was telling the cashier she eats them every day. The cashier asked a question which I missed, but the customer's response was that she had lost 50 pounds this year. That sounded impressive. I began wondering what these bars were that she was buying. The cashier asked how the customer had done it and her reply was, "Dr. Gundry's Diet Evolution." I had never heard of this, so when I got home I Googled it out of curiosity.

Turns out it is a very restricted diet (though it warns that it's more a way of life than a diet) of mostly vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Upon reading this my interest went from peaked to zero in an instant. I'm all about being healthy and doing your best to stay healthy for the long-term, but I just refuse to do so by eating a drastically restricted diet. I understand that there are probably drastic benefits that come from doing so, but I would also be drastically sad to never enjoy any foods except vegetables, nuts, and seeds. So maybe you can live to be 107 instead of just 99. Do I want to live 107 years and never eat a real brownie? I do not. Is that really living? I say, nope.

It seems like these super-restrictive diets are becoming the trend once more. Just when we thought Atkins and South Beach were fading out for good, here we are eliminating entire food groups again! Not so long ago a friend of mine introduced me to a diet that is mostly protein and vegetables with some fruit. No dairy, sugar, or grain though. She was describing all the ways that eating like this can benefit the body. She sent links to articles on the web about the diet, and even added me to a Facebook group where recipes for this diet are shared and exchanged. While I found it interesting, and have no doubt that the benefits are there, I declined to try it out because I just don't think that kind of dietary restriction is necessary to be healthy. When it is entirely possible to live a long, healthy, and full life without cutting vast food options from your diet, I see no reason to do so. Rather, I prefer to eat mindfully, exercise regularly, and just enjoy life without those restrictions. There are way too many super-healthy people and super-old people who eat ice cream to convince me that major food restriction is either necessary or important.

Here's the way I look at it- If I were going for the absolute peak of health that I could possibly achieve, I would have to spend most of my day working out and eat only foods that are nutrient dense and only eat with the purpose of nutrition, not choosing foods just because I like them. Sure, that is a smart thing to do for your body and your health. It's not practical, but it could be done, if I really wanted to be as healthy as possible. It's probably also psychologically much healthier not to associate food with enjoyment. Nevertheless, the human body isn't made that way. We get a kick out of foods we like. So maybe you can retrain your mind or even your chemistry not to want to eat yummy things. Fine. This diet/lifestyle/way of eating, whatever you want to call it still doesn't guarantee a long life. It might help if all else goes perfectly, yes. But... you could still be in a car accident. Someone could still mug and kill you. You could choke to death on something. You could fall off a cliff while mountain climbing. I mean, stuff happens every day. Some of it is more likely than others depending on your lifestyle, but still! Just a couple weeks ago about 10 miles from here two 19 year old girls died when a train derailed near where they were sitting (just sitting and talking!) and they were buried and crushed under coal that spilled out of the derailed train. No one ever thinks something like that is going to happen, and I don't think anyone should live life expecting a freak accident, but let me say that if I were to die tomorrow in some unforeseen scenario, I would not regret those two Oreos I ate today and loved every bite.

I also personally believe that the more you stress over food- what's permitted, what's forbidden, strict rules and all that- the more it becomes an issue in your life. Most people (not to say all) are unsuccessful in adhering to very strict diets. Really, most people are unsuccessful at monitoring their calorie intake (e.g. American obesity epidemic). I have no idea what the science is behind it, but for me personally the less of an issue you make it, the less of an issue it is. If I really want dessert I have it. I don't eat an 8x8 pan of brownies at once or a half gallon of ice cream, but if I want some I have some. The more restrictive I try to be, the more I want the forbidden foods. Why bother? I'd eat less of it and want less of it if it wasn't "off limits" in the first place. Maybe I'm not in as perfect physical condition as I would be if I were a super-strict eater, but I would 100% rather be in mildly less than peak physical shape than have to agonize on a daily basis over what I can and can't have. If I were on the path to health problems, then I'd be more strict. But again, I can still be perfectly healthy without being in peak condition, and perfectly healthy with permission to eat peach pie is just fine with me!

**And I'd like to add the disclaimer that I'm not saying people can't be happy on super-restricted diets. Maybe that's your thing. Maybe the benefits of that lifestyle are what make you happy. Maybe the idea that you are doing something so super healthy is what gives you a kick vs. having a sandwich on foccacia. That's cool. I just think you're rare and special :) I also realize that some people adopt these styles of eating because of health issues like diabetes or certain digestive tract disorders. I completely understand eating a very restricted diet to help manage a health problem.**

My conclusion is simply that if you can have great health and a long life without cutting out entire food groups, I don't see the necessity of a super-restricted diet. It seems more sensible and sustainable to me (and for me, knowing myself) to just make smart food choices and stay active. Thus, my theory is: everything in moderation. Get plenty of exercise. Be a mindful eater. Enjoy life. Order dessert. Have a dinner roll. Seriously, it's not going to kill you.... but a bus might.

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