A Different Way of Thinking About Health and Nutrition
If you’re a walking, talking human and you’re reading this you probably have a “health philosophy”… whether you realize it or not.
If you’re like most people, this is a mish-mash of platitudes and beliefs handed to you by your parents, peers, and the great, anonymous “They” all about what it means to be healthy and take care of this vessel we call a body.
You’ve heard these pearls over the years, things like:
- “Everything in moderation.”
- “Avoid eating animals/red meat/fat/carbs/calories/cholesterol/salt (insert entire food group and/or nutrient here). They are “bad for you”.
- Eat unlimited amounts of papayas/elk antlers/sprouted soybeans—they’re “good for you”.
- “Just gotta burn off more than I take in.”
- “Eat plenty of small meals throughout the day.”
- “Drink water constantly… minimum eight glasses per day to ‘flush things out’”
- “Some people are just blessed with good metabolism/genes/athleticism/etc.”
- “No one can be healthy all the time—it’s no way to live!”
- “After 40 it’s all downhill anyway.”
These are usually put forth as age old, unquestionable maxims that “everybody knows”, so no one dares question them.
Well… we dare.
You see, most people accept these beliefs without thinking about them too hard, or even submitting them to a single pass of logic. And while just about everyone has an opinion about what it means to be healthy, how many healthy people do you really know?
Yeah, didn’t think so.
We’re going to throw some different health principles out there. These are beliefs that fly in the face of conventional thinking on nutrition and what it means to be healthy. But conventional thinking has gotten us precisely nowhere, and really falls to nonsensical pieces when examined under the slightest of scrutiny.
A few things you’ll notice about these beliefs:
- They emphasize figuring things out for yourself (i.e., not taking anyone’s health dictates as religion… including ours.)
- They emphasize your use of common sense, critical thinking, logic, and intuition (i.e., activating that squishy organ that lives between your ears) as critical to your health outcomes.
- They are open to change and modification as we figure out more things about our bodies and the universe.
As far as we’ve seen, this sets our “health philosophy” apart from just about everything else out there.
Chances are you’ve come across plenty of “health religion”. Almost everyone writing about health matters seems to think they’ve arrived at the end of knowing and have all the answers.
Instead, we’re advocating more of a “health mindset”. A way of looking at things, an approach to health matters, a method for not only figuring this health stuff out but also leaving yourself open to modification as you learn more.
If you think about it, this is the crucial difference between a religion and a science: one claims to have all the answers and to be standing at the end of knowing. The other is an attitude towards knowledge claims that says: we’ll go with the best explanation, so long as it’s supported by evidence, logic, and intuition, and even then, only until a better explanation comes along.
Which is to say: we’re never at the “end of knowing.”
OK, so here’s a few health beliefs to chew on. Keep an open mind, and see if they make sense to you…
1. When it comes to your health, YOU are the highest authority.
Not your doctor, not your favorite health guru, not government officials, not food manufacturers, not scientists. All these have been proven dead wrong over the years, to the detriment of millions who followed their advice right into their graves. Research is coming out constantly which contradicts long-held dogmas of the health establishment. Each of us must be our own health advocate.
This doesn’t mean ignore what they’re saying—just process it for yourself. Be your own last line of defense. Question it, do the research, and craft a diet and fitness regime which makes sense for you, given your life requirements and context. Don’t fall into the too-common trap of just buying whatever your favorite health authority is selling, and then spending the latter half of your life in doctor’s offices and hospitals trying to fix all the damage.
2. Don’t identify with a food identity group.
Researchers are constantly peeling back the layers, uncovering the mysteries of what’s in our food. Identifying with a food identity group (e.g., vegetarian, fruitarian, pescatarian, grapefruitarian, etc.) is effectively saying “I have all the answers and no new knowledge is relevant to me.” It’s closing yourself off to new truths and distinctions, and locking yourself into something that may or may not be working for you, but which you stick with anyway because you are emotionally invested. But why should membership in a group be more important than your personal pursuit of truth and health?
The point is not to be a “This” or a “That”—it’s to be a Healthy Human Being.
Plus, group membership makes nonsensical enemies out of those who might have the same health goals as you simply because they’re not members of your “team”. Instead, try identifying yourself as “nutritionally open-minded”. This way you leave yourself open to discovery, learning from others, experimentation, and changing things when they’re not working.
3. Disease and sickness as we age are not “normal”.
Nor is taking dozens of pills every day just to exist. There are many people who enjoy a high degree of health and activity well into their eighties and nineties. Our deadliest diseases (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, etc.) are not inevitable—they are diseases of lifestyle, and they’ve risen to epidemic levels only since we’ve adopted our modern way of life.
Much of what people think of as “aging” is what we think of as “OLD” (optional lifestyle damage.) (See what we did there?) This is a uniquely modern phenomenon. Many health practitioners are now seeing the value in “turning the clocks back” to times when people were healthier. Instead of just accepting it all as normal, get your nutrition and lifestyle under control, strive to get yourself off the meds, and to never see the inside of a doctor’s office again.
4. Foods are not inherently “good” or “bad” for you.
There are some things that we all benefit from, sure, but it’s all about dosage, context, and your body’s requirements. There is no cookie-cutter model of human health that says “this is perfect for everyone in all situations”. There are no absolutely “bad” foods in all contexts and there are no foods that are so “healthy” they can’t be overconsumed. (Even water can be overconsumed—it’s called “drowning”.)
All health problems originate as either an excess or a starvation. Many health problems originate from trying to force feed ourselves something we have been told is “healthy” but which our body does not require. The healthiness of the food being considered depends on the requirements of the eater. The whole point of eating is to get the body the right amount of what it needs to perform at its best, but not to exceed those requirements. Dosage is the missing concept in nearly all discussions about “good” and “bad” foods.
5. That said, there are some modern, invented “stand-ins” for food that are best avoided.
In a starvation situation everything is survival food–even a candy bar. However, most of us reading this are in a context of unlimited abundance and variety. Given the choice, there are certain things that the dosage should be zero or so close it doesn’t matter.
Taking our cues from nature, a healthy person strives to avoid the modern, the industrial, the sugared, the processed, the chemical, the modified. Try to find food as close to it’s natural source as possible. That means buying organic, pasture-raised, wild, buying from farmer’s markets, directly from the farm, or even growing your own food.
(While we’re on the subject, the platitude “everything in moderation” is a slow death sentence. That means consuming poison in moderation, which, if you think about it, is what nearly everyone actually does. In that case, almost everyone in our society is a paragon of health… which is an idea absurd enough to be laughable. What your health requires is consuming everything you need, in the right amounts, and avoiding overconsuming, or even consuming at all, the things your body doesn’t need.)
6. Healthiness means learning to cook.
It’s impossible to be truly healthy nowadays by grazing ready-made foods. There’s just too much toxicity built into the food manufacturing process, even in foods marketed to us as “healthy”.
Learning to cook is really just the logical corollary of being your own health authority— it means being an authority in the kitchen, too. It means taking control of the food preparation process. What’s the point of questioning everything and having all that nutrition knowledge if you just eat whatever is being sold anyway? Learning how to select your own ingredients from reliable sources and prepare meals in the kitchen is just part of a healthy life.
(Hint: you might start here, for example!)
7. Health is complex, but “healthiness” can be intuitive and simple.
There are endless research rabbit holes to go down when you’re studying human nutrition and fitness. (Phew, we’ve definitely found ourselves down a few.) Human health is a dense, incredibly complex subject, and science has barely scratched the surface…
However, “healthiness” need not be.
The healthiest people adopt an intuitive mindset about nutrition and fitness that fits with their lifestyle and goals. One can become a micro-engineer of one’s own body and measure every single calorie, every blip on the scale, every gram of macronutrient, every microgram of micronutrient, and still end up not as healthy as someone who has adopts a simple, easygoing relationship with food and fitness. (And, owing to the stress and effort, might end up even less healthy.)
Listen, it’s not like people only discovered how to be healthy since there was app for it. A hundred thousand generations of humans came before us, using nothing but intuition and good sense to figure out how to survive, reproduce, and even thrive—without any of our gadgetry or pharmaceuticals.
Do what feels intuitively right and listen to your body for clues when it’s working or not working. It really is that simple.
So what do you think of our “health philosophy”? Does these principles make sense to you? Do you see them clarifying some confusion for you when it comes to health? Or do you think we are out-of-our minds, psychotic, or just plain wrong?
Let us know in the comments!