Honesty, denial, and tough love.
We all deserve honesty, from our relationships, from our workplace, from our government, our doctors, and from ourselves. I could talk about this honesty and transparency for hours in terms of the processed food business and their deceptive labeling shenanigans (like how it is not always required to label MSG, and how when it is required, MSG conveniently has over 30 common names to choose from), but I will save that for another post. I want to talk about what it means to be honest with yourself when it comes to your health.
There are obviously genetic, socio-economic, and environmental aspects to all of our health which go beyond simple nutrition. But here's the thing. If you do not give your body the absolute best that you can in terms of diet and nutrition, you will never know how many of those recurrent issues you have come down to poor eating habits. I am willing to bet a lot of issues for a lot of people would disappear if they simply made the step to eliminate processed foods from their diet. When Dr Weston Price travelled the world to find the healthiest populations, he found that those who completely eschewed processed foods and embraced full fat, natural nutrition enjoyed the best health in terms of fertility, lifespan, resistance to disease, bone and dental structure, and mental development. Price found that when these healthy populations abandoned their traditional diet for the convenience of modern food, their health quickly deteriorated and they found themselves plagued with many diseases that we are all too familiar with, such as dental deformity (overcrowding and undercrowding), dental cavities, bone deformities (such as 'x' or 'o' legs), infertility, difficult childbirth, lowered immunity, and increased incidence of life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. Dr Natasha McBride has also done some amazing research into what she terms "Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome", which links what we eat and the subsequent state of our gut flora from a very young age through to adulthood to a wide host of auto-immune, physically degenerative, and many so called "mental" problems. (Resources listed at the end of the post).
The way I see it, if you find yourself complaining of various recurring "undiagnosible" illnesses, aches, pains, and allergies as often as you find yourself raving about that delicious fast-food or packaged, processed garbage you just ate, then it may be time for some tough love.
Take a look at what you actually eat every day for a week, and be brutally honest. How much of it was homemade? How much of it can you be certain of the origin (the farm or at least region it came from)? How much of it was likely genetically modified by insertion of a gene from carcinogenic pesticide "Round-Up" (like most commercial wheat, corn, and soy)? How much of it was factory-farmed meat, eggs, or dairy with not only a questionable ethical origin but an abysmal nutritional profile? How much of it came from a packet or a can? How much of it contained the known neurotoxins of MSG and aspartame?
The point of doing this isn't to make everyone feel terrible about themselves and their choices, but just to honestly assess the situation before looking at a current poor health profile and saying "but I've tried everything". Saying that when you have not truly looked at your diet is severe denial, and completely self-defeating. Would you tolerate your partner, sister, or boss constantly lying to you? There is no reason to tolerate this behaviour from yourself either.
Once we honestly can see where our weaknesses lie (maybe we skip breakfast, get takeaway for lunch, but we make a nutritiously dense dinner most nights), we can realistically see what needs changing, and take small steps towards doing that. I say small steps, because overwhelming yourself in the beginning is a sure fire way to become despondent, exhausted, stressed, and ultimately give up. For the situation I just mentioned, two simple changes to start straight away could be preparing double the amount for dinner, so that you always have a nutritious lunch to take to work, and get up 20 minutes earlier than usual and make time for a decent breakfast. If you immediately go into your pantry and get rid of anything and everything from a package, stop drinking caffeine, eating sugar, using vegetable oils, and smoking all in the same few days, chances of burn-out are high. I think another merit to the "softly, softly" approach is that it gives you time to educate yourself on why you are doing this. The more you learn about traditional nutritional wisdom and also the many diseases that we can lay at the doorstep of modern food processing techniques, the stronger your resolve will be and the more likely it is that you will never, ever look back.
About two years ago, I was diagnosed with poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) with likely infertility, an underactive thyroid, adrenal fatigue, insulin resistance, and later with oestrogen dominance (I will do an in-depth post about this and how I banished it one day - yes, I am completely rid of this cocktail of so-called uncurable imbalances). I was told that these conditions were life-long, with no known cure and that the only option was symptom management through a range of pharmaceuticals with many known and harmful side effects. I did change my habits quickly, because I was extremely motivated by the possibility of being permanently unwell and not being able to have children, but even so I still did not change every single thing overnight. I am still changing things, and obviously still learning more which will never stop.
Being honest with yourself about your current situation, habits, and issues is the first step towards correcting them. It is called tough love because it still is an act of love, and that's how the process should start. With love and with patience, not with excuses and denial.
Two simple changes to make today:
1) Remove anything with the label "low-fat" from your diet, and replace with the most natural version of that product possible. For example, replace low-fat strawberry yoghurt with a full-fat, organic, unsweetened yoghurt and then add real strawberries and dark maple syrup or raw honey yourself. If you are still afraid of fat and feel that low-fat eating is a safer option, then I recommend you to read the work of Sally Fallon, Dr Weston A Price, Dr Mary Enig, Dr Natasha Campbell McBride, or the many other pioneers in this field. If you would like more resources, please just ask me in the comments section and I will happily provide.
2) Buy and begin soaking some dried legumes. Legumes are nutritionally dense, extremely affordable when purchased dried, and also wonderfully digestible when soaked and prepared in the traditional way. You can easily make a big batch of hummus from soaked and cooked chic-peas, tahini, olive oil, lemon, garlic and salt and then take that to work each day as a healthy snack with some carrots and even a good quality cheese if you tolerate dairy. Legumes from cans are not soaked prior to cooking, and therefore have high levels of phytic acid (which is released with prolonged soaking), which aside from causing gas and indigestion, also inhibits vitamin and mineral absorption in the gut. Foods high in phytic acid are wasteful to include in a nutrient-rich diet, as the phytic acid will literally grab hold of those nutrients and transport them out of your body undigested, rather than allowing them to be absorbed by the gut. Canned goods are also questionable in nutrient value due to the high-heat processing which obliterates many nutrients while denaturing others. Also, most cans are lined with the known endocrine-disrupter, BPA. BPA has been implicated in a wide range of hormonal disorders, which predispose us to infertility, cancer, and poor health in general.
For anyone interested in reading more about the effects of processed foods on health, the traditional nutritional habits of healthy people, and how to prepare delicious and nutrient dense food on a budget, I recommend:
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Weston A Price
Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon
Gut and Psychology Syndrome, by Dr Natasha Campbell McBride
There are many other great resources out there, so don't limit yourself. The above literature was particularly relevant and helpful to me personally as I was definitely stuck believing the prevalent "low-fat" nonsense before I was exposed to this information, and truly believed my habits to be that of a healthy eater (note to self - healthy eaters do not suddenly develop predominantly nutritional and lifestyle diseases like PCOS and insulin resistance). These books, along with my own studies in Naturopathy and Nutritional Medicine, and of course the guidance of my own Naturopath and Nutritionist, helped me immensely. I hope they, and many others, help you too.