04 March 2010

On Dieting and Why Modern Medicine Can Suck It

When people say they “don’t put any chemicals in their bodies” several questions arise:
  1. What do you think your body is made of? (Hint: Organic Chemicals)
  2. What do you eat? Even vegan-non-fat-low-soy-free-range-high-fiber celery requires the fundamentals of organic chemistry to be in existence.
  3. What do you breath? Last time I checked Oxygen was, in fact, a chemical.
I am going to assume people mean “no synthetic chemicals,” but then again…

The point here is that diets are total bunk. I don’t just say this as a fat girl (though I am a chunky gal), but as someone who understands the harsh reality of diets having tried oh so many of them. The idea that dieting, and thusly losing weight, is the fundamental key to good health is based on several flawed “facts” that include:
  • One’s BMI is a primary indicator of health.
  • Our general misunderstanding of the difference between correlation and causation, two very different concept when it comes to health and wellness.
  • The idea that diets even work.
  • The premise that the Food Guide Pyramid as outlined by the FDA is actually the healthiest way to eat.

Everyone, regardless of weight, needs to read FatSo by Marylin Wann so as to understand that the number on the scale is not the only indicator of health. While it is a “pro-fat” book, it takes this position by backing up the sentiment with some…gasp… actual research. Long story short Wann does an amazing job of explaining how, if all your other health indicators indicate you are fine, then you are probably fine. For example: I am technically 40lbs overweight (morbidly obese) however, my blood pressure is perfect, my cholesterol is low, and I have no long-term health conditions that need to be managed, certainly none that stem from my obesity. Therefore, other than the fact that I lead a sedentary lifestyle (a problem I am aiming to solve) am I really unhealthy just because of my weight? No, I am not.

This leads us to the delicate difference between correlation and causation. This is a huge pet peeve of mine since this confusion is pretty much the basis of how all epidemiological research gets distorted into bizarre medical doctrine. To put it simply: Correlation means two things often happen in pairs, while causation means one thing makes the other thing happen . For example: Candles are correlated with houses burning down, while dousing your house with gasoline and lighting the curtains with a Zippo cases house fires. The line between the two can be blurry, but it is there. Blatantly abusing the difference is also how people decide that vaccines cause autism and that antiperspirants cause breast cancer, but perhaps those are tirades for another day.

As it applies to the “obesity epidemic” the difference between correlation and causation is subtle, but worth noting. Having a high BMI is correlated with higher incidence of some negative health outcomes. Eating poorly and not exercising can cause a high BMI and definitely causes an increase in these same poor health outcomes. Perhaps you see how all this doesn’t quite add up…that’s right a high number on the scale doesn’t inherently mean you are in poor health, assuming you do eat relatively well and get off your ass every now and then. This is not to imply that as Americans we are not fat, lazy, fried-food lovers, because we certainly are, however, next time your doctor is on your ass about your ass, take a look at all your health data and draw your own conclusions. This is also not meant to imply that all doctors are ignorant fear mongers whose sole aim it is to ensure you only eat celery and work out 12 hours a day. It just means that often well-meaning doctors get caught up in the “if X then Y” pedagogy of western medicine.

Next, Wann explains that diets don’t work. They have something ridiculous like an 80% failure rate. As medical interventions go, that pretty much sucks. Eating healthy works, and most diets just encourage you to eat healthy things (we will discuss that in a second), but diets as a concept just plain fail. This leads quite nicely into the idea that a “good diet” as we know it, may not be that great a diet after all.

I once alluded to the fact that the current FDA Approved Food Guide Pyramid is a crock of crap. To understand why, you all should read What To Eat by Marion Nestle. In summary she was tasked with designing a food guide for the FDA so, she polled all the available research and came up with a model. Without getting into the gory details, the pyramid she designed, with fruits and vegetables as the base, was rejected based on budgetary concerns. Whatever guide the FDA releases, supporting that diet is the model used to run sustenance programs like WIC and Food Stamps. Needless to say grains are cheaper than produce…so there you have it. Read the book for all the details and how one should actually structure their eating.

And to come back to how diets don’t work since they are all based on a flawed dietary outline, I present the Mayo Clinic Diet. It’s revolutionary. It is Doctor approved! It is….basically what Nestle was saying years ago only now it will cost you $25.95 (+ $9.99 for the journal). Sweet deal…for the Mayo Clinic.

So that pretty much concludes my diatribe about why modern medicine can shove it if they think I am going to waste any more time dieting. Given all this knowledge, I plan to make the following changes:
  • Eat better food by keeping up my quest to make as much of what we eat from scratch as possible.
  • Get active. I will run that 5K by the end of the year and I will reach that goal by hitting the gym, and the pavement. This will make a huge difference in how I feel and maybe, just as a bonus, change how I look.
  • And lastly
  • I will not care about the number on the scale, I will just care about my health indicators and leading an active lifestyle so as to set a good example for my kids. A Mommy with a healthy body image who can keep up at t-ball is a good Mommy.