So What The @#$% Is “Healthy Eating,” Anyway?

meowser-48.jpg posted by meowser

My XH has a rare genetic disease, one that caused him to overstore iron in his body until it damaged his liver and pancreas to the point where he contracted both diabetes and cirrhosis by his early 30s. During the course of his initial treatment, he was also given a diet sheet. Guess what was the number one thing was on the list that they told him was a must to avoid? Leafy green vegetables. Yes, that’s right. He has to stay away from spinach and all forms of lettuce like they’re poison ivy. Poor guy.

Similarly, my adventures in processing medical dictation have told me that it’s very, very common for people older than 70 to be on a drug known as warfarin (trade name Coumadin). This is a powerful blood thinner often prescribed to patients with a history of circulatory disorders (particularly heart attacks and strokes, but also precursors like transient ischemic attacks and angina). They, too, are given a diet sheet along with the drug that instructs them to avoid leafy greens, which thicken the blood.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are pounded day and night, night and day, to cram our gullets full of leafy greens like we’re stuffing a pillowcase with batting, whether we want to or not. I am skeptical. If we’re going to have to run screaming in the opposite direction from greens once we hit our 70s, why not get some practice in now?

I kid, of course. I like spinach and leafy greens here and there. But I’m not going to force myself to eat more of them than I actually want to. What’s the point?

Like I said yesterday, there really is no magic formula for eating HAES-style, there is only what makes YOU feel and function YOUR best, and it can take some trial and error (and in some cases, working with a support group or a good therapist) to find it. I’ve seen people ask things like, “Well, a lot of the time I want three pieces of pie, are you going to tell me that’s actually good for me?”

Well, you know, there’s really no standard answer for that. I’d answer that question with another question: “How do you feel after eating three pieces of pie? I mean, putting aside all the ZOMGLOOKATALLTHESECALORIESCARBSANDFATIAMSUCHAPIG guiltbaggery, how do you feel right afterwards, and how do you feel an hour or two or later the same day? Relaxed and happy? Ready to take on the world? Pleasantly full? Completely comatose and unable to honor your commitments? Sick to your stomach? Like the most brilliant and capable human being who ever lived?” None of those answers are any “better” or “righter” than any others. But one of them (or maybe one I haven’t thought of here) is YOUR truth.

I don’t know about you, but I find that for me, there’s a world of difference between eating a big meal or a big dessert when I’m doing the restrained eating thing and when I’m not. If I’m not, a huge amount of food will make me want to eat less later on, just because I’m really really full and don’t want any (or much) more. If I am in fact dieting, which I haven’t in a very long time, “indulging” will open the floodgates for more and more and more and I’m likely to eat myself sick. My theory is that a lot of what makes people want to binge is the very idea that it’s bad and they’re not supposed to. If you can break that connection and come to consider all eating to be a morally neutral act, that’s a major milestone.

And I’ll go out on a limb here and posit that typically, if a certain food or a certain combination of foods or a certain amount of food makes us feel kinda garbagey, we tend not to indulge in exactly the same way again, at least until our lizard brains manage to commit that association to memory (hey, sometimes it takes a few tries before you realize that eating mushroom and cheddar omelets and washing them down with soy chai will make you fart noxiously all day). I’m not telling you that if you’re diabetic or have celiac disease that you should eat three pieces of pie. You know better than to intentionally do something that’s going to send you to the hospital, right? But if there’s no medical reason to avoid a certain food, or not to eat your fill (and no, simply being fat is not a medical reason), why not look at yourself as a great science experiment and find out (or simply acknowledge) what you really crave, what your Hi-Test fuel really is? The answer might surprise you.

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11 Responses to “So What The @#$% Is “Healthy Eating,” Anyway?”

  1. Patsy Nevins Says:

    Very good post, Meowser. I admit that I speak from the viewpoint of someone who has never had an actual eating disorder or dieted in many years, though, as friends pointed out to me, I have at times bordered on exercise bulimia, increasing my activity to an unreasonable, painful, & for my body, damaging, point in an attempt to burn every calorie I consumed, so, no, I didn’t escape the messages about ‘bad’ eating & ‘bad’ bodies either. I am doing pretty well these days, eating whatever I want, as much or little as I want, & I find that I seldom want a LOT of any one food & am actually LESS hungry when the house is full of food than when the cupboard is bare (which I guess makes sense.) I love chocolate, but if I keep it in the house at all times, I eat a little here, a little there, but I don’t eat two pounds in one day. And if I DID?!! That doesn’t make me a terrible person.

    I have also realized this winter (it has been a LONG, icy winter in Maine & because of my disability, there have been too many days when my activity has been climbing the stairs…note to self: 15 flights of stairs in one day damages my knees & causes intense pain…, walking a lot from room to room, & doing chores. {Spending hours many days chasing & wrestling with a toddler helps too}) that the old ‘winter weight gain’ thing ain’t necessarily so if you are not dieting & fighting your body. After this long, cold winter with fewer than usual outdoor walks & winter comfort foods, my Rightfit jeans still fit as well as they did in September. Of course, I am also not one to worry about getting ready for bikini season in the Spring..but, if I do wear one, it will be while I am in this body.

    I would also like to mention how much I flinch every time someone uses the term ‘junk food’ because I do not believe that ANY food is junk or devoid of nutrients. Actually, I think iceberg lettuce may be the closest thing I know of to useless food, air & water, but I have thought of that when I was eating something classified as ‘junk’ & reading the nutritional information…such as the rich chocolate cake, 1/12 of which provided 4 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, considerable iron, some various vitamins, & 200 mgs. of calcium. I often buy Danish pastries which, depending on the variety, have between 250 & 350 mgs of calcium, a lot of iron, Vitamin A, protein, & some fiber, too. However, since they are sweet & taste good, I am supposed to consider them ‘bad’ food.

    These posts are excellent & I hope that they do remind us that we own our bodies, that no food is ‘bad’, & that how we live & what we eat is no one’s damn business but our own. Unless you have a violent allergy or food is spoiled or contaminated in some way (or, as in the case of dark greens & blood thinners, there is a specific reason why foods are not for you), food is not going to hurt you. It isn’t a drug, it isn’t a bullet, it is food, & it nurtures our bodies.

  2. lillian64 Says:

    Moderation as our grandmothers said.

  3. Nan Says:

    I, too, have a genetic condition that causes my body to overproduce red blood cells. I do not, fortunately, have the extreme version that leads to really rapid excess iron build-up. It’s not as uncommon as you might think, particularly among persons with Finnish ancestry. One source I read claimed something like 25% of all Finns have “thick” blood. Finns also have high rates of diabetes and heart disease. It’s a mutation that no doubt helped young people to survive long, cold winters back in the days when iron rich vegetables (and they’re not just the green leafy ones like spinach and broccoli; beets are on the list, too) would be few and far between for most of the year, but the evolutionary trade-off was the folks with thick blood have health problems in old age.

  4. Angie Says:

    See, I’m the exact opposite. I’m iron-deficiency anemic, and need around 40mg (over double the RDA) of iron to get through life. My pediatrician (I was diagnosed when I was 17) told me that I couldn’t go vegetarian or vegan, because the amount of green leafy vegetables and broccoli would leave me at risk for malnutrition, and that beef has more bio available iron. So, I always have enough energy to get through the day if I have beef (I’m Catholic, so Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent, when I am not allowed to eat meat, feel like weeks unless I eat fish or shellfish at every meal). However, it also means that “unhealthy” foods like steak (even the HUGE steaks with over a pound of meat on the plate) or hamburgers are good for me and help me take in the nutrients I need, without resorting to supplements (although I do take a multivitamin, just in case). Also, whole milk is supposed to be unhealthy, but skim milk and 1% and 2% milk good. But I’m lactose intolerant. So, whole milk is easier for me to digest, and helps me get my calcium. Bananas are health food- rich in fiber, “good carbs” and potassium, red cherries are chock-full of antioxidants, kiwi fruits are a great source of vitamins A, C, and D, as well as fiber. But I have an anaphylactic reaction to bananas, red cherries, or kiwi fruits.

    In conclusion, healthy food is the food that provides you with the nourishment (calories, fats, proteins, carbs, vitamins, and minerals) you need, as well as not making you sick (simple sugars for insulin-resistant individuals, iron for those with thick blood, food that you’re allergic to).

  5. jenjen Says:

    Well said!

    I think you explain (very well) the “intuition” portion of getting to know our bodies again. Instead of seeing them as this separate thing that deserves to be hated for being different and strange and not covered by discrimination laws (so there has to be something wrong, everyone says so…)

    My favorite part of your post is that you don’t actually say that you have to eat healthier or more or less. Just getting in tune with how *my* body feels when I do _______. Where _______ equals walking, taking a long drive with a CD on, writing, smiling, laughing, watching Fox News, eating broccoli.

    I think as a community, fat people are more out of touch with their bodies because they see them as a science experiment too much of the time.

    But that’s just my opinion. It feels pretty good, though *grin*

  6. Piffle Says:

    I was also going to comment that hemachromatosis is actually one of the more common genetic diseases. I find it amusing that the treatment is bloodletting. My FIL has it, and my husband is a carrier. It’s quite prevalent amoung those of European descent. Fortunately, if caught early, the treatment is inexpensive and effective. Annoyingly, the blood (at least at our local banks) can’t be used to help anyone, they have to throw it away. If they matched it properly, my guess is that it’d be good for people with anemia who need transfusions.

    Sorry, it’s a pet peeve. There’s so much need for blood, I get a bit wrought up.

    I also agree that metabolism varies a lot between people, so that some people run better on fats, others on carbs, and still others on protein. It’s one reason I think all the various low-whatevers have their adherents–for some group of people it’s going to make them feel better. I think that’s one reason the crazes take effect, people have been so used to thinking there’s one perfect way to eat; then they try something new and it works better for them.

  7. Risha Says:

    @Piffle – I was surprised when you said that they threw away the blood – an uncle of mine was recently diagnosed with hemachromatosis, and they sites I had looked at before going to get screened said that you could donate now. I just found this on the FDA website; it looks like your local blood bank just needs to apply for a varience. Maybe you can talk to them about doing so if your FIL plans to keep going to the same one.

  8. caseyatthebat Says:

    I love, LOVE the idea of looking at myself as a great science experiment – so many fun things to do and try! Oh, and I’m pretty sure my Hi-Test fuel is caprese salad with extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, and cracked pepper… mmmmm, fresh mozzarella…

    Wow, I might have to take a minute.

    Ok, I’m back. Anywhos, letting go of the judgment associated with eating has completely changed my level of happiness and my own sense of well-being. It’s allowed me to neutrally view how certain foods affect me, and I naturally add or avoid those as I see fit – for example, the omelet and soy chai thing. And that feels great. 😀

  9. Marste Says:

    Thanks, Meowser. That helps clarify a lot of things for me.

    It especially reminds me that even when I think I’m not being judgemental, I probably am. LOL. Like I commented on the last post, I keep thinking, “But what if you’re eating to sedate yourself? What if you’re just stuffing your emotions with food? That can’t be Intuitive Eating!” But you know, when I have done that to myself it’s been because I was flat-out not mentally or emotionally capable of dealing with whatever was going on in my life at the time. So even then, I guess it’s a form of IE: it might not be physically “healthy” but it’s protecting me from having a complete and total breakdown. It becomes the lesser of two evils that way, I guess. (As would drinking in that situation, which is what I compared it to yesterday.)

    (Note to self: remember that you can’t tell what someone is capable of dealing with – or what they are or are not dealing with – by looking at their eating habits. Knock that sh*t off.)

  10. Twistie Says:

    Precisely! In fact, this is why I almost never eat apples. They have the unfortunate side-effect on me of…well…let’s just say it gets fairly musical in a neophyte on the tuba sort of way and unfortunate-smelling when I eat them, and move on. Pity. I love how apples taste. It’s just that even I don’t want to be in the same room with me afterwards.

    I think if someone told me I could never eat leafy greens again, though, I might briefly consider death preferable. I was the kid who always requested spinach for my birthday dinner. In the end, though, even I would adapt because there would still be plenty of variety left on my table. That’s one of the advantages of always having been a fairly adventurous eater: if one thing doesn’t do it for me or isn’t available, I’m usually able to find something else pretty easily.

    Chocolate cake, OTOH, has never had an unfortunate effect on me, and it makes me feel good to both make and eat it now and again. As long as it actually makes me feel good, and as long as I don’t have a medical condition that makes either chocolate or cake actively dangerous for me to eat, why the hell wouldn’t I?

    If I can feed my body and my soul (for lack of a better word) at the same time, why wouldn’t I? Sometimes that means chocolate cake, sometimes that means spinach, sometimes that means a hamburger, and sometimes that means a handful of roasted nuts. If it fuels my body and makes me smile, then it’s good and I’ll eat it. That’s why it’s called Intuitive Eating and not Eating To Rule.

  11. lynnie Says:

    My husband takes warfarin (he started getting blood clots the year he turned 40. The doctors have no idea why) and he was told (and this seems to be the general advice out there) that he could eat vitamin K veggies (dark leafy greens) as long as he ate the same amount every day. That way his medication could be adjusted to suit his diet. In his case, he was never a big fan of those sorts of veggies, so he just avoids them.

    As a migraine sufferer, I’ve feel like I’ve been experimenting with diet and my body for years. MSG gives me migraines, and it’s in everything. For some reason, low fat dairy makes me sick (maybe because most low fat dairy used some sort of preservative). I didn’t mind switching to full fat. But I’ve recently realized dried fruits, citrus fruits, strawberries and bananas bother my head too. It was hard for me to believe. I mean, fruit is supposed to be an absolute good. High in fiber! Low in fat! Full of vitamins! But I kept eating them and getting headaches until I finally had to admit to myself that most fruits are bad for me.


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