January 2, 2015

A New Year and a New You!! Because the old You obviously sucked?

Happy New Year!! Peace on Earth! Goodwill to...

Who are we kidding here? It is time for the annual beginning of the new year push to make you feel bad about yourself in a bid to sell you lots of stuff that will supposedly make you an acceptable and attractive human being.
Weight loss will probably occur, but will be mostly localized to wherever you keep you wallet.

Which means it is time for the annual Grumpy Nurse Rant on Fad Diets and Really Shitty Science!!

Those who either voluntarily or by the misfortune of proximity have been in range of some of my previous cogitations on whatever is up my nose that moment might have noticed a tendency on my part to view things from an evolutionary perspective.

This would seem to indicate that I would be really excited by things like a Paleo diet, right?


The evolutionary perspective is useful because we are looking at something that makes NO DAMN SENSE in the modern world. It seems really bizarre that we as humans would do this thing that is so obviously counterproductive, suicidal or just plain stupid. So we take a look at the Really Olden Times when our current brains were making all those pathways and try to figure out why the heck we would even do that!


We note that humans have universal behaviours like identifying, labeling and categorizing things in their environment; determining "otherness" and gathering in groups that share cultural similarities; making war; making correlations... and blogging about them.
But this is not in any way intended to justify these behaviours or claim that they are somehow a "natural" or "pure" state for humanity. This is a way of trying to figure out why we continue to do something that so obviously does not work in a modern context. And the short answer is often that it DID work in the context that existed when the brain was developing and bad answers were being weeded out by large predators and poor reproductive odds. And that environment and context lasted a really long time. 
Which is a lead in to say that while it has been very popular for a long time to romanticize pastoralism, the "nasty, brutish and short" description is really more accurate. And honestly, in the age before modern dentistry and blenders who would really want to outlive their teeth?
The best current knowledge we have puts Homo Sapiens in Africa about 200,000 years ago. For the next 175,000 years they spread out and outcompeted or interbred with other populations as they moved into new territories. What we know of them is from bones, art and tools. The first evidence that exists of our predecessors gathering into a permanent settlement was a mere  25,000 years ago. Which means that all the ways that the human brain and body had changed to optimize their environment was in a vastly different setting than the one that exists today. Of course the biggest advantage we had was developing the ability to change our environment to make it more hospitable for us.
Before the tragic invention of pants.
We are omnivores, which means we can live, survive and even thrive in a vast variety of environments - we have spread across the globe and have successfully settled from arid deserts to saturated rainforests and to arctic permafrost. We are very good at extracting nutrition from a lot of different foods, and do best with a variety.
But again, how we evolved does not inform how modern humans need to live, eat or move from place to place.
Because ultimately the evolutionary perspective only cares if you live long enough to reproduce. And most of us would like to last a bit longer than that - which is what the modern world has brought us.
Clean water (and trust me, what comes from our taps is clean compared to a huge chunk of the rest of the world), sanitation, adequate calories, medical and dental care - all this stuff means we can live to be far, far older and healthier than our Paleo/Meso/Neolithic predecessors.
The other way the evolutionary perspective does help is in solving the real problems that modern living has created, like caloric excess. Understanding that our bodies are built to enable us to survive wildly varying access to calories and to maximize efficiency in using and storing those calories to allow us to live (again, long enough to reproduce) helps us to come up with solutions to the current issues of overabundance of calories with little energy output required to obtain them.

So ultimately, what does that mean in terms of the annual January Cavalcade of Fad Diets? It means that if you are young and otherwise healthy, whatever dumbass crockery you choose to spend your time and money on will probably not result in your death before you have passed your reproductive age. Probably. The body is pretty resilient.
If you have health issues, are seeing that reproductive milestone in the rearview mirror, or are actually more concerned about your overall health than "dat gap" - think hard and talk to your doctor or cardiologist before you write a check to the guy selling a book that tells you to live on baconfat and cheese, put coconut oil in your coffee, or eliminate all nutrition from your diet besides whatever they are currently selling.

Yep, sexy!
Not-gap of scary awesome.
And finally - thigh gap. Really? What creates thigh gap is atrophy of the thigh muscles and is a hallmark of end-stage starvation. Not only is it ugly and stupid, there is a horrifying amount of privilege and elitism inherent in glorifying and voluntarily subjecting your body to something that people elsewhere literally die to prevent their children from suffering. But that is a whole other rant.

And if you are really interested in being healthier?
YOLO dude.
  • Eat a variety of foods, and don't consume more calories than you burn. 
  • Exercise and stretch to keep your body systems humming and flexible.
  • Cultivate a love affair with your body and mind. Tell them how wonderful and beautiful they are and show them off with pride.
  • Laugh a lot. It is good for you, and makes you much nicer to be around.
  • Enjoy yourself, and eliminate the idea that there is "good" and "bad" food, or sex, or people. It all just IS, and should be enjoyed in moderation and with good sense (and possibly a safe word).
  • Remember that no matter how healthy you eat, how much you exercise, how long you meditate or how many books you read - life happens. Death happens. Lots of shit happens in between. You might as well have fun!

1 comment:

Rhianon Jameson said...

What a great (and timely!) post. Fad diets always struck me as odd. I'm certainly not well-versed in anything medical, but it always seemed to me that if, say, eating no carbohydrates was a sure-fire weight-loss scheme that left one glowingly healthy, someone might have noticed this before.

One of the proponents of the Paleo diet claimed he used to get colds all the time before he started, and hadn't had a cold in years after he started. I put this in the same category as claims of Wall Street fund managers telling you about their winning streak: some fraction of people are doing to do well in the market, or in avoiding colds, just by chance. Sure enough, he had a couple of kids and presto! colds on a regular basis.

Just don't tell me that bourbon is bad for me...