If we accept the notion that our bodies might ultimately be repaired like cars, with parts replaced or even augmented as needed, perhaps with more modern, efficient counterparts in an unknown and indefinite future, then it makes sense to run and maintain them optimally now. At issue for most of us are the fully-loaded costs of doing that -- time, mental and physical energy, money. In this installment, I would like to survey the territory of the fuel that we give our physical bodies every day -- our diets. In my experience, getting this right is the cornerstone that must be laid before we begin to worry about supplementation, repair, medicine, and even physical exercise. I cannot profess to be nearly as serious a student of diet as my wife Dana (who I hope to one day wrangle into writing guest posts here), but I can at least summarize the key aspects of feeding our internal combustion engines properly, mostly by referencing the folks who I trust to tell the story plain and simple. You see, it’s really not all that complicated. Yet I don’t know of anyone besides Dana who gets, and keeps, it right all that often.
Back in the 90s, when the world wide web was just getting started, one of the rules of investing that I remember from an early version of The Motley Fool
was to use any excess funds to get rid of bad debt, like credit cards, before even thinking about investing in stocks or bonds. Analogous rule for your body: stop eating crap. That generally means fast food, fried stuff, artificial stuff, processed stuff, non-organic stuff, most everything not on the fresh-food edges of the grocery store. If you need advice on how to do this, please review this short instructional video
Michael Pollan has written well and often about what we eat. His “Omnivore’s Dilemma
” was a comprehensive look at the atrocities perpetrated by this country’s agribusiness conglomerates. But for a short primer that instantiates his delightful 7-word summary of what to eat -- “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” check out his book “Food Rules
Implicit in Mr. Pollan’s writing is the recognition that our bodies require a certain type of fuel that hasn’t changed much, if any, since we evolved back in the Paleolithic days. Our bodies were optimized to survive, indeed, to thrive, on what we could hunt and gather. We ate lean meat and whatever plant parts we could gather that didn’t kill us. We moved around a lot. Agriculture and its evolution into our present-day corn-based processed food culture didn’t happen for eons afterwards, and many scientists believe that our bodies, while tolerating grains and the glutens therein, are not optimized for them. You might refer to “The Paleo Diet
” by Loren Cordain for the nitty-gritty on this line of thinking. In my and Dana’s experience, we simply feel better when we eat gluten-free. Allergies calm down, energy levels climb, skin improves, mental acuity sharpens.
To a scientist, observed facts trump beliefs every time. Happily, our bodies provide a remarkable feedback loop that enables us to test out dietary ideas like this in no time. You can test the efficacy of this sort of dietary change by simply cutting out everything white in your meals for a couple of weeks. No bread, no sugar, no pasta, no potatoes or fries or chips, no sweetened colored water, nothing that a caveman couldn’t have hunted or gathered to eat, raw as often as possible. Read the books and/or website to get the details, but try eating just meats and colorful vegetables for awhile and see how you feel. If you feel better, keep doing it; if it doesn’t make any difference, quit.
Yes, you can go much further into the notion of optimizing food as fuel. Raw diets are popular and remarkable in their healing potential. True story that just happened last month: a considerably younger executive friend was diagnosed with diabetes. We suggested that he watch the video “Simply Raw
” that’s subtitled “Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days.” He did, tried it, and reported that his blood sugar had reverted substantially to normal, he lost about 20 pounds, and he was pronounced diabetes-free by his doctor a couple of months later. Your mileage may vary, of course, but the latest trends project that more than half of the US population will be diabetic or pre-diabetic by 2020
. It makes sense to do what you can now.
And you can do much better, even when pressed for time and/or money. Dana and I enjoy watching Jamie Oliver
, who is not only a brilliant UK showman but also a dead-serious believer that good food matters. On one of his shows (I don’t have the specific link), he called a pizza delivery service and ordered one, then set about making a pizza completely from scratch (including the dough) before a studio audience. He finished before the pizza delivery man arrived. His was better, cheaper, faster. Dana and I have discovered that it’s all that, plus vastly more satisfying, to make something at home from the week’s farmer’s market run than it ever is to run out for dinner.
One last thing: growing up, I was known as Robert “Cherry Pie” Wesson. My sweet tooth was legendary. So, like any addict, my own course with sweets is not one of moderation but of abstinence. It is an ongoing battle, but I bear witness to two oft-stated facts about controlling those late night ice cream cravings: 1) after about two weeks of no sugar in your diet, the cravings do indeed fade away; and 2) if I mindfully acknowledge the full and true effect that that chocolate chip cookie in front of me will have on my aging cells vs. the remembered momentary pleasure from their melting in my mouth, I usually vote against them. When sugar ruled my diet, I missed out on the subtleties of well-prepared veggies and greens. My youth was spent thinking “greens” meant that wilting leaf of iceberg lettuce on my hamburger, whereas now I can wax poetic about how the peppery nip of arugula compares to New Zealand spinach. That’s one of the pleasures of quantum aging -- discerning and enjoying minute subtleties that you never even knew existed in your younger days.