Are “eating healthy” and “obsessed” synonymous? Part 2 of 3

Regarding faux diagnoses: I’m always frustrated when someone wants to create a pathology out of something healthy, as with this “orthorexia” thing that a number of readers wrote us about.

Fact is, before we had artificially-colored Cheez Whiz and a few generations of exposure to it, that kind of “food” would have been shunned. If you’d squirted a blob of it on a plate and put the can next to it, folks in 1875 would have skirted it, poked at it, maybe sniffed it…..but wouldn’t they have been terrified to actually eat it? They certainly would have never seen that color before. Imagine being at an 1875 farmhouse and explaining the ingredients of Cheez Whiz to the inhabitants.

If your senses weren’t dulled and changed by ubiquitous processed foods, wouldn’t Cheez Whiz seems like a really terrible, crazy idea? Yet now we are 180 degrees from there, where you have an eating disorder if you WON’T eat the Cheez Whiz.

So if we go back to eating the way people did for thousands of years–before cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases became common–now we are mentally ill.

I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn I reject coining the word “orthorexia.”

But. The way folks have made a healthy idea pathological is through “guilt by association.” Fact is, a lot of people who are really healthy eaters are ….. no offense if this hits close to home for anyone …… kinda neurotic people in general. In fact, their healthy eating comes from being a rather paranoid, fear-based person.

So, because some people who eat all-raw are, um, kinda “weird,” by mainstream America’s standards ….. then eating high-raw, by association, is weird. So goes the logic. And bam, we’ve got ourselves a new diagnostic label to toss around the internet.

Okay, so this is a tricky subject. I’m not naming any names. But just by nature of the subject matter on this site, I get TONS of email from people who sound like they’re losing a lot of sleep, over food. Lots of regular people read this blog, but some folks struggle with excesses of uptightness. They worry about all kinds of details, trying to find the “right” diet.

An older reader recently mentioned on this blog that her new learning curve about health and nutrition has resulted in family members calling her “obsessed.”

I replied that I think that’s what it looks like, when your eyes first open. It’s pretty natural to upset the equilibriums in your life initially, when you learn truths that you may have known nothing about for 50 years. You’re shocked, you’re excited, you feel like the scales have fallen from your eyes and everyone else around you is still in the dark!

You overachievers don’t do things in a small way. So suddenly you are voraciously reading everything you can get your hands on. You read all 12 steps in my course and try to do it all overnight. You listen to the audio files from 12 Steps in your car (for the 4th time) and feel resentful when a family member makes a snide comment. You carry your high-lighted, battered manual in your purse for when you get a spare 10 minutes to plan your groceries. You find yourself having a conversation with a stranger in the grocery store line about The China Study.

Sound familiar? (If so, it’s because I’m not making this stuff up. I’m taking it as examples from things y’all have told me, at classes or in emails.) More tomorrow about how “weird” I was when I started on this journey and what a healthier place looks like, once all the pieces settle into awesome habits.

Are “eating healthy” and “obsessed” synonymous?” [part 1 of 3]

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl (from Linda):

“I just received an e-mail earlier today from a friend who considers herself a very healthy eater (she’s a nurse) with a link to the following article “New Eating Disorders: Are They For Real?” about newly discovered or classified eating disorder, Orthorexia.

“It says: ‘Orthorexia is Latin for ‘correct eating.’’ Here, too, the focus isn’t on losing weight. Instead, sufferers increasingly restrict their diets to foods they consider pure, natural and healthful. Some researchers say that Orthorexia may combine a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder with anxiety and warn that severely limited “healthy” diets may be a stepping stone to anorexia nervosa, the most severe – and potentially life-threatening – eating disorder.’

“Linda continues: Okay, I say, but I am not “severely limiting” my healthful foods, I eat quite a variety, probably more than the average adult. My weight is well within normal limits, and I do not worry too much about calories or restrictions, other than making a clear attempt to eat unprocessed whole natural foods, as much raw as I can.

“So, this doesn’t seem to apply to me…. But then the article goes on to say…”Orthorexics: Those affected may start by eliminating processed foods, anything with artificial colorings or flavorings as well as foods that have come into contact with pesticides. Beyond that, orthorexics may also shun caffeine, alcohol, sugar, salt, wheat and dairy foods. Some limit themselves to raw foods.”

“Hmmmm, like that is something bad, say, compared to eating unlimited junk food, highly processed food and foods with pesticides? But that was not enough: the article goes on to describe the TREATMENT the newly classified Orthorexic needs in order to be “cured”, I guess, of their disease/condition! Wow, this is the kind of stuff that I find myself running up against since I took up a whole foods, high raw diet just over two years ago.

“I say very little at this point to anyone about what I choose to eat or not, and this is very sad to me, since I am trying to just be the example of what good fitness/nutrition can be. This just seems to put the ultimate stamp of “disapproval” on the way many of us are choosing to eat to circumvent GMO, pesticides, processed foods and additives. Robyn, I have to give you credit that you can keep up the good fight despite resistance, but would love to know what you do when confronted with this type of information?

“This is the link: http://health.yahoo.net/experts/dayinhealth/new-eating-disorders-are-they-real.”

Robyn’s answer: in my next post!

A tribute to the late, great Paul Leatham

If you’ve heard me speak, you’ve likely heard me refer to Paul Leatham, one of the greatest influences of my life. Shortly before I spoke in San Diego last month, I got an email that he had passed away. He was 63 and died of lingering complications from a motorcycle accident.

When my first child was extremely ill and my own life was destroyed by caring for him, being up all night, and worrying, three people told me to go see Paul.   I have a strange pattern in my life of important things happening in three’s. So the third time, I moved heaven and earth to get to Paul Leatham’s lecture immediately and implement his counsel.

I listened with great skepticism. At that moment in my life, I was fully in the throes of administering drugs to my son for his problems, trusting the doctors, and embracing Pop Culture and its dietary excesses. I had a brand new master’s degree and thought I was kind of smart. I liked science and proof, and I disliked charlatans selling stuff and making big claims.

I was also desperate. Therefore my mind opened a crack. His lecture covered many unconventional topics, but I thought about the content for weeks and it made more and more sense.

Paul Leatham wasn’t even selling anything.

He’s the one who insisted we eat a 60-80% raw, 95%+ plant-based diet. That’s what I have done since I heard him speak 16 years ago until now. It has changed my life profoundly for the good. And his work has cascaded into influence on far more than just me and my kids.

He was a self-educated iridologist and told me things about my own health that rang true, just from examining a complex system of lesions and other evidence in the irises of my eyes that correspond to body systems and organs. Every single thing he said to me was true.

For instance, he said, looking at my irises through a microscope: “Your right ovary is very weak.” (He didn’t know it, but I had recently had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, wherein my right ovary basically exploded, and I nearly bled to death before a doctor cut me open and stopped the bleeding to save my life.  I would have been dead at 27 if it weren’t for a medical doctor.)

So yes, it’s fair to say my right ovary was very weak. There was only a piece of it left.

He taught me to nurture my adrenal glands, that were burned out from stress and sugar.

He reinforced my early-in-life lessons (from my grandmother’s and uncle’s cancer) that food can heal us. It can destroy us, too. But it can be profoundly powerful in putting us back together.

I will forever be indebted to Paul Leatham. I didn’t know him well, personally, just listened to his lectures several times and followed his program. I will spend the rest of my life trying to be one-tenth the teacher he was.

I have been praying for his family (wife Wendy and 9 children). May they be blessed because of the great work that Paul did.

The rest of the story with Rich the Pharmacist. Part 1 of 2.

So here’s the rest of the story with Rich, my first high-school boyfriend. I told you how I ran into him on the plane on his way to pharmacists’ immunization training, and he helped us out in Seattle.

I told him, as we reminisced, that before I straightened out my lifestyle, I was 26 and weighed 206 lbs. I was walking in the mall trying to induce labor 2 days after my due date. I saw him and cheerfully said, “Hey Rich!” He looked at me, like, “No comprendo!” and walked right on by. He literally hadn’t recognized me. I was mortified.

Guiltily, he said, “Well, I relate to that. I saw you getting out on the curb, outside. I didn’t even want to approach you because I am ashamed about how I look.”

With 70% of America overweight, I often get the sense that the vast majority of us feel trapped inside someone else. We barely recognize ourselves. Can’t believe this happened to us. Just a five-pound weight gain annually is obesity, in a decade. That’s gaining just ounces a month.

And it seems almost sudden that, in mid-life, we’re ashamed and shocked that we got this way and we wonder how it happened and where’s the way out.

Rich texted me after we were both home in Utah. This is part of it:

“If I do this I want to do it full on, full tilt, full bore, hardcore, never look back, no holds barred, past the point of no return. If I am going to approach it like that, I figure I need the very best tools.”

(He then asks me to hook him up with a BlendTec.)

About the lecture in Seattle, he said:

You gave me hope. I’ve listened to so many doctors, psychologists, “professional” pharmacists, counselors with all their psycho-babble and I can tell they are just saying what they’ve been told to say. You and I talked about people who claim to be experts on nutrition but who look like the ‘before’ poster for a weight-loss program.

“Because of the way I know you, I was already open to your message. I watched you very closely, as you talked to a long line of people after the lecture about their very personal problems and hopes and challenges. To make sure you’re the same Robyn with whom we hid our affection for each other when we were young. And, you are. Just more secure and wiser. Your smile never turned and your enthusiasm never changed.

“Because I am apple shaped rather than pear shaped, people are surprised to know that I carry all my weight in my upper body. So I can still bench press 225 a few times, but I have to wear a C-pap at night with supplemental oxygen so I don’t stop breathing and suffocate. My lungs have more weight pressing on them than they can handle. If I could become one of your miracles, I could kick the C-pap habit. That would be worth so much more than money could buy. I guess I don’t have to tell you that. Look at me, preaching to the choir.”

A few days ago, a GSG reader pushed back on this blog, not just once but more–against my stating that YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO EAT HOT DOGS.

I always appreciate pushback, because it keeps an honest conversation going. But I’ll tell you what I think of that tomorrow.

Are you fixing the plumbing, or building a mansion? Part 2 of 2

At church Sunday, someone was making an announcement about a care center that wants us to bring them snacks for the mentally handicapped residents: “The care center staff said they want HEALTHY treats, like fruit snacks and Gushers.” I don’t know what Gushers are, but the fact that they have a brand name is a bad sign. The person making the announcement turned to the side of the room where I was sitting and said, “Robyn would not approve of these ideas as healthy snacks, and neither do I, but anyway, that’s what they want.”

(I love how at church I seem to have a “rep” even though I never talk about food there.)

It’s a throwback to my days as a grad-school intern on the State Hospital Children’s Unit 15 years ago. I went to the director to plead for less sugar on the unit. I could see that the kids were constantly ill, incessantly fed antibiotics, most of them overweight, because the school and therapists rewarded them with candy, the hospital cafeteria’s nutrition was appalling, and after-school volunteers brought cookies and junk nearly every day. I was brushed off by the psychiatrist director who said, “Sugar is the only love most of these kids every get, and it’s not a big deal. We’re dealing with REAL issues here.” In other words, he was saying: nutrition doesn’t matter for these kids.

I don’t want to roll my eyes. I want to educate patiently. I hope I am always tolerant. I hope I always teach to the knowledge level of the audience. I hope I never act superior.

Whatever knowledge I have, I gained it as God was building a courtyard in my cottage, while I would have much preferred just a little cleanup. I lean on others in their areas of subject-matter expertise where I am shaky. (Computers. Applied math. Spatial puzzles and maps.)

God is making a mansion of me. When He knocks out a support beam, I want to grow from it instead of shake my fist at heaven.

Last Sunday at church, Carla, in our women’s organization, gave a lesson on the Word of Wisdom scripture. I attend a lay church, where the parishioners are also the teachers. She said my name three times during the lesson, as if she had no right to teach on nutrition because I happened to be there.

Fact is, as I told her later, it was the best lesson I’ve ever heard on the Word of Wisdom, my religion’s scripture about nutrition. I told her, “I don’t think I would have had the courage to be so bold.”

She’d researched statistics about the health risks associated with red meat, caffeine, carbonation. She indicted Utah’s prescription drug dependency (especially anti-depressants) as fueled by the culture, even reading a quote from our attorney general. She read stats about the benefits of whole grains, the benefits of drinking a lot of water.

She didn’t cover sugar, she didn’t cover the Word of Wisdom’s counsel to “eat meat sparingly,” she said that poultry and fish are good for you. But overall, I found the whole lesson to be starkly committed to the truth, relative to most lessons I hear on that topic.

She did cover the closing line of D&C 89, that if we eat whole foods, “I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.” This seemed to have a profound emotional impact on the teacher. No wonder, as her husband has battled prostate cancer this past year. Who doesn’t want to put that amazing promise to the test?

She was so stunned when I gave her a hug and told her I would probably have soft-pedaled the topic, myself. Why? I hate offending people. And, as I said to her, “People are more emotional and opinionated about food than they are about religion and sex.”

Anyway, thanks for the food for thought, Jennie, and the Word of Wisdom lesson, Carla.

Is agave a superfood or a poison?

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl: Dr. Mercola says agave is going to kill me! Is he right?

Answer: I have been inundated with emails about this. In every class I teach, someone brings it up.

First of all, Dr. Mercola didn’t exactly say that, although he allowed it on his web site. Mercola is a brand, a big company, employing lots of people, including staff writers who write stuff for the site and newsletters. The osteopath named Joe Mercola doesn’t do the research and writing. So when I say “Mercola” in this article, I mean “it” (the company/brand/staff), not “he” (the founder of the company).

What I write is all me, by the way–I have no staff writers.

Controversy, right or wrong, unfortunately, adds to Mercola’s 7-figure mailing list and profits. Mercola (and the doctor himself) may or may not be aware that it is wrong about agave. Comparing it to high-fructose corn syrup, or to tequila, is a tenuous, false, almost ridiculous exaggeration. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the organic chemistry differences.

It’s similar to the comment a pediatrician made to me 15 years ago, when I questioned his suggestion to feed my toddler Sprite for quick energy. I said, “Why not an apple?” And he said, “Whatever. Simple sugars are simple sugars. There’s no difference. They all end up as glucose.”

A similar reductionistic argument you’ve heard before is, “A calorie is a calorie is a calorie.” Really? Then why did the vegetarian group in Campbell’s massive China study eat 200 calories MORE than the heavy meat eaters, and they were lean while the meat eaters were overweight? (Exercise was a variable the researchers controlled for, so that doesn’t explain the difference.)

Apparently you CAN eat more calories when those calories are plant foods. Please comment here if you know well, from experience, that the impact on your body of eating an apple is entirely different than drinking a can of Sprite!

Apples have simple sugars, sure, but they also have tannins that remove insulin from the bloodstream and convert the sugars into energy. Apples have pectin and other fiber to decrease cholesterol and slow absorption of sugars on the bloodstream. Sprite has none of that, just a chemical version of fructose and lots more man-made chemicals. I could make this whole post about the egregious comparison the pediatrician made, but let’s move on to the similar agave controversy.

Mercola’s staff writer acts as if fructose is poison. Yes, fructose is the sugar in high-fructose corn syrup, too. One point Mercola and I agree on is the fact that the highly refined sweetener HFCS is deadly. But fructose is the sugar in fruit, too! Is it possible that fructose can be either good or bad?

Here’s a key point Mercola overlooks. Agave’s sugar is a long-chain polymer of fructose, which is not absorbed by the body and therefore passes through you. Thus there’s a much-reduced impact on your blood sugar of consuming agave (versus HFCS, cane sugars, and honey). It’s not hard to document that agave’s glycemic index is one-third that of sugar or honey.

I personally know a nutritionist who has stopped diabetes in a group of her patients with no changes other than switching from sugar to agave.

So is agave on par with excellent whole foods like apples, spinach, lentils, and barley? No way! An apple has fiber and many other elements that work synergistically to support your health.

But as sweeteners go, if you’re going to use them–and please use all concentrated sweeteners sparingly–raw, organic agave is a very good option. And another of my favorite sweeteners, stevia, contains a compound called steviasides, which shut down insulin production in the pancreas–an even better (calorie-free) option, especially for diabetics.

So, the answer to the question, is agave a superfood or a poison, the answer is, “Neither one.” Don’t fear it. Don’t overuse it either.