I've been embroiled in a debate on different eating habits for a
few weeks. It's been a heated debate. Information has been passed
back and forth, but the science is a hard sell for those that don't
know or understand it. I say, science, because it's not just the
facts about Paleo, gluten-free, Mediterranean, or whatever eating
patterns/diets, but about nutrition in general. It's about how our
bodies handle food and what they need to be healthy.
There are a million and one (and probably more) "diets" out
there. Right now, Paleo and gluten-free seem to be trending the
most. Celebrities are using them to "get healthy." People are using
them for weight loss or to control the symptoms of one disease or
another. Some are using them to lower their inflammatory levels.
But few seem to know the actual science behind any of it.
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I'm admittedly biased. I've been a diagnosed Celiac, and gluten
free for 16 years. The more information that I learn about grains,
etc. -- the more I'm glad that I don't eat gluten. But the general
public doesn't have the information that I have. In fact, it seems
that most professionals don't either. But that's not the purpose of
When I started out writing this, I thought about my friend and
how vehemently she adheres to her beliefs about "nutrition" and
eating. She's a registered dietician. We've argued back and forth
about grains, about how she thinks that Paleo/Mediterranean is bad
for athletes, about how impossible it is to follow, and about how
there's a lot of "false" science/claims about that particular
eating pattern. The whole experience has been a major illustration
on the adherence to beliefs that people have -- not just for her,
but for me. It's also been an exercise in frustration.
I can only "recommend" what science (and anecdotal evidence --
but that's another story) shows to be true. For example, I can
explain that zonulin destroys tight junctions in the gut, brain,
and reproductive organs, and that the main sources of tight
junction destroying proteins are grains and legumes. I can quote
studies all day long (and all night long) -- and I have. I can
distill the science down to very simple words that anyone could
understand by using pictures, analogies, and more broad terms. I
can do all of these things, but that doesn't mean it's going to
change anyone's mind, and it also doesn't mean that they're going
to be willing to put it into practice.
We're very steeped in our beliefs. Usually, those beliefs have
absolutely nothing to do with evidence. My friend, for example,
focuses on athletes and sports nutrition. The concept of
carb-loading with pasta or the use of sports drinks is very much a
part of her reality. She's concerned about having energy available
for use. She's not concerned about inflammation, overall health and
well-being, the prevention of disease, or whether or not someone
might develop cancer or an autoimmune disorder. She wants to run
marathons, or play 4-hour-long matches. Her reality and mine are
very, very different. Chances are, that no matter what I say or
provide her with, she will always adhere to her thoughts about
nutrition. It will always be about the quick fix. My hope is that
she'll come across a difficult case and be forced to broaden her
concept of what healthy eating is.
Patients aren't any different. Some may have more or less
information than my friend. They may be coming in with a copy of
some new fad diet book, or a cookbook of recipes that their Aunt
Sally said worked really great to help her lose weight. People may
walk into the office carrying a well-worn copy of the all-carrot
diet, asking what to do about their increasingly orange skin.
They'll be emphatic about drinking their diet coke, eating their
bowl of pasta, or consuming 3 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
before every meal.
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It will be our job to walk them through their questions,
hopefully bring some experience and education to the table, and
talk them through ideas and possibilities that will help them find
some form of healthy, sustainable ground. They may resist with
everything that they have in them. As I write this, I'm thinking
about how much I struggle with sugar or eating rice, and how hard
it has been for me to give them up; I'm not there yet. It's our job
to work with them, using their limitations (even if those are
beliefs), and our education to help them get to someplace
My friend and I will probably continue to argue about what we
should or shouldn't be eating. The only thing we've been able to
agree on so far, I think, is that there's no one single "right"
way. There's no perfect way that everyone should be eating. We're
all human, and each body is different. The science may figure out
that everything we "know" is wrong, and everything must be changed.
I may never be able to fully give up sugar or rice. But whatever
happens, we'll all hopefully be happier and healthier because of
what we learn -- about food, about our relationship with it, and
our relationships with each other.
Have a great week, everybody.