“What we need is more education.”

You hear this about a lot of problems, and sometimes it’s even true. You also hear that many problems just need a few more billions thrown at them and then everything will be right as rain, but that’s almost never true. Unless your problem is “I don’t have enough robot jets in my zombie defense compound,” in which case, several billions may just solve that right up for you. Unfortunately, while that is one of my 99 problems, it isn’t the one I want to talk about today. The problem I’m here to talk about today is poor health, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, ADD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, osteoporosis…and you get the idea.

What do these things have in common? For one, according to a lot of research, they are caused in whole or in part, or at the very least exacerbated, by diet. Some of them you probably think are obviously diet-related. Some probably not so much. Let’s deal with obesity, just because it’s a risk factor for so many other issues (Note I said risk factor and not cause. The jury’s still out on whether excess adipose tissue directly causes any of these.)

So, we know what obesity is, right? Obesity is the excess accumulation of adipose tissue. How much qualifies as “excess” depends on the metric you’re using to try to scare some money out of the government, but we all know what obesity looks like. Here’s the question: Will more education solve the problem of obesity in America?

I used to say that we didn’t need more education. This was 6 months or more back, before I really started digging into this whole dietary gig. I said that people knew what to do to lose weight, they just wouldn’t do it. “It isn’t a problem of information, it’s a problem of perspiration.” I was very clever at putting together rhyming phrases that made me sound motivational or something. Anyway, what I would tell my friends (they didn’t ask, they were just polite enough to sit still while I yammered at them, wild eyed and frothing) is that everyone knows that whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low fat, fewer processed foods and more exercise is what prevents/cures obesity. Everyone knows that, because there’s already been an educational push in this country for a long time, trying to teach people what they need to know to be healthier.

But what if that isn’t the way to do it? Or more accurately, what if it isn’t the only way, or even the best way? Because that can work, but it takes a lot of discipline and motivation. Discipline and motivation are two things you normally don’t think of when you see an obese person. You see our wiry, hard-working grandparents and you think “Those people had character. They worked hard so it didn’t matter that they drank whole milk and ate butter and red meat. We’re so lazy now, and we have too many unhealthy food choices that we aren’t strong enough to resist. We’re weak, pathetic little fools turning into weak, pathetic giant fools!” Is that really what it is, though? Did we somehow breed character out of the species in the past few generations? I don’t think so. But that is very much the picture you get from listening to most of the people out there today. You just have to discipline yourself to eating less than you’d like of foods that you don’t love. Even worse are the ones who try to convince you that you really ought to enjoy an egg white omelet with bean sprouts and tofu bacon just as much as you would steak and eggs. If you were as good and moral and disciplined as they are, you’d love tofurkey slices on 57-grain bread  and topped with something called “chreeze” that is neither animal, nor vegetable nor mineral. You are fat because you’re wrong.

I say bullshit. People be people. Your ancestors weren’t that different from you. They worked hard sometimes, were lazy sometimes, joked around with their buddies, ate too much, drank too much, played too hard and all the rest. So what was the difference? I think the difference was what they were eating and drinking, in large part. They were eating locally raised, grassfed meats, for the most part. They were eating locally grown, organic vegetables. They were drinking water, milk, wine, coffee, etc. but they weren’t guzzling 44 oz of high fructose corn syrup three times a day. And they were working harder, to be sure. Not at the gym, just because life was less sedentary. They’d walk a lot more than we do, that’s for sure. And that’s good, and I think it helps with a lot of issues, but there have been plenty of studies showing that exercise is a pretty miserable method for weight loss when it isn’t combined with a good diet.

So anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, in my chair, writing a rambling blog post. That’s almost always where I am. So, since changing my mind about whether “whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low fat, fewer processed foods and more exercise” was the ultimate key to being lean and fit, now I do think education can help solve the problem of obesity in America. I just think that what most people are being taught is wrong. That’s part of what this blog is about. In my own tiny way, I’m trying to get good information out there. I’m recommending books and movies and blogs and podcasts and articles and any other form of information I can think of to anyone who will listen. I’m fighting an uphill battle, though. People don’t just think that a high fat diet is bad for them, they know it. Know it down deep in their soul like they know that fire is hot and cats are sharp. When you try to tell someone that they can eat bacon and beef and dressing on their salads and whole eggs in their omelets, they look at you like you’re not just normal crazy but “spreading peanut butter on grandma so the glitter will stick better” kinda crazy. And that’s because of the education program we’ve had running for the past 20-30 years telling people to eat a high carb, low-fat diet. Education works when it’s consistent, overwhelming and starts young.

People get this type of diet pounded into their heads early and often, and it’s always the same. Then they grow up, find out they’re getting fat, sick, and can’t imagine why. Are they just not doing it well enough? Are they the only person in the world who doesn’t have the willpower to count all the calories in the rice cakes they keep slamming all day to avoid a blood sugar crash? So then they give up, start eating whatever tastes good, and start popping pills to “fix” their health problems. Every so often they’ll get really frustrated with their body, try to count rice cakes again, hate life for a few weeks and then give up in a shower of Butterfinger crumbs. Maybe a friend has a good experience with a “Tabasco/Grapefruit Cleanse” and they try that, but you can’t maintain that long term, so eventually they’re back to pizza and tacos and Diet Coke. Maybe they get a gym membership, and go pound out an hour on the elliptical 4-5 times a week, but working out makes them hungry and they go home and have some ice cream with dinner, because they “earned it.” But the weight never really comes off quite like they want, or they go on vacation and fall off the elliptical wagon and never go back. Is this sounding like you? It’s sounding a lot like me. It’s frustrating as hell. But when you hear that the low-fat/low-calorie diet is The Way to lose weight and get healthy from everyone in a position of authority, it takes a special person to question that and go searching for alternate answers. And by special I mean “sort of an asshole.”

That’s where I come in. I’m just the asshole for the job. So hopefully, I can be the asshole leading the charge, helping people to realize that a white coat isn’t a guarantee of perfect, unbiased, big-t Truth. Not to say doctors and research scientists are bad, by any means. We need them. But their continuing education is paid for in large part by pharmaceutical companies, as is the research that isn’t funded by the USDA through various other gov’t orgs. The doctors are reading books that have to meet the standards of the AMA, which gets funding from those same pharmaceutical companies to keep everyone on the same page. Your doc isn’t a jerk. He’s teaching you the best information he knows, and a huge amount of it is exactly right and will save your life. Clearly, though, the diet they’re advocating isn’t working, so that’s when it makes sense to question the information you’re getting from the white coats. You need to educate yourself at the very least to the point where you know that questions need to be asked, and ideally to the point where you know which questions those are. Don’t be a dick to your doctor, but don’t just blindly accept it when he says that your main problem is that you don’t love rice cakes and tofu dogs enough to make them the cornerstone of your diet. It’s a fine line to walk, and it forms a precipitous path between willful ignorance and being too much of a contentious dick for anyone to care what you say, but it leads to wisdom and understanding.

That’s the path I’m on. It’s a long road for an English major, believe me. I do not have a science background, so I’m learning everything I can about nutrition, biology, chemistry, etc. It’s a slow process, but it’s a very important one. I’m still not anywhere close to where I want to be, but I’m already learning enough to start asking better questions and to understand the answers. I’m just going to keep plugging, keep expanding my knowledge, and hopefully being able to help others who are on the same path. But that’s what I think education is about. I want to learn so I can teach. That’s the education I think we need. Not another colorful geometric shape telling us to keep eating the same diet that got us where we are, but actual knowledge and understanding. It’s a tall order, but we can do it.

Enough rambling. Go out, eat some real food and enjoy your day. I’ll be here, probably plugging away at another blog because I never actually stop rambling, I just change venues. Thanks for reading.

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3 comments on ““What we need is more education.”

  1. Kristie says:

    I just want to point out, again, that whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, lean, grassfed meats, fats and sugar in moderation, and exercise are a very valid and effective way to be healthy, lean, and happy. I am the asshole in the white coat. You are the asshole questioning it. We’re both right, because they’re both ways to lose weight. I just struggle because I don’t think you should have to cut anything out of your diet to lose weight. Just MODERATE. And SWEAT. And avoid processed foods most of the time. That’s all I’m sayin’

    And I eat butter and whole eggs and sugar and pork belly and potato chips. In moderation. While simultaneously owning a vaguely visible ab situation and a fairly small baby that I grew in my own personal belly.

  2. Septimus says:

    You actually eat a lot of very good quality foods, including plenty of high quality fats. That’s awesome, and I think it helps a great deal with satiety. Eating fats at meals means you’re less prone to snacking, which is what really kills a lot of people on their total calories. You also work out a hell of a lot, which means that you’re actually burning through glycogen stores and need carbs to replete them. That’s why they don’t end up on your butt. I’m not a fan of grain, which I know we won’t agree on, but aside from that you’re not really doing anything I disagree with. Quality food, eaten to satiety, with a carb load to match activity level is what paleo is all about. And nobody is saying you can never kick your heels up and have a bowl of ice cream or some Skittles or whatever. I do that all the time, and I’m still losing. I just avoid gluten because it makes me feel ill when I eat it. If it doesn’t do that to you, then go to town. Just don’t eat 50% of your calories in the form of starch and sugar and then sit on your couch all day and think you’re going to get lean.

    Also, the leaner you are and the more you exercise and don’t drink soda and other processed junk, the better your insulin sensitivity is, which means you’re going to handle the bumps in the road better anyway. For you, eating a few cookies means your blood sugar spikes, insulin spikes, dumps the excess sugar into your liver or muscles and then you’re back to normal. For someone overweight and insulin resistant those cookies start a chain reaction of blood sugar spikes and troughs and more cookies and nowhere but the butt for the extra carbs to go.

    The thing I’m not a big fan of is people starving themselves, eating highly processed low-fat diet foods, exercising themselves to exhaustion and then trying to get up the next day and do the same thing. I don’t think that’s healthy. Even worse is when it doesn’t work and we tell them that it isn’t working because they’re bad people. That’s just BS. If they can exercise a little, eat real food (with plenty of quality fats) until they’re full and match their carb intake to their activity level, they’ll be just fine. And it’s a whole hell of a lot easier than rolling out of a warm bed and into a cold pair of running shoes with nothing but brown rice and tofu to look forward to all day.

  3. Kris says:

    Heh you said “svelte” …..that’s all I got for now… Oh look a shiny quarter!

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