After a slow, easy run on a beautiful Sunday morning, I decided that the only thing missing was a fat stack of pancakes.
Yes, pancakes. Those succulent, golden, sweet, heavenly cakes spawned from the pan. I couldn’t remember the last time I had pancakes, and I was feeling adventurous so I figured, “Hey, what the heck?”
They weren’t anything too special, just your basic flapjacks: some flour, some sugar, sweetened coconut milk, baking soda, and a couple mashed bananas. And of course I topped them off with some good old-fashioned maple syrup and accompanied them with a tall, cold glass of orange juice. Solid.
As I was digging into my stack, a thought crossed my mind that made me laugh: the notion of some pretentious, snooty health fanatic with kale stuck in his teeth looking in on my Sunday brunch and telling me down his nose, “What?! Pancakes? That’s bad for ya’!”
Admittedly, most of the ingredients were totally organic and wholesome. The cakes weren’t at all greasy either. They were completely vegan (!), even. And they were good…real good. But every single ingredient in that meal, someone could find something “wrong” with it.
I was reminded of my favorite comedian and philosopher of the modern time, the late, great George Carlin. I remember him joking about how regardless of what you’re talking about, somehow and some way, it’s bad for you. Says someone anyway.
Bananas? Sugar, serotonin, yikes! Absolute poison. Whole-grain bread? Lectins, phytates, gluten! One of the worst things you could possibly consume. Maple syrup? Fuggedabout it! You’ve got a death wish my friend.
I can guarantee you that every single thing you did today and everything you consumed, in one way or another, was bad for you.
The ripe fruit you had with your breakfast has varying degrees of acetic acid and alcohol in them, both of which are poisons. The way you sat in your chair at work today? You’re practically begging for some serious spinal problems later in life. And don’t even get me started on all those naturally occurring nitrates you consumed in the celery you had in your soup for dinner.
Are you seeing a trend here? It’s bad for ya’. Everything’s bad for ya’, apparently. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, or how diligent you are, something you eat today is going to be bad for you in one way or another.
So what do you do: become a psychotic mess who obsesses over food purity and can’t lead a happy, fulfilling life because of it? I wouldn’t recommend that. Far too many health-seekers slip into this mindset, and I was even there once myself. It’s not a fun place to be.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that you need to be willing to have a deep-fried Twinkie sundae topped with chocolate sprinkles and fast food taco meat for lunch every day to have a healthy relationship with your food. I’m proposing that you can have a healthy, realistic balance between psychotic food purity and total reckless abandon. Both ends of that extreme will put you in a not-so-healthy place.
The longer I’ve been striving towards living a healthy lifestyle, the more I realize it just isn’t all completely black and white. There are many shades of grey in between. I mean, some people can eat mangos and enjoy them perfectly fine, while others may have their throats swell up and need a shot of Epinephrine to breathe again. Some people could happily tuck into a stack of whole-wheat pancakes and feel fine as can be, while others might experience some seriously messed up bowels from the same meal.
As a young black sheep, I always wanted things to be black and white and right or wrong. Something about being unwilling to listen to anything that was in between just seemed like the appropriate thing to do at the time.
But as with most people, we grow up and mature. Our minds open a little bit wider, and we actually become willing to open up to the idea of understanding some of those shades of grey, or at least acknowledging they exist.
Don’t get me wrong though. I’m still probably going to always keep my hair just long enough to get a mean look from that conservative old lady from across the street. You don’t want to conform too much, right? But when it comes to health and nutrition, accepting that everything isn’t as cut and dry as we’d like is a crucial element to becoming happier and healthier.
For you or someone else, mowing down stacks of waffles with syrup or billowing bowls of oatmeal with molasses and dried fruit may be just what you need. And for someone else, eating a 6-pound bowl of raw lettuce, tomatoes, and other veggies for dinner may be counterproductive in restoring or maintaining your health. Logic would say that the former is, “Bad for ya’!” while the latter is “Good for ya’!”, but it just doesn’t work like that in the real world.
There are all sorts of little nuances that play a role in what’s good for you and what’s bad for you. I’m not saying that vegetables are bad for you and that waffles are inherently the world’s greatest super-food. But in the right context under the right circumstances, both may be true at the right time.
All I’m saying is that when someone writes a book and says that removing this one thing from your diet will provide nutritional nirvana, or that this one way of eating is absolutely the right way for everybody, take it with a grain of salt. Or a pancake or two.
In the end, you have to decide what makes you feel good and what’s good for YOU and what’s bad for YOU. No endless list of self-appointed diet gurus can ever do that. They aren’t you, so they don’t know.
So the next time you have someone say, “You know, that’s bad for you…” while sneering down their nose at your plate of whatever it is, just remember what George so eloquently suggested: “And while all this is going on, you’re searching through your mind for something diplomatic and tactical and graceful you can say to help end the conversation. And all I can ever think of is: blow it out your a**!”