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In a recent post I promised I would cease poking fun at various dietary cults out there (temporarily of course) and lay some firm ground rules in a post called ?Eating Order. I’ve spent an entire day laboriously chipping away at the idea, but unfortunately, my octopus-like mind has managed to outsmart itself.

Originally I had grand ideas ? ideas like having a healthy relationship with food means making food choices based on what you know nourishes you. Sounds good right? I mean, if you know a certain food causes your body to react in a negative way, then eating it due to some social pressure or something like that is an unhealthy relationship with food, people, and yourself.

But how is one to really know such a thing? I mean, part of the philosophy here is that if Diet C or Food A makes X person healthy but gives you an allergic reaction or makes you a type 2 diabetic, the problem is not Food A or Diet C but YOU! Avoiding Food A or Diet C doesn’t do diddley squat to fix the root problem, which probably lies in the quantity or balance of corticosteroid hormones you produce due to a unique blend of hereditary, lifestyle, psychological, and dietary factors.

Another common ?disorder? is believing that a certain food will harm you when in fact it won’t, and how is one to distinguish between myth and reality? It’s quite a gray area. But there’s no shortage of people that create self-fulfilling prophecies when it comes to certain no-no foods.Plus, a lot of people’s negative reactions to certain foods (like carbs let’s say) has to do with past diets (low-carb or low-calorie) and not some inherent genetic problem. Forcing yourself to eat the crap out of those pesky carbs that bloat you to high heaven, make your skin break out, leave you lethargic, send your appetite to the stratosphere, and pack on body fat is a great way to heal yourself.

Then there’s intuitive eating. If your circadian rhythms are all screwed up and you eat intuitively, you’ll have a half gallon of coffee and a doughnut from the time you wake up until 5pm, then you’ll ravage a normal dinner and eat 27 cookies until you pass out at 1am in the Lazy Boy, waking up a few hours later in a pile of crumbs with late night infomercials blaring (Tony Little’s Gazelle infomercial if you’re lucky).

Let your Autistic kid eat ?intuitively? and you’ll most likely see the kid eating nothing but macaroni and cheese and cheese pizza washed down with anything that comes in Blue Raspberry flavor ? eating, not so much out of biological wisdom, but out of opiate addiction.

So I don’t have all the answers (I never do but this time I’m actually admitting it, send Satan some hockey skates and a snowblower, he’ll need ?em).

What I do know is that most who really do suffer from true ?disordered eating,? or have in the past, did so because they came across some idea about diet out there, and got swept away by the thought of everlasting health Nirvana. Often a sudden weight loss with the dietary shift of several or more pounds, combined with reading a lot more of the materials put out by the allies of X dietary cult uninterrupted by contrary ideas was enough to take it from an interesting thought with a little promise into a full-on brainwashed eating regime in which ?Charlie? became gluten, or animal products, or saturated fat, or the potato.

Others just took some zany idea about hard work and suffering leading to a better life and applied it to their physical bodies, going to war against their natural appetite and desire for rest and beating those urges ?into submission? until they became very ill.

I don’t know. Be careful with what you buy into and do in the name of health.

Every dietary religion has crafted a story that ?makes so much sense? when all you are exposed to is that line of thinking without counter viewpoints. I mean seriously, people actually delude themselves into believing that carbohydrates are fattening even when there are 4 billion living exceptions to some silly cultish proclamation, like Mark Sisson’s infamous claim that eating more than 150 grams of carbohydrates per day causes ?insidious weight gain. This is quite the fascinating proclamation when the prisoners at most concentration camps died of starvation on more than 150 grams of carbohydrates per day, or that roughly 99% of the couple billion lean males on earth eat closer to that amount every meal.

Even the stupidest diet on earth, Doug Graham’s 80-10-10 raw vegan diet, actually makes sense when you read the thing to some extent. I mean, all other primates eat a diet that is 100% raw with 70-90% of calories derived from carbohydrates. So why shouldn’t we? This definitely makes more sense to me than say, eating what a group of a few thousand isolated Eskimos ate when no other humans on the face of the globe ate that way. Of course, when you try his diet you lose weight! It’s the answer to all things!

I pity the fools.

I guess one rule of thumb, if I’ve ever found one, is that if you are SURE as to what the perfect diet or lifestyle or exercise program is for you or anyone else, you are SURE to be wrong, and your health will suffer eventually from being rigid. Mental rigidity, when it comes between your body and your plate or lifestyle habits, will always fail.

If you believe something strongly, don’t go out and find more like thinkers. That only makes it worse! Challenge those beliefs and find exceptions and find opposing viewpoints until you are confused. This is not just a rule for eating, but for life and strong thinking in general. In fact, the history of my life shows me that when I have ‘strong beliefs? about anything, I do so because I’m failing to see the big picture.

And together we’ll continue to learn and grow at 180, exploring the fascinating topic of human health, and doing what we do best ? which is trying real hard to keep otherwise intelligent people from doing dumb shit in the name of health.

Yes you, I’m talking to you. Drop your utensil slowly, put your ice cold hands behind your balding head, and step away from the Tempeh.

P.S. – Although I wasn’t pleased where this was headed as I worked on it, I couldn’t help but at least include what I jotted down off the top of my head to start the Eating Order project. You may find something useful in it, so I hated not to at least put it up here somewhere?

Eating Order

In the last post I made lots of fun of the many modern day (and pretend Paleolithic era) forms of disordered eating. While that’s all well and good, unless we can define what ordered eating is, making fun of various dietary cults is purely entertainment.

Here, I hope to lay out some ground rules for ordered eating as well as address the many gray areas of what can be considered ordered and disordered eating. Ultimately, we’ll all have to make very personal decisions about our own relationships with food, but hopefully this will lay a foundation to help people build the right relationship, or rebuild a disordered one.

For starters, one thing that distinguishes the thinking at 180DegreeHealth from other health crusades out there is the belief that if person A eats X food or X diet and has great health and you eat X food or X diet and get fat or have an anaphylactic reaction, the problem is NOT X. The problem is YOU!

This might seem like common sense, but this is probably the most common mistake made in the entire field of nutrition. Nowhere is this one-dimensional way of thinking more prevalent than in the world of the food allergy alarmists. While food allergies are VERY real, and identifying and avoiding allergenic foods and substances can give people great short-term relief, it does absolutely nothing to address the real problem ? which is the development of an allergic reaction to benign substances. And avoiding a long list of foods and eating some other foods instead usually leads to the development of allergy to many of the new food items until a person is backed so far into a corner that there is literally nothing he or she can eat without having an adverse reaction.

Rather, food allergy should be used as a diagnostic tool that points to shortage or imbalance of the production of the various anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating corticosteroid hormones. When this approach is taken, and one starts to understand what dietary, lifestyle, hereditary, and psychological factors have contributed to the unbalanced condition, then one can go about fixing the problem at the core instead of engaging in highly-restrictive, socially-crippling, and majorly disordered eating that is potentially a bigger health problem than a minor allergic reaction to a few foods in the first place.

Okay, that’s a separate and endless tangent, and elimination-type diets will always have at least some place in the world of health and nutrition, but you know what I mean.

And, more importantly, you can see from this line of thinking how many dietary cults form. When someone has an adverse reaction to a certain food, they go on to do some research on the evils of that food, and come up with no shortage of dirt on it (even though most of the dirt on it is taken completely out of context). Weight loss of as little as 10 pounds with the dietary restriction, with or without short-term health benefits, is often enough in this ?ab-sessed? modern culture to turn someone into a total dietary Jihadist (myself included once upon a low-carb time, although I never got TOO ridiculous) saying truly dumb shit, like ?grains will give you diabetes? or ?egg yolks clog your arteries,? or ?don’t eat nightshade vegetables man, they’re not meant for human consumption? or ?don’t eat meat or you’ll get gout! And this is just what is touted from a health perspective. The wannabe morally elite often get exponentially more ridiculous with their claims.

So I guess rule #1 of Eating Order is:

Major dietary restrictions should be a last resort, not a casual first line of defense.

More importantly, when you come across some kind of dietary ideology, instead of going out and reading more and more of the material put out by the same cult, you should actively seek out OPPOSING information so that you don’t lose your head over those ideas. Once you have educated yourself in a more balanced way, thought about how it all ties into your own personal observation and experience ? or doesn’t, then you are slightly qualified to make a smart decision about tweaking your diet and lifestyle in some way in an attempt to improve your health.

But, keep in mind that whatever you decide, there is a more than 90% chance that it is WRONG. Also, your average health guru, although he or she may strongly feel that he or she possesses a level of health that it somehow superior than the rest of the population, and look the part, statistically-speaking the typical health guru has far worse health than the average person, and will die much younger than the average person ? and it will be in large part attributable to their diet and lifestyle dogma beliefs and practices. No matter how seemingly-infallible, how attractive, how shapely, how fit, or how smart your favorite health ?experts? are, there is absolutely nothing that guarantees they won’t go all Jim Fixx and die of a sudden heart attack tomorrow. Likewise, it’s awfully tough to prove that if they do live long and healthy lives, that their diet and lifestyle practices were responsible for it, or that you’ll have similar, much less identical results if you mimic their every move.

Rule #2 of Eating Order

Unless you are a health researcher or professional athlete, and even if you are a health researcher or a professional athlete, you shouldn’t spend much time thinking about your diet.

It seems like the people with the most disordered eating habits are those who spend way too much time thinking about macronutrient ratios, nutrients, calories, and other dietary elements. Discovery of all these food elements has been a tremendous disservice to the health neurotics of the world. While we try to foster an ongoing and interesting conversation about diet and health in general at 180, ultimately this should all be an act of intellectual curiosity on behalf of the participants here, and should not cloud your mind with health thoughts while you are chewing food (or inhaling it if that’s your style). Even as a health researcher dedicated to learning as much about the food-health relationship as possible in my lifetime, I too have to put in a conscious effort not to take it to the table with me, or let a new whimsical idea that popped into my head radically influence my dietary decisions. This brings us to the next rule?

Rule #3 of Eating Order

Do not ?pinball? your diet (Scott Abel’s catch term).

This means bounce around from vegan to Paleo to a cleanse to dairy-free to low-fat to macrobiotic to Atkins (hardcore orthorexics often have the temptation to do all of the above at some point in any given month). Same goes for your sleep habits, exercise habits, and so forth. Once again, to take advantage of Abel’s great knowledge, ‘the body loves regularity. It is probably much healthier to eat a #1 at McDonald’s for every meal than to swing back and forth between all these crazy forms of dietary extremism. Consistency and regularity with your eating patterns MOST of the time is a major health asset.

Since I can see 200 of you thinking busily about the exact meal that you are going to eat every single time you sit down to eat for the rest of your life, and getting out your stopwatch to time the hours, minutes, and seconds in between each feeding?

Rule #4 of Eating Order

Be flexible and relaxed about the composition of your meals, snacks, eating behavior, meal-timing and so forth.

While a little regularity is great and all, too much regularity, or limiting your food choices too much, or being overly aware of the macronutrient breakdown or calorie content of your meals is highly disordered.