Friday, July 20, 2012
When Eating Junk is Good For You, or, Keeping Health in Perspective
But I'll get back to that weirdo thing. Let me first say this: if you're trying to optimize your nutrition, there are some foods that you should never eat. I truly believe that everyone would benefit from eliminating grains, refined sugars, factory-farmed animal products, refined vegetable oils, and processed foods. But there's a problem. These foods are everywhere. In fact, these are the five foods that our American diet is based on. You don't even have to take my word for it... here's a list from the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines of the top 25 sources of calories in the United States. Give it a looksie, it's a pretty sad list. In fact, all 25 items in the list are based on one of those five foods mentioned above. ALL of them.
In my opinion, we would all do better on a diet made up of fruits, vegetables, pastured animal products, wild fish, coconut, tubers, and potatoes. You can call it real food, paleo, primal, ancestral... whatever floats your boat. But no matter how you slice it, these foods aren't readily available in today's world. You can't go to 7-11 and get a grass-fed rib eye, complete with a side salad made of organic veggies and an extra-virgin olive oil dressing. Chances are you can't go anywhere within a reasonable distance and get that. In addition, most of your friends don't eat this way, so it might be difficult to eat healthy in social situations. It takes planning and effort if you're going to eat well. It's the unfortunate truth... our food culture is set up for ease and convenience, not health.
But these societal norms do exist. They're real, and they matter. And it's because of these realities, that I make this statement... sometimes you're better off eating junk.
Health is about more than just what you eat. It's also about your mental and psychological health. It's about your social life, your relationship with your significant other, and your job satisfaction. All in all, it's about your level of happiness with the life you're leading. Which is why I think it's so vitally important to keep your diet in perspective. I offer some examples...
All of your friends from high school are getting together for a huge summer party on the beach. They're grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, ordering pizza, playing beer pong, throwing the football around... all that fun stuff. You know you shouldn't eat all that crap and drink all that beer. You're thinking maybe you'll go, but you won't eat or drink anything, even though you love pizza and beer. So what do you do? I'll tell you. You fucking go to the party, eat crap, drink beer, and have fun. Why? Because at a party like this, the food and the drinks are more than just food and drinks. They're an opportunity to bond with people you like and care about, and you're experience will NOT be the same if you abstain. Don't be the weirdo.
You go out on a date with a girl (or a guy) and you really hit it off. You had a great dinner at a great restaurant, and you've got amazing chemistry together. After dinner, your date suggests going out for ice cream. You used to eat ice cream, but you cut it out because you know it's not good for you. In fact, you've got an incredible streak going of nearly 2 years without eating ice cream. You don't want to ruin it. What do you do? I'll tell you. You fucking go out with your sexy date and eat the fucking ice cream. And you like it too. But it's about more than just ice cream. It's about enjoying the experience together and building a relationship. If you EVER turn down ice cream like this, I WILL tell Facebook. Everyone will know.
The point is, there are times when food is more than just something you eat. In times like these, cake is healthy. So are beer and ice cream. They're not nutritious... they're healthy; there's a difference. But you have to enjoy it. That is the key. Don't stress over it, don't feel like you're doing something wrong. Just eat it and love it. Allowing yourself to be happy in life will do a lot more for your health than you realize. No, I can't back that up with a randomized, controlled trial, but I believe it 100%.
Things are obviously different if you have a serious food allergy or intolerance, or if you've got an autoimmune disease. In that case, staying strict paleo may be needed. But for the vast majority of us, we can afford to eat like crap once in a while and have some fun. I care about what I eat, and you should too, but try to keep it in perspective. There's more to health than nutrition, and there's more to life than health. So keep it real, stay balanced, and live. Don't let your health obsession ruin your life. Peace.