I love to eat–Kit Kats or cookies-and-cream ice cream. I need sugar like five times a day. –Kim Kardashian
Doesn’t that quote rattle your brain a little bit?
I mean, would anyone argue that a diet like that is healthy? I don’t think so. And yet do people publicly denounce Ms. Kardashian as unhealthy, or suggest she needs to change up her diet? No. Why not?
Dare I suggest it’s because she’s not fat?
Our national obsession with weight as an indicator of health has led us to this: people who are thin automatically believe that however they choose to eat is “healthy” simply because they are thin.
Let me ask you this: when you see a thin person you don’t know scooping up a giant hot fudge sundae on a brownie, isn’t it your natural tendency to consider that the decadent dessert must be an anomaly? A “special treat” that the person obviously doesn’t usually indulge in–an assumption you make entirely because of that person’s size? Isn’t it also true that you would rarely afford a fat person that kind of consideration? That if you see a fat guy eating that same dessert, you immediately despise him as a pig? Obviously he is, or he wouldn’t be so fat, right?
But if you’re anything like me you have an array of friends and family, among them some really fat people who are constantly watching everything they eat, as well as a number of skinny people who eat junk non-stop.
In a few previous posts I’ve dealt with the illogic of thinking that people get fat by eating too much and exercising too little in general, or that we can reduce weight loss to a simple eat X amount of calories, expend Y amount of energy and lose Z amount of weight. That people aren’t thin because they’re active; they’re active because they’re thin.
But what about health irrespective of weight? I mean, no one with a brain would argue that being thin automatically guarantees you good health. 15% of female type 2 diabetics are thin and trim. The cardiac ward of your local hospital has plenty of thin heart attack victims in it. Thin people get cancer too, and appendicitis, gout, cavities, and all the other “diseases of civilization” that come into a society with a Western diet.
Which brings me to my friend.
I hadn’t seen her in many years. We met up for a short time this weekend. She was really thin when I first met her and she’s the same now. There’s some other things about her, too.
For one thing, she’s always been the “jumpy” active type. She’s slowing a bit with age, but she’s still that way. That activity is linked to something: food. After she eats, she’s very active and energetic for about 2 hours. Then she starts to slow till she is so tired she’s ready to nap. Then she eats something and the whole cycle starts all over again. She did that when I first met her, and she still does it now. She’s also always had, and still has, heart issues, and had appendicitis years ago.
And she seeks out sugar. Not as badly now as she did years ago, but it’s still there. In a group of people, she’s the one most likely to need that extra splash of sugar to make it through the afternoon.
This makes me really sad. I now realize what I’m seeing: constant, unremitting insulin highs and blood sugar crashes. And yet she thinks of herself as basically fine. “Everything in moderation” she teased me over the weekend in response to her assumption that I “do Atkins” (I don’t).
She said this when she woke up, you see. We’d eaten lunch, after which we’d done stuff for around an hour and a half. At that point she was anxious for ice cream. We couldn’t find the place we wanted to go, and by the time we found a dessert place a half hour later she was nearly asleep with her head on the table. Then she had some truffles and cheesecake and chocolate cake, and suddenly she was awake and feeling better. She did great for another two hours or so, and then asked for a 20oz soda. My suggestion that this might have something to do with blood sugar was not well received.
Meanwhile, I had avoided the soda with lunch, ate the meat and splurged on some vegetables. (It was a special occasion, after all). I felt fine an hour and a half after lunch. Two hours later, I still felt fine. I didn’t need a nap. I wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t need any dessert. I didn’t even need to sit down. All I needed was some water.
The point is, my friend’s not healthy. She never has been, as long as I’ve known her. Her body is not dealing well with blood sugar. I can’t say for sure, as I’m not a doctor. If I had to guess, though, I’d say most likely her pancreas is starting to burn out from over-producing insulin all of her life. Several of her family members already have diabetes. If she doesn’t have diabetes in another decade…well: I’ll come back and erase this post, how about that?
“Everything in moderation” is a pernicious, illogical statement that’s trotted out all the time when it comes to food. It’s not that there are no senses in which it’s true. There are. But think about it in context of the way it’s usually used today in reference to diet:
1. What is “moderate?” This phrase is, in my experience, most frequently slung out by thin people either justifying the way they eat, or lecturing someone else on avoiding a certain type of food. For one thing: what’s the universal definition of “moderation” that they’re using? What if I already eat fewer calories, less fat, less sugar, and more vegetables than the thin person telling me this–and yet I’m fat? Most of my life, that was the case for me, and nothing was more forehead-slappingly frustrating than to hear an array of thin people–all of whom ate different things in different quantities–diatribe sanctimoniously on their own angelic, “everything in moderation” life motto.
2. It’s a very convenient statement, but there are some things that shouldn’t be in your body. The phrase simply isn’t true. Not everything is good in moderation. A moderate amount of sin, of cancer, of war, of poverty…these are not “good.” And you really can’t have enough righteousness, enough health, enough–legitimate–peace, enough well-used and honestly earned wealth.
The same applies to foods. If something is really harmful to you, can you really have a necessity for a moderate amount of it? Would we tell an alcoholic that because red wine has some good things in it that he simply must consume it as part of “everything in moderation?” Would we tell someone with a deadly peanut allergy that since peanuts are a source of protein he must consume everything in moderation?
And if a food is really good for you, what’s wrong with eating it all the time? Were the 19th century Tokelauans to be condemned because all they ate on their island was coconuts, fish, and breadfruit? Should we go back in time and lecture them about not eating healthy soy products or enough whole grains when they were in robust good health?
I eat foods that are good for me as much as I want, because, guess what? Healthy fat and protein are self-limiting. I did eat “in moderation,” the way “in moderation” is generally defined by people like my friend. I did it my whole life. I made whole grains, fruits, and vegetables the basis of my diet. I minimized my red meat and my fat and my sugar. And I got fat and sick. I don’t want moderate health. I want good health, so I eat what is manifestly good for me in large quantities. Sugar isn’t one of those things.
Just because your body can deal with a food doesn’t mean you ought to be eating it. And refined (i.e. the bleached white stuff) sugar can’t be described as anything other than poison. Nancy Appleton, PhD, has been researching sugar and it’s health dangers since 1975. She’s conveniently listed out for you 141 ways that sugar ruins your health, every one of them linked to real scientific studies published by real scientific journals and magazines. Even if you only accept 1/4 of them as being true, it’s still pretty scary.
Does this mean you can’t ever eat any sugar at all? That’s a personal decision I can’t make for you. I eat some once in a while. I do so partly because I’ve regained my metabolic flexibility: I can switch from burning fat to sugar and back again without a hitch now, so long as I don’t overindulge in sugar. Not everyone will reach that point, depending metabolism. And what is “overindulge?”
Well, I actually do have a definition.
I know my history: I know that historically speaking, 70 pounds of sugar per person, per year is the threshold of epidemic in a population. I know this because of a scientist named George Campbell. Years ago, Dr. Campbell did the most extensive research ever done on the connection between sugar and diabetes. He observed societies in which there was little to no sugar consumption who moved over time to consuming large amounts of sugar. He kept particularly careful records of the Zulu people, who were sugar cane workers. He figured out this threshold and the amount of time it takes for excessive sugar consumption to start causing “Western” diseases, or “diseases of civilization”: obesity, appendicitis, diabetes, gout, heart disease, and cancer.
It’s not that societies eating up to 70 pounds a year don’t see these diseases. But once the society is eating more than 70 pounds of sugar per year, these diseases and disorders invariably reach epidemic proportion. Conversely, the lower the yearly sugar consumption, the lower the rates of all these diseases. Societies under Dr. Campbell’s study who ate less than 20 pounds per year were nearly completely free of cancer, heart disease, obesity diabetes, appendicitis, and gout.
Once sugar consumption goes up, you first start seeing cavities and appendicitis in the kids. That’s the warning sign. Give it another 20 years, and then their kids get those diseases and also start getting fat. When the second generation get older, heart disease and diabetes turn up. Their kids get fatter earlier in life, and get heart disease and diabetes earlier, too. They then all start getting cancer. Their kids start coming out of the womb fat, and start having heart problems and diabetes before they’re even out of their 20s. Even the thin ones, because obesity is just a symptom. Not everyone gets that particular symptom. Some people, like my friend, are genetically wired to burn excess blood sugar very quickly after eating it. Others, like me, are genetically wired to store it as fat. But both of us, if we eat a lot of sugar, are putting the same stress on our hearts, our pancreas, our liver, and our digestive system. We’re in danger of all the same diseases.
In case you were wondering, the average American now eats 150 pounds of sugar per year. My friend, if the day I spent with her this weekend was typical, eats about 125 pounds a year. At my current rate of consumption, I eat less than 20.
3. It’s used to justify not just the consumption, but the over-consumption of foods that have no nutritional value and are poorly tolerated by human beings.
You can argue with me that sugar is ok in small amounts. I won’t argue back: demonstrably people can eat some–perhaps up to 70 pounds in a year–without seriously escalating their risk of disease. But you can’t argue that sugar is good for you in any amount. It’s not a health food. You can eat it, but your body has no nutritional need of refined table sugar, or high fructose corn syrup, whatsoever. This phrase, in relation to sugar, is misleading since it implies that we need a diet with some sugar in it.
You can also tolerate eating grass. Should a “moderate” diet also include plenty of lawn clippings? You can also tolerate transfats in minimal amounts, so why is everyone pushing to eliminate them from our diet? Why not eat them in moderation? My friend doesn’t eat high fructose corn syrup–which I’m glad for. HFCS has been shown to be even more damaging than regular sugar, but where does “everything in moderation” come into play in her decision? You can tolerate some HFCS, just as you can tolerate some sugar, though granted you can probably tolerate less. So why choose to eliminate all HFCS and not eliminate sugar? It’s illogical.
Tell an elephant he needs to eat everything in moderation. “Stop eating so many leaves, man. Everything in moderation. You need some meat in your diet.”
If someone really said that, we’d think he was an idiot. Elephants aren’t made to eat meat. They don’t need it. You don’t need sugar, either, and you don’t even need grain. Your body can get along just fine without it. If you doubt that you are really a carnivore, take a look here at how God created you, a wolf (an undisputed carnivore) and a sheep (an undisputed herbivore).
I eat some sugar because even though I have far more in common, digestively, with a wolf than with a sheep, I am something more than both. I am a thinking, reasoning, emotional being. As such, food is something more than bare sustenance. Food is also enjoyment, fellowship, pleasure, and creativity. There’s room in my diet for things I don’t need in order to survive, like sugar. But good health is more important than transient enjoyment; so I keep my sugar consumption low.
For a good post by Dr. William Davis on why “moderation in all things” is a silly and destructive notion, visit here. For another one by Dr. Paul Kratka pertaining to this idea in relation to things like refined sugar, try here.
Plato says he’s hungry
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