Paradoxing

Vegetables are interesting, but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat.

–Fran Lebowitz

I spent some time this week with The Vegetarian. I just met her, but I think she’s due her own capitalized title. A lovely person and not at all evangelistic about her food choices. Credit where credit is due, after all. She doesn’t do it because of any religious or ethical scruples, but because she believes it to be the best way to avoid cancer. But when you’re eating butter, oil, and steaks, and she’s eating chips and salads, one of you is bound to notice something. We didn’t argue or even really discuss, but we did briefly explain our opposing views.

She got where she is by reading, if I recall the title correctly, The Food Revolution. In another post we’ll take a look at that book, but for now let’s go paradoxing, shall we? It’s a little like parasailing, only not at all.

I would like to promise it’ll be fun, but as I’m now in a plane at 38,000 feet crossing the entire United States–and we are currently over North Dakota–I’m afraid we’re shockingly short on fun. And room. And food. Thank goodness I don’t need to eat every two hours, because I don’t have $17 to shell out for a tiny box of “food.”

So let’s start with that paradox, huh?

1. MOOOOOOOOOOOOO

My vegetarian friend had the nibbles very often these past few days. Now granted I ate more often than normal, too. I indulged in some chocolate. I was traveling with family, and the last thing you want to do in Party Travel Mode is refuse to eat. But the only thing The Vegetarian and I ate in common (except for one hot dog she indulged in as a special treat) was some chocolate. She had chocolate covered raisins and lots of chips and other carby snacks. I had dark chocolate, roasted almonds, bacon jerky (YES!), cheese, pork rinds, and sliced deli meats.

She had to eat constantly. Oh, she blamed it on being on the West Coast, time being off, eating schedule different, jet lag, etc. But the reality was she needed food a lot because she needed fuel for her cells. Once she burned off her glucose from one meal/snack–even when it was from fruits and vegetables–she needed some more. It was pretty plain to see.

So the paradox is, if all that stuff is so good for, you why doesn’t it satisfy you? Why can’t you be done eating and then go on with life for several hours without getting cranky and starving? Not just once in a while when you put your mind to it, but all the time, naturally. The way humans used to be able to function. Why must we graze like cows when we aren’t ruminants and don’t have enough stomachs?

2. It’s not fair; how can you look younger?

I arrived in the United States a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been awash in comments about how much younger I look. It’s not the weight loss. Ever notice how a lot of people who lose weight via conventional low fat diets actually look a bit saggy in the face? Get more wrinkles? In spending time with people I haven’t seen in 2 or 3 years, I’ve seen several who’ve also lost some weight. None of them looked robustly healthy. In fact one gentleman positively shocked me with how much older he looked. Another gentleman didn’t look older in the face per say, but I could tell that even though he was much thinner, he’d obviously lost muscle tone in his arms and legs.

And me? I haven’t been hitting the gym, yet when I went to weigh my airline bag I had to pull out a scale.

I know that’s not particularly shocking. I’m getting to why.

For a long time, I could tell if I was over the 50-pound international luggage weight limit by just lifting my suitcase. If I just couldn’t quite lift it with one arm, it was about 50 pounds. So this time I tried that and the suitcase came up easily. I thought I was fine…till I asked someone else to feel it. He was very concerned that it was overweight. I had to weigh it on a scale to make sure. But the point is that I have packed on muscle.

Then there’s my father. I haven’t seen him in a couple years. He’s been eating like me for a few months, and I spent our first meal staring at him and wondering what was odd. Finally I put my finger on it: though in my head I know he’s older than the last time I saw him, and though I can see he has more white hair than he did then, too, that white hair now frames a face that actually looks younger.

I was shocked upon being introduced to The Vegetarian to find that she was actually my age. I would have assumed her to be a decade older, from her face.

So what’s going on? It seems primarily to be due to the way nice, healthy fat helps the nails, skin, and hair, as well as the way high-quality protein like that found in beef helps build muscle. Not to mention that low-fat diets require you to eat at starvation levels–make no mistake, 1500 calories a day is starvation–while no carb, high fat, and moderate protein allows you to eat plenty. And even if you choose not to eat that much, by limiting carbs and their consequent insulin rush you’ve unlocked your own fat stores for ready use as fuel. That’s like having 45,000 calories worth of bacon at your disposal. You don’t look like you’ve been starved because you haven’t been.

So riddle me this: if tons of vegetables and grains are good for you, while fat and red meat are bad for you, why do the “healthy” people look sagged and wrinkled, and why are they losing their muscle tone? Why do the ones eating unhealthy food look younger and robustly healthy?

3. The Belly

The Vegetarian is very thin: except for the dreaded belly. She mentioned in passing that when she eats anything with grain she gets a huge, distended stomach for a few hours. It does go away but returns again in the next grain indulgence. And she always does have a smaller one, which is incongruous with her otherwise very slender and tall frame. In fact, she also admitted readily that her own dietary experience had shown her that eating fat doesn’t make her fat: carbs make her fat.

So here’s the paradox. I think no matter how we eat we can all agree that being fat is not a good thing. It’s a sign of poor health. Does it cause health problems? Other than stuff like blasted out knees, no. But it is a sign that other things are happening physiologically that could blossom into serious health problems later. Not always: some people get the fat response to constantly elevating their blood sugar but never get any other problems. Some people never get the fat, but still succumb to “Western diseases” anyway. And many get fat first–the warning sign–and then get the diseases after.

So once again, if eating lots of carbs–even in the form of healthy whole grains and vegetables–is making you fat, while eating fat and meat isn’t, and we all agree that getting fat is a warning sign flashing Problems Ahead: how can eating all the carbs be so good for you? If being fat is bad, how can what makes you grow fat be good?

4. We’re done already?

Now I didn’t notice this last one in The Vegetarian so much, but I’ve noticed it in lots of other people over the last few weeks in the States. Exhaustion.

I saw it on the faces of people around me. I felt genuinely sorry to see it, and to be honest I also felt a bit guilty. I didn’t get much sleep a lot of nights these past two weeks, yet I didn’t feel much change. And by “not a lot of sleep” I mean that at camp it was about 5 hours a night, and one night of just 3 hours. Once I got back from camp it was about the same with one or two nights’ exception, plus I had some speaking engagements.

Yet I just didn’t feel tired. Perhaps a desire to go to bed a bit earlier a few nights. I was more active than most adults I saw around me during this time, and I also several times felt ancy because I really wanted to move. I wanted to do something physical, but no one else much did. To be part of the group, I stayed more sedentary. But what I wanted to do was run off and play with the kids.

This has nothing to do with work ethic, nothing to do with personal determination, nothing to do with responsibilities. It has, I firmly believe, everything to do with diet.

The only time I did feel really tired were the day or two that I overindulged in chocolate. I was shocked a few hours later by the extreme exhaustion I felt. I used to feel that way all the time, back when I thought an apple and a homemade, whole grain bread sandwich with no mayo, 1/3 a chicken breast, a tiny sliver of cheese and tons of dark greens, tomato and onion was a healthy lunch. That made me every bit as exhausted as chocolate, just perhaps a little more slowly. I hated that feeling, yet I didn’t know what to do to change it. Coffee helped but didn’t cure the problem. Eating again helped a little, too. For a short while.

But this time? Nothing fixed the exhaustion problem faster than fat. Keep to my butter and coconut oil breakfast with another meal of lots of fatty meat (and, hey, some vegetables too, because they do taste good) and I felt great. And when I knew carbs had been too high, I just fasted for a while. Not to somehow balance out my caloric intake, but because that way I could get back to burning fat for fuel again. My liver could start producing ketone bodies, which my brain perks right up on. It’s happening on this flight, actually. It’s been about six hours since breakfast, which was two tablespoons of butter, one tablespoon of coconut oil, one tablespoon of MCT oil and some coffee. I felt great five minutes after drinking it, and I’ve been feeling better and better as the flight goes along. I recognize this feeling. It comes now all the time after eating plenty of fat or even fasting: energy. In another hour, I’ll be wishing there was a gym at the Boston airport where I have my layover. Or a pool. Or maybe a mountain to run up.

So here’s our final paradox: why does eating all the healthy food make you feel so lousy? I mean, ok maybe you feel great for a while after a smoothie. Sure. Sugar gives you a lift, there’s no denying it. But if that smoothie is so healthy, why do you feel like the walking dead* two hours later? If eating fat and meat are so bad for you, why do they give you hallmarks of good health, like sustained, real energy and alertness?

I saw a 5 Hour Energy Drink commercial last night. First I laughed. Then I started yelling at the TV. Everyone feels the way that commercial describes. We all know that mid-morning slump and that mid-afternoon need for a nap. So what’s their answer? Buy our drink.

AACK!!!

STOP EATING 300g OF “HEALTHY” CARBS A DAY! Stop denying yourself healthy, energy-giving fat and protein. Then you won’t have the slump!!!!

And why does that stuff work? To their credit they don’t have any sugar in their drink. But know what they DO have in there?All the same vitamins and minerals that you can get easily, and absorb most readily, from red meat.

*No resemblance to zombies, alive or undead, is intended.

 

Plato says he’s hungry

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