Conquering the Health Hype
03 November 2014
Health and wellness has without a doubt become the "talk of the town" of late. A food revolution is well on its way with more and more of us acquiring a taste for healthy living. The plethora of knowledge that is currently available to us through the internet and social media is opening our eyes wide to the many truths about the food (well at least we hope its food) that we ingest. As with everything in life, too much of anything can tip the scale and produce unfavourable results. Following suit, consistent exposure to endless amounts of information about health / diet and wellness can trigger contradictive outcomes to those intended.
For many people healthy living is dictated by keeping on trend with the latest hard-hitting "health" craze. Recent brand name fads include Paleo / Banting / Low Carb / High Protein / Low Fat / Gluten Free / Wheat Free / Dairy Free / Low Fat / High Fat / Low GI / to name a few. The continuous "manufacturing" of health fads has become as seasonal as fashion trends and just as impossible to keep up with, particularly for individuals who are not completely familiar with the fundamental principles of nutrition and fitness. With opposite ends of an overly-distended continuum swearing by directly opposing theories these health fads create mass confusion. On the one end of the continuum we have low fat, high carbohydrate diets which advocate the reduction of protein and fat consumption; on the other end we have high protein, high fat diets that proliferate the reduction of carbohydrate ingestion and credit the increase of healthy fat consumption. In between these juxtaposing extremes lie a myriad of fads each of which defend their views with utmost conviction. When it comes to nutrition, it's no wonder that mass mystification and uncertainty exist.
"Fads are called fads for a reason - anything that is labelled a fad is unsustainable and should therefore be avoided"
Many individuals become entrapped within this web of confusion as a result of the intensity with which media promotes these fads. What we need to keep reminding ourselves is that these are FADS...they are called fads for a reason - anything that is labelled a fad is unsustainable and should therefore be avoided. Fads are always depicted in the form of extremes, with the mass elimination of certain food groups being the "ground-breaking science" that supports each approach. What makes absolutely no sense at all is the one-size-fits-all approach that these fads apply. No one individual is the same, therefore no one diet should be the same.
"To claim that humans should only consume protein as did their primordial ancestors does not tie in at all with evolution"
In a modern-world society, humans are a function of many interconnected variables - upbringing, genetics, environment, socio-economic status, work, education, belief systems, culture, gender and evolution. Just as plants and animals evolve and adapt to an ever-changing environment, so humans do the same. To claim, for example, that humans should consume only protein as did their primordial ancestors does not tie in at all with evolution which states that living beings adapt to their environment and undergo natural selection. That is, specific genetics most suitable for survival within a given environment are carried through to the next generation and those genetics that inhibit survival are phased out. These scaffolds of our genetic fabric are therefore directed by this evolutionary intelligence to ensure survival within a constantly changing environment. Given the progression of mankind, our bodies have undoubtedly evolved to survive within the context of modern civilisation. Carbohydrates, not previously consumed by mankind, have now become a common food group for the consumption of modern civilisation. The mere ability to grow and harvest certain crops has enabled mankind to diversify his diet. With a greater assortment of food becoming available overtime, man has adapted to survive on a diet that provides a variety of foods. From an evolutionary standpoint, this therefore suggests that the formation of new enzymes has occurred to enable mankind to digest and assimilate these foods into his body. Moreover, the survival of mankind is amplified as he is now afforded an abundant selection of foods upon which he may effectively survive.
"Junk food is a primary example of industry's exploitation of consumables for financial gain at the expense of mankind"
This does not however support the daily consumption of junk food. When I speak about a variety of food groups, I am referring to foods stemming directly from nature that undergo little to no processing prior to reaching our tables. If we look at the components of junk food to begin with, most of these "foods" are laden with refined sugars and chemicals that can hardly be considered food at all. Attaching the word food to junk is in itself bizarre because it is not food at all - rather a combination of 'supposedly' consumable chemicals that have been engineered to taste good and leave us wanting more. Junk food is a primary example of the food industry's exploitation of consumables for financial gain at the expense of mankind.
"Fad diets are the product of significant income for the individuals responsible for their creation"
On closer examination, you will discover that many fad diets are the product of significant income for the individuals responsible for their creation - a fact that those of us on the receiving end often forget to take into account. Of course we all need to make a living; however it is the mindfulness with which we do so that should always be evaluated. Fad diets for one, as "scientifically proven" as many of them may seem, do not necessarily hold any credibility; rather their results rely on a sample of individuals measured over a short period of time. Again individuals on the receiving end of such information are often oblivious to what ”scientifically proven" actually means - many of us have never been privy to the study and application of research and therefore are not always able to discern fact from opinion.
“Health and wellness research is only credible if the research has occured over a long period of time to establish trends"
For starters, most research is evaluated through the use of statistics, which rely on probability and statistical significance. When a conclusion in research is drawn, much of what goes on behind the scenes is based on the sample size used for a particular study - as long the hypothesis in question is reasonably plausible and the sample size of individuals applied to test the hypothesis is large, then statistical significance (and ultimately proof that the hypothesis is true or false) will be found. Research especially with reference to health and wellbeing is only credible if a study has occurred over a long period of time, during which results outputted by a given hypothesis have been assessed at regular intervals and trends have been established. Even trends in themselves are not always fool proof - trends are established on the most common result for the greatest number of people within a sample. This means that not all people in the sample are demonstrating the same result. Therefore no matter how scientifically proven something may seem, there are still some individuals for which that specific finding is not true.
"When it comes to matters of health each individual must be aware of what does and does not work for him"
When it comes to the health and wellbeing of individuals, each individual must be aware of what does and does not work for him - no scientifically proven diet is necessarily right for all individuals as we are all completely unique - from our genetics and personality to the environment and people we are surrounded by. I am in no way discrediting research as the practice thereof has unleashed many discoveries that have proliferated the survival, progression and intelligence of mankind ; however I am encouraging us all to be aware of what research really means and to evaluate from all angles for ourselves the plausibility of any given conclusion.
"Adopting a healthy approach to your life is a decision - a lifestyle change that one works to implement every single day"
True and lasting change rises from admitting to the self that consistent effort, discipline and willingness to learn are required in order to ensure the change is permanent. Similarly, adopting a healthy approach to life is a decision, - a lifestyle change that one works to implement every single day. A lifestyle change in itself is a lifestyle - a new way of life that requires us to put a substantial amount of time and effort into reprogramming ourselves to make better decisions daily in order to maintain vitality. This requires a major mind shift - not merely the application of an end goal - the minute we place an end goal on our health we are subconsciously setting the wrong precedent for ourselves - we begin to believe that there is only a finite amount of time during which we must adhere to this lifestyle change, following which we may resume your old habits. This often occurs during summer as beach season looms ahead. Panic station sets in and so does our uncanny ability to set unreasonable goals. What better tool to help us towards achieving our unreasonable goals then the plethora of fad diets that we all rush to try because they align themselves to these goals by promising us the "perfect model body" in just two weeks. Unless you plan to starve for two weeks straight, I can assure you that no diet will ever produce such grossly inflated results. It is no surprise that we tend to flock towards any promise of quick and immediate results given the nature of modern society that is grounded upon instant gratification, efficiency and speed. The very fact that we are willing to dedicate far more time and effort to choosing our mechanic or house contractor than we are to selecting the type and origin of our food is evidence enough that our priorities are not aligned to wellness. That we think this way at all is proof that we require a major shift in our perception of what it means to be healthy.
"Health must always be sought after through the application of a holistic approach"
Whatever ""trigger goal" has motivated our desire to get healthy, be it weight loss, lethargy, anxiety, stress etc., health must always be sought after through the application of a holistic approach. Holistic means accounting for all aspects of health; isolating one aspect of health is again setting an end-point goal which is not conducive to sustaining health throughout one's lifetime. If you are looking to lose weight for example, you need to evaluate all aspects of your life in order for weight loss to occur - food is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. Stress, relationships, self-esteem and mental health are other major contributors to healthy and sustained weight loss. I can guarantee you that a person who is eating very healthy but who is stressed and is in a constant negative state of mind will not succeed in losing weight and keeping it off. Similarly, a person who is treating their stress through stress therapy and yet does not consume a healthy balanced diet will not feel any less stressed.
"We need to understand that each domain of our lives influences the other"
We need to understand that each domain of our lives influences the other; therefore lasting wellness (no matter what our "trigger goal” may be) will only be obtained by consistently working on enriching each life domain to ensure sustained balance and harmony within and between each. The fulfilment of any health "trigger goal" should be an added advantage of working our way towards a healthier life. Life is all about balance, consistency and mindfulness. So keep it simple... eat clean ( simplicity means one ingredient foods) exercise regularly, enrich your soul, apply your talents, love, laugh and enjoy what you do; let go of the baggage, spring clean your thoughts and grant yourself true "beingness".
"Health is not a fad and does not promise overnight results"
Remember always that health is not a fad and does not promise overnight results - health is not one end goal but a series of steps that we must take every day to experience this sensation of wellness; Health is every day for the rest of our lives; health is balance, health is mindfulness, awareness and a keen understanding of the interconnected nature of our own body, mind and spirit. There never was, never is and never will be a quick fix to health.
Yours in Health Always,