By Joey Lott (Health researcher and a more than 10-time Amazon bestselling author. Get his future health books for free, including his upcoming title Big Fat Lies at www.joeylotthealth.com)
Here’s a story demonstrating health brainwashing that I hear or read time and time again. Undoubtedly you’ll recognize this story as well.
Pat Smith feels unwell and can’t figure out what to do about it. Pat goes to healthcare professionals and gets tests done and gets a whole bunch of different diagnoses over the years. Sooner or later, Pat learns about some (restrictive) dietary rules that someone claims will help Pat to feel better. Pat begins to restrict. Pat feels worse. Pat’s “support group” (which is generally composed of some internet forum or Facebook group dedicated to the particular form of restriction) encourages Pat to tough it out and consider further restriction. Pat takes the advice, and the cycle repeats over and over until Pat is gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, salt-free, grain-free, meat-free, fat-free, and very definitely wellness-free.
I know this story because that was my story for a long, long, loooong time. And subsequently, I’ve communicated with and “coached” lots of other people who have the same story. Okay, sure, there are variations on the story. For example, sometimes Pat starts out feeling okay but just wants to feel even more okay – like superhuman.
Or other times Pat starts out just wanting to drop a few pounds. But it’s the same basic story all the same, and it leads to the same dead end. I have seen this pattern play out so often, in fact, that I have written a couple of books specifically outlining the pattern and why it is such a really bad idea to continue with it. The first book was specific to chronic Lyme disease and in it I give my own account of recovery from chronic Lyme disease by and large due to eating a lot of food unrestrictedly. The other book, Hungry, is a more generalized look at the subject.
Suffice it to say, I am a believer in the “miraculous healing power” of just eating food without restriction (along with sufficient sleep and learning how to relax). These things may not always be all that is required to heal, but with very few exceptions they are essential to recovery, and without dedication to eating, sleeping, and relaxing I find that people just dig themselves deeper into ruts. Because of my publication regarding recovery from chronic Lyme disease I was invited (by which I mean, I suddenly was just added) to a Facebook group that is one of those “support groups” that I alluded to earlier. The idea being, I suspect, that I might lend support to those wishing to recover. I really am not a Facebook person, and that coupled with the fact that it appears to me that most of the group’s conversations have to do with restriction in some form or another, I generally don’t read much of what goes on in the group. I’d posted a few suggestions in the past that were duly ignored or rejected, and so I just haven’t bothered participating. However, recently the person who had added me to the group in the first place tagged me in a post, asking for me and a few others who have healing stories to share our “secrets” to healing. I knew better, but I took the invitation and wrote the following: I have communicated with a number of people who have recovered. One of the common themes is giving up on the restrictive mindset that is so prominent in most Lyme discussions. I am not suggesting that some exclusions on an individual basis may not be appropriate – at least for a while. However, a lot of people are eliminating everything – gluten, sugar, starch, carbohydrates in general, meat, protein, fat, salt, etc. – simply because that’s what others say to do. But all that restriction makes people sicker most of the time. There are very few exceptions in my experience. Sure, there might be a handful of people who get better after they cut out everything, do a month long fast, but that usually backfires, and for good reason. A lot of people are weak and have brain fog and anxiety in part because they don’t eat enough. Find the foods that work for you – even if they are completely counter to what most people suggest you should eat, even if that is nothing but pure sugar and gluten in your case – and eat as much as you can. Eat carbohydrates because that helps hormonal balance and helps with sleep. There is a great deal of research to back this up. If in doubt, start researching peer reviewed published double blind clinical human studies and you’ll see. Also, while some herbs work for some people, they don’t work for everyone. And I don’t think they are generally going to be a substitute for eating enough and getting sleep working again. The herbs can help sometimes, but they are best in addition to eating enough and sleeping enough. Oh, and the common fixation on “killing the bacteria” is, in my opinion, misguided. We all carry around lots of bacteria. in fact, 90 percent of the cells in our bodies are bacteria – not even human. And we’re talking about countless species. Trying to manage that is like herding cats. It’s an endless headache. Instead, provide the body with the calories, nutrition, and rest that it needs. Nourishment rather than warfare. It’s okay – or at least inevitable – to have bacteria in your body, including some that are considered “bad”. But what matters is how nourished and functional your body is regardless of the bacteria. The body is very intelligent and capable when given enough nourishment. That’s my two cents. And to reiterate, it is possible to feel better. It does happen.
To be fair, three people “liked” my comment, which in Facebook-ese I think means that they had positive opinions about what I wrote. However, the many comments that followed the conversation immediately and consistently steered toward restriction. Everyone was quick to chime in with their suggestions about the importance of restricting without any acknowledgment of the value of eating enough. And while no one had the gumption to directly challenge me, at least one person did so in an indirect, passive-aggressive fashion, alluding to “previous comments” and how she felt the need to respond about the importance of restricting. I don’t care about other people’s opinions, and that includes their opinions about me and their opinions about my views. I don’t care what names people want to call me or if they want to make crude jokes about my mother or my grandmother or anything else. So that’s not the point of this story. I’m only sharing this somewhat personal account because it illustrates how brainwashed the majority of us are. People who are ostensibly looking to get help – people who are genuinely feeling horrid – will outright reject a statement that is backed not only by personal and anecdotal evidence, but also by a lot of credible scientific literature (obviously not all the literature is super credible, but if you read it carefully it’s possible to find the stuff that is) simply because it doesn’t fit with popular sentiments.
You’re reading this, and so in a sense you’re ahead of the curve. You’re already questioning dogma. So that’s good news. But to whatever degree you’re still clinging to beliefs, here’s my point: I’m just saying WAKE UP. Be willing to admit that when you’re looking for help it’s because what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working. And a big part of what you’ve been doing that hasn’t been working is believing popular sentiment.
Here are some examples of popular sentiments.
“Fat is ugly”
“Fat is unhealthy”
“Thin is healthy”
“I need to lose weight in order to be healthy”
“Fat people are lazy”
“Modern wheat is a scourge on the planet, and anyone who touches the stuff will suffer intestinal inflammation”
“The only way to lose weight is to restrict calories”
“The only effective way to lose weight is to eliminate high GI foods”
“The only effective way to lose weight is to eliminate grains”
“Starch is bad and sugar is good”
“Sugar is bad and starch is good”
“Starch and sugar are bad”
“We need to cleanse those colons with lots of fiber to be healthy”
“If only I could lose weight, then I’d be happy”
“All that sugar is going to cause diabetes”
“If I eat enough to feel alright, I’ll get even fatter”
“Only young people can eat enough and not get fat”
There are plenty more, of course. If you’ve got some good ones, add them to the comments section. Now, of course, sometimes some of these things are apparently sort of true. Or, rather, less absolute versions of these statements may have some kernel of truth to them. For example, some people really do have serious inflammation problems with gluten. Those people probably shouldn’t eat gluten if they want to feel well. Reportedly it’s something like 2 or 3 percent of the population. And yeah, maybe it’s more than we think. Maybe it’s 4 percent or 5 percent. Maybe it’s even 10 percent. Maybe you are one of those people. Fine. Don’t eat gluten. That’s the smart thing to do. Please do listen to your body.
Or here’s another example. Maybe you are descended from a group of people who have adapted over hundreds of thousands of years to eating only whale blubber and stomach contents. Maybe you are one of the few people who really will thrive on a very low carbohydrate diet. I don’t know. It’s possible, at least, no matter how unlikely. But don’t make the mistake of generalizing and believing those generalized statements. Because you’ll probably be wrong.
I mean, hey, you might be wrong even about what you think you know. And that includes even if you have genetic tests that supposedly prove it. Why? Because sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes we are mistaken. Sometimes huge numbers of people are wrong – all the while believing that they are right. Look at it this way. There are some people who fervently believe that veganism is the only healthy diet, and some of those people may even be healthy. There are some people who fervently believe that a high fat, low carb, “paleo” diet is the only healthy diet, and some of those people may even be healthy. How can that be? Might it be that they are all mistaken? Maybe it’s got nothing to do with what they think it’s got to do with.
Now, any of us could be wrong. In fact, we probably are wrong about a lot of things. Maybe eating enough and sleeping enough really isn’t that important. Maybe it’s all just about the alignment of the stars and we’re fooling ourselves by thinking otherwise. But that’s okay. In spite of the fact that I advocate for eating enough and sleeping enough, I’m not married to those as being absolute truths for ever and ever for all people everywhere in the universe. They are just the very best working theories that I’ve got at the moment, and they seem so sensible to me particularly in the face of the horrific track record that restrictive eating (or not eating, as it were) and/or insufficient sleep have on health and particularly since without exception everyone I have “coached” who has taken me up on the suggestion to eat adequate calories from a wide variety of foods (including starch, sugar, meat, dairy, salt, etc.) and sleep enough has found that, lo and behold, they feel better. Maybe not 100 percent. But better. So all I’m saying is, “Hey, just give it a try. Be willing to let go of your beliefs and just try eating and sleeping some more.” In a sense I know that I am “preaching to the choir” here. But I also know that we can have doubts along the way.
I know because I’ve had doubts along the way. I know because most people I communicate with about these things have doubts. I know because the doubts come up time and time again here on the blog in the comments section. And I want to offer you some reassurance that if you’re feeling better by eating and sleeping and relaxing, that’s a good thing. Yeah, you’ll probably get fatter for a while. That usually happens. Sometimes for years. And yeah, you’ll probably have doubts. That usually happens. But remember how much it sucks to starve yourself and be stressed out all the time, and don’t do that to yourself again no matter how much the popular sentiments may poo-poo your choices. Should you eat gluten if it consistently makes you feel like death warmed over? Heck no. Don’t do that to yourself. You don’t need to prove anything to anybody. This isn’t a contest to see who can eat the most unrestrictedly. Rather, it’s an invitation to start listening to some of what one might hope would be “common sense”, which is when you’re hungry, eat and when you’re tired, sleep and when you’re stressed, relax. It’s not always so easy, particularly when we’re deprogramming from years of being brainwashed and half starved. But it gets easier the more we do it. And the more we do it, the more skilled we become at it too so that we naturally find that without having to think or plan for it, we just take care of ourselves well. We get better at recognizing our hunger cues and accepting that our cravings are appropriate and good. Might we make “mistakes” along the way? Might we feel not so hot on occasion because we tried something that didn’t work out so well? Sure. That happens. But consider the overall trajectory. Keep the big picture in mind. See how things really do get better in many regards by decluttering our belief systems and trusting in the cues of the body. And here’s another idea. Try it on for size. See how it feels.
Are you ready? Here it is: let’s be generous, gentle, and kind to ourselves and to others. Let’s stop hating ourselves for being fat or tired or hungry or lazy or sick or skinny or misshapen or whatever other imperfections we want to dream up. Let’s stop judging others for being fat or tired or hungry or lazy or sick or skinny or misshapen or whatever other imperfections we want to dream up. And that includes judging or hating others for being “attractive” or “healthy” or “energetic” or “young” or whatever else.
One more thing. Don’t create a new dogma. Don’t turn the idea of eating enough, sleeping enough, and relaxing enough into a rigid system with rules. Things change. Don’t worry about the future. The future won’t be what you expected anyway. Leave the future for the future. Right now, just do this. Just eat now if you’re hungry, and eat what sounds appetizing. (Though I also know that sometimes for some of us nothing sounds appetizing, in which case, just eat what you can and rest and relax as much as possible.) Let’s not try to do any of this “perfectly”. Let’s just take care of what needs to be taken care of now. Is there hunger? Eat. Is there tiredness? Sleep. Is there stress? Relax. That’s all. That’s enough, isn’t it? Because goodness knows we’ve got enough other stuff that needs to be done between taking care of kids and paying the rent and cleaning up after the dog that got sick in the house and on and on. Anyway, as cliche as it is, maybe there really is something to the notion of being the change you want to see. If you’ve gotten the short end of the stick from trying to get “healthy” according to popular sentiments, then maybe you owe it to yourself and to future generations to stop living according to those lies that only serve to hurt people. Crap, I’m not trying to put a lot of pressure on you. I’m just saying that it’s got to start somewhere, so why not you? Why not now? It might be nice.