In the last post, I used the phrase “neurotic approach to food”. I want to explain this more. When we dive into nutrition and make an effort to eat healthy, regardless of what healthy means to us at that time, we divide the world of food into “good” versus “bad”. If we eat “good foods”, we feel fine and when we eat “bad foods” we feel awful. But what we consider “good” and “bad” changes over time, based of what we are exposed to in the health media, our own research, our experiences and if we have money to throw around – blood tests.
Although there are foods that some people really should avoid, there is a lot of gray area. What we should be focusing on is developing a positive attitude towards our food in an effort to become more resilient. Highly restrictive diets and this belief that minor toxin exposure will destroy our body is not a healthy way to live. Are you have a stressful response to a food because of the food or your belief of the health qualities of that food?
Photo by Malingering
We all know someone who is a vegetarian or maybe we’ve been one ourselves. Have you ever been around one when they learn some soup they consumed was made with a chicken or beef stock? I’ve actually seen them develop stomach pains. Then upon further investigation, they find out the stock was really vegetarian. The stomach pains were real, caused by their food neurosis.
This is not just a vegetarian phenomena. It is with all diets. If there are foods that are toxic, by all means remove them. After that, just enjoy your food. Be thankful. Be resilient. After all there is an almost certain probability the health media will move on to the next food to demonize or praise.
Maybe some of my older posts at times may have approached food in a too restrictive manner. Sorry about that. I still loathe veggie oils and gluten. There isn’t a third smoking gun however. Continually looking for one would be neurotic.
Mar 11, 2013 — 12:08 pm
Agreed! However I will say that being adamant about avoiding certain foods does serve a purpose in our lives at times. It helps us change our habits and addictions. For example, if you avoid sugar long enough, you stop being a sugar junkie and learn to eat it only occasionally and with great appreciation. There’s not much I totally abstain from, but there are many things I avoid and eat only rarely in order to eat a healthier diet. Embracing a healthy diet without feeling deprived is a journey. We are all at different places in our journey. Make sense?
Mar 11, 2013 — 12:20 pm
@Becky – It does make sense.
Sugar is a topic that still puzzles me. I went from eating very little in 2011, to a lot in 2012 and today. I tested my sugar neurosis and I learned sugar wasn’t the demon for me. I might be wrong, but if loving ice cream is wrong, I don’t want to be right. 🙂
Seriously, I talk to a lot of people that are convinced all their health problems are caused by some list of bad foods. I think their neurotic approach in believing that food is the cause of all their ailments is in part what makes them sick.
Mar 11, 2013 — 2:13 pm
I’m still trying to convince myself that chocolate cookies are good for me, other than that they put me in a good mood (temporarily – then leave me strung out and exhausted). I figure if I reprogram myself enough, maybe, just maybe, they’ll be neutral. Or something.
Or I’ll do something like take up running again and have to eliminate everything that gives me cramps. But not this month. (Too many stones on the sidewalks, still. Next month.)
I don’t know how you’re supposed to decide these things. Apparently the Amish eat dessert, and grains, but are really healthy because of all the exercise they get. Maybe I want to be Amish? On the other hand, if I eliminate everything that gives me indigestion/cramps I end up with just meat, and that’s expensive.
I think you can go around and around in circles forever. (At least I can.) Especially if you don’t have a lot of money for food. *sigh*
Mar 11, 2013 — 3:14 pm
@Anemone – I wish I could help you. If you’ve been chasing your problems for a while, maybe some form of testing would be of benefit? I was fortunate to stumble (by accident) on my gluten issues. I didn’t need to seek out a medical professional.
Mar 11, 2013 — 10:14 pm
I’m a vegetarian more for ethical reasons as well as health. i’ve done the exact neurotic thing you mentioned here! Many times. But I’m at a point after 40 years where it has become less neurotic and more just a flow of the way my wife and I eat. I agree that being relaxed and just enjoying eating without excesses is awesome. I’ve done raw foods (still luv to eat lots of fruit), vegan, no oil, no dairy, no sugar, etc, etc.. But if I take care of the regular details like moderation, regular meals, eating what & when my body wants something and so on, i seem to feel very well. My only question to you is wondering if following your approach or Matt Stone or Ray Peat can be done by vegetarians? I mean I enjoy what you and the others are saying about food; but I’m not going to start eating any animals at this point (been veg for 40 years and I’m almost 60). Any thoughts are appreciated.
Mar 12, 2013 — 6:25 am
@MAS – Here’s where I really overthink it: How do I know that a positive result on a gluten intolerance test isn’t a neurotic reaction?
I’m not really worried. When I get some of my other stress issues taken care of, the food problems should fall away.
Mar 12, 2013 — 8:32 am
@paulM – Both Stone and Peat really like saturated fat. As a vegetarian, you can load on coconut oil and butter. They both like full fat dairy too. I think a vegan couldn’t follow their core principles, but a lacto-ovo vegetarian probably could.
@Anemone – Good point. Sort of like my example above where the vegetarian thinks they consumed an animal stock and develops real symptoms, only to find out later the stock was vegetarian.
Mar 12, 2013 — 11:51 am
I was thinking about your glitter gym post today for some reason. You should write some new posts.
I’ve always wanted to hire a personal trainer and flip the script on him by being totally in-your-face, supercharged and motivational while he is trying to train me just to see his reaction.
Mar 12, 2013 — 2:44 pm
@Thomas – Tales from the Glitter Gym has been retired, although I am thinking about a mini-fitness rant series. Maybe 4-5 posts.
Mar 12, 2013 — 7:56 pm
Great topic Michael.
I’d like to get your take on the strange case of the Peatarians embrace of white sugar, a food that most people interested in nutrition, and just about all the nutritionists, would agree is categorically “bad”.
As a lifelong ‘sugaraholic’ I’m not going to wholeheartedly hop onto that part of the Peat bandwagon but they have made me question my belief that all forms of sugar are to be avoided.
Case in point, tonight’s dinner was guilt-free homemade cacao vanilla ice cream sweetened with maple syrup.
Given that so many dietary viewpoints contradict one another yet seem to work I wonder how much of it is the X factor of belief, or lack of neurosis.
Mar 12, 2013 — 8:34 pm
@Richard – It is interesting that the Peat folks preach not to fear or be neurotic about sugar, but then they are neurotic about fermented foods and the Omega 3 PUFAs found in salmon.
I have no clue if the Peat folks are right about sugar. About a year ago I started adding a lot of sugar to my diet. My life didn’t fall apart as the Paleo people would have predicted, but I also didn’t feel amazing like the Peat folks said I would.
My embracing of sugar came when I theorized that ice cream was the perfect food for lean ectomorphs looking to gain muscle. For that purpose, I think it works.
So on my scorecard, sugar used to be a toxin and is now neutral.
Mar 13, 2013 — 9:17 pm
Great post MAS, I always appreciate your reasonable and well thought out perspective.
I’ve come around the the belief that legitimate food allergies aside (and there aren’t all that many of those), you can eat just about anything as long as the calories end up balancing. Our bodies are pretty amazing at processing anything that we eat into useful and useless component parts, it’s hard to outsmart that system. That doesn’t mean switching to a calories neurosis, but rather just making sure that you’re not gaining weight with whatever you’re doing. That’s relatively easy if you prepare most of your own food in basically traditional ways, but gets much tougher as you eat anything pre-prepared or in a box.
Reading things like “the End of Overeating” or “Fat Salt Sugar” makes it pretty clear that while it’s not right to blame McDonalds or Coke for obesity, it’s the application of their food science innovations to so much of our diet that cause problems. All food companies are under pressure to sell more food in the same way that Apple has pressure to sell more phones. Their scientists figure out ways to activate our normal systems to crave their food- basically through adding salt, fat and sugar, as well as manipulating mouth feel, aftertaste and a host of other variables. Cinnabon doesn’t just bake a cinnamon roll, they tested 70 recipes of various shapes and sizes to see which one caused people to eat the most and then spend a lot of money replicating that exactly all over the country. If you play in the processed food sandbox, you don’t have a chance! Even a chicken breast at a place like Rudy Tuesday has been injected with thousands of needles to add flavor, ‘pre-chew’ and moisten it so that people crave more. The only way to win is not to play.
So the idea that it’s sugar, carbs, fat or anything like that alone that causes trouble is going to be wrong and a red herring. It’s the scientific application of those things to our food supply with an aim to trigger overconsumption that causes the problem.
Mar 14, 2013 — 6:27 am
Ah, from the Dr Guyenet camp.
There is much truth to this but not playing means abstinence.
And abstinence in the Western World is difficult.
It used to be monks that could do it (the new pope is one),
but for the rest of our mortals it is difficult.
If you have a family with young children and you have to compete against the school canteen and vending machines, you just want them to eat your food and not the industrial food, so you make … it taste good.
Mar 14, 2013 — 8:03 am
@Karl – Thanks. I haven’t read “Fat Salt Sugar”, but “The End of Overeating” was impressive. In fact, I used that information to reverse my rapid weight loss, by seeking out a food with high palatability (ice cream). That will be the topic of the next post.
Mar 14, 2013 — 2:18 pm
Surely it’s just a case of the advice that your mother used to say? A little bit of what you fancy does you good…..and everything in moderation…..
Mar 15, 2013 — 10:31 am
Yet another great post. Reminds me of The Porcelain Doll Diet by Matthew Bowen.
Indeed, demonizing particular foods is easy, nuance is hard – and this is usually true for all diets. After all, it’s much easier to grasp notions like “all dairy is bad” instead of “it depends”.
I guess I can say I now eat a paleo-plus-dairy-peatish-whole-foods diet 🙂 Most of my friends don’t really know what I eat and I find it funny that when going out for a meal someone will get terribly worried that the place we’re headed won’t have anything I *can* (that’s the word they use) eat. So yes, it’s difficult to communicate that you avoid some specific foods most of the time but that there’s no problem if you eat them occasionally (I don’t have any life threatening intolerances, but I understand that some people can’t take such a laid-back approach).
Apr 18, 2023 — 3:14 pm
I have been a vegetarian for almost 35 years now, and it’s served me well. The main problem is dealing with others with neurotic approaches to eating. For example, I have a relative who actually went into full-fledged ‘panic’ mode when I told her that I was a vegetarian. She claimed to be ‘too lazy to be a vegetarian’ (what does that even mean?), and then said something to the effect that vegetarians have to do thousands of hours of research about food just to be able to eat at all. When I pointed out to her that vegetarians normally dont eat food that they dont like, she replied “Well, you can sometimes eat food that you like, and sometimes eat food you dont like.” You get one guess whether or not I took that advice to heart.