Your ideas on nutrition are superstitious

The first paragraph in the Wikipedia Nutrition article sings the following tune:

“Nutrition is the science that interprets the interaction of nutrients and other substances in food (e.g. phytonutrients, anthocyanins, tannins, etc.) in relation to maintenance, growth, reproduction, health and disease of an organism. It includes food intake, absorption, assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism and excretion.”

I think the person singing that song is a bit out of tune. I think the definition promotes a sort of thinking that is conducive to an idea that we are black boxes. That given a rigid set of nutritional parameters, we can expect a sort of uniform response from the organism. Like a rat study where you have caged animals and the experiment group gets fed one thing and the other group gets fed another and they uniformly have on average the same weight gain or lack thereof in their respective experimental groups. For example, feed a group of mice the Western diet, they get fat, while the chow fed control group stays slim.

But what is wrong with the experimental design is that it fails to simulate a natural mouse-like environment. And I think most would acknowledge that. However, to get them to be honest about the implications might prove more difficult.

The evidence of this phenomena can be experienced just by pulling the blinders back, stepping outside, and taking a look around. Take a look at the culture you live in, you’ll notice that generally people tend to follow the “when in Rome” mentality adapting the lifestyle and eating habits of the natives. Yet you’ll see polar reactions, some seem to thrive while others seem to have nothing but problems.

Or in a different way you can take a group of people with the same beliefs, eating habits and sense of community and you’ll see that they generally react in the same way as the mice in the cage. Pluck one out take them to a new geographic location and things change.

Those observations point to a point I made in a previous comment that the physiological reaction of a organism depends on the context where the organism is present. And this points to the idea that there is a very intimate interaction with an organism and it’s environment.

I have no doubt that people eat in various ways to combat health problems with great success, you have COPD, eat some butter, you sneeze or feel congested or have wheat belly after eating wheat, you avoid wheat. But while those things might provide symptom relief, the question then becomes, have you solved the problem? And how can you know that you solved the problem? What is the litmus test? It’s very tempting for people to say well wheat is like antifreeze for me, people who drink antifreeze die, so I should avoid it.

But most people including those who live long and healthy lives often eat wheat, so the question should be why can’t I eat wheat, what is broken, how did I break it, was it simple cause and effect; I ate a lot of wheat and I broke my wheat digestive powers?

And then:

Do I care if I can’t eat wheat? Will I have anxiety about not being able to eat wheat for the rest of my life? Will I burden society as a whole with an International gluten-free campaign so that I can get everyone off gluten so that I can feel normal?

Will I be Paleo, sign-up for CrossFit and start a blog with a selfie showing my hot abs or ass, and try to convince everybody else that this is the right way and the rest of us sinners are going to hell (even though most likely those are opportunistic photos taken when I’m not feeling like shit)?

H/T to those of you who really don’t feel like shit.

Meanwhile the sinners are quietly eating their cheeseburgers.

To think that the way you eat is right for everyone is at the root the thinking of an authoritarian control freak who is the poster child for a person suffering the delusion that they are in control of their life. When most likely that person is anything but in control of their life, feeding into a self-fulfilling delusion that the more variables they can control in their life the more they can skirt the issue of actually having a life, living their life, and enjoying their life.

This post has been overdue, as for the past year I’ve been experiencing paradigm shifts in my thinking as a approach the world in a more honest way. And approaching the world with peeled back blinders is always a good thing even if you have to put a foot or two in your mouth. I am not content with fossils.

“Possessing opinions is like possessing fish, assuming one has a fish pond. One has to go fishing and needs some luck—then one has one’s own fish, one’s own opinions. I am speaking of live opinions, of live fish. Others are satisfied if they own a cabinet of fossils—and in their heads, ‘convictions.’” ~Nietzsche

Although my cabinet of PUFA fossils is well intact aside from flirtations with animal products that tend to contain higher amounts of them :)

Over the next few months or whatever I’ll be plucking out old blog posts and updating things based on new information and why I’ve changed my mind (but the old blog posts will stay up for illustrative purposes). It shouldn’t be too hard as my views on saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are still the same and I still am metabolically focused. But some of my views on carbohydrate have changed dramatically. Bear in mind that my blog is personal, everything I do is not 100% transferable to empty vessels, but I hope it still can provoke the asking of questions and generate criticism good or bad.

More to follow soon. Thank you for the continued questions and comments during these dark times. Till then have fun!

Best wishes,

13 Comments Your ideas on nutrition are superstitious

  1. Matt

    Good post man. I like the big picture perspective.

    IMO, we are all just rats trying to climb out of our respective cages, and nutrition is just a ladder. I don’t think we are meant to have to micro-manage our lives, as they’d usually be shaped by our culture to take care of our needs, but the cultural blueprint has kinda broken down. So, we are trying to build from scratch while mired in whatever default circumstance we find ourselves.

    I think the extreme identification with Veganism, or Peatarianism, or Crossfit, or [insert doctrine here], is just people trying to fill the basic need for a culture to belong to and structure their lives around. If you are lucky, that culture elevates you to better things. If not, you become a zealot.

  2. Ben

    in my own life, the point about food control being a way to skirt truly living hits the nail right on the head. I’ve always known it to be the case, and the way I’ve overcome it is simply asking myself: what good does controlling this part of my life bring to me and my friends/partner? Am I happier because of it? More content?

    Or am I isolating myself from others while I sit here and try to build my nutrition ladder (nice analogy Matt) to escape this difficult situation in life. Never fails that I’ve started down the rabbit hole, and I get a glimpse into that part of my myself that has wrecked some of the best relationships in my life. Eating alone, refusing kind-hearted gestures of food and friendship, opting out of food-centric events.

    None of those things seem obviously wrong to me until I expand context beyond “nutrition” and acknowledge the massive elephant that has quite effectively squashed my wellbeing.

    That elephant is the same one that keeps hard core drug users (or rats, if you’d prefer) in hellish addiction until dealt with.

    It is a sense of comradery and culture; the gratification of adding value to lives of others; engaging activities and work that bring purpose to your efforts. Raising a child or animal, interacting with people in good spirits- whether it’s a friendly conversation with your grocery clerk or team sports or whatever you enjoy doing.

    Somehow I know this plays into morphic resonance, in that healthy people do with other healthy people have done, which goes far beyond eating habits. Healthy children run and play and chase things and eat and lay around together sharing stories and take care of one another because it’s how they have always behaved.

    Granted science’s tremendously important role in our growing knowledge of the nature of life.. I’m personally guilty of ignoring my own instincts when it comes to happiness. Sort of like the dog who is wary of a loving, outstretched hand, I’ve held back from embracing the culture around me. I’ve been told that hand holding the cheeseburger is weak-minded and uninformed for holding a cheeseburger instead of a glass of OJ, or a protein shake, but you know what?.. doesn’t that guy holding the cheeseburger look like he’s enjoying the hell out of life?

    I think I’ll take the cheeseburger and go do some fun shit.

  3. Rachael

    Waiting with baited breath for your posts. I definitely think of my odd diet (basically just extremely low fat) as a bandaid for some underlying defect or feedback loop (of origins biological psychological or social) that I just can’t determine. When I think of the way my reasonably healthy forebears lived it was nothing too remarkable (or consistent for that matter) dietwise, drastically different to present day norms in most other respects. Can’t fool myself into thinking a fancy diet will fix anything profound anymore

  4. George Henderson (@puddleg)

    Good post Edward,
    I think there’s a tendency in medical science that’s similar to BF Skinner’s behaviourism in psychology. That is, the feeling that if we can discover the mechanisms and responses that humans have in common, we can reduce medicine to a system that covers those and ignores, indeed scorns, the exceptions.
    The classic example of this today is designing experiments to try to prove that most people who report adverse effects statins are not really experiencing adverse effects of statins. The procrustean approach. The belief in the statistical method is at the root of this; if you, personally, fall outside the 95% CI, too bad. Averaged results tell you half the story; it’s a vital half, for sure, but the publication of case reports has declined as that of meta-analyses has risen (this is from books, I can’t find a site that will calculate from papers).
    If I eat wheat once, I can probably get away with it, but not twice; if I eat corn, it will ruin my day, soy, it will ruin my week.
    It’s been tricky, for sure, but I don’t seem to be alone in this, and I wish I had found out (or been convinced) much sooner.

  5. Matt

    Also, while I like the idea that our environment has a profound impact on us, as much or moreso than diet, I think it may be a bit more practical to adapt the diet to suit the environment, rather than adapting the environment to suit the diet. For instance, the Loetschental Swiss ate a lot of rye bread [~800 cals/day] and seemed to live perfectly healthy lives. Living the life I live now, I think I’ve proven to myself that I can’t eat that much rye bread and maintain the same level of health the Loetschental were supposedly known for [I’ve tried.]

    Lets say that I decided to live like the Loetschental, eating dairy products from a cow in my backyard, hiking around in the swiss mountains outside in the sun all day, working surrounded by my extended family and friends in a relatively low stress manual labor job my family had been doing for generations, getting up every day at sunrise after 9 hours of solid sleep, maintaining that perfect circadian rhythm for years and decades, I might be able to get away with more rye bread. But for me, and most Americans, a sedentary, high stress job with low sleep is the standard, so we have less margin for nutritional error.

    Of course you can optimize other variables and give yourself a lot more leeway with diet, but I think you have to make a compromise somewhere if you want to keep living in the western world. It’s up to the individual where they draw the line.

  6. Edward

    Hi Matt, I can loosely agree with some of your points. Most importantly your point about it’s up to the individual on where to draw the line. And I think as long as we recognize that and keep lines of communication open we always stand to learn something new from each other.

  7. Edward

    George, don’t get me started about some of the shady ways I’ve seen data manipulated to give false correlations. I sometimes don’t even trust the raw data because sadly sometimes the raw data isn’t all the data, published data is just that, published data. One example, papers that have IHC/ICC/IFA/FISH, all immunohistochemical techniques that are very prone to error and can show you things that aren’t really there, take a guess at how many times these tests are reproduced to confirm results before being submitted. Often not much, because the kits and reagents used are so freaking expensive. More then half the time there is no legitimate control, and I’ve never seen a paper mention how many times they failed to produce a result before they finally got one.

    There is more to the gluten/gliadin story. When I have tried “artisan” bread it was a day killer for me. My experiences with the bakery in MA was quite different, I’ve been chipping away at a loaf of raisin bread I picked up there and haven’t noticed anything negative yet, but for sure it certainly isn’t a requirement for good health. I’ve had mixed results with corn tortillas made from masa harina, mixed enough to not even go there anymore. No experience with soy.

  8. Edward

    Hi Ben, I think you made important points. I too and sometimes still am guilty of ignoring my instincts for better or worse. Sometimes it’s the bad times and hitting rock bottom that teach us the most and give us the confidence to swim to the top and carve out our own existence for the better and help us to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  9. Edward

    Matt, well I’m definitely a big picture kind of guy, but some might say the devil is in the details, maybe, but sometimes I think the devil is in getting caught up in the details and missing the point. There are things in the details that are important for evaluating an overall theory and vice versa. I find that in almost every comprehensive theory that a failure in either direction is almost always because there were not enough questions asked. It’s all to easy to isolate yourself and ignore the rest and become a zealot, but at the same time it can be exhausting accounting for all the details and predictions of a theory to the point where you just kind of shrug and say well I’m going to live my life. If your isolated, there maybe some wisdom in that, but on a large scale where people are judging one another it’s a historically destructive force.

  10. George Henderson (@puddleg)

    Hi Edward,

    There’s a beautiful exchange in the Roy Taylor T2DM reversal papers. When Taylor’s group first reported NMRI decreases in pancreatic fat after very low cal dieting (the most inherently plausible correspondence imaginable) some critic questioned this because their measuring technique produced different results. However these new measurements included a range of results that went into negative figures, so Taylor’s team were able to respond that “the imaging method used to measure parenchymal fat yielded negative percentages for pancreas parenchymal fat in approximately half of all individuals, the range of individual parenchymal fat appearing to be from −3% to +4%. Negative fat content of tissue is a concept of no biological validity”.

  11. Jacob D.

    Great article, and great comments. I really appreciate all of the honesty from everyone.

    It seems that a very small percentage of people actually become healthy from the various online diets. People flit from one diet to the next, hoping for that magic cure, that special diet that will make them have the metabolic health of a child, that special diet that will make them ripped and have the cognition of Bradley Cooper in Limitless (NZT).

    People should definitely try to fix their health issues, but people should also realize that they WILL experience illness, that they WILL age, and that they WILL die. A big part of life is acceptance.

    But also, you should still try to maximize you health.

    However, maximizing your health doesn’t mean being super stringent with you diet, unless you don’t care what people think and are okay with not eating “normally”.

    People are willing to point out the flaws in the governments dietary recommendations, and that there’s better dietary methods for health, but maybe, perhaps the whole concept of diet = health is flawed.

    We think we’ve figured it out, that grains and vegetable oils are bad, and that the government’s guidelines are unhealthy, but perhaps what we haven’t found out yet is that diet plays a small role in health for some people.

    I still have my opinions about health, and think that PUFA and grains should generally be avoided (keyword: generally).

    Personally, I will be trying out slight-ketosis soon, and we’ll see if that gives me supra-normal cognition or the metabolic health of a 4 year old.

    I think you should experiment with diet first; if that fails, then really dig deep into your personal biology, there’s a ton of methods out there. If that doesn’t work, keep digging. But foremost of all, accept your life as it. I think people can become healthier, but you have to look at the whole picture.

    Also, I agree, studies on mice & rats are incredibly flawed, but no one seems to realize. The current method of science is a giant pinhole.

  12. Jacob D.

    I want to be clear about what I said: it’s not that people can’t get better, it’s that if you want to get better, you should look beyond diet. Diet is important, but it’s not the only thing.

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