So I’m in one of those mash-ups again… Weight, diet, persuasion, and health are all colliding in a mish mash of confusion and angst, leading to frustration and anger! See what you think…
My wife recently got Jillian Michael’s book, “Master Your Metabolism” for me. We are big fans of hers from the show (Biggest Loser) and like many people, I’ve wondered if metabolism wasn’t a potential problem for me over my lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not back up to 315 pounds like I was in college or anything! I’m at my normal fighting weight – but I’d surely like to move down a belt or two. And along the way, if I can eat a healthier diet and live longer (and therefore give my daughter a healthier life…), then I’m in!
Enter the problem. This is the latest of a series of books I’ve read in the past 6 years since Keena got sick. We looked at “The China Study” – a book (and author) which believes it proves the link between meat & dairy and a plethora of problems from cancer to Alzheimer’s. We read “Eat to Live” where Dr. Fuhrman promotes a vegan lifestyle as a way to exist as the weight you should be, fix your cholesterol, and on and on. And there have been plenty of others. From gluten tolerance books to vegetarian books to chemicals…there are plenty of people with opinions about our world, our bodies, and our lifestyles.
So let me level set the playing field. I actually buy into the notion that certain meats and amounts of total meat are problematic – this of course is compounded significantly by the idea of chemical enhancement like antibiotics, steroids, etc. I also believe that dairy is a bad idea for humans. As the only animal on the planet that consumes another animals milk AND the only mammal alive that continues drinking milk after begin weaned AND the fact that our bodies produce profuse amounts of mucous every single time we ingest dairy to cope with the notion that our bodies don’t like it…I get it. We shouldn’t ingest milk! (Try downing a gallon of milk in under 10 minutes and see how your body reacts…it will be very different than trying to down 1 gallon of water in the same time frame…)
So that is my paradigm – my over arching perception of food. Along the way I’ve also come to believe that sleep is crucial when trying to maintain weight (Jillian supports this in her recent book), low carb / high fat is dangerous in the long term, and most importantly, everyone is different. Our bodies all react to various things differently – for example, if I need to shed some pounds, eating after 8pm is a no-no. I have seen books written by people who state that is nonsense. But (in my opinion) assuming that every single variable applies equally to every single person is ludicrous.
So back to my dilemma. Jillian Michael’s suggestions, sometimes supported and other times not as much, are tough. “Of course they are tough!” you might suggest, especially if you’ve seen her on the show. Well…there is a difference between tough and impossible. A few examples might help.
- Only eat organic fruits, veggies, and meats. Okay – this is certainly possible for my family. Although I have a number of friends for whom the double / triple prices would not be a feasible option.
- Get rid of anything plastic that touches food. Hmmm…now we’re starting to get hard. I get the principle – she asserts that plastics are not completely stable and they slough chemicals into and onto foods / beverages. Your body, not knowing that these chemicals aren’t from the body, assume they are signals and start to react. These reactions may be to retain salt, retain water, or retain fat. But replacing every plastic plate, plastic glass, plastic left-over container, not to mention all of the foods that arrive in plastics (did I mention she encourages very little of these foods to be purchased – mostly whole, natural foods)…now we’re starting to get into a major purchase mode.
- Avoid all chemicals from touching / entering your system. She would say that the stain-master carpet we just had installed in our new home has to go. No more chemical detergents for dishes or laundry. No more soaps or deodorants from the grocery store. (Do you see why I’m starting to struggle here?)
Unfortunately, most of these suggestions aren’t supported by much data. Although in fairness to Jillian, there aren’t a lot of people looking to see if correlates exist between our hormones and our environment. DOW chemicals isn’t too worried about proving that their products are not only hurting the planet but slowly poisoning the human race – imagine that. However, some of the persuasion she uses is just fallacious.
One example she uses repeatedly is a friend she has who has always been thin, while eating as much as she wants all the time. She claims that this woman only eats whole foods, healthy grains, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. (I’m reminded of a great Brian Regan bit about how his friends suggested a diet of combinations. You can eat as much as you want of the right combinations. For example, you wouldn’t want to eat steak and potatoes…but you can have all the cauliflower and steamed raisin skins you can eat!)
The problem is that I also have a friend – one who is even older than Jillian and her friend – who still wears the same size jeans he did in high school. He’s a rail. And you know how he eats? Like @$#* actually. He’ll eat 1 or 2 HUGE meals a day, usually from a fast food chain and washed down by a power drink or soda. But his body can handle what mine could not. I realize that doesn’t mean he’s healthy. Even though his cholesterol is normal and his heart is “strong” – it doesn’t mean he won’t keel over at 50. But he might outlive us all…nobody knows.
So, like with many “health” books, people are left wondering where reality lies. Is it in such an extreme diet and lifestyle that you can’t really fit into society, or should we all say, “forget it” and eat what we want, when we want, ultimately leading to obesity rates becoming 99%? (Except for my friend…)
If you have lots of money…I’m talking LOTS of money, being healthy is definitely easier. Healthy food is really costly. Ripping out your carpets and installing wood flooring everywhere is not cheap. Using the right soaps, only drinking non-dairy milks, buying organic everything…is expensive! But for some people, healthy is harder than almost anything. I work 70-80 hours per week between my job, my teaching, as a full time doctoral student – and that’s all on top of time spent with my family which is precious. So, getting to a gym for exercise…I know how important it is, but if I do that (aside from the added expense), what do I cut out? The job and the teaching can’t go or we can’t live. The student work can’t go or I can’t get a promotion. The family time is more important than anything else…hmmm.
I realize that I’m in a MUCH better place than some. Some people are working 2-3 jobs just to live and support their families – they don’t even get family time! How do THEY be healthy? I have no idea. And what IS actually healthy? I think everyone accepts the importance of exercise. I think most people buy into a healthier diet. But what is “healthier” anyway? The research is hard to wade through, especially with so many special interest groups tainting the pool of information and rhetoric. Try finding a study on dairy that doesn’t include a lit review with findings from milk-purchased studies. And the jury is probably always going to be out on meat, but most people will eat it regardless of health risks. Why? Two reasons – they were raised that way and they like it. (Both fallacies in reasoning.) So don’t bother them with pesky facts…
In conclusion, I’ll say that I like Jillian Michaels. Seriously – I think she means really well. I watch her care deeply for her clients on the show and she does put her money where her mouth is. (Notice she doesn’t “sell” the sugar-free gum, sugar-free jello, etc. during the commercials?) But in the end, her book will find its way to my shelf with just a few nuggets having been gleaned and it’s a shame. I’d love to find “the book” out there…but I guess that’s as unlikely as “the pill” – right?
Interested in how NOT to use persuasion? Want to hear more about effective arguments versus fallacious reasoning? Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info!