Nobody bets their eternal soul on what they eat for breakfast.
But there is some element of “belief” when it comes to food.
If you’re looking for information on anything health or diet related, you can find any answer you want. You’ll always find a reputable source that says the opposite of every other reputable source you’ve found.
Everybody’s gotta eat.
At some point, you have to decide what to believe about nutrition.
It’s weird that it comes down to “belief,” but that’s really the only appropriate word I can think of.
The only “opt out” is not to eat at all, because if you just eat “whatever,” you’re still choosing to believe something – that food doesn’t matter. That it won’t impact your health. That what goes in your mouth has no effect on the rest of your body.
Sure, you could say, “I don’t choose to believe either way. I just don’t care.”
Here is where Pascal enters the conversation.
Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist (who says men can’t multitask?) devised an argument for Christianity that goes something like this:
- Either God exists or He doesn’t.
- Everyone has to choose – to avoid the choice is to choose the latter.
- If a Christian is right, in the end, he wins (Heaven). If he’s wrong, he’ll be food for the worms and never know the difference.
- If an atheist is right, in the end, he is also food for worms and will never know the difference. But if he’s wrong…he’s in trouble and he knows it.
- The only loss for a Christian is potentially some finite, earthly pleasures, but the possible infinite gain is much better.
- Therefore any rational person should live as though God exists and seek God however possible.
Whether you believe in God or agree with Pascal is not the issue here – it’s the foundation of probability theory, and I think it applies quite well to breakfast, lunch and dinner as well.
“I Don’t Think Food Has Anything to Do With It”
The medical community has us pretty well indoctrinated to believe that food has little if anything to do with health.
You may have read about my conversation with my dad’s oncologist last week, during which he emphatically said that food has no impact on cancer. It’s a common perspective in our culture.
Just today I was talking to a dear friend about my failed attempt to even share a proposal for a “no food” birthday policy at my elementary school, and she had to put me on hold to eat something because her blood sugar was getting low. She’s struggled with gestational diabetes before and apparently has now been told that she’ll probably develop regular diabetes sometime in her life as well.
I’m sad for her! She apologized for getting off the topic, and I probably should have kept silent, but I couldn’t help it. I said, “No, that’s exactly my point with this birthday thing. We have a massive rise in diabetes in our country because we’re constantly feeding our kids crap.”
insert foot in mouth
I tried to backpedal: “I’m not saying you brought this on yourself or that you’re making poor eating choices now, but I think the stuff we eat as a culture and growing up as kids, you and I, is having a major impact on our health.”
“I don’t think food has anything to do with it,” she replied.
My heart breaks for her. I can’t get on board with that. I can’t believe for a second that a disease that is the result of an unnatural hormonal response to food has nothing to do with food over time.
Sure, there is probably be some genetic/familiar connection. It’s not as easy as “a + b = c” for everyone, “if you eat white bread, you will get diabetes.”
I ate a Standard American Diet more or less growing up and definitely in college and beyond, and I haven’t had gestational diabetes with any of my pregnancies. It doesn’t happen to everyone. But I will never believe that food has zero to do with it.
I’ve heard too many stories, know too many people who have used food (and food alone) to turn around a multitude of diseases and annoyances: physical, emotional, social, psychological, behavioral.
Hundreds of little things that happen in people’s lives that they never would have guessed were related to food, and guess what? Food fixed them!
I can’t understand why we in this country refuse to believe that a child’s diet, for example, might effect their behavior, yet the same parents will fall hook, line and sinker for medicinal cures for ADHD, anxiety, depression, etc.
Do you hear the disconnect?
“No way, nothing my child eats could possible impact their behavior!”
“Yes, please, doctor, write a prescription for something my child will put in their mouths that will fix them right up. We need a fix. Give us the drugs.”
What is the difference?
Other than one addressing the cause and the other being a band-aid, one being a natural thing we do (eating) with gifts from God (food), and the other putting a man-made chemical concoction into the child’s body while trusting a profession that changes its mind every five years…I don’t see the difference.
You’re looking to fix something behavioral with something you put in your mouth. End of story.
Um, Didn’t You Mention Pascal?
Let’s apply Pascal’s wager to food: Does what we eat impact our health, or not? Should we bother being cognizant about what we put in our mouths?
- Either food impacts our health or it doesn’t.
- Everyone has to choose – everyone eats – to avoid the choice is to choose the latter.
- If a someone who eats consciously is right, in the end, he wins (good health – hopefully – there are other factors like environment and genetics, of course, that impact our health). If he’s wrong, he’ll live the same long life that was always destined for him and never know the difference.
- If a Standard American Eater, one who cares little about what goes in his mouth, is right, in the end, he won’t believe that anything that happens to him is food-related and will never know the difference. He might live the same healthy 90+ years as the conscious eater, I suppose. But if he’s wrong…he’s a very sick man with many prescriptions…even though he’ll never know why.
- The only loss for a conscious eater is potentially some earthly pleasures (like doughnuts, ice cream, and time), but the possible gain of years of life.
- Therefore any rational person should live as though food makes a difference and do research to determine the healthiest diet possible.
The logic doesn’t transfer quite precisely, but in my book, the big picture is the same:
If I eat well and you don’t, and you’re right – I don’t lose much.
If I eat well and you don’t, and I’m right – what a bummer for you.
A rational person should pay attention to what they eat.
Where Does Diabetes Come From, Anyway?
Here’s what I know: We’ve seen a massive rise in diabetes in recent decades. Food management helps diabetes symptoms.
I’ll appeal to another old philosopher, William of Ockham, who devised Occam’s Razor: among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.
Seems to me that things that are clearly linked to food might be prevented/improved by food.
I count the fewest leaps in logic there.
Is Diabetes in Your Life?
In my life, my mother-in-law has diabetes. She manages it with medicine and eating one roll instead of two for dinner, making attempts at whole grains. It’s what her doctor told her to do.
I don’t know many people who aren’t affected in some way by diabetes, either themselves, an immediate family member or close friend.
In fact, the rates of diabetes, both Type I and Type II, are increasing dramatically in the U.S. Children are being diagnosed with Type II (formerly called “adult onset”) diabetes, and adults with Type II diabetes are taxing their insulin receptors so much that many of them become Type I “juvenile” diabetics.
The great news is that no one is alone in this – about HALF of all Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes, a condition that strongly suggests the person will develop diabetes in his lifetime (possibly up to 70%).
Sarcasm? You better believe it.
I know that Type I diabetes likely has no food root cause, but Type II is so preventable it’s almost ludicrous that we’ve let the numbers get this high! And it’s obviously getting worse.
I Feel Like a Jerk All the Time
I’m pretty sure my friend doesn’t read my blog or follow me on Facebook. If she does, I guess this was a pretty forward way of saying, “I disagree.” Whether in person or hiding behind my computer screen (not very anonymously), I still feel like a jerk every time I try to convince someone of the connection between food and health, especially when they don’t want to believe me at all.
I feel like I have to be the squeaky wheel or a huge annoyance when I want to tell people to look into food as a cause for something, or just wish my loved ones would eat better before a health crisis has them running for help.
When it comes to the birthday treats at my kids’ school, I worry that the parental and official response will have me someday prying the cupcakes from their cold, dead (diseased, obese) fingers.
Pascal’s Wager will fall to me, but there won’t be any sweetness in finding out I was right all along.
How do we present our ideas without being pushy? How do we love others by helping them find the root causes of sad things happening in their lives without constantly sounding like we’re standing on our foodie soapbox, slightly obsessed?
I can’t wait to hear your thoughts in the comments…