I had been seduced by righteous eating.
Steven Bratman, MD
It was purely by accident that I stumbled across Steven Bratman, a physician who practices alternative medicine. He has written books and done studies on what he describes as a mental condition known as ORTHOREXIA, or the perhaps unhealthy compulsion to eat healthy foods. Goodness gracious, I know the type and have been surrounded by them.
Everyone should, of course, eat healthy when they can, but determining what is healthy and what is not changes like April weather in Mississippi, where you can need a coat on a clear, crisp morning, swelter at lunch-time in a hot, oppressive sun, then drown in terror in a furious afternoon thunderstorm, only to put your coat back on before the sun goes down. The weather has a mind of its own. So do healthy eaters with unhealthy obsessions based on the latest whimsy.
Wikipedia says that Orthorexia is fictional. While it may not yet be recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a clinical diagnosis, it seems hardly fictional, perhaps better lumped with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder than having its own name. I don’t know. I am not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a clinician of any type, but I am pretty familiar with the Orthorexic, know some, and think them a rather droll lot, prone to panic attacks and endless scrutiny of things they can’t possibly scrutinize enough for their own satisfaction. I’d rather have lunch with a motivated gluten-bound wad of Jehovah’s Witnesses than to so much as have an orthorexic pass by during my meal, though it is not likely that any self-respecting orthorexic will be dining at any place I am patronizing.
What is healthy eating? Until very recently, salt was bad for you and we were encouraged to eliminate sodium from our diet. Now, salt is good for you, and too little is far worse than too much. What is the balance? Is there an answer? Is there an answer that does not have an expiration date like the one stamped on the bottom of a container of Greek Yogurt? Why eat spinach-milk-of-magnesia-flavored-fructose-forsakened Greek yogurt, anyway, when you can put some salt on store-brand cottage cheese? I don’t eat cottage cheese because it’s good for me. I eat it because I like it. I like it with salt on it. I like yogurt, too, but not the Greek kind…only the sweetened, fruity kind…the kind that comes close to emulating ice cream. Why, I wonder, do I forsake ice cream for its inferior pretender? Because I will cheat death in the long run? That seems like a foolish bet. Pass the ice cream, please.
Cheating death. It has been suggested that Orthorexics have cheating death as their goal.
Now before some of you get all riled up, I am all for healthy eating. I like the physician whose name I cannot think of at the moment, who simply states unequivocally that, if you have heart disease, a strict vegan diet, and by strict he means strict, will reverse it; take it or leave it. Reversing your heart disease is a noble goal, and I admire anyone who pursues whatever avenue brings them success. The trouble with food is that one never knows.
Lots of people have scores of different diets for all sorts of different reasons. Some of them are based on the latest fad, such as the one that proclaims we’d all live forever, have money, health, wealth, fame, world peace, and achieve cosmic consciousness if we only eliminated gluten from our diet. Well, this may be true for those with celiac disease, but I can’t help but wonder when wheat, which has been one of the most basic staples of human consumption since the dawn of civilization, became so evil. When did wheat develop malevolent designs? No doubt, wheat must have been corrupted by Monsanto shortly after the rise of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. If gluten is a concern, simply switch to cornbread, which was originally a poor man’s substitute for wheat-bread. I guess short-lived pioneers ate whatever was handy, like most hungry folks do. Few of them ever cheated death, and seldom lived long enough for bad dietary habits to catch up with them.
“I just heard the news about Clyde. What happened?” Eulice asked Clovis sometime around 1820, as he filled a gourd dipper from the water-barrel inside of the log walls of Fort Serenity, on the West bank of the Tombigbee River, near the still-barely-existing river town of Gainesville, Alabama, putting the dipper to his lips and taking a sip, thinking that he’d rather have whiskey.
“Well, you know Clyde. He had no sense of self-control,” said Clovis. “He ate six rashers of bacon at lunch, sittin’ right over thar,” he pointed to the rough-hewn, foot-adz formed log table in the al-fresca dining area of Fort Serenity’s fine-dining establishment near the fort center, “and then he washed it down with a gallon of sweet tea and two pints of whiskey.”
“And then what happened?”
“As he was getting’ ready to start back to plowin’, he was pierced through by half-a-dozen Creek arrows, then shot through by a couple of musket balls by river pirates that done took up with the Creeks. He hadn’t hardly had time for the whiskey to kick in,” said Clovis.
“Oh my!” said Eulice.
“That weren’t what did him in, though, Eulice.” Clovis leaned over to whisper and Eulice leaned in to hear. “It was a mule-kick to the head by that flighty horse of his that did the final trick,” said Clovis. “Laden as he was with them arrows and musket balls, he was a-trying to get up on his horse to make a getaway from them Creeks and priates when a swarm of yeller-jackets took to stinging it and it commenced to kickin’ and buckin’ something fierce as Clyde tried to mount her. We fount him in the midst of the field, shot up, arrowed up, mule-kicked, and yeller-jacket-stung almost beyond recognition.”
They stood there reflecting on the short, violent, fraught-hard perilous life of Clyde, which was very similar to their own, coming to the completely rational conclusion that it was his diet that caused his early demise, probably the bacon, or the sweet-tea, or the whiskey, or all three. Likely all three, but mostly the bacon. His heart gave out, they figured, weakened, as it was, by his unhealthy diet of fried-out pork fat. Had his heart been stronger, Clyde might have been able to survive all the other minor annoyances vexing him. It surely must have been his heart, after all, it was his heart that stopped beating, resulting in his death. Then, again, perhaps a seventh rasher of bacon and Clyde might have missed the Creeks and Pirates altogether, thus avoided the yellow-jackets and mule-kick.
“We’re gonna have to start eatin’ right,” said Eulice. Clovis nodded. They turned again to their own affairs, mourning the loss of their friend, thinking of bacon and sweet-tea as they again took up their labors, eyes watching the edges of the fields, looking for any movement that might mean trouble.
The only uncertainty about their diets which Eulice and Clovis really entertained was what it might consist of today, which would likely be what was available. Sometimes they were reduced to day-old opossum, which was not their favorite, but certainly edible. Some salt to go with their opossum was a delicacy. Salt could make mud taste better.
Paleo-diet? The paleos ate anything they could get their hands on that was edible. Sometimes a day or two, or a week,or the better part of a month went by before that could get something to eat. Their endless and constant pursuit of food could result in their death, from which can be extrapolated as cleverly as might a tabloid headline, “Diet Leading Cause of Early Morbidity.”
“I warned her about her diet,” said Martha Ann to Eunice Faye, “But Agnes Lynn just wouldn’t listen to me.”
Eunice Faye shook her head, muttering, “Tsk-Tsk.”
“They found her out on Highway 16,” continued Martha Ann, “Car run off the road and her dead in it, a big piece of a Sonic foot-long chili-dog stuck in her windpipe, and drowning in a spilled two-gallon double-super-giant-sized Sonic Blast Milk-Shake M&M Fruit Smoothie. Yep…it was her diet that did her in.”
“Tsk-tsk,” said Eunice Faye, thinking of her own many trips to the Sonic, and how dangerous that might be for her. She must change her diet before it claims her like Agnes Lynn.
“Nothing but Dairy Queen from now on,” nearly shouted Eunice Faye, much to the surprise of Martha Ann.
“Of course. Nothing good ever came out of that Sonic,” said Martha Ann, whose father held a stake in the local DQ franchise. “Diet is everything.”
I’ll leave it up to you to determine your own diet. Eating when you’re hungry is a good diet. Eating when you’re not is a bad one, which is likely the cause of many an early demise. Well, that and couches. That and couches and recliners. That and couches, recliners, and remote controls from which we only move to get more of that, only to return to more of those. If this becomes one’s life, then why on earth is it worth hanging on to? To watch more TV?
Even the healthy eventually die. No one cheats death. If we’d all known we were going to live this long, we’d have taken better care of ourselves. But we don’t. We go through the motions of life as if they were mere motions, rehearsals even, sometimes never thinking that each motion is one less motion before mechanical failure, or perhaps worse, like our computers, a hard drive crash and a corrupted operating system. Diet may or may not be a contributor, unless we spilled a cup of sugar laden soda on our computer internals, but if we worry about it too much, we may become orthorexic, consumed with paranoia and fear over our next meal, looking longingly yet still disapproving of those poor fools turning in to and coming out of of the Sonic, those turning in unaware of an early demise from poison, and those coming out going straight to the funeral home, bypassing the hospital, bypassing their bypass, and we, thanking the powers of providence that we are not like them, superior to them, able to discern what to eat so that we can be 100% healthy all of the time and live for eternity in athletic health and fashion magazine good looks. We will all be twenty forever, but with wise and savvy minds…just avoid gluten, GMO foods, non-organic foods, meat, dairy, coffee, tea, sugar, salt, fats, grains, fish, canned goods, frozen foods, processed foods, fast foods, slow foods, and mostly….no foods. No foods will kill a fellow in just a few weeks.
Perhaps it is the abundance of foods that make our diets unhealthy. Nothing will kill a well-purposed diet faster than no food, since no food means that you are likely to eat anything edible, sort of like poor ol’ Clyde, and we know it was his diet that killed him…and if not his diet, than his desire to have one, for everyone desires a diet of something far above a fancy diet of a specific kind of nothing. Think not? Just have your diet removed altogether. Its specifics will diminish exponentially until reduced to near about about zero, then you’ll be on the paleo diet for sure, spending more calories searching for food than you have in calorie income, a sure fire way to slimness.
“I had been seduced by righteous eating,” said Dr. Bratman. So had Adam and Eve. So has everyone since who had enough food and enough time to ponder such things. If not righteous and pious eating, then Epicurean eating, decadent eating, gluttonous eating, hedonistic eating, eating for the sake of eating…once a luxury for the rich but now the domain inhabited by the poor. In modern society, they rich are skinny and the poor are fat except for the really poor, who are nearly as thin as models adorning the cover of Vogue magazine. The poor eat unrighteous because they cannot afford the piety of purity in their diet. The poor are the least likely to suffer from the fiction that is orthorexia.
“There’s some more Brussels Sprouts and one more pork chop,” Debbie says to me.
“I’ll take that pork chop,” I say to Debbie, thrusting my plate towards her, mouth watering. I reach for the salt to salt the already salty pork chop. If that is eating right, then perhaps I suffer from a touch of orthorexia.
I frequently wonder when I will get my next pork chop.
Some of you have CLL. You are perhaps members of various forums where the occasional person kicks in with marvelous dietary and supplemental wonders. I’ve heard them all. I am familiar with them all. They all are fabulous, except none of them cure CLL though there are hundreds of anecdotal stories of their success, and the success of those who make money selling the supplements, much like big-pharma makes money selling chemotherapy drugs.
Gooday told me, early on in my cancer career, when I expressed an interest in honokiol, a compound that exists in the bark of the Magnolia tree which causes apoptosis in blood cells, particularly B cells, which cells tend to linger in CLL patients, living far beyond their programmed time, collecting in lymph nodes. (See this article in BLOOD JOURNAL on honokiol-induced malignant B-cell apoptosis and its relevance to CLL)
When I asked Gooday about this, he said “Whatever herbal, supplemental, or dietary remedies you try, pick one and stick with it. Nothing will work if you gadabout all the time, and if it did, how would you know?”
There is wisdom in that.
I have tried supplements…buying them is easy…remembering to take them is not. I have listened to a hundred people tell me that if I would just do this, just eat that, just detox, just meditate, just become a yoga yogi, just have faith, just believe—blah—blah–blah… We all want acolytes, but the best ones are those who choose to follow us on their own, not those converted under pressure. Given the option of eating some more bacon or caressing the fate that was in store for him, Clyde would have had an easy decision had he only known. He didn’t. We don’t. We surely would do things differently if we did, wouldn’t we?
Well, wouldn’t we?
I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure you would, and I am more than pretty sure that I wouldn’t, but then, of course, if I was Clyde, I would have. Me, though, I am not yet in dire straits, but that could change and change quickly, just as it did for Clyde. We all go through this life with the faith that we are doing the right thing, or willfully choosing the wrong thing for some instant gratification knowing that there will eventually be consequences. Even the fictional orthorexics believe they are doing the right thing, just like anorexics. No one sets out with a plan to live their lives devoting themselves to premises they believe to be false.
“I believe this to be untrue, so I will devote my life to its pursuit,” said no one, ever. Sometimes, our perception is skewed a bit…well, OK, more than a bit…sometimes our perception is twisted beyond what is reasonable, as faith, to some, seems entirely unreasonable; to others, the inverse seems unreasonable. I suppose I must take comfort with the others since I cannot be counted among the some. I am reasonably unreasonable.
You will not cheat death, no matter how healthy your diet. You can do everything just right and still have death make an untimely call.
“He didn’t smoke. He didn’t drink. He didn’t chase women. He didn’t do nothing wrong. He just died!” said a philosophic Jackson, Mississippi, store clerk to me one time. I never forgot this, nor the distant gaze in his misty eyes when he said it, adding, “When I go, I want them to say something kilt me.”
Something kilt Clyde. Something kilt Agnes Lynn, too. Something, very likely, is gonna be what kilt you and me, too. If not our diet, then perhaps some accident in pursuit of it. So after my tenth cup of coffee as I have written this, which they say is good for me (the coffee and the writing) particularly since I stopped using sugar in it (the coffee and the writing), I am beginning to think of something to eat…perhaps a donut, or a honey bun. I stopped using sugar in my coffee, I said; I did not stop using sugar.
One thing is for certain, neither me nor orthorexics will be the slightest bit agitated by orthorexia.
It is very likely we will never give it a second thought.
©2015 Mississippi Chris Sharp