Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Concept of Health and Moderation

One thing that I've noticed is that no matter the diet or lifestyle, everyone thinks that they are and will be healthy. I think that this idea stems from the concept of indestructibility and the feeling that "it will never happen to me". It seems like most people think that they have a balance in their lives, living by and repeatedly stating the mantra "everything in moderation". I am not writing this from a "holier than thou" position since I am certainly not perfect either. However, when people who are chain smokers, binge drinkers, only eat fast food and junk, do not exercise, and get 4 hours of sleep a night tell me that they are "healthy", I get a little concerned. I suppose that the difference is in how we define the word "health". The aforementioned population may see it as a lack of disease (at least what they can tell). Personally, I see it as a state where my body is functioning at its best, has the ability to prevent disease, and is strong enough to keep everything in balance. For example, I used to eat the typical American diet and engage in other destructive behaviors. At that point, I was constantly sick, tired, depressed/anxious, and lethargic. Based on my former view of health, I would have told you that I was healthy, despite the fact that things were clearly out of balance. Once I made the decision to start a vegetarian, then vegan lifestyle, things changed dramatically. I no longer felt tired, my year-round congestion disappeared, I felt motivated to take care of myself, my grades improved, I never got sick, and my depression/anxiety dissipated. My view of health shifted to something tangible--for the first time in my life, I can actually FEEL health. I hope that one day people will be motivated to find what gives them "health".
As I stated earlier, some may defend their habits by stating that "everything is okay in moderation". The problem that I have with this phrase is that most people do not understand what is meant by moderation. One soda per day is not moderation, considering it can double your chance of Type II Diabetes. A person who consumes several alcoholic drinks a day may think they are drinking in moderation but unknowingly fall under the category of a binge drinker. For women, having more than one alcoholic beverage a day can greatly increase your risk of breast cancer. One Denny's double cheeseburger has 7 grams trans fat, which is over 3x the daily recommended limit, and over half your daily calorie intake. You could make the argument that these could be consumed every once in awhile; however, damage adds up. Chemicals, preservatives, and modified foods cause immune reactions in your body and deplete enzymes that would otherwise be used to fight serious infections. If you body identifies something you eat as a foreign invader, you probably should not be eating it. I think that the food supply has become far too contaminated and information is being withheld from the public such that term "moderation" has become skewed. As a consumer, being informed is your greatest tool in determining a level of moderation that achieves and maintains balance for you.
I was prompted to write about this topic after my boyfriend was unable to donate a kidney to his cousin because of his health. Despite being a smoker and chronic drinker with a poor diet, a family history of diabetes, and no exercise regimen, he told me that he was healthy and would pass his checkup with flying colors. Unfortunately, his liver enzymes were elevated (indicating liver damage) and his heart was not conducting signals properly. They also wanted to perform additional diabetes tests because he was borderline. I think that many people experience this type of wake-up call when they are diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, etc. It is a realization that it CAN happen to them and is likely a result of their lifestyle (in most cases). What they do with that information is up to them. My boyfriend chose to ignore it and continues with his destructive lifestyle. I am only writing this from a personal standpoint and I acknowledge that what is right for me might not be right from someone else.

What does health mean to you and how has that idea changed over the years?


  1. I think the reason some people say they are healthy, despite engaging in many many destructive behaviors, is because they may have been raised on fast food, etc (America is sad in that way) or they have forgotten what health of youth is like. They don't know much other feeling besides lethargy and lack of motivation to better themselves, so maybe they assume that's the best there is! I feel bad for my little sis because she has a horrible diet and sits on the couch all day, but she knows nothing else and doesn't see room for improvement...she refuses to try "healthy" foods or even eat fruits & vegetables, so she just doesn't have the energy to work out. (Oh wow, if you only knew how lazy she was!) But she's a great sister and I just wish she would look out for her own well-being, you know?
    Anyway, sometimes I don't think moderation is healthy. I don't think even 0.5 grams of trans fat once a month is advisable. Sometimes I even think cookies, for example, are not a good idea for me personally to eat even in moderation because I usually lust for another one right after the first is gone! Sugar (the processed form) is crazy addictive!!
    For me, health is balance. And I don't believe in healthy diets that don't contain fruits and vegetables.

    Also, thank you so much for your comment on my blog. It is such a relief that someone relates to my family-eating dilemma! I also took someone to Local Harvest Cafe (on a date) and he even ordered a pulled pork sandwich...but later he was like, "That place is not my style." Yep, he prefers Red Lobster and such places, and he always complained that he was making "sacrifices" when he ate out with me. He just wanted to be able to take me wherever he wanted to eat without considering what I wanted and worrying if they had something vegan. Great boyfriend, huh? Needless to say, that relationship didn't last.

    My mom and sister also pull the "real food" and "normal" food and cards -- just as you said, as if local and organic and vegan isn't "real" food. Le sigh. But bacon, sausage, french fries, and salami are "real" food to them. Oh wow, that is classic about the Chicago Diner lecturing incident -- I bet you loved every second of that!

  2. another interesting post. I also notice that I do not get sick as much as do you think this related to our vegan diets?