When I first met Kevin and Annmarie in the summer of 2008, Kevin told me that I come across very differently in person than in my writing.
At the time, I was furiously writing on my blog, focusing mainly on issues dealing with the raw food diet. I did come across in a what that some might qualify as “passionate” while others might use the word “militant” instead…
In person, Kevin told me that he didn’t expect me to be this sort of calm, open-minded mind who’s actually not that militant about diet and health controversies.
Truth be told, both in my writing and during the podcasts, I have a tendency to “say something shocking now, explain it later”…
So now that I’m on board doing the weekly Renegade Health Podcast with Kevin, I thought it would be useful to clarify some of my health philosophy.
That way, readers of Renegade Health can understand better where I’m coming from when I make my shocking statements…
Prove It, Otherwise I Don’t I Don’t Buy It
I must admit it, I’m a skeptical guy. I don’t use the word “skeptical” as a personal trait, but more as a general philosophy.
When I was younger, I followed my emotions and followed what appealed to me, often believing whatever contrarian philosophy was presented to me.
I became a raw foodist.
I thought that “going back to nature” was the solution to everything.
I thought that generally there was a conspiracy behind every major area of controversy.
I rejected almost ALL modern medicine and adopted natural hygiene as a health philosophy.
I did all of that because it appealed to my emotions, it made sense to me, and seemed logical enough.
But overtime, I discovered inconsistencies in this way of seeing the world. It didn’t always work, and it didn’t always make sense. And I realized a few things:
- Emotions can sometimes lead you astray
– We often see what we want to see
– The “contrarian” view is not always the right one
– We must question everything and even question the questioners
– You cannot say “you cannot prove that I’m wrong” as a proof that you’re right
– We always have to look at the big picture
– One’s person experience or subjective view is not enough to make a statement
So I began questioning and questioning, reading like crazy and trying to evaluate every health claim from a purely scientific and objective point of view.
And this philosophy of skepticism is deeply imbedded in me, so that it comes natural for me to question the most basic assumptions that people have about health.
Let me give you an example:
- “Buying local foods is not necessarily more ecological than buying imported foods.”
I made this statement on a recent Renegade Health Podcast, and I can tell it upset a few people. But objectively, it’s a true statement. Forbes reports: “a shipper sending a truck with 2,000 apples over 2,000 miles would consume the same amount of fuel per apple as a local farmer who takes a pickup 50 miles to sell 50 apples at his stall at the green market. The critical measure here is not food miles but apples per gallon.”
When you actually analyze the situation, driving to your local whole foods market is the part of who whole transaction that consumes the most energy, NOT foods being shipped from halfway around the world.
Makes sense so far?
When people advocate being a “locavore,” they do it because they think they will help the environment. But when you look at the big pictures, things are more complex than they seem. For example, it’s been found that giving up red meat once a week saves as much energy as eating only foods at the nearest truck farmer.
- “Yoga is not a complete exercise for fitness”
We talked about yoga in the last Renegade Health podcast. And I must admit that it did upset a few people. Why? Because I said that “thin and flexible girls don’t need to do yoga.”
If I had said than “lanky and thin guys don’t need to be running,” I would probably have upset another segment of our readership! But my point was simple:
There’s no exercise that’s good for absolutely everything. A runner will not get a stronger upper body by running alone. And a weight-lifter will not develop their cardio as much as someone doing endurance running.
Now, I understand that there exists other styles of yoga, probably more inventions of American gyms than the actual styles from India, such as Power Yoga. Those can be very effective for developing cardio, etc.
There are also many exercises derived from yoga that can be good for strength training.
But my point still remains: if you wish to improve a very specific aspect of your fitness, you might as well use an exercise that will get you there faster and more effectively, than expect everything from ONE type of activity.
Yoga is a great activity because it’s not just an exercise, but also a meditation. It has a spiritual component to it. But strictly from the fitness point of view, it’s not a “complete” exercise (just like any other activity), in the sense that it can’t quite develop every aspect of your fitness to their full potential.
Alright, this is getting long winded, and I’m probably trying to stir the pot too much… so let me know what you think in the comment section!
The 80-20 Rule
My health philosophy is also influenced by the 80/20 rule or Pareto principle, which states that 80% of your results come from only 20% of your actions (more or less).
Applied to health, it turns out that some health practices can have a huge impact and ultimately influence the course of your existence, extend your life, etc.
Other practices… well, are not really proven to work, and frankly, don’t influence that much. But sadly, I find that most of the alternative health movement focuses on this latter category.
The “big stuff” is boring. It’s not sexy. It’s not exciting. But it’s the stuff that’s been shown to really work, study after study. Things like:
- Exercise at least 20 minutes a day
– Eat a plant-based diet
– Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables
– Eat your greens
– Avoid refined foods
– Get enough sleep
– Get your sunshine or vitamin D
– Do stuff to lower your stress levels
– Spend time in nature
– Have healthy relationship
– Develop a spiritual practice
You know the drill… this is the stuff that makes a difference.
- Just by eating a plant-based diet, you can avoid heart disease later in life.
- By lifting weights once a week, you can avoid loss of muscle as you age (and along with that: a low metabolism)
- By eating green vegetables every day, you get your B vitamins, your calcium, and you improve the health of your arteries
- By eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, and plenty of fiber, you can prevent cancer.
So far so good. This is basic health information.
But people like to focus on the other category of somewhat controversial, mostly anecdotal, and generally unproven health practices that in my opinion, get too much attention.
Let me mention a few:
- Drinking “alkaline” water
– Using organic ingredients when making junk food recipes (organic sugar vs. regular sugar in a pie, for example)
– Avoiding wireless Internet and cell phone radiation
– Eating 100% raw
– Drinking wheatgrass juice, without changing the rest of your diet
– Eating 100% organic
-Removing mercury fillings when they’re not giving you any sign of trouble
– Doing yoga as your sole exercise when you could be improving other aspects of your fitness
– Ear candling
– Eating sweet potatoes but avoiding white potatoes
– Seeking “wild” foods
These ideas get a lot of attention. They’re sexy. They’re interesting. But do they work? There’s certainly no very concrete proof that they will make a major difference in your health.
Can you do some of these things? Absolutely.
But in my opinion, it’s much better to focus on the big stuff than get lost in a million of niche theories that haven’t been really proven to work.
So I guess that my philosophy is very practical, and I understand that it will not resonate with everybody. But I tend to want to focus on the stuff that really makes a difference, because my time is limited.
Do I do some of these things myself?
I realize that I have certain beliefs that have very little scientific validation, but somehow I hang on to them. For example:
- I believe that the full moon has an influence on my mood. It could be totally coincidental. I might be totally wrong. But I hang on to that belief!
– I believe that caffeine is somewhat of a poison… to me.
– I believe that Johann Sebastian Bach is the best composer to have ever lived!
So here’s the deal:
I don’t think that you need scientific proof for everything. I also don’t think that all you should do for your health is simply work out, sleep better and eat a good diet.
Some of these smaller items can really make a difference.
But the key is to make sure that you don’t get lost in the minutia, and also don’t fall for the hype spread by the natural health scaremongers.
For example, I’m convinced that it’s not necessary for health reasons alone to consume only organically grown foods. Some people might disagree with me, but I remain convinced that the current scientific data doesn’t point at all to the necessity of eating organic fruits and vegetables for health.
I think that you probably get more toxins eating a piece of organic steak than you do eating a pile of commercially grown vegetables because animal tissues accumulate toxins and even if the animal is fed the best organic foods, it’s still higher on the food chain, and will accumulate environmental toxins.
So here’s my pet peeve with organic food:
Seeing people focus on eating organic ingredients, but not change too much the general composition of their diet. They still eat a lot of processed foods, but it’s all organic.
I’m quite convinced that someone eating a very clean diet high in (non-organic) raw fruits and vegetables will be healthier than someone eating closer to a standard diet but 100% organic.
Am I absolutely certain to be right on this? Latest studies seem to confirm my belief, but there’s always the possibility that all of those non-organic apples will cause people cancer 30 years down the road. It’s a conjecture, but I personally don’t buy it, because of the basic fact that fruits and vegetables are so low on the food chain and so healthy in general, and can be washed, that ultimately I think it’s the general composition of your diet that matters the most.
Am I against organic food? Absolutely not. Are there any reasons other than personal health to encourage organic food? Yes.
But I think you get my point: I like to focus on what can make the biggest difference in health and not obsess about the details. If you can’t afford organic fruits and vegetables, I think that you’ll turn out ok.
I’m an Optimist
Okay, so I’m a cold-blooded skeptic. But here’s something else that will help you understand my philosophy:
I’m an optimist. Maybe foolishly so.
I really hate it when I hear people say:
- Human beings are like a cancer on the planet
– That things were way better in the past
– We’d be better off if agriculture had never been invented
– This were generally better “back then” (whenever that was)
– What is natural is always better
– That the future is bleak and terrible
I honestly believe that we live in a great time. Yes, it’s not perfect, but think about the time machine fantasy. When would you go back in time if you really could? Do you really think that things were better off in the past, before technology?
I’ve studied enough history to know that the concept of nostalgia is always present in every generation. Pretty much every generation in history thinks, as they get older, that the new generation is “lost” and that generally speaking, they were better off in the past. And science is starting to understand why.
But if you look at it objectively, being born in a Western country in the last few decades is sort of like winning the lottery from a human existence perspective!
Yes we have our problems, but overall things are pretty damn good.
Because of the media, we think that the world is a violent place. In reality, the world has never been more peaceful.
Because of the media again, we think the world keeps getting more polluted, but overall, it’s been shown that at least in Western countries, things are getting better (See: the Skeptical Environmentalist).
Yes, we have a ton of problems, especially with our health.
There’s never been so much obesity. But I also think that we’ll find a solution. In fact, we already know what to do, the problem is really to find a way to implement it on a massive scale.
Right now, we face problems of abundance. In the past, we had problems with scarcity. But honestly, I’d rather live in the world where people have a few health problems because they gorge on too much food than live at a time and place where people are dying off hunger or of disease brought by insalubrious living.
I believe that the human being is truly extraordinary. Our inventiveness never ends, and I think we’ll keep finding solutions.
The future is rosy if we have a little faith in ourselves and we find ways to work with each other, not against each other.
So I hope that clarifies a little bit where I’m coming from in my health philosophy! If you have any questions or comments, let me know (but try to take a deep breath first…)