He smoked, drank scotch, yet lived to 100

Tuesday Nov 10 | BY |
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HAVANA, CUBA - JULY 17, 2013: Cuban man posing for photos while smoking big cuban cigar in Havana, Cuba.

Everybody I know, it seems, has a relative who lived a fairly unhealthy lifestyle and yet lived a long life.

My grandfather smoked, drank scotch and yet lived to 95,” they tell me.

These stories are used as a defense and argument against living a healthy life in the present, as to avoid getting sick in the future. However, once you uncover the truth about these so-called long lived, smoking folks, you realize that they only did it because of sheer genetic luck.

Most people reach the age of 100 in our Western society with a fairly standard diet and lifestyle do it because they are extremely lucky, not because their lifestyle is conducive to a long life.

When someone tells me a story like this, I point out that the vast majority of people in Western societies develop degenerative diseases. All you need to do in order to prove this is simply look around you. How many people do you know over the age of 60 who do not have some sort of chronic medical complaint?

How many people do you know, even just over the age of 45 or 50 who do not take prescription drugs? The only people who don’t take drugs are those who pursue health — the fitness enthusiasts, the vegetarians, the health freaks, and the flexitarians.

The vast majority of people die of one of the leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, etc.

Okay, fine then but I’d rather enjoy life while I can than live a long, boring life.”

After people realize that indeed, the smoking centenarians are pretty rare, I always hear something along these lines. “Why should I try to follow such a healthy lifestyle and deprive myself of so many of life’s greatest pleasures in the hope of maybe getting old?” 

They say, “Why go through all of this trouble? You’re not enjoying your life in the present. Enjoy your life in the present. We’re all going to die of something.”

This argument is essentially about the cost-benefit-ratio.

The benefits of eating unhealthy foods outweigh the costs in lost health, according to most people.

I’d rather enjoy my life now. We’re all going to die of something, therefore I can have lots of pleasure while I am living in my youth, in my 30’s, in my 40’s maybe and then later I’ll die of something. But we’re all going to die of something.”

I find this argument rather strange because everybody complains about his or her health or other people’s health. We worry about our friends and family members struggling with life-threatening diseases. We worry about our own health, and getting a dreaded diagnosis of cancer or heart disease.

Everybody knows that once you lose your health, you lose everything. Is it worth doing all of that so that you can enjoy hot wings today?

Why do we keep on saying that health is so important, yet we also say the opposite — “I’d rather enjoy life now because we’re all going to die of something?”

I think this is just a form of rationalization that works in two ways.

  • It significantly downplays the potential cost. The cost (disease) is not immediate, but is something that may happen in the future, and we are not evaluating it properly. We are not looking at how horrible it is to live the last 10, 20, 30 years of your life with a disabling disease. Yet, there’s no shortage of examples around us of what we’re heading towards if we don’t change our ways.
  • It over emphasizes the joy we get out of unhealthy behaviors. Yes, it is fun to party. It is fun to get drunk. It is fun to eat a rich 5-course dinner. Foie gras can be delicious, and so can fried potatoes with mayonnaise. Our bodies are actually designed to crave this kind of food. We went through our human evolution eating a fairly basic diet, mostly composed of plant foods and very low in fat. Occasionally, we would come across fatty or sugary foods, like honey. Getting access to those foods, at that moment, meant the difference between life and death. Our main problem, as a species, was avoiding starvation.

The context in which we live today is different. We will not starve, even if we don’t eat those foods. There is always more food around us. So we can eat them for pleasure, but we don’t eat them for survival anymore.

But once you switch to a healthy diet, you end up getting used to that diet and start liking and enjoying it better than your old diet.

I used to complain because I ate too much, or ate something that made me feel bad. It was a constant struggle to deal with the fact that these foods made me feel like crap, and yet, I wanted to eat it.

Now I enjoy my food. In fact, I think I enjoy my food much more then before, because I eat to live.

A smoker thinks that life is impossible without cigarettes, but ask a former smoker if he misses cigarettes and he’ll say, “No, I don’t even think about it anymore.” Ask a vegetarian if she misses eating meat after twenty years of not eating it, most likely she’ll say, “No, I’m used to what I eat now. I like it.”

So eating a healthy diet is not life of deprivation. Thousands of societies throughout history have eaten, and in some cases continue to eat, such a healthy diet.

Our problem is that an unhealthy lifestyle is the cultural norm.

So we get invited out for dinner to a restaurant and there are no truly healthy options. We’re forced to compromise and of course our measly salad, with dressing on the side that we’re not going to use, looks awfully disappointing compared to your neighbor’s plate of surf and turf with a dessert of crème brulée.

In ordinary circumstances, if it were not for the social aspects and the fact that society is set up in such a way that the only options are unhealthy options, it would not be a problem.

Once you figure out how to juggle the social aspects of eating a healthy diet then you’ve cracked the nut, so to speak. You have succeeded!

It’s not true that you can’t live without eating rich foods all the time. It’s just a habit and once you break the habit, you no longer crave it after awhile.

Unfortunately, my point is not easy to make. Once people realize that, yes perhaps I’m right and that I might be happy eating the way I do, the last resort, the last argument is to say, “I could never do that myself…”

Your thoughts? 

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

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