2017-10-19

Every Food Is A Dead End

Most of us, when we imagine a very unhealthy person's diet, imagine that it consists of fast food, empty calories, excessive alcohol, excessive fat, chips, candy, and so on.

At the other end of the spectrum is the model of a healthy eater, but this is much more difficult to imagine. One reason is because there are competing theories as to what constitutes a healthy diet. Another, perhaps more important, reason is being "healthy" is a continuum, not a binary condition. Two men who eat lots of broccoli might be healthy, but the one who washes his broccoli three times is healthier than the one who washes hers only twice. The one who runs 5 miles a day before eating broccoli is healthier than the one who runs only 4.7 miles. One who neither runs nor eats broccoli would simply call them both healthy.

Recent reports indicate that drinking diet soda increases all sorts of health risks. While no one thinks diet soda is a health food, and while there have been previous warning about the impact of artificial sweeteners on health, I don't think anyone expected that drinking a can of Diet Coke for lunch every day could actually triple your chance of having a stroke. The punchline of the study seems to be, not to eliminate diet soda from your diet, but to simply consume less of it. But again, he who cuts down from 5 to 3 cans per week is less healthy than he who cuts down from 3 to 1.

Seafood, of course, is loaded with lean protein and healthy fats, but also brain-killing mercury and cholesterol. We're urged by our doctors to eat seafood over hamburger, but eating a tuna fish sandwich every day may actually harm you worse than eating ground beef for lunch every day. If so, what sense are we to make of healthy recommendations? Tuna is healthier than hamburger the first two times you eat it in a week, but after that, you're better off with hamburger.

Even if you're a vegetarian - indeed, even if you're a vegan - you're not out of the woods. Eating a green pepper is healthy, except for all the pesticides it carries. Eating an organic green pepper won't save you, either, since the pesticides are in the water supply and floating through the air.

And if you ever drink water, well, you're unfortunately consuming all the impurities in our water supplies, including pharmaceuticals and hormones ingested by people who have legitimate reasons to ingest them, but whose medicines may cause unpredictable negative consequences to you.

In a world like this, it's easy to grow cynical and to say, moments before biting deep into your bacon-topped pizza slice, "Well, everything is going to kill me, so I might as well eat whatever I want to!" But this, too, is the wrong conclusion, since eating without a care in the world will surely kill you more swiftly than meticulously managing your diet.

But seriously: How are we supposed to manage our diets? The question is especially tough for us diabetics: Too much meat will kill me with cancer, but too many carbs will kill me with organ failure. Do I have a preference? Should I have a preference? While the whole world treats themselves to an evening snack, the only thing I can reach for is a low-carb drink: spirits or light beer. This is a healthier option, really? It won't raise my blood sugar, but it will slowly chip away at my liver, or maybe just give me stomach cancer.

"Just eat the snack, but cover it with more insulin," says the diabetic who takes one trip per year to the emergency room for an insulin overdose.

What's a guy to do? I'm not sure it's possible to live on water, 30g of carbs per meal, and organic chicken breast. But I'm all out of ideas.

2017-10-11

What You Control And What You Do Not

I was discussing an issue over social media the other day. Someone had provided a quotation arguing for X. I said that I disagreed with X, and gave my reasons. My interlocutor accused me of arguing for Y. I stated that I was not arguing for Y, but he insisted that I was. It was at that point that my expectations for the conversation started to diverge with reality.

What I expect when I tell someone that they have misunderstood or misinterpreted my statements is that the person will ask new questions to find out what I really meant instead. In practice, I am starting to notice that people rarely do this. More often than not, they ask me to defend myself against their charge (“Show me how you’re not arguing Y!”) rather than seek clarification around my true, intended meaning.

I have the power to clarify my own position. I have the power to rephrase and revise my statements until we all feel confident that my intended meaning is the one that others have understood. I do not, however, have the power to convince someone to interpret my statements charitably. That is, if someone is just committed to believing that I’m arguing for Y, no matter how many times I expressly state otherwise, I have no real power to change that person’s mind about my intended meaning.

Recently I read a blog post by Abigail Brenner, who said something nice: “Never waste time explaining yourself to someone committed to misunderstanding you.” In Brenner’s context, this was intended to be advice against manipulative people. But it’s good advice outside of that context, too. It’s easy to believe that, if we were just better communicators, another person would always see our point of view and consider it seriously. Unfortunately, the way people respond to what we say is not within our control. We can try to improve outcomes by meticulously implementing good communication techniques, but that’s as far as we can take it. The rest depends on the disposition and willingness of the other person to give you a fair hearing. If they won’t, there’s nothing else you can do about it.

So, I choose to let it go. If I have something worthwhile to say, it is the other person’s loss if they aren’t willing to hear me out, and if I don’t have anything worthwhile to say then no one is harmed by disregarding me in the first place.