Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I hate "nutrition EXPERTS."

I think when it comes time to renew my subscription to my local paper, I'm not going to. The paper is, on some days, six pages long, four of that being local high-school sports. And recently, they dropped two of the Sunday supplements that I tended to consider "essential" to a paper.

First, they eliminated the color comic supplement. Now, granted, most of the comics my local paper subscribed to were kind of stupid and pointless (A particular un-favorite was something called "Dinette Set," which was never funny, and which gave me the distinct impression that the artist/author really hated the average American and thought they were stupid). But still. To me, a Sunday comic supplement just is part of the paper, and it seems almost heretical to eliminate it.

Then they got rid of the TV Guide (sorry, the "TV advice" - it is not an actual product of TV Guide, tm). That wasn't so bad - I have the on-screen guide through my digital cable, and they had really been phoning in the tv listings for the past few years (they were often wrong, and the guide section didn't list many of the channels that even the mid-range cable subscribers got).

So, we're down to one supplement. That glossy USA Today weekend thing. (You may know it). It's usually kind of lame, celebrity "gossip" that is calculated to bring certain celebrities "top of mind" the week before they release a new CD or movie. Or they have pseudo-heartwarming stories on some kid who gives up his birthday party so that homeless kids can have one. Stuff like that.

But they also have snippets of advice. And you know, sometimes snippets of advice do more harm than good.

There was a particularly infuriating one this weekend. Some "nutrition expert" I've never heard of made the claim that "The typical American breakfast is pure poison"

Hyperbole, much?

There are two failures (perhaps three) contained in that statement.

First, nowhere does he state the "typical American breakfast." So you don't know what he means. Donuts? Cereal? Eggs and bacon? While I can see that donuts do not a nutritious breakfast make, some cereals are certainly nutritionally sound. And eggs and bacon - provided you don't have cholesterol or triglyceride issues - are probably fine as well (I can't face that much protein so early in the day)

So, unmoored from any reference, we simply have a scary statement.

Which is the second failure of the nutritional "expert." And golly day, do I hate it when people do what he just did there. There seems to be an assumption among much of the "para-health" (I am calling it "para-health" as opposed to "health," as a lot of these people are not MDs and many of them are selling something) community that Americans are Teh Stupidz! and the only way to convince of of anything is to scare the pants off of us.

And you know? That just makes me angry. Health reporting is SO poorly done in this nation. I see it all the time in my non-majors class - I have these kids come in who are afraid to eat, afraid to drink tap water, afraid of all this stuff that's pretty harmless, because someone on CBS National News or CNN or some website told them it was gonna kill them. And some people get SO convinced that they are right and a couple hundred years of actual health experience is wrong, that you can't even argue with them. (see: vaccine opponents.)

I don't know what this nutrition "expert" thinks we SHOULD eat (well, he does say "veggie omelets," the though of which makes me want to hurl, at least the though of eating them before 10 am) but I get really tired of being "shoulded" at.

One of the recent new villains? Fruit juice. Even good old orange juice.

It's loaded with sugar, we're told. It has no fiber, we're told. It spikes up insulin and can lead to obesity and (Booga booga booga!) DIABEEEETUS!

I swear, they think that saying "diabetes" is like holding a crucifix up to a vampire. The American people are supposed to recoil, hissing in horror, and immediately switch to a diet of steamed broccoli and brown rice in repentance for former food-sins.

Okay, first off: yes, people with diabetes do need to watch what they eat. I GET that. However, most of us do NOT have diabetes, and regardless of what some doctors would like to do, we are NOT all "pre diabetics."

(Another rant for another time: declaring chunks of the population "pre" some condition, when there are actually very few indications they will actually develop it: pre-diabetic. Pre-hypertensive. They even tried to class all women of childbearing age as "pre-pregnant" a couple years ago. And while I heartily support taking care of your health carefully if you plan to have a child (especially in the next year or so), I also think calling women - like me - who are not married and DO NOT PLAN on having children - and would not put ourselves into a position of unplanned pregnancy - as pre-pregnant is, well, a little bit Big Brother. Like, "Don't drink, don't be exposed to pesticides, eat all your folic acid like a good little girl, so you can make more new taxpayers to feed Uncle State.")

And diabetes is NOT 100% tied to diet. It is NOT 100% tied to obesity, lack of exercise, anything like that. Yes, poor diet and lack of exercise can accelerate someone getting it - and good diet and exercise MAY slow it down. But telling people "OH NOES YOU'RE DRINKING OJ! DIABEEETUS!" is unhelpful.

(Ironic, isn't it? We used to be told there was only one kind of OJ that would kill you. Can I get a rim shot?)

I have a particular objection to the anti-orange juice crowd.

Because, I guess I have to say now, orange juice is one of my few vices. (Gah. Am I in bearded-Spock world, that that sentence even makes sense now?)

I need my orange juice first thing in the morning the way some people need coffee. (I don't drink coffee; I can't. It upsets my stomach). Orange juice is an essential part of my morning.

Now I know how the coffee drinkers felt back some years ago when all the medical experts were nannying at them to give up their favorite morning beverage in the name of health.

The thing is - I've been on a cross-country ski simulator for an hour before I down that OJ. So the whole blood-sugar issue is actually probably in the opposite direction for me - I've burned up any and all remaining muscular glycogen in that past hour, my body's been churning out insulin. I need that damn OJ. (You really wouldn't like me when I'm extremely hungry).

And again - this comes down to the whole, "It works for me, therefore it must be prescribed for everyone else on EARTH" mentality. Okay, fine, some people can't metabolically deal with the big slug of sugar in orange juice. But for those of us who can, don't make us feel guilty for enjoying it.

(Or even if we maybe CAN'T, but aren't suffering any immediate symptoms, leave us the hell alone).

In the same issue there's some advice from Suze Orman, about how the bad economy is apparently making people fat. My one issue with her "advice" is that she falls into the logical fallacy that many naturally-thin people do: "I do not have to work hard to keep my body the slim size it is. Therefore, people who are not thin like me just are lazy bums who don't try hard enough."

I know people who are way UNDERweight - one woman whose doctor actually told her to start drinking milkshakes to try to put some weight on. And it didn't work. Would I go to her and say, "Look, you need to gain weight. But you're just not trying hard enough. Or you have the wrong attitude, or something. Because look at me - I can gain weight easily, without even trying."

I don't know. These kind of stories make me twitchy and sad. Because I am kind of fat - well, "fat" by modern standards of beauty. And because I like good food - but I do not like the typical stuff (broccoli, brown rice, raw things) that the foodists tell you you should eat. I think I do OK - I do eat fruits and vegetables and not much meat and lots of beans and whole grains. And I just get so tired of being told, "I know you're trying but you're doing it WRONG" and being told that even the few healthy pleasures I have in my life either aren't so healthy, or should be replaced by something even more healthy (but far less pleasurable - I've read how some people are pushing other greens, more bitter greens, over baby spinach, because apparently they contain more of the stuff that will keep you from getting dead. And you know? Spinach is about the limit of what I can manage, thanks. Don't tell me I must eat something that tastes like the south end of a northbound horse, and if I don't, I'm totally wasting my time and I deserve whatever horrible illness I get.

Because that's the vibe I get off of some of these people: if you don't take my advice and enter into the dietary equivalent of wearing a hair shirt, you DESERVE diabetes and heart disease and cancer and all the rest. And people like that are heartily welcome to take a flying leap, because what happens if someone does all they recommend and still gets sick (as all of us will?))

I don't know but I suspect as there's a run-up to pushing for socialized medicine there will be more and more of these scare stories, and if we DO get socialized medicine, they won't be stories any more - you will be TOLD by your doctor what you can and cannot eat, and perhaps even in the future you will be permitted only to buy certain foods. (You think it can't happen? Remember the story last year about some state - Alabama, I think? where a legislator proposed banning the obese from certain restaurants? It could happen.)


The Fifth String said...

We're all pre-dead, don't you know.

And I am so totally going to use the phrase, "being 'shoulded' at" soon.

nightfly said...

*Ba-DUM bum!*

You deserve it, ricki!