By Lavinia Plonka
The other day I was talking to a friend about the latest trend in healthy eating. “None of it makes sense anymore,” she sighed. “My mother is 95, eats two eggs for breakfast every day and loves chocolate. How did she know they would end up on the good list?” Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zone traveled the world to find the link between food and longevity. After reading the entire book, it was clear to me that food is not the answer. After all, every diet I’ve ever tried has been proven wrong.
I was a disaster right out of the birth canal. 1952 was the beginning of the formula craze. No self respecting modern woman would skip the opportunity to purchase Enfamil instead of “god forbid” using a … breast. I became one of those children who suffered “failure to thrive.” So they forced me to eat egg yolks from hard boiled eggs. Then they couldn’t understand why I was constipated. The doctor told my parents I was allergic to milk. Alarmed, they switched to skim milk. In retrospect I can understand how a Polish immigrant would be certain that skim milk had nothing to do with real milk.
Finally an adult, I moved to New York City. With no parental restrictions, I floated into dairy paradise. A typical day was bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, grilled cheese for lunch, fettuccini alfredo for dinner with ice cream for dessert. Did I mention I was proudly vegetarian?
When my digestive and immune system collapsed, I educated myself by becoming “healthy.” Several years were spent in the land of soy: tofu, soy milk, veggie burgers, tofu cheesecake (did you say cheese?), tofu chocolate mousse, tofu quiche (I was the queen of cheese substitutes), soy ice cream, TVP. And then….
Soy IS Dangerous! Soy products produce pseudo-estrogens! You’ll get cancer, or worse! (What could be worse?)
I turned to the new non-fat, heart healthy diet. This consisted almost solely of pasta and sugar. Since soy was no longer an option, I added chicken and fish.
Chicken farms were revealed to be morasses of filth and bacteria. Farmed fish were full of antibiotics.
And pasta. Oh, poor pasta. I went on a fast. My husband Ron joined me on it. After five days, I was ready to murder someone. Ron had achieved enlightenment and lost ten pounds. I didn’t lose a thing. The minute I had something to eat, I gained five pounds. That’s when I realized I was built for famine.
Did I mention coffee? For years I struggled, trying to imitate my self-controlled sister and give up the demon caffeine. Thank god I didn’t, since now it’s good for you! In fact, a recent article in AARP Magazine recommended that women drink THREE cups of coffee a day. Do you know where you’d find me after three cups of coffee? That’s right, that’s me swinging from the chandelier.
Chocolate was forbidden to me growing up. Apparently I had issues: once I started I couldn’t stop. I once ate an entire case of World’s Finest Chocolates that I was supposed to sell for some school fundraising drive. In retrospect, this was a great thing. My parents insisted I earn the money to pay for all the chocolates – hence my breaking through the paper boy glass ceiling and becoming one of the first female newspaper delivery gals. (But that’s another story.) Of course, chocolate is now considered one of the four food groups.
I gave up wine for a year. Too many health risks I thought. Sulfites, alcohol, empty calories. Now doctors are telling people to drink wine. I have a cousin who stopped drinking thirty five years ago after a heart surgery. Then his doctor told him he should start drinking. “Now?” my cousin asked. “Now that I’m old and I missed all the fun?” Needless to say, he’s once again following doctor’s orders. There’s so much press about the health benefits of wine, I’m beginning to suspect that the wine lobby has bought out the FDA.
And while we weren’t paying attention, wheat went from the staff of life to a poisonous substance that clogs our digestive tracts, turns us simultaneously into diabetics and sugar junkies, and has turned celiac into a household word. Meanwhile, has anyone read the ingredients in gluten free bread?
On a certain level, you could say the Atkins Diet borders on insanity. But how is it that Mongolians can thrive on a diet of horse meat and yak’s milk, the Masai diet isn’t complete without cow’s blood, and the people of Okinawa live on yams and they do just fine? Is it possible that it’s not the food we eat, but how we eat it that determines our longevity and health? Mark Bittman, the celebrated NY Times food columnist said in a recent article that we can’t prove whether wine is good for you because of the resveratrol or because we usually are drinking it at a meal with people we are socializing with.
What if it turns out that the most important food group is not something we put in our mouths, but the very atmosphere we absorb? Laughter, interest, and love are perhaps as important to a healthy diet as the most organic, local, sustainably raised, politically correct food item you can buy. In fact, recent studies showed that obese people and addicts have less dopamine receptors than average. According to a release from Brookhaven Laboratory, “Since eating, like the use of addictive drugs, is a highly reinforcing behavior, inducing feelings of gratification and pleasure, we suspected that obese people might have abnormalities in brain dopamine activity as well…” They call dopamine the interest neurotransmitter. Could overeating be the result of a hunger for a different kind of food?
Here’s my recommendation for a 21st century diet. Spend more time with friends. Go outside and breathe fresh air (surely something you can’t live without for more than a few minutes must be food as well!). Say “I love you” to someone or something at least once a day, including yourself. The good news: none of this has calories.