Are We Overly Obsessed with Healthy Eating?

It’s impossible to generalize about this, but readers may be interested in an article in the Boston Globe Magazine by Jenai Engelhard, in which I was quoted:

Is our obsession with healthy eating out of control?

  1. People try these “extreme” diets because nutrition as a science is very “soft,” with corruption and obsession with promoting pet theories, books, etc. Most people aren’t motivated enough nor do they have enough time to spend 5 hours a day reading through pub med and understanding the underlying physiology. So instead they hop from one guru to another. I’m not sure why people are so protective about their diet identities.

    I eat meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, coconut, cocoa, rice, potatoes, vegetables. I don’t eat packaged seed oil sh*t or desserts or alcoholic drinks, even on holidays. Some people would consider that obsessive or unnecessary, but I don’t crave those things or “deprive myself.”

  2. I disagree that thinking about how to eat healthy is “out of control.”
    Simply consider how many people suffer with a chronic disease. Good health is worth more than gold. If a person is truly sick, they will go to no end to try to get better.
    If doctors were actually healers, then people wouldn’t need to try ‘alternatives’ in order to get better. Has anyone actually had their chronic illness relieved by going to a doctor? No. You have to help yourself.

  3. From the article: “I’ve realized that even sound nutrition, however we define it, cannot solve all of my problems — and, more importantly, cannot substitute for a meaningful life.”

    The author of the article seems to be assuming that most people who are trying to eat nutritionally and be healthy share her unfounded expectations about that pursuit.
    (That doing so will solve all one’s problems and provide meaning in life.)
    I don’t think she’s correct about that.

    Many people are just trying not to have bloating, GERD, rashes, insomnia, diarhhea/constipation, joint pain, high cholesterol, anemia, diabetes, life-threatening allergic reactions, or whatever. Many people are trying to normalize their weight, or improve their strength and resilience, or become pregnant, or fight cancer, etc.

    Paul’s response to her was spot on:
    “As Jaminet says, “Good nutrition simply enables us to age gracefully — to get the most out of our genes. I think no one would deny that health is a means to an end.” ”

    Americans (and others) these days, especially the younger generations, fueled by “apps”, websites, YouTube channels, social media, etc., seem to obsess about many aspects of life, such as cosmetics, exercise, sleep, fashion, politics, fashion, travel, ‘tiny houses’, aspects of the music/film/tv industry, unboxing toys, video games, adult-content stuff, and so forth.

    It is not just an issue with the area of diet/nutrition.

    Yes, some people do follow diets / various lifestyles slavishly, and it becomes part of their identity and a way for them to judge others and define in- and out-groups.
    (At heart, that is just human nature, and it happens in most areas of human endeavor.)

    However, many people are just trying to be healthier and fitter, and are looking for simple guidelines and recipes and meal plans without having to become a full-time nutrition researcher in order to make head or tail out of the hundreds of choices they (conceivably) could make on a daily basis.

    The ‘standard American diet’, as it is today, is just not very healthy. Therefore, when it comes to eating in the US, being normal, average, standard, typical, going with the flow, accepting the lowest common denominator — is probably going to result in substandard health, more illness and pain, and a lower life expectancy.

    Not all people who are undertaking to eat in a certain way to see if it works better for them than their last way of eating did (such as moving to low-carb, or low-fat, or high-protein, or vegetarian, or intermittent fasting, or whatever) are attention-seeking, virtue-signalling, holier-than-thou-ing. Maybe it just looks more like that to a person who is in the author-of-the-article’s shoes.

    I don’t read the Boston Globe much, but I do read the Guardian (the UK newspaper) and others on a daily/weekly basis, and it seems that as newspaper journalism has shifted to a younger mindset and social-media style, there are more articles that feel like they could be mere blog posts, told from one person’s limited experience, complaining about certain aspects of an issue without delving into it too deeply or being that “journalistic” or authoritative about it.

    The best thing about this article is that if she thought it was enough to interview only one expert in the area of nutrition/diet (she quoted from someone else’s book, too), she made a smart choice to consult Paul, a voice of reason, moderation, and compassion.

  4. There’s nothing wrong with an obsession about being healthy, as long as it doesn’t adversely affect others too much. However, there are a lot of diligent persons who are both misled and who focus narrow aspects of nutrition, in no small part to the complexity of nutritional science. In that regard, the PHD simplifies things in a sensible way and I like it.

    Could I ask for your opinion about the benefits and drawbacks of two soy based foods that I commonly encounter here in Indonesia. A previous blogger asked the same questions some time ago, but was left unanswered.

    Natto: I make my own and take it for benefits with K2 intake, and for flavour. Is it a viable substitute for K2 supplementation and what are its potential adverse effects, being a fermented soy product?

    Tempeh: prepared completely differently to natto and other fermented soy products, being more of a cultured fungus. Unfortunately a legume, but to what extend wpuld the culturing process reduce the risks?

  5. hi there, I tried to join the Facebook closed group a couple days ago, in order to get some questions answered. I haven’t heard back, could you help me out what else I need to do? Thank you.

    • Hi Ella,

      I just approved some pending requests, if you are not in then please apply again. It’s possible your Facebook account looked like a spam account and was rejected by an administrator.

      Best, Paul

  6. Truth is, nobody can say one is “overly-obsessed” with healthy eating.

    Eating (i.e. food intake) should always be healthy as it is our main source of nutrition. Eating unhealthy food is a risk we take daily.

  7. Part of the difficulty in attaining clarity concerning these issues lies in the fact that we think of ourselves simultaneously within moral as well as substance concepts. That is, we think of ourselves as persons, on the one hand, and human beings, on the other. Qua person, defined purely as a rational agent, health is a means to an end; but, qua human being, defined as a living teleological being essentially oriented towards virtue in a just democracy, health is a central part of one’s telos, though not the most important part, as it is the teleological part of our being we share in common with plants. From this point of view, it is not wrong to see diet as related to at least an aspect of one’s telos. For, were a plant to have a meaning of life, it would be nothing other than the biological realization of its telos. By contrast, the meaning of life of a person, in its modern form, would be defined by the worthy goals the person has set, whereas the meaning of life, or distinctive good, of a human being, by contrast, is the realization of virtue in ethical life, and where the complete good of humankind includes this as well as the goods of the zoological and plant levels of being.

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