August 16, 2013

Food for Thought Friday: Individuality

As this guy would say, “Holy cats!” It’s been a looong time since I posted a Food for Thought Friday. (Nine months!) If this reminds you of Fat Tuesday or What I Think Wednesday, and you’re wondering if I have a series in mind for every day of the week, the answer is yes. For now, though, I’ll spare you the dorkfest and just post them as they come to mind. (Never mind that I don’t have the time to post seven days a week. Probably for the best, considering you probably have neither the time nor the desire to read my mindless ramblings on a daily basis  my posts are so helpful and dense with information that a new one every day would be too much for you to process.) Still, the titles are a good outlet for my alliteration skills, and the former creative writing major and not-terrible poet in me is a little sad that they’re atrophying.

Okay. Enough blathering. On with the show…I mean, post!

This week’s Food for Thought comes to us from the book 7-Day Detox Miracle. Before you get scared and run for the hills, thinking this is going to be a post about seven days of subjecting yourself to wheatgrass shakes, spirulina shots, infrared saunas, and other weapons of mass detoxification, let me assure you this isn’t about livening up your liver, purifying your prana, or channeling your chi. (The alliteration monster rears its head again...It’s got a mind of its own!) In fact, this post isn’t about detoxing or cleansing at all. It’s not even about that book. I mention the book only because the quote we’re looking at today comes from it. (I will write about detoxes at some point, just not now.) So here goes:

“Human beings are not created biochemically alike. Everyone has a liver and a gallbladder; all livers and gallbladders are designed to do the same work; but not all livers and gallbladders work the same. Some of us are genetic warriors—naturally equipped to stay up all night, drink alcohol, eat whatever we like, smoke, and work brutal hours under tremendous stress—and even so die peacefully in our sleep at the age of ninety-five. But for others, not born with a hardy, resilient constitution, such a lifestyle is a prescription for poor health and an early death. Despite the fact that advertisements for everything from painkillers to breakfast cereals create the impression that what’s good for one is good for all, there is really a large range of variability in how we function metabolically and what we need.”

Good stuff, huh?

Most students of nutrition have, at one time or another, come across the term “biochemical individuality.” This is science-speak for “we ain’t all the same, yo!” (And thank goodness, right? Because if everyone on earth were like me, say, we’d have a few billion people who love to cook, write, and read novels on shady porches in autumn, but no one who knows how to fix a carburetor or fly an airplane. [Well, as for that last one, it was only for a minute, and that’s between me and the guys back at Offutt Air Force Base. HA! Just kidding…it was Iraq. No, seriously, kidding. Tell the Thunderbirds I’m sorry about that rudder...)

So yeah, biochemical individuality. I could go on and on and really geek out on examples of how this works at a cellular level, but instead of subjecting treating you to that song and dance, I’ll stick with the basics. Biochemical individuality explains why some people tolerate more carbohydrates than others, or why my sister can eat a fat-free muffin and a fat-free yogurt for breakfast and be okay for a while, but within 30 minutes of that meal, I’d be standing in the kitchen with the fridge door open, looking for the real food to follow that little appetizer, which has left me at the bottom of the plunging depths of the blood sugar rollercoaster. It explains why some people maintain good, lifelong health on a vegetarian diet (no, really, some do*), but some thrive on more animal protein and fat. It explains why some people can enjoy a fondue party, with its classic crusty bread dipped into warm, bubbly cheese, while others would spend the next two days in the bathroom, promising themselves they’ll never go near gluten or dairy again.  (*Here I’m referring to vegetarians as the term was used when I was growing up: people who do not consume animal products obtained via the death of an animal, but whose diets included eggs, butter, cheese, and other foods not requiring the sacrifice of a life. I am not referring to vegans, who might thrive in the short term, but often run into very severe health complications in the long term.)

I said I wouldn’t bore you with the science, but a little graphic never hurt. 
This is DNA. (Yay, high school bio!)

There are most definitely environmental and lifestyle factors that come into play with individual tolerances for various dietary factors, but let’s keep things simple for now. All I’m saying is that, as the theme song for Diff’rent Strokes said, “What might be right for you, may not be right for some.” So just because the brand-spankin’ new diet they advertised on Dr. Oz/The View/the six o’clock news worked for Smiling Sally next door doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. And just because something worked for you doesn’t mean it’s going to work for your mother/coworker/brother/person in your life who really, really, REALLY NEEDSthis diet, ohmygoshitwouldsolveALLtheirproblemsandresultinhappyunicornsandworldpeace.

The real kicker of it is, sometimes even your own needs and tolerances change. What worked like a charm for you in college might not net you the same results when you’re forty-five. Or post-menopausal. Or sitting in a cubicle 50 hours a week. So we can’t even rely on our own past experiences as no-fail guides for what we should do in the present or future. (What can I say…the universe likes to keep us on our toes.)

Yes, I am partial to some dietary philosophies. (Like this one, this one, this one, this one, and also this one.) But that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones I think are enjoyable, healthful, or effective. I think they’re all fantastic templates. Good starting points. Beyond the basic guidelines they set out for you, though, you’ve gotta make ‘em your own. I think if you’re looking to make a change in your diet (likely with the larger goal of making a change for your health, body shape, energy levels, fertility, or something else), it’s a matter of finding something that will work for you. Start with something that makes sense, and then experiment from there. It’s okay to tinker with things. (That’s a guest post I wrote, tee-hee!) Even people who follow the same program (not a huge fan of the word “diet” in this context) might have dramatically different results. It’s a matter of customizing the tenets to suit your body, your lifestyle, and your goals. And having to play around with things and do them a little differently from someone else doesn’t mean you’re “doing it wrong.” If they want to kick you out of the club for eating more starch, or fewer nuts, or buying industrially-raised beef, or … *gasp* … indulging in the occasional delicious, gluten-y, sugary treat, then that’s their problem. You have only one person to answer to when it comes to your body: YOU.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it couldn’t hurt to at least get some information from Sally next door if, say, you hadn’t seen her in six months and when you finally bump into her, she looks completely different. (In a good way, that is.) Maybe she’s dropped a couple of dress sizes, or her skin’s clearer, her eyes brighter, and she’s got more pep in her step than you remember. Last time, she could barely hobble out to the mailbox on her arthritic knees, and now, she’s powerwalking around the neighborhood. It’d be worth asking what her secret is, as long as you take it for what it is—information—and don’t blindly expect it to have the exact same magical effect on you. (It might, but then again, it might not.) Do you have the same ancestry or ethnicity? How about your stress levels? The amount of sleep you get? There are so many variables at play that make Sally’s results just that: Sally’s results.  

Let's face it:  I could run my arse off and train until the cows come home, and I will never be FloJo. I will never win an Olympic medal in track & field. So even when we do try to correct for some of the lifestyle and environmental factors, we can only get so far. It's like we're all born with boxes of crayons, but we get the 24-pack, instead of the 64-pack that comes with the sharpener, which was the end-all-be-all in crayon technology when I was a kid. So you've got 24 great colors to work with, which means you can make a ton of really cool pictures. But if you don't have any, say "macaroni and cheese," or "purple mountains' majesty" (yes, those are real Crayola names!), you won't be able to color anything those exact shades. And that's cool. Because my picture will be unique. It won't look quite like anyone else's, and no one else's will be an exact duplicate of mine.  

Life’s a you-know-what sometimes, isn’t it? If only it were as easy as doing exactly what someone else did and arriving smoothly at exactly the same place. But that would be easy. And many things worth doing aren’t easy. Except watching this guy cook. That’s very easy. And so worth doing.

Golden egg, I tell ya, golden egg!

P.S. If you figure out how to become one of those “genetic warriors” who can party hard, eat junk, booze it up, stay up late, and die in a comfy bed with a smile on your 95-year-old face, let me know. We’ve gotta put that in a bottle and patent it!

P.P.S. Is anyone here besides me old enough to remember Diff'rent Strokes? Or FloJo?


  1. Just found your blog and I'm old enough to get your jokes. That is why I keep reading. Love your humor and philosophy.

  2. Thanks so much! Glad you like the blog. :)