Yesterday my dad turned 83 years old.
He has outlived his parents, siblings and many of his friends. He is a man who is still full of enthusiasm, vitality, plans, and dreams. But he's never seen the link between health and food beyond its connection to obesity. And since neither of my parents are big (though both are quite ill in their own way), and because they're older, he doesn't see the point of modifying the way he eats in the hope of achieving greater health. If he's slim, where's the connection? And if he's 83, why bother? This is my dad's thinking.
My mom is 80 years old and has advanced Alzheimer's. She's had type 2 diabetes for many years and this disease has taken down many members of my family including my mom's mom in her fifties. At 35 I was diabetic myself and it's a theme that I'll return to often because being so sick so young based on lifestyle choices was just, frankly, the most ridiculous, fucked-up thing ever. HOW does that happen?! How do we let it?
My parents are from a time when the connection between processed foods and bad health was not as clear as it is today. I'll be 48 on Friday so I did most of my growing up in the 1970s. For breakfast then it wasn't unusual for me to have Cocoa Puffs, Pop Tarts or Count Chocula and to this day I dream of a parallel universe in which I could have a cupboard filled with boxes of cereal that I could consume with no ill effects. Fruit Loops? Reese's Peanut Butter Puffs? I'm so there! Not a Weetabix in sight. Not surprisingly, my whole family developed a brutal sweet tooth and to some degree my brother, sister and I each have a troubled relationship with food.
So at my dad's yesterday, when my mom's caregiver asked me about my trip to Austin for PaleoFX, I found myself inevitably talking to her excitedly about health and in doing so reconnecting - as I do many times a day - with the values that give my life purpose and direction. Principles like deciding what "health" means to me. Or the importance of making the right choices consistently in order to live a life that's not simply long and sustained by drugs but where I will grow old being energetic, strong, and able-bodied. It's possible and it starts now. At 20, 30, 40. 48. Even at 80 and 83. To quote Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, it starts with food.
But as I was talking to this lady I realized that, as much as I can write her a list of what to eat and avoid (and did), ultimately our success boils down to our ability to conquer the massive emotional piece behind eating right and becoming well. If we imagine our body as a car and food as the fuel, then our thoughts, emotions and motivations are the engine. They're really that important!
This week on YouTube, Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness posted an interview with Jason Seib, author of The Paleo Coach, and I noticed that one commenter quipped "I didn't know eating required a coach." Logically, his remark does make sense - really, a coach? But surely anybody with any attachment to food will understand how the list of what to eat and what not to eat is not enough. CLEARLY it's not enough. So the problem really isn't not knowing what to eat. It's that ultimately we want to eat things that are yummy, that make us feel good in our hearts, that may even soothe us, and for the most part many people would sooner take a drug or supplement than eliminate that food. I get it; I have days like that too.
The bottom line is that no matter how passionately we might feel about eating properly and living with purpose, if we have an emotional attachment to food as so many of us do it will be a daily challenge and at times a struggle to make the choices we know are right. The truth is that, despite our best intentions, sometimes it can be really hard.
Let's remember that what we're doing here goes beyond getting our body healthy and attractive, avoiding or reversing disease, or even aging well; these are outcomes. But it is in the process that we must learn to not medicate our painful feelings, insecurities, sadness and fear with foods that hurt us and will shorten or ruin our lives. I love my parents so much but their health and nutrition provide a valuable reminder that I can and must make better choices every day to create the present and future I deserve.
Do you struggle with emotional eating too? How does your family help or hinder you?