4. Society: 4 issues that grind my gears

Hello all! In this article I may whinge and complain about certain things. But - just so you can get a feel of where I’m coming from, I would highly recommend you read my previous articles on physical activity and nutrition before we go further with this (article 2 and 3).

Many of you reading the articles posted on this blog know me. Though some of you don’t. Just to give you a brief background, my first name is Gianluca and I am a 29-year old avid fitness enthusiast. That means that I love physical activity in all its forms - most notably, Taekwondo. I graduated in 2012 as a staff nurse (doesn’t mean that I’m particularly fond of humanity). After a rather long stint of serious taekwondo training. I decided to up my game by enhancing my knowledge of nutrition. To my dismay, I found none. Therefore, my best friend and I decided to sit for a postgraduate masters degree at the University of Chester where we graduated as specialists in sports nutrition and exercise physiology. Problem solved? Not so much. Although, I can honestly say that my interest in nutrition was peaked through my participation in this masters degree. Here, I read new things, I learn’t new things and most importantly - I met new and enterprising people with varying opinions and beliefs. A lot of these opinions made sense. However, on the downside, I was left with so many questions. I honestly did not feel more intelligent per se. However, upon my return to Malta, my home country, where I continued my nursing practice as a staff nurse in a private hospital, I began to notice things that prior to receiving my extended education, I didn’t used to pay much attention to. Fundamentally, it’s that most of us are fat. And if you’re not fat - you’re probably still fat.

Don’t kill the messenger here, but look around you. As I write (I am currently in a coffee shop at the heart of the city of Valletta), I can look around and start counting. For every 3 persons that pass by me in the street, one person (adult or child) is clearly overweight, if not obese. Out of the one third of not clearly overweight persons that pass by me, a proportion of individuals would be generally maintaining a visibly healthy weight and visually pleasing physique, while another fraction would seem generally skinny, but then would carry significant abdominal fat (in males) and thigh fat (in females). This is arguably even worse then a generalized central obesity. How can we be blamed for this? Honestly - it’s all around us. Carbohydrate-rich food vendors littering our streets, heavily endorsed by marketing campaigns that feed off two things. First of which - the knowledge of the very fact that we are all depressed with our lives and our general ignorance when it comes to what macronutrients we should be eating in higher proportions than others.

1. You were brought up eating poison

So, when I was young, I was practically raised by my grandmother. My grandmother was an extraordinary lady. She left us a while back but my memories of her are littered with images of her displaying acts of generosity, humor, love and pride for her family (even in their difficult moments). As it so happens, she was also a great cook. I eagerly looked forward to crashing at hers after school where I would find an expertly prepared, generous proportion of steaming hot lasagna waiting for me. Being full wasn’t an issue, for if I so much as left a scrap of food, I would be condemned to a guilt trip of how hard it was to prepare the food and how kids in less fortunate part of the world aren’t as lucky as me. Like most other kids, I was conditioned to finish everything on my plate and to this day, despite all the knowledge and rationale I have to advocate against this, my heart still aches when I see edible scraps of food on someone’s plate.

2. Your diet is controlled by talented marketers, not nutritionists

If you sit down and watch TV, or listen to the radio, or speak to a mate at work - one definite subject that crops up at any given time is always relating to a “new good tasting food” or “awesome restaurant” or “great new drink”. At the moment, new and innovative desert shops are opening and spreading like wildfire. My friends always ask me: “have you tried the churros at >censored< yet? They’re amazing!”

It’s all done in beautiful ignorance, however. People recognize that sugar gives you pleasure, and pleasure is addictive. Your best friend would recommend that you take cocaine but he can’t because cocaine is illegal, whereas sugar, on the other hand, can be legally consumed. If cocaine consumption WAS legal and any rich cocaine-endorsing entity released some studies that show that it, say, could have a positive impacts on brain function (which, in the short term, it could), you can bet your bottom dollar that these findings would be published on X magazine and Y newspaper, leaving the abstract findings to be interpreted by the mass of persons who do not understand statistics and research and would recommend it and advertise it and endorse it.

Many talented marketers are good at manipulating information to make sales. It is their job. You will not find someone who sells food for a living to give you information on the benefits of long-term fasting (even though fasting has been proven to be completely necessary for improved health) because that person has money to make. In 2015, Coca-Cola literally funded the University of Colorado foundation a total of $1 million (O’Connor, 2015) in order for experts to create a backbone of understanding in the ‘nutritional culprits of obesity’. Surprisingly, the science here concluded that sugar wasn’t bad for your health, making it O.K. for the layman to consume 1 L of coca cola per day, attributing his weight gain and development of diabetes to other things like meat and butter.

3. Poor research, poor understanding and even poorer interpretation by journalists and the general population

Studies concerning nutrition are notoriously flawed. I am going to explain why right here. Let us say that, for example, I wanted to investigate the impact of consumption of 2 eggs per day on the cholesterol profile of human beings. It is simply not enough to recruit 10, 000 persons and give them 2 eggs a day and check their lipid profiles before and after the intervention (in this case - the eggs). Why, you ask? Because their sleep, their diet constituents, their daily calorie intake, their activity, their stress levels, their occupations, their already established medical conditions and a host of other factors are extremely significant variables which are very, very difficult to control. Yet, we are now all raving about the new American Heart Association JAMA study, which featured in the Times of Malta (2019) newspaper headlines, quoting that the study found that consuming 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day (i.e. less than 1 egg) increased the risk of heart disease (by 17%) and all-cause mortality (18%). What it failed to mention was that the study was not performed in a double-blind, controlled manner and the subjects were actually given questionnaires to document what they had eaten in the past few years in order to come to this conclusion! So now we have the regular Joe running around town and freaking out because his cholesterol levels are way too high because people who had high cholesterol and documented that they happened to be eating eggs regularly also had high cholesterol. It’s not important if they had irregular sleep patterns, unhealthy eating habits or were smokers. Let’s target the eggs. Now regular Joe decided to stop eating eggs and instead drink coca cola, because the study they funded concluded that coca cola is good for you.

4. Life is depressing

I’m sorry but its true. If you came home one night and ate that doughnut because “you deserve it”, or you drank that bottle of wine “because it’s been a long day”, then wake up - the problem lies in what you’re doing during your day. One wrong doesn’t cancel out another wrong, especially if that wrong is poisoning your body! The life we live in today is jam packed with beautiful opportunities to take advantage of, yet we waste away in dead-end jobs looking forward to our weekend where we can take a break from the emotional destabilization we subject ourselves to and instead initiate physical destabilization, right before we head off to another week of emotional destabilization.

The route of all this all boils down to one factor. Money. We waste away and become sick and miserable because of that paycheck at the end of the month. Because we’re too afraid to leave and try our luck doing something we actually enjoy doing. So our compromise is that we become addicted to sugar, because the sugar we consume is something that we can get anytime, anywhere and is always ready to turn that frown upside down (momentarily). The reality, however, is that our fear of failure drives us to living sad and unremarkable lives, where we close our eyes at age 20 and open them again at age 50 and notice that we are now sad and depressed because way back then we did not have the metaphorical balls to undergo the risks lurking within the clouded unknown. We ask ourselves:

  • “what would have been, if only I quit the job I now spent 30 years in?”

  • “what would have been, if only I took my health seriously?”

  • “what would have been, if only I had the courage to try my luck at being *insert anything here*?”

True happiness is one where you are doing something so exciting, and so thrilling, that so much time goes by that even your own macro-nutrient consumption becomes secondary in your thought process, let alone those sugar cravings. The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried, as Stephen McCranie once said. It is part of the process. Thus, the pursuit of this happiness - what makes you happy, is one that needs to be tackled with a fundamental priority, now rather than later.

References

O’Connor, A. (2015). Coca Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame For Obesity Away From Bad Diets. Retrieved from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets/

Times of Malta, (2019). New data in the eternal debate over eggs, heart health, eating eggs in moderation is fine, experts say. Retrieved from https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20190316/health-fitness/new-data-in-eternal-debate-over-eggs-heart-health.704662