Archive for July, 2012

Human Building Blocks

July 28, 2012

Blog # 68  Andrew Siegel, M.D.


I no longer give a lot of thought to healthy eating, but instead react in habit-like fashion to whatever food that is in front of me.  I don’t think big picture, I don’t think long-term and I don’t think about weighing myself often.  When it comes to food and nutrition, I like to be in the moment and think about the present—the here and now.  Most of the time, I don’t think forest, I don’t think trees, but I think leaves.

Over the years, I’ve put a lot of conscious thought into eating and nutrition and the important role it plays in determining our health destiny.  I have carefully read food labels and educated myself through paying attention, reading and research. What has happened is that conscious thought processes have evolved into subconscious actions—habits.  Now, when I consider putting some food into my mouth I reflexively and subconsciously weigh its benefit as a potentially valuable building block that will be used by my body as fodder to restore, replenish and regenerate those cells and tissues that are undergoing constant turnover.  Like parts for my car or home, I want to use the highest quality materials.  I recognize that in my lifetime I will have many cars and probably several homes and I will endeavor to take excellent care of them, but I have only one body, so I want to make an extraordinary effort to treat it with the utmost of respect and stewardship.  I don’t want a body that is a house of cards! As important as this concept is for full-grown adults, it is even more so for children who need healthy building blocks for actual growth and not just replacement.

So, if I have a handful of almonds or an apple or a Greek yogurt in front of me, my subconscious gives me a green light; if it is a doughnut, a greasy slice of pizza with pepperoni or a hot dog, my reflexes give me a red light.  Do I ever make exceptions?  My reflexes guide me, but of course I will have a slice or two or three of pizza (typically with veggies on top) and other indulgences that make me happy—such as chocolate or rum raisin ice cream—but my habits shepherd me to moderation.  If you take care of the leaves, you will have healthy trees comprising a hardy forest.

The following is an excerpt from The Huffington Post written by Dr. David Katz entitled: “Un-junking Ourselves.”  Although the subject of Dr. Katz’s discussion is a child, it is relevant to adults as well.  And yes, this excerpt was included in one of my blogs from a few weeks ago, but it’s so important that it is worth repeating:

Think about a child — or former child — you love. This should be pretty easy for any parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or just about anybody else who has known a kid or ever been one.

Now, think about that child’s growth from year to year and ask yourself: What were they growing out of? What was the construction material? Matter can’t be constructed out of nothing — it comes from somewhere. If a child’s head is four inches higher off the floor this year than last year, then that four-inch platform of extra kid was built out of… something. What?  Food and nothing else. Food is the construction material — the only construction material — for the growing bodies of children we love.

We are, no doubt, all familiar with the expression “you are what you eat,” but given how most of us eat, it’s quite clear we don’t take it very seriously. And for some pretty good reasons. The human machine, and human fuel tank, are stunningly forgiving. We can throw almost anything in the tank, and run reasonably well for decades. We can’t build a machine fractionally so accommodating.

And, of course, we don’t look like what we eat. We eat donuts, and don’t sport big holes through our middles. We eat French fries, and don’t sprout French fry antennae. But you can’t judge what we are made of by what we look like, any more than you can judge a book by its cover — or a house by its paint. Our houses are, often, made mostly of wood — but look nothing like trees. Trees are cut down and, if you will, “digested” in a timber mill to produce wood that is turned into lumber. The lumber is then used to build houses that look nothing like the trees. But if that lumber is rotten, the house in question may look all right at first — but it will fare quite badly when the first big storm comes along. The quality of a house is rooted in the quality of its construction materials.

Ditto for us. The growing body of a child is built out of food. Nutrients are extracted from food, just as wood is extracted from trees. Rotten wood makes rotten houses. Rotten food makes… sick kids. The kids may look, and even feel, fine for a while. But every cell their bodies build depends on the quality of the available construction material it is offered. Every muscle fiber, every enzyme, every brain cell, every heart cell, every hormone. Maybe not right away — but eventually, rotten construction material catches up with us all.

No one I know throws any old junk into the tank of a car they hope will run well for the foreseeable future. No one I know willingly builds a home out of junk, or of rotten wood. But food is the one and only building material for the growing body of a child you love. How’s “junk” sounding now? And, by the way, every one of us adults is turning over literally hundreds of millions of cells daily. These need to be replaced, along with spent enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and the like. Where do WE get the construction material for this job? Think about it.  Right you are.

Words to heed, to make part of your conscious and, ultimately, your subconscious, so that your food choices automatically become healthy ones.

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

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