A Different Food Pyramid?!?

The New Healthy Food Pyramid

The New Food Pyramid

There’s no telling what kind of event will bring about a major change in people’s lifestyles. For some it might be a stroke or heart attack. Cancer is a big one. AIDS. The death of a significant other. Maybe it’s something less personal but no less damaging, say a catastrophic bank failure or the loss of a job.

Sometimes, huge outcomes arise from things that, on the surface, seem minor or insignificant. Remember that old saying, for want of a nail? For me, it wasn’t a nail. It was—to risk offering too much information—a nagging case of, well, constipation. There, I said it. A minor event that ultimately led to the overturning of some very cherished, lifelong beliefs I’d held about nutrition and fitness. And the net result is that, today, both my wife Jeanie and I feel better in our mid-fifties than we did when we were twenty years old.

Here’s what happened. We’d been dieting (like most of the population in the US at one time or another). In our case, we’d been using Weight Watchers. And we were very successful. I won’t divulge just how much weight my wife lost, but I managed to shed close to thirty-five pounds on the program. We both had to go out and buy entire new wardrobes to fit our new bodies.

We should have felt great, being down to our ideal weights. We certainly looked great, which was a tremendous boost to our egos. But something wasn’t quite right. For starters, I’d lost a bunch of muscle mass on the Weight Watchers program. And what I hadn’t lost were cravings: I’d wake up in the morning starving, and I’d always feel the tug of the sweets aisles at the supermarket. Ice cream was a particular problem. We were limiting our fats (eliminating them wherever possible), and increasing our intake of fiber-rich, whole-grain foods. We limited our intake of meats, particularly beef and pork, which were high in fat, a Weight Watchers no-no.

Well. We’d been on the plan for several months, when I began to notice my trips to the toilet were becoming increasingly difficult. Not only was I having trouble eliminating, but I’d developed a very uncomfortable case of hemorrhoids. Uncomfortable enough that I began to seriously contemplate having surgery.

I went to the Internet. Lovely place, the Internet. Gobs of information. You’d be amazed at the thousands of articles dealing with the subject of hemorrhoids. And 99.9 percent of these articles, the majority of which were written by nutritionists and medical doctors, all offered the same advice to relieve this annoying problem: increase your fiber intake, drink a half-gallon or more of water each day, and you might try adding some fish oil and/or aloe to your diet as well. Oh, and getting lots of aerobic exercise is important, too…you gotta get the blood and oxygen flowing to the affected area.

Okay, I thought. If this is the solution offered by the medical professionals, who was I to question them? I dutifully blasted my innards with Shredded Wheat and high-fiber breads and vegetables, drank at least a full gallon of water each day, and took brisk walks over hill and dale for ninety minutes or more. I did everything that was prescribed.

That should do the trick, I thought.

But, alas, outside of a slight improvement over the course of two days, my bowels returned to business as usual–which is to say, I wasn’t able to do my own business without a lot of strain and very little to show for it…except, of course, the hemorrhoids, which stubbornly refused to go away.

So it was back to the Internet. Pages and pages of search results. All of them seemed to be saying exactly the same thing. Then I stumbled on this: buried deep in the bowels of the Google search engine. It was a website promoting a cheesy-looking self-published book entitled Fiber Menace. (The title is actually much, much longer, but the shortened version here will suffice.) The website was hosted by the author, an unknown Ukrainian pharmacist named Konstantin Monastyrsky, who achieved some notoriety when he came to America–in computer programming. Go figure. You can read Mr. Monastyrsky’s biography (which I didn’t bother with at the time) here. But I did take some time to skim his website. I couldn’t believe what he’d written (he actually quoted much of his book right there on the website), including these preposterous (I assumed) notions, some of which I’ve paraphrased from his page entitled Give Me Ten Reasons Why I Should Read Fiber Menace:

  • fiber causes chronic digestive disorders and irreversible colorectal damage — even though your menu choices, conventionally speaking, may be impeccable.
  • many accelerated aging and degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerosis, stem from digestive and endocrine disorders caused by fiber consumption.
  • many common digestive complaints, such as heartburn (GERD), gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and constipation, are actually caused or made worse by fiber.
  • there is enormous pressure coming from all quarters to conform to the one century-and-a-half old medical doctrine regarding the ‘health benefits’ of fiber. But if you study morbidity charts, so far the increased consumption of fiber has brought neither ‘health’ nor ‘benefits.’
  • we have become unwitting victims of medical error. Acute digestive disorders directly related to the consumption of fiber — such as appendicitis, ulcers, cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), intestinal obstructions, hernias, and ulcerative colitis — are the leading causes of hospitalization and surgical intervention among people under fifty. Sadly, you’re six times more likely to die from a medical error while hospitalized than from getting killed in a car accident.
  • even dietary supplements are rendered useless when their assimilation is blocked by the ill effects of fiber on the stomach and intestines.
  • if you’re a committed vegetarian, the odds of remaining a “healthy vegetarian” are about as good as beating Russian roulette.

What this guy was saying wasn’t just preposterous; it was laughable. And I did laugh a little derisively while I went back to searching the Internet for more sage–read, believable–advice on how to relieve my steadily worsening hemorrhoid and elimination problems.

But something in the periphery of my mind had begun nagging me about this Monastyrsky fellow, and the outrageous things he’d said about an established fact, unequivocally, irrefutably proven in the medical and nutritional establishment–that dietary fiber was healthy, and the more the better. I was suddenly curious to learn whether there were any scientific studies to back up his claims. So I decided to begin another search, just to settle the question once and for all in my own mind. I brought up my trusty Google page and entered “Fiber Menace” in the window.

What I discovered was, to put it mildly, jaw-dropping.

I’ll get into that in my next installment. In the meantime, I welcome your comments.

World Peace Begins At Home

A mask created by my good friend SueI have a friend, Sue B. Sue is an artist of considerable talent. No, this isn’t a picture of Sue. It’s a photo of a mask Sue created while she was still attending art school in the Pacific Northwest. I look at this and I think, My God…she made this when she was still learning her craft. , about eight years ago. You can imagine how beautiful her work is today, having practiced it for so long.

But I’m not writing about Sue because of her artistic talent. She’s not my friend because of how she draws or puts together a mask or anything that she does. Sue B is my very dear friend because of who she is. Period.

That’s not to say I agree with Sue on everything. I received an email from her the other day, a multiple-recipient blast she’d sent out to everyone in her address book. It was cordial, as Sue’s emails usually are, apologizing first for the multiplicity of addressees, before getting to the real purpose of her note–which was, to paraphrase, a plea to be left out of the political loop which seems to have wound itself around the necks of her large circle of friends and relatives. Apparently most of this circle thinks Sue should be sticking her own neck into that loop as well. Sue’s email was her way of saying, thanks for the invite, but she’s not going there.

Frankly, reading the email rankled me just a bit. It also brought to mind an earlier encounter I’d recently had with Sue. My wife Jeanie and I visited Sue and her husband Paul when we went up to the Puget Sound area this past summer to pick up our remaining household goods (Jeanie and I had purchased a new home in Fort Collins, Colorado, back in June). We were sitting at a table in a local Italian restaurant, chatting over Chianti and breadsticks, and the subject of the upcoming election sort of nosed its way into the conversation. I don’t remember who first brought it up. What I do remember was mentioning that I wasn’t quite sure whom I would be voting for: Obama seemed a little too slick and inexperienced; McCain struck me as too old and a bit hot-headed for a job that, I thought, required an abundance of energy, tact and diplomacy.

“I’m not voting,” Sue said simply.

It was one of those out-of-the-blue comments that can take a pleasant conversation and jerk it around the corner and down a dark one-way street dead-ending in a seedy neighborhood: suddenly a feeling of danger blossomed in the air around our table. Too late, I remembered some sage advice offered by a distant, unremembered someone warning against discussing politics with people you love.

“Okay,” I said. I deliberately avoided asking Sue why she wasn’t going to vote, hoping to turn the vehicle we rode in around somehow and head it back to the friendly, well-traveled street we’d just left.

But oftentimes several things can go wrong simultaneously. Not only had we taken a wrong turn, but now the brakes on our conversation failed. We careened down the darkened street toward what I saw as certain disaster. “The political system in the United States is too divisive,” Sue said. “What we need is something to bring us together as one people. I don’t want to add my energy to anything that can’t possibly do that. So I refuse to participate.”

That’s my good friend Sue, telling it like it is. I don’t remember much more about that particular topic of conversation. Jeanie and I exchanged furtive glances at one another (we’d already had plenty of discussion between us on the relative merits of voting), and someone thankfully swung us around to talking about the latest movies–something less volitile. The thick air grew thinner, more breatheable, and soon the four of us were laughing and carrying on as we had been before.

But Sue’s comments stuck with me, floating high in the pool of memories in which I was still swimming when Jeanie and I finally said goodbye to Sue and Paul at the end of the evening and drove away. Not voting? How could anyone believe that not participating was a valid way of dealing with the political issues our nation was/is facing?

And so, given all of the above, I wasn’t particularly surprised by Sue’s blanket email asking friends and relatives to not involve her in the political loop, to not ask or expect her to take some sort of stand. But I still couldn’t help being a little bothered by her attitude, believing, as do most of us who call ourselves activists, that “if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

I re-read Sue’s email two, three more times. I kept coming back to this part here: “Paul and I have made a committment,” she’d written, “to bring peace to the world–beginning right here in our own home, and move outward from there. If everyone in the world does the same thing, there will be no more wars, no strife.”

I remember thinking, Yeah, well, it’s a nice thought, Sue, but…

It wasn’t until I’d put Sue’s email away and had begun my daily reading from A Course In Miracles, that it hit me. Or, more accurately, it settled over me like a soft, warm, comforting blanket. I came across this passage: “Peace is clearly an internal matter. It must begin with your own thoughts then extend outward.”

Then I suddenly remembered an old saying I’d heard for years while attending the Unity Church: “Peace begins at home.” Of course.

The election this year is (as they all are) ugly. Nasty. And Sue is right: the overall feeling one gets whenever actively participating in our political process (or, sometimes, merely observing it) is always one of separation, division, anger, and sometimes even hatred. It seems unavoidable. And it can be argued that merely participating in the process contributes to the problem, because the only language being spoken is…well, I can’t think of a term for it. But I’m sure it has nothing to do with love.

So, I guess the bottom line is this: Who has the stranger ideas? Sue and her largely invisible minority (remember, they aren’t participating), who choose to stay out of the muck and work on changing the world one small thought at a time? Or the vocal majority, who for some unfathomable reason believe that adding their own energy to the ugly fray will in some miraculous way (and contrary to the laws of physics) diminish it?

You decide. I welcome your own ideas on this.