Does working to improve your health make you judgemental?

judgementalI’m pretty proud of myself for changing my whole diet, and sticking to it. I’ve never been someone who really struggled with weight, so to be honest, I didn’t know if I could do it. So I feel good about that, closing in on two years eating for “therapeutic ketosis”.

Sidebar – I recently listened to Dr. Thomas Seyfried’s interview on Jimmy Moore’s Livin La Vida Low Carb podcast, and Dr. Seyfried pointed out that he doesn’t think the word “diet” adequately describes what this is for people who are trying to use it to manage something like cancer. He considers it “metabolic therapy”. I love thinking about words and how we use them, and how that influences action, so I’ve been kicking that around. I’ve arrived at “therapeutic ketosis” as my preferred term, as opposed to “ketogenic diet” or “nutritional ketosis”. JICYMI.

Now, for my confession (see the Law and Order theme I’ve got going here?): one of the side-effects of this whole change has been a judgemental streak that I didn’t see in myself before, and I can’t seem to switch off. Maybe it was always there, but I saved it up for judging people who wear yoga pants to work or drive in the passing lane. Either way, I now find myself standing in line at the grocery store and looking at the cart in front of me, totaling up the sugar in it. Or I’m at one of my favourite local coffee bars, waiting for my double decaf breve, watching the blood sugar spikes walk past in the form of drinks and frappes and ubiquitous baked goods. Just a few days back, I observed two young women, both noticeably overweight, step up to the barista and order slushy blended drinks that were low fat, with no whip, and full of mocha chocolate flavouring. I thought “wow, they think they are making a healthy choice here”. I think the same thing when I drive past a local smoothie or frozen yogurt shop – everyone going in there probably thinks they are doing something good for their health.

I don’t like this in myself. It turns out I like it even less in others (now I’m judging the judgers – see? It’s an epidemic!). It jumps out at me in my social media, where the pervasive tone of my health related feeds is slightly (and sometimes utterly) superior, mocking the ignorance of the masses, or just despairing of ever “getting the message out”. I am conflicted, because I believe there are very real benefits to diet and lifestyle changes, not just in a therapeutic setting, but for actual prevention of disease. But I also cannot shake the sense that I am joining my voice with others in a chorus of the enlightened. We are desperate to drag humanity out of the darkness, and if this is not possible, then we will sit in the sunshine and eat avocadoes and watch those poor fools flounder in their self-inflicted bacon-less eternal night. And we’ll probably feel good about it. Because after all, we tried, right?

On the other side of the scales, I also feel a little judged. I see a lot of blamey talk out there, people sharing photos of “health food” (fruits and veggies) vs. “sick food” (prescription bottles), and imploring their friends and followers to take control before they GET SICK. For me, this conjures up a mental picture of an unwashed, barefoot doomsday foreseer with a robe and a sign twined to her chest, or the crazy haired guy with the crooked fingers and one bleary, milky eye  who warns us to (FORESHADOWING) never, ever feed our new pets after midnight. I feel like there’s a strong message out there that if you have been diagnosed, it’s your fault. And you should be an example for others, lest they follow you down that one-way road of sickness. The signpost for that road says “This Way Lies A Path of Burdensome Drain on Your Loved Ones and Society As a Whole”.

Maybe I’m oversensitive, but I did everything right. I ate well, I exercised, I have never smoked, I’ve never been overweight or had a cholesterol reading or any other health test out of whack. I’ve never been able to drink more than a couple of glasses of wine at the best of times, and have never in my life touched anything like a drug of abuse. Fun date, right? People, sometimes that’s what the health profile of someone who gets cancer looks like. I didn’t choose to disregard my health and just expect someone to give me a pill to fix it when it got broken.

I do feel that there is a great difficulty in finding solid, accessible and easily understood health information. There is so much noise and so many conflicting messages out there in our 24/7 news cycle, that I despair for people who are honestly trying to find good information. But I don’t think preaching it is the answer. There is also good information out there, reliable information. I think blogs, healthcare professionals, journalists, and others who are helping people find it are to be commended. And to everyone else, stifle the judgey voice just a little, maybe. I know I’m trying to.

Finally, to patients, or people searching for this information: take responsibility for finding it. Ask for help. Start by learning how to determine the credibility of information or research. And ignore the judge-ifiers and health evangelists; they’ll find you, they’ll want to convert you, they’ll want to convince you, they’ll try to make you feel bad and threaten to kick you out of the tribe if you don’t think their cure-all berries are your “cup of tea”. Take action, take control, follow your own light. Be open, but be tough. You need to be.

5 comments

  1. Boundless · · Reply

    > I thought “wow, they think they are making a healthy choice here”.

    It’s a phase I suspect everyone goes through. Now I just consider these check-out stand scenarios to be sad, and merely stand ready to provide information if it is sought.

    > But I also cannot shake the sense that I am joining
    > my voice with others in a chorus of the enlightened.

    Well, it’s too early to be infallible about diet and lifestyle.
    And it’s always a mistake to be dogmatic.
    All we can do is share what we think we know.

    > I do feel that there is a great difficulty in finding solid,
    > accessible and easily understood health information.

    With the official diet and supplement information from government and from National Affliction Promotion and Management associations (like the ACS) being largely hostile to human health, we are all largely on our own. Having the internet is new, historically speaking, but that can be a benefit or a hazard. It certainly accelerates finding information of whatever reliability.

    One approach for those interested in change:
    “If pretty much everything you’ve been told about nutrition and health is disastrously incorrect, who would tell you?”

    > Start by learning how to determine the
    > credibility of information or research.

    And focus on advocacies with testable near-term results, from responsive authorities who have shown that they are willing to modify the advocacy as new data arrives.

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    1. I always love that you think so deeply about your comments! I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. I find myself trying to curb this smugness that I see, in myself and others, and you said it perfectly, it’s early days, and dogma is never good. And I really like your point about thinking critically regarding whether an established authority is flexible and willing to change based on new evidence – I think that’s a critical aspect of whether an “authority” is truly credible! Thanks, as always, for reading and thinking with me.

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  2. I’ve been eating, and reading, in the primal/paleo world for a number of years, and feel I have a good enough understanding of the basics to separate the wheat from the chaff, particularly in the internet world.

    It’s been a bit of a climb, however, in my short time of living with a brain tumor diagnosis, to have to go through a similar learning process dealing with my health issue. Initially I’ve avoided diving in to the jargon-loaded information on the web, simply because I don’t know enough to distinguish the good from the bad, and the whole thing is scary enough without subjecting myself to The Sky Is Falling stories and other such ‘info’ online.

    But as I move away from the diagnosis and try to find paths forward (this blog being one of them), I’m finding myself more able to dip my toe into the internet world, and able to read more about my condition. It is still scary, but perhaps not quite so much as I move on.

    I guess these things (diet or health issues) are complex, and it is just a given that if we want, or need, to be conversant, we have to invest the time to learn. And to think critically about what we read.

    (As an aside, a DSBL (double shot breve latte) has been my coffee drink of choice for some time – one of the finer treats available for paleo eaters!)

    (Wheat from chaff – ha! Need to think of a primal equivalent.)

    Like

    1. John, I really feel you here. I think I’ve commented elsewhere on this blog that I was so fortunate to have friends and colleagues who work in this area and whose judgement I trusted. They said to me “let me know if there’s anything I can do for you” and I took them up on it. I asked them to do some research and reading for me, given my tumour type and pathology results, and let me know if they found anything actionable. I also asked that they not tell me anything about outcomes or survival stats or anything negative. I found myself solidly in the mental space of really wanting to filter out anything that I had no control over, that I could not change, or that was some vast population statistic that really held little to no meaning to a single case, ME. I am just blessed with those people in my life, and their help is truly on my list of debts I can never repay.

      Maybe separating the cream from the milk, or the ghee from the butter?

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      1. Though I haven’t reached out for help researching yet, I learned pretty quickly that some people seem to have no sense of what is apropos when I have told them my situation. I’ve had two people immediately launch into horror stories of people they knew. I’m sad anyone has to deal with this, but really, do they think hearing worse case scenarios is going to help my frame of mind?

        I do like your idea of friends filtering information for actionable nuggets. I’m fortunate to have some friends who would jump right in if I asked (and have the sense to filter appropriately). I’m facing surgery next week and not feeling like I have the capacity to add anything at the moment, but after I recover from that, this is an idea I will pursue. Thank you for suggesting it.

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