Wednesday, 5 May 2010

You are what you feel or

what you eat?
There is a piece in this morning's paper which suggests that people are defining themselves by illnesses, syndromes, intolerances and other medical conditions. They say something like, "Hi I am Don (or Donna) and I am lactose intolerant (or I have high cholesterol)" instead of "Hi. My name is Don (or Donna) and I am Aquarian or Capricornian" or perhaps, "I come from Mars (or Venus).
It is fashionable to have a medical condition - whether you have one or not - for which you must (a) take medication and (b) avoid certain foods and (c) generally make yourself miserable while doing so.
Now, I am not suggesting that there are not people out there with problems. I know there are people who have genuine, life threatening allergies. I know there are people who need medication to stay alive. There also seem to be a lot of other people who say they are intolerant to this or that or that they no longer eat this or that because....and then comes the vague and wandering explanation which sometimes has the words "the doctor says I am" or "the doctor thinks I might be..."
Right. Maybe.
Then we get the free advice in the press. Last week our state newspaper was advocating that people should eat more papaya, blueberries and sweet potato because the food value of these things was slightly higher than some of the commonly available and cheaper foods we have always thought were actually good for us. Papaya and fresh blueberries also happen to be very expensive. Sweet potato, in season, is a more reasonable price but many people have no idea what to do with it. Quite simply most people will ignore this advice because they cannot afford to buy those things. If they do buy them it will be because they particularly like them or they will be curious enough to try them. Most people will never buy them on a regular basis.
Was it good advice? I doubt it. It is more likely that if someone said, "Mandarins are currently in season. They make a good buy right now" then people would actually go out and buy mandarins.
Now someone will probably tell me that mandarins are not good for you!
According to the dieticians though we should be eating soy, we should not be eating soy, we should be eating dairy products, we should not be eating dairy products, we should be eating eggs, we should not be eating egg yolks, we should not be eating eggs. Some say we should not be eating carbohydrates, others say we should only eat wholemeal or multigrain, some say we should have one slice of bread and others two, four or six. Then there is sugar - pure, white and deadly. Icecream - sugar, fat and all of that. Chocolate - well perhaps, maybe, sometimes you can have a little, less than a tiny square of the darkest variety and only if you do not have an allergy to it. Alcohol - no but then maybe a single glass of red - except that any at all could lead to a variety of nasty side effects. (Okay, so alcohol does make me feel itchy all over. I avoid it but other people can enjoy it sensibly.)
What is there left to eat? I know someone who has tried to take on board all these possible bits of advice. She is very, very thin. I do not know what she eats for breakfast (if she has breakfast) but her lunch is always a single pot of 'biodynamic organic plain yoghurt' from only one source. Her evening meal appears to be those vegetables she is 'allowed' to have - always 'organically' sourced. She eats precisely six almonds each day - 'because that is what they say I can have'. There is actually nothing wrong with her. Her daughter tells me that her mother doctor shops and that nobody can actually find anything wrong. She has no allergies or syndromes or conditions that need to be treated. Nevertheless she is on a 'strict' diet and she is making herself miserable. She has convinced herself that she has serious problems.
Hers is an extreme case but I rather suspect that, despite the wide variety of wonderful food available to us, many of us have similar problems. We no longer eat certain things in the belief that they are 'bad' for us. We do not enjoy food. We feel guilty when we break out and eat icecream or a bun. Unless it actually makes us ill because we have a genuine, life threatening allergy, we might do better if we felt less guilty about it. We would probably eat less of it. It is because we are told it is 'forbidden' that it becomes particularly desirable.
I am wondering if there is something that might be called a "Syndrome of Excess"?


Adelaide Dupont said...

The "syndrome of excess" is very well-known in neurology and in mental health. Tic disorder and the manic episodes of bipolar disorder are two examples. Also some forms of epilepsy come into it. It is generally contrasted with the more usual "syndromes of deficit".

catdownunder said...

Oh, and there I was thinking I had invented something! :-) I did not know that there was an actual name for the behaviours you mentioned. Thanks.