Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On Eating "Clean"

Steve Novella, neurologist and professor of medicine, has a tremendous post today on Science Based Medicine about the idea of eating "clean," which some think leads to a condition called orthorexia.

Clean eating is based on the faulty thought that if we can just eat keep ourselves clean enough, inside and out, through hygiene and diet, we'll be pure and healthy. Forever, it seems, is the wish. However, as Novella puts it,

...there is a tendency to believe that existing in the natural state of every person would mean their body functions perfectly. In reality the human body is a kluge, a series of evolutionary compromises that functions well enough to breed, and exists in a constant state of decay, barely staving off entropy for seven or eight decades until finally succumbing to the inevitable.
I loved that paragraph particularly. Getting sick and aging are not unnatural. They are what happens to humans and living things generally.
When we do develop some symptom or dysfunction, there is a tendency to assume that the problem is being caused by something outside of our bodies, rather than a defect in our body itself. We are being infected or poisoned, and if we can just identify and remove the foreign threat, our body will return to its natural state of perfection.
Perfection is not our natural state, and cleanliness appears to have its own rebound effect on our immune systems. It's hard to sort out reasonable guidelines for eating in the morass of messages we hear every day. I think following Michael Pollan's simple advice, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," does it. Getting hung up on specific foods and eliminating them without good medical reason leads all too easily to something like orthorexia (even if that isn't yet a recognized condition).

1 comment:

Gina said...

The clean eating people obviously haven't heard about the different biomes we have, both inside and out, on which we are incredibly dependent. Wouldn't they just love all the little buggers living in the human gut! LOL