Missing the Forest for the Trees

Something I believe I read from Dr. John McDougall when I first started eating whole food, plant-based was that eating this way was as easy as finding five or six recipes that you enjoy and to just start eating those. Or as most advisors on anything will tell you, the easiest way to consistently do something is to do it the way that you will most likely continue to do it. For example, if you're President George H.W. Bush who famously does not like broccoli, then it probably wouldn't be a good way for him to go whole food, plant-based by consistently loading up on broccoli. You have to pick foods you will continually enjoy.

I'm going to expand on that theme in today's blog posting because it's a way of thinking that I'm familiar with and it definitely led to my success, but it's also a way of thinking that I have gotten away from lately. And I think others have too. I can kind of pinpoint when I started losing sight of it. It was in December 2015. That's when I stopped losing weight (about 10 to 15 pounds before I wanted to stop losing weight). It's also when, after 18 months, I stopped eating my standard colcannon dinner at night and my miso soup and sweet potato for lunch every day.

Instead, I began to become concerned about getting specific foods into my diet each day because of their particular benefit in fighting this cancer or that cancer or because one particular food was super packed with antioxidants or what have you. I don't know if that influenced my stop in weight loss or not; it may have just been time for my body to stop losing weight. I've talked to a couple of our WFPB doctors who both suggested that was probably the case. They both told me the body wants to stubbornly hang on to that last ten pounds or so. But it could have also been that the change in how I ate may have increased the calories I ate each day. Now instead of just eating what I enjoyed when I was hungry, I was making a conscious effort to eat certain foods every day. That became so important to me that I would eat some cooked mushrooms, for example, just to get them in (whether I was hungry or not). And that could have increased the calorie load.

Or another possibility could be that moving from colcannon and miso soup and sweet potatoes to bigger salads and soups and chilis and other dishes could have changed my gut bacteria in a way that the new bacteria were more interested in fighting cancer and heart disease than they were in weight loss. So, who knows for sure? But as the last three years have gone on, I've almost laser focused in on eating this food for this benefit and that food for that benefit. In a way, I bad become reductionist, as Dr. T. Colin Campbell talks about in his book, Whole.

But this past week, I've had some opportunity to think about things and to reset my thinking. For example, in my last posting, I mention how I have become so focused on food as nutrition that I've begun to short shrift the other very important aspects of . eating this way, which includes the environment and the ethical treatment of animals. While I do not write on those subjects in my blog postings, I really never want to lose sight of their importance, and I have the highest respect for my friends who place those concerns front and center.

Now, as I reflect on my thinking and in getting ready to teach an orientation class to our newest club members, I'm finding myself going back to the model that says the best foods to eat on a whole food, plant-based diet are the foods that will keep you eating whole food, plant-based. Maybe this is driven by a craving I'm having for colcannon right now, which I've decided to make for my next week's worth of meals, but I really think it's good advice. Sure, my colcannon has redskin potatoes (white inside) and it has cashews for creaminess and some might object to one or both of those. But it works for me. I ate it every night for a year and a half from March 2014 to December 2015 and during that time I lost 150 pounds, got off all prescription meds and I looked forward to every meal.

I think what's important first and foremost is the giving up of all animal products, oils and highly processed foods. By doing that, we are taking away what I believe are our biggest contributors to chronic disease.So, now the question is, do we need to eat certain foods in order to further prevent chronic disease? For example, does the fact that Brazil nuts help to lower cholesterol now mean that we need to add them to our diets? I'm going to say "Not necessarily" because we've already taken away the most significant causes of higher cholesterol in our bodies. Eating whole, plant-based foods will only make your body stronger.

And the studies that show a benefit with a particular plant food are never done on people who have eliminated animal products, oils and highly processed foods. They're done on people who eat a more traditional standard American diet.

So, for me, I'm thinking that information about specific foods is worth knowing about and worth keeping in mind as we think through our diets, but I'm also thinking the most important criteria is to find foods we enjoy and make those our daily diet. I'm pretty sure that people in Blue Zones, where people have lived the healthiest for the longest period of time, have not worried about getting enough of any specific food in their diet. I doubt that any of them have ever read a book on eating whole food, plant-based. Nor do they have a list of foods they insist on eating each day. They just eat the foods that are available to them in the most likely ways they can enjoy them. If I live and stay healthy in doing so for as long as the Blue Zones participants, then I will have considered this way of eating to have been a success for me.

In fact, we know fasting is good for us. So, that would suggest just the opposite of eating this food or that food. Instead of worrying about getting enough of any particular food, we probably ought to think about how to get less food overall.

J Lanning Smith
Twice the Man; Half the Weight
February 10, 2019

Revised Statement

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with the awful realization that in my own boneheaded ways, I've been wrong about something. I hate when that happens because it means for somebody like me, who so freely expresses my opinion and thoughts in a public way, that I have to eat humble pie. And when it happens through a blog posting, it can be all the worse because thousands of people have likely read the offending blog post.

Fortunately, yesterday's blog posting is not one that was widely read. According to my stats, just a couple hundred people read it, one of the lowest numbers ever on one of my blog postings. And from comments I received, a number of those agreed with the posting. But I no longer agree with the posting.

I am replacing what is written in that blog posting with the words that I am writing here.

Here's my confession:

I have for some time now mixed up my "professional" responsibilities with my more personal, ethical responsibilities. When I say professional, I mean my role as Vice President of the 620-member Eat Smart Live Longer Club as well as my role as a newspaper columnist and a magazine columnist. Those responsibilities require me to focus on the nutritional benefits of eating a whole food, plant-based diet. And many people who follow me in those endeavors have looked to me as being a food expert.

As that has continued to build, I have however lost sight of the other major concern that I have, and that is the abhorrent effects on both our society and on fellow beings that we share the earth with when it comes to the exploitation of animals. That too is a major concern that dramatically affects the environment we live in, our chances of surviving climate change and more.

I have become too focused on nutrition, and will continue to focus on nutrition where it is appropriate to do so, but I am also re-committing myself to the larger issues of animal exploitation as well.

This came to a head for me this past week because our Board in the Eat Smart Live Longer Club is voting on whether to support the Lowcountry VegFest again this year. And I may be the swing vote on that. When I wrote my blog posting yesterday, I was stating why I didn't think we as a club could support that. But that wasn't clear in my blog posting because my blog goes out to a larger population, so I have to write for a more general population. I came across sounding as if I opposed VegFests in general.

My position as one of five club officers is that because our club was founded on being nutrition-focused and our membership is still nutrition-focused, we as a club should be donating to events and organizations that advance those goals. In my humble opinion, it would send a message to our membership that we are endorsing some of the manufactured vegan products as being nutritionally good if we were to donate to an event that emphasized processed vegan foods over healthy plant-based foods. And that would go against what we believe. So, as a club, I am not in favor of donating to VegFest. However, I can still change my mind on that if someone has a good argument to the contrary.

But, not being a club sponsor does not mean that we as individuals cannot support VegFest for what it is doing, and that is bringing the message about animal exploitation to as wide a population of locals as possible. I intend to make a donation as an individual to the VegFest this year. And I encourage the other officers, particularly those wanting to vote in favor of the club donating, to also donate to VegFest this year. I would also encourage all of our members who are concerned about animal exploitation, and it would be nice if that were everybody, to also donate to VegFest this year.

Together we can make a difference. As individual donors, we may give even more than would have happened otherwise. I do support VegFest. I have donated to it every year since its inception, usually more than once. I also served on the planning committee for it one year and I have been a volunteer at VegFest every year except this past year (due to family visiting and my dad's funeral that same weekend). I don't mention that to brag about it. I mention it in order to show my continued support for VegFest.

Tonight, today, this morning (whatever), I am like the prodigal son returning home. It can't be my piece of the puzzle versus someone else's piece of the puzzle. It all fits together into a lifestyle that rejects animal exploitation and rejoices in a diet of whole, plant-based foods. And to be truly healthy, that should also include rejection of processed foods, which is also severely damaging to our health and hazardous to the environment as well. I believe we can all learn together from each other. And while I write with a lot of assuredness at times (most of the time), I too am continually learning.

Thank you and see you at VegFest.

J Lanning Smith
"Twice the Man, Half the Weight"
February 8, 2019