Can the way you eat change your life and transform your health? If Hans Diehl, author of Dynamic Living: How to Take Charge of Your Health, is right, you bet it can. Making the connection between what we eat and what’s healthy isn’t exactly a new idea.
Most people who go on diets are seeking “healthier” eating habits. But beyond the idea that healthy eating habits will lead to weight loss, and weight loss will lead to improved health, few people think about further indicators. They assume that if they lose a bit of weight and get into the right BMI range, then it’s all good. Wrong.
Way back when we first started this blog, Sam talked about Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI. We have repeatedly emphasized that weight and fat are not sole determinants of health and physical fitness. We’re not into super-restrictive diets for weight loss. They don’t even work. We’ve talked about that tons, including here and here and here and here.
I attended Hans Diehl’s talk on campus the other day because I’m a member of the Western Ontario Vegan Society, an energetic and enthusiastic student group whose cause I believe in, and I like to support their events. The abstract said that “Dr. Diehl’s research shows that most people with hypertension, Type-2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and heart disease can reverse these diseases and often become drug free within weeks.”
That kind of research interests me. It’s in keeping with the work of Physicians for Responsible Medicine, of which Diehl is a member. He advocates Lifestyle Medicine and has developed an affordable program called the Complete Health Improvement Program (C.H.I.P.).
In keeping with my commitment to writing only about empowering, positive, and optimistic things for the next little while (in honor of spring), his talk left me with a good feeling.
He went over the usual scary stats about our declining health as a population. I did wonder at some points how much of the increased instances of things like diabetes and heart disease have to do with better diagnostics, but whether we as a population are actually less healthy or are only now discovering how unhealthy we are, the fact is, it’s possible to make relatively simple dietary adjustments and radically alter our health.
Diehl correctly cited BMI as a meaningful measure over populations not individuals. And the BMI in North America is over 40, which indicates not just obesity, but increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, sleep apnea, cancer (especially prostate, breast, colon, and cervical). Many of these are chronic diseases that, according to his and others’ research, correlate with lifestyle choices.
Apparently, french fries are the most eaten vegetable in North America and soda pop consumption accounts for 1/3 of all sugar in the American diet (not likely far off in Canada, although I think our fast food drink sizes are a bit smaller). Without going into all the gory details that many of us know already, the upshot is that as a population we’re undernourished and overfed. This could be due to all sorts of things, but he attributes it largely to big food companies who pay scientists to do research into the pleasure centre in the brain that processed foods activate. It’s the brain’s “blisspoint” and the right amounts of sugar, salt, and fat make it come alive to produce pleasure.
I have no expertise from which to critically assess these findings. But I’ve eaten my share of sugar, fat, and salt, and it always made me feel temporarily good. I should stress the temporary nature of that boost. No doubt many of us are familiar with it.
Anyway, the fact is, though I do not delude myself into thinking that the only reason to eat food is for its nutrients, I find claims about the health benefits of whole foods, mostly plants, to be quite persuasive.
Focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes pretty much guarantees a low fat, low sugar, low salt diet. Doctors like Dean Ornish, Neal Barnard, and Caldwell Esselstyn have all argued that it is possible to prevent and reverse heart disease. Bill Clinton adopted a vegan diet after heart disease required quadruple by-pass surgery. I’ve faulted Clinton for just one thing: that he doesn’t draw any attention to the animal ethics side of the vegan debate.
Though Diehl’s talk focused almost exclusively on the dramatic health benefits of a plant-based diet, he mentioned at the end of his presentation that there are plenty of other reasons to take such a change seriously. In terms of animal welfare, 1,000,000 animals are slaughtered for food every hour in the United States. And there is growing concern about the environmental impact of industrial livestock agriculture.
But even if we just focus on the health benefits, they are undeniable. The American Heart Association reports that heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year (compared to one in 31 death each year from breast cancer).
Leaving the Diehl’s talk, I didn’t need to make many changes to my lifestyle or my way of eating to conform with his guidelines. But miraculously, my usually skeptical and reticent spouse is eager to sign up for the C.H.I.P. program when it’s offered in London next fall. That’s fairly strong evidence that the talk had a convincing impact on people who aren’t currently following the recommendations.
Diehl’s message isn’t new. You can get it from lots of other sources. But the views he expresses aren’t exactly mainstream yet, despite the amazing health transformation experienced by lots of people who adopt the basic diet strategy:
- whole grains
Sounds easy enough. Enjoy! 🙂