Thursday, March 24, 2011


According to author Fran Lebowitz, "Food is an important part of a balanced diet."

Come again? Many of her readers think of Lebowitz as a cynic. But to us cynics, she's the kid who points out the Emperor's nakedness.  

Health requires a balanced life diet, some of which is nourishing food. The rest includes feelings of worth, adequate exercise and rest, the joys of learning, intimate relationships, and other factors.

Of a healthy life diet's ingredients, few are physical. Feelings of worth and intimate relationships, for example, aren't things, but ways of living, so they can't be sold as "health" products. The physical ones, though--food, vitamins, supplements, exercise machines, surgical procedures, you-name-it--can be and are sold, to the tune of more than $25 billion annually.

"Health" product advertising is so successful that folks line supermarket aisles trying to divine from labels whether this pill, this gel, this patch, this fruit, this soymilk will awake the happiness that's languished within them. If only I had the proper supplements, the right omega oil, the ideal balance of carbs to fat…

Evidence is accumulating, though, that the greatest determinants of disease incidence are our past experiences and the life choices we make, not our daily intake of zinc. For example, if you were traumatized in childhood, you'll likely be exquisitely vulnerable in adult life to a range of serious diseases. See the effect of these "Adverse Childhood Events" in a 2009 Scientific American review, . My blog entry "Contact As Treatment" ( related recent findings demonstrating social contact as a cheap and effective way of treating chronic illness.

Absence of disease is the notion of "health" that most of us grew up with. If we had a course in health, it no doubt emphasized the four basic food groups, regular checkups, and avoidance of drugs. That's fine as far as it goes, but fairly desiccate: what about the juice that makes us want to hang around? Isn't being loved as important as a well-balanced meal? Aren't humor and creativity and sex vitamins at least as essential as riboflavin?

The idea that health is an enjoyable life is gaining ground in our culture. Meanwhile, many of us will continue to graze product shelves in a futile search for fulfillment. Eating disorder guru Geneen Roth (author of When Food Is Love and many other sharp books) advises, "You can't get enough of what you don't really need."

1 comment:

  1. I love this entry. Seemingly so obvious, but so true.