Hogwash Not Happenstance

Hogwash Not Happenstance

I grew up with little understanding about the importance of good nutrition. Not because my mother was delinquent, but rather because I did not care. There was a question I asked most every day around 4:00pm, “Mom, what are we having for dinner?” If the answer was pizza or stroganoff or tacos, I was content. If the answer was Borscht or liver or Chow Mein, I cringed. I had the good fortune to have a mother who worked at home (the common term back then was Housewife) and therefore she was usually present to guide my food choices. We ate salad with dinner, enjoyed homemade applesauce and homemade salt-rising bread. My mother sewed clothes, crocheted blankets and sweaters, and did most of the yard work. My dad worked at the airport fixing planes. I write all of that because most people reading this did not have the luxury of a mom who was around in that regard. I remember her encouraging us to eat fruit and vegetables but still providing plenty of sugary desserts. In fact, she was fairly prolific with the cookies, cakes and fudge—especially around the holidays.

It was widely understood, however, that genetics were against us. Our family tree was loaded with people who were not particularly thin. I grew up with the impression that there was nothing I could do about this genetic glitch. I always felt like I was on the chunky side growing up (I was a size 14 when I started 9th grade and weighed around 150 pounds). I ate foods determined most acceptable by my taste buds, paying little attention to what I put into my mouth unless it was fried or sweet. On the odd occasion my mother made something truly detestable, (like broiled fish with bones in it and canned spinach), I was forced to “clean my plate” upon forfeiture of dessert. Consuming the “nasty” dinner was not an option. It was either eat it, or eat nothing.

Once I moved out on my own and was given full freedom for my food choices, of course I chose fast food for nearly every meal. When not eating out I shopped at Aldi and my haul was a stack of frozen pizzas, maybe some hamburger, and ramen noodles. I never even thought about eating fruit or vegetables unless they came in a can. When I made the decision to lose weight after my first child was born in 1997, I exercised every morning and ate small portions. I was hungry most of the time and lived in a constant state of what felt like torture. Still, I lost about 125 pounds and thought I had the food thing figured out. After a boy broke my heart, I buried my head in food and quickly regained all the weight by returning to my old emotional food habits.

I recently read a blog entry by the “esteemed”, Dr. Mark Hyman titled, “Why Overeating Doesn’t Make you Fat (and what does)”. It was posted on Facebook by a blogger I respect and included a picture of potato chips. Dr. Hyman uses the letters MD behind his name so I assumed he had street cred. He also has a lot of endorsements, including cool people like Bill Clinton. He also is a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author. Needless to say, if you are fat, he seems to be a fairly credentialed source of nutritional information with a vested interest in making your fat disappear. So you can imagine my “surprise” when I read the following:

“Why would we be designed to overeat and grow fat? It all comes down to the oldest and most primitive part of our brain, our limbic, or “lizard,” brain. This is the part of your brain that evolved first, and it’s like a reptile’s brain. It governs your survival behaviors, creating certain chemical responses that you have no conscious control over. While you might think you are in complete control of your mind, the truth is that you have very little control over the unconscious choices you make when you are surrounded by food.”

And that is when I stopped reading and commented on my friends post, “This is hogwash! Dr. Hyman is a lizard brain.”

My friend defended Dr. Hyman by saying he is an esteemed member of the medical community, but after scrolling through to the bottom of his webpage I came to see that really he’s what I consider another marketeer—meaning, he’s selling something. He’s one of those ear ticklers who tells people what they want to hear so they’ll hand over their hard earned cash. Sadly, many people fall for his lies, including people who subscribe to the New York Times. Folks, just because someone is popular, that doesn’t mean they are honest and forthright. It only means that the majority of the fish are swimming in his direction, especially if they just really want to believe what he’s peddling.

What I consider most insidious about Dr. Hyman is his mixed messages. He says we can’t help how we eat but then goes on to talk about how we should not eat processed foods. I’m sorry. Which way is it? If we can’t control our lizard brain, how are we supposed to stop eating Taco Bell? Especially if we have no control over our minds? Wait, I’m sorry. You need to read his book to find out. Maybe he will teach you how to control your lizard brain.

I like number 5 on the list best (not really, it’s hogwash too):

“Become aware of trigger foods. For some of us, that one little soda can set us on a downward spiral to overeating and all of the negative health consequences that come with it. It isn’t just the processed, sugary foods and drinks that become triggers. But even healthy foods, if you have a tendency to binge on them, can quickly become unhealthy. A handful of almonds are perfectly healthy, but if you eat half the jar, they quickly become unhealthy.”

I could pick this apart every which way from Sunday. Step 1: Don’t drink soda. It’s a can full of noxious chemicals no matter what fancy marketing Coke and Pepsi throw at us. (I tried to find the chemical contents of Coke and instead found pages of nonsense to sort through. Don’t believe me? Go here)

And when he says consuming too many healthy foods will make us fat? Look, I am living proof that overeating fruits and vegetables does not make one fat. And I’m sorry but, duh, nuts are high in fat and calories. But what about carrots? Zucchinni? Blueberries? Show me the person who got fat eating berries.

But maybe you think I am being too hard on Dr. Hyman. After all, he is a doctor. He must know what he’s talking about. Okay, I’ll bite. (It’s one thing I’m really, really good at.)

Doctors don’t know everything.

Is that it, Margaret? Is that your argument?

Well, I’ve also met a lot of jerks who are doctors. I also know a lot of doctors selling weight loss programs that have not produced lasting results. I also have a child with Juvenile diabetes who has yet to find a cure, and a friend with brain cancer, for which there is also no cure and doctors have spent a lot of time trying to figure those diseases out. Doctors are humans and humans are fallible. But I am especially wary of doctors who are selling something. Because if they aren’t satisfied with their doctor’s salary and feel the need to feed the gluttonous diet industry machine, I think they probably don’t have my best interests at heart. I am very distrustful of people who want to sell me something. Maybe it’s because I’m unusually cynical or maybe it’s because for years I tried pills and supplements and diets and they did not fix my fundamental problem—mainly, that I lacked discipline.

Which is probably why Dr. Hyman’s article really rubbed me the wrong way. He basically contradicts every single principle I’ve come to understand about living a healthy lifestyle. Namely, that learning to exercise self-control is important. That learning the nutritional content of our food is integral to maintaining a healthy balance. The entire article (which I have refused to link to but if you want to read it you can google it) posits that we are merely products of happenstance.

Now just imagine we are talking about child molesters and not people who eat too much… Maybe they just need to buy a book… That will fix their fundamental problem, right?

The things we put into our bodies matter. Ask those people who grew up near Cold Water Creek in St. Louis, Missouri. The truth is the foods we eat are absorbed into our cells. They are then processed and eliminated. And yes, the nutritional content of food is important, but more important is the content of the human heart. Dr. Hyman wants to sell you something. He needs your money. He has to come up with a lot of mumbo jumbo about lizard brains and genetics and “you don’t need willpower” to cajole you into buying his products. But let me remind you of an old adage that often proves true; if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Sorry, Dr. Hyman. I am living proof that discipline and will-power do work. I’ve kept the weight off for 5 years now even though I really like to eat. And what we eat DOES matter, and we can make a choice to refuse to pollute our bodies. We are not powerless against our desires.


  1. I suspect Dr. Hyman also leaves God totally out of the equation. Self discipline is a fruit of the Spirit. Pretty much nothing worth having comes easily. It requires hard work and perseverance. As we live in an age where we have to make physical work for ourselves to get the exercise our bodies need and yet have schedules that make it feel near impossible to fit in, the task can feel overwhelming. Priorities seldom have much to do with anything but our own pleasure and satisfaction. The world tells us we can (and should) have everything but leaves out the part about the price to be paid for it.
    I can see I’v’e climbed on my soapbox so I’ll just say I agree with you wholeheartedly and stop there. Love, Mom

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