Week 3 – Something to chew on
|January 25, 2019
|Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized
Loma Linda is unique among the universities, schools, and hospitals I’ve been a patient or a student at. It’s a private religious-based institution and while they aren’t overtly evangelical, the presence of religion and God is obvious – especially if your background is public universities. There are good things about this. The patient care and “whole body” approach that Loma Linda takes with its patients is something I’ve never experienced before. Most evenings I have the opportunity to attend some sort of social function that includes food. I’m invited to cooking demonstrations, educational seminars, potlucks, local restaurant tours. We are given a free gym pass to the university gym and encouraged to take advantage of everything it has to offer. The waiting room for the proton patients has a piano, guitar, and puzzles. Patients are encouraged to get to know eachother and form bonds. Over and over the staff emphasize that they are here to heal us not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. “To Make Man Whole” is their motto and they do their best. Do you know how long it has been since a medical institution treated me as a person rather than a body part to be shoved into some specialty box? It’s amazing. It’s healing. The anxiety that has come to dominate every doctor visit and dealing with all the bullsh*t that comes with being a patient with a certain diagnosis is slowly dissipating.
But there are some downsides too. It’s not the fact that the gym closes Friday afternoon until Sunday that really bothers me, it’s that I find that the religion often informs the information that is presented as science to the patients outside of the doctor’s appointments. For someone with a curious mind and a scientific background, this is REALLY irritating.
At Loma Linda, a Seventh Day Adventist institution, the predominant area that this shows up is nutrition. There is immense pressure to be vegan, which falls in line with the Seventh Day Adventist belief system. The general message is that it is impossible to lead a long healthy life without being vegan and that most chronic diseases in this country could be solved by removing meat in our diets. Removing refined grains gets some attention and is part of the strategy, however meat is seen as the true basis of our health and wellness problems.
Tenants of the Seventh Day Adventist religion include the idea that being healthy (taking care of your body as a temple of God) is part of faith and although not everyone personally chooses to do so – abstinence from caffeine, alcohol, and choosing vegetarianism is the gold standard and encouraged. A positive attitude is considered essential to the healing process.
I want to make myself clear. The mere presence of religion with practices different from my own does not matter to me. This is not a post of criticism of religion. It is a criticism of what I see as a mis-use of science. I grew up within a Christian religion and still consider myself a religious person with a relationship with God, although I do not attend church any longer, and do not have any plans to do so in the future. I no longer bow my head and bless my food before eating, but the practice of doing so when in the company of others who want to doesn’t bother me. I do not believe that my diagnosis or my journey to Loma Linda for treatment was because of the hand of God, but if someone else wants to attribute God’s will to why they are here it doesn’t offend me.
It isn’t the presence of religion around me in this setting that bothers me. What IRRITATES THE HELL out of me is bending science to fit your religion, and then promoting these alternative facts as the truth to people who are more vulnerable than usual because of the position of power you occupy in their lives – that of the institution that is curing/treating/managing your scary disease and diagnosis.
The strategies of indoctrination that non-mainstream groups use to convince people have the same foundations. First they divide the world into an “us” and a “them”. It’s usually a very black-and-white line. Second, the data to support this idea is found. There are usually some valid studies but the bulk of the literature may not support it. Or the truth is rather complicated and has quite a bit of caveats attached to it, which doesn’t make good copy, so it’s simplified for general consumption. Additional support is found by taking information out of context, or cherry picking data. Third, the information is presented in ways that tap into the emotions of people. A conspiracy is often cited, which may have some truth to it, but is not usually as pervasive and insidious as it is presented. Any information that may contradict the conclusion is not acknowledged. PETA does it. Greenpeace does it. What’s bothering me is that the Loma Linda nutritional seminars and education classes are doing it.
Nutrition is a controversial field. We don’t know as much as we pretend or think we know. The best review I ever saw of nutrition said that the best idea was to look at all the “successful” diets over time and culture and look at where they agree. This consensus should be the bulk of food we put in our mouth. The details of each individual diet outside of that should be evaluated and while we can make a personal choice based on what we think is “best” for what ever reason we want to cite, we should approach it with the attitude of “everything in moderation” outside of that consensus.
In general all the diets and cultural studies out there agree: we should eat more plants. We should decrease the amount of processed foods (including processed meat) in our diet. Most of the diets in this huge conglomerate approach include unprocessed meat (including organ, marrow, muscle etc.).
With this philosophy your plant probably has a lot of plants on it and you’ve cut the processed food out. Now you get to decide what else should fill your plate. We can debate whether you should eliminate grains, only eat whole grains, limit fat, only eat plant fat, eat more fat, only eat fish, eat meat but never dairy, abstain from alcohol, have a glass of wine every night, eliminate coffee, drink at least one cup of coffee….and as long as you practice moderation and listen to what makes your body feel its best, you will probably be just fine.
In general there is no overwhelming evidence that a whole foods based diet as described above without meat is substantially better or worse than the whole foods based diet with it. Plant based, doesn’t eliminate meat – it does eliminate processed foods. When there is a big break through for either side (vegan versus not), usually a couple of years tempers the conclusions (China Study, I’m looking at you).
Adding to the complication of “the perfect diet for all humans” is our gut biome. It looks like our gut biome may have more influence than we ever thought possible on what best fuels our individual bodies. Turns out that the adage of “it’s just a simple in versus out system” is probably not true and every individual may be extracting something a little different from our food than the next person. When looking at nutrition in this way, I think it’s even more important to choose a personal diet using the strategy above. This might be a vegan diet for some individuals.
This bending of science to fit a preconceived notion is not unique to Loma Linda and it’s not the first time I’ve dealt with it. But, thinking about all the different institutions I’ve been a part of, I wonder if I’ve experienced it before and missed it. Even worse, have I unintentionally done this to anyone? I always strive to be transparent and honest with my readers and I hope you feel I have behaved with fairness over the last ten years. That doesn’t mean that I don’t form conclusions that aren’t fully supported by science. I might be proven wrong or right in the future and I think of it as a “working hypothesis” – to be examined at regular intervals and discarded when the evidence no longer supports it. Not everything we know or believe will be proven one way or another, so these “leaps of faith” are a necessary part of existing in a world of imperfect knowledge. But lets not kid ourselves that it is the same as scientific proof and impose it on others using fear-mongering, cultural pressure, and cherry picked science.
Edit several weeks later 2/11/19 – the educational seminar series that prompted this post have ended and now they’ve moved onto new speakers that are a little more moderate on the topic. However, the overall premise of the post is still very relevant – Do not let your personal anecdote or religion inform your science. Or, if you are speaking for a place of bias based on this, be honest with your listeners. Did you know that every study that shows the important of breakfast was sponsored by a breakfast food company? Take the breakfast food company out of the science and guess what – what and when and how you eat breakfast doesn’t matter nearly as much as we thought. Break your fast when you are hunger, and in a fashion that makes you feel good and you will be just fine. Who would have ‘thunk it?
Mel’s note – I know I promised a look at what going through proton therapy looks and feels like, but sometimes I cannot control my writing brain! For example, I intended to write about that, but then started to actually write about how this time down here in LA is “more sabbatical than vacation”, but then after a single paragraph THIS post came out my fingers and there was no way to stop the freight train. Ah well. It’s a blog, not a magazine pitch commitment, so I go with the flow of whatever my writer’s brain wants to do. I have every intention of writing about the actual proton experience so stay tuned.
For those of you that were looking for a more personal update – Everything is going well. I’m running ~20 miles a week and going to two spin classes at the gym per week. I’m using the sh*t out of the sauna and hot tub. I almost killed my phone in the sauna because it “didn’t feel that hot”, only to have it give up the ghost and when I checked the wall temp it was 141 degrees. Ooops…..
My appointments are still 6a. I asked the tech why and he said it’s because I live close, I’m cheerful, and I’m ontime. Exactly what he needs in his first patient of the day. LMAO. If I had only known….
I’ve had visitors! I think about once per week is perfect and that’s how it has worked out, even though there has been no grand plan or true coordination of visitors. As odd as it might sound, I have barely enough time to devote to the projects I’m working on right now (more about that later I promise). The pace of life feels absolutely perfect. Full, without any stress that what is important to me each day won’t happen. There’s never a time when I’m bored. I always knew I was cut out to be a hermit.