Analysis Paralysis

Analysis Paralysis

Molly Bidlack is a Certified Holistic Health Coach and has been a Mariposa member-owner since 2012. Her primary focus is on the individual’s emotional relationship to nourishment. In her practice, Seasonal Self, she explores concepts of the whole person and takes a seasonal approach to health, healing and well-being. She has been running a series of seasonal nutrition workshops at Mariposa as well. Here Molly writes about navigating the flood waters of nutrition information in your own life.

Analysis paralysis…! This is a great term I’ve come across in the past few months to describe my feelings toward figuring out the best way to eat. I imagine sitting down to write a post, doing a little food research and then boxing up the results and delivering it to you in a few pithy paragraphs… let me tell you, that is a fantasy.

While certainly I’d like scientific evidence behind my food choices, (and my public statements about said choices) I am also very aware of the fact that much of nutrition science is inconclusive. I mean, after all, science is the paradigm we use for truth, right? Got a question? Ask science. It knows. But what do you do when “scientific evidence” comes to different and even opposing conclusions? This study says too much fat gives you heart disease, that one says certain fats lower cholesterol. Do carbs provide energy or make you depressed or both? Is whole wheat a whole grain? Is that better? Sugar is evil, but what about fruit juice? Glucose? Fructose? Get this- we take both probiotics and antibiotics to feel better? Furthermore, why does it seem like I have to become a biochemist to understand what is healthy for me to eat? How did humans survive for millions of years without being biochemists?!

And to further complicate things, what about the subjective nature of eating properly for my own body? Some people are allergic to nuts, but when I eat them, I’m just fine. No matter how many omega-3s in almonds, someone with a nut allergy isn’t going to benefit. That is an obvious example, but what about something more subtle, like dairy? Maybe conventionally raised dairy gives me bowel problems, but pasture raised, grass fed doesn’t? Meanwhile, I have friends who can’t digest lactose no matter how nice the farmer was to the cow… or the goat.

Remembering back to the research courses I’ve taken, scientific studies, which make up scientific evidence, have a few general components. We have the conditions of the experiment, the independent variable and the dependent variable. What makes science reassuring and “truthy” is that given certain parameters, it will produce predictable and measureable outcomes. But in a nutrition experiment, are our human bodies the independent variable, the dependent variable or the conditions? Do our bodies constitute the parameters for the experiment, and if so, how am I ever going to replicate someone else’s conditions in my own body? Oh and forget all that stuff we actually don’t know about the mind, like what or where it is. Often we approach nutrition experiments with the idea that the body is static, and different food will have different effects, but what about all the variables within the body that are not static? Genes, allergies, ancestry, billions of variations in gut bacteria… There are just too many variables.

As Americans, we don’t have the advantage of just doing what we’ve always done, (essentially relying on the unscientific experiments of our ancestors, who survived long enough to get us here) because in terms of human history, we’ve only been in this area, living this way, eating this food for a few generations. “Scientific evidence” as we know it is rather new in the history of food-eating humans. Additives and agricultural practices have changed quite a bit even within that amount of time, as well. Truth be told, most of us don’t know what’s in the food that is generally available in the grocery store. Even though all the ingredients are listed, how many of us actually know what most of it is? And not in the conspiratorial agribusiness-put-profits-over-health sense (though there is room for that), but simply in the what-exactly-is-lecithin sense.

Ultimately, finding the right diet can really only take place on an individual level. And it is going to take a different approach than what we are used to in terms of understanding truth. We’re used to asking someone else, like the Internet or an expert, for the answers. But consider this, who is more of an expert on you than you? As Seuss, M.D. said, “No one else in the world is more youer than you!” And even though we like our information like we like our health, in pill form that is, it is going to take a little more intuitive investigation than that. Not to say we can’t be sciencey about it. Run your own mini-experiments. Define your terms and parameters, pose questions, run tests, observe results, and gather a body of data that supports a general theory… of your body. It might take a while, but waiting for nutrition science to come up with a perfect human diet will likely take far longer. And what will you eat in the meantime?

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