Here’s the latest food/eating fad: Clean Eating. Popularized by Tosca Reno and her book, The Eat-Clean Diet, it has spawned a magazine, Clean Eating, as well as numerous soul-mates such as Dr. Alejandro Junger and his 2009 book, Clean.

Our good friend and New York correspondent, Mr Dario, having recently retired, has taken on the role of agent provocateur, routinely piquing us with topics and questions for working stiffs like myself and Mr. Italo to engage with him in. It’s actually a terrific role that prevents us from falling into the trap of work-eat-sleep, so endemic to the harried worker and business owner; an intellectual break as it were.

This morning, Mr. Dario raised the topic of Clean Eating and most notably Dr. Junger’s diet and rejuvenation plan. Here’s the gist of my reply:

“It’s really not very complicated at all, although many try to make it so in order to sell books and make money:

  • Half the world eats way too much for the amount of physical activity it has.
  • Half the world eats way too little and therefore has very little activity (It’s hard to stage a revolution when you don’t have enough energy to get out of bed – dictators like it that way).
  • Of the half that eats too much, half eat a lot of foods that have very low nutritional quality because they are highly processed and loaded with sugar (leading to obesity and Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes) and salt (leading to high B.P. and stroke + heart disease).

Everything else is pretty much bullshit….from nutritional supplements, to cleansing, Veganism, Ayurveda, and every other wacky advice you can receive. I know it’s hard to believe, because the Psyche craves control; it wants to do SOMETHING to save itself from the harbinger of impending death.

But the body is an incredibly adaptive and resilient system with a million years of evolution behind it. Try to fool it and it kicks you in the balls. That’s why we North Americans are obsessed with eating low-fat foods, yet have the highest rate of obesity.

Freud posited that everything in human life is about the struggle between Eros (life) and Thanatos (death). Human beings are generally terrified of dying. It takes an awesome form of brainwashing to convince a human being to willingly die….this is what makes terrorists so scary because there is no limit to what someone who is willing to die will go to for his cause.

Running parallel to the desire to sustain life for as long as possible is the need for control; the subconscious logic being that if I can control THIS (whatever the task at hand), I can also control my death (or non-death). This is also the basis of all religions: Do the right things and you will not die, you will get to Heaven.

It is no surprise then that religion has a lot to say about food. Note that Gluttony is one of the 7 Deadly Sins. Note that all religions use fasting as a form of devotion and proof of worthiness (Catholics eat no meat on Fridays, Jews fast at Yom Kippur, Greek Orthodox fast app. 50% of the year).

So here’s the formula: Fasting = Control = Everlasting Life, i.e. “If I just do the right things I will live forever”.

But Life is a bitch….constantly throwing us curve-balls. Of my 5 friends who died this year in their 40’s and 50’s, 4 were health fanatics who watched every mouthful and worked out….they were all slim and fit.  This doesn’t mean that being a lard-belly like me is O.K.; it just means that the quest for everlasting life through “proper” eating and exercise is largely a myth.

Attention to what we eat is also largely a function of high income; it’s a “fat cat” phenomenon. About half the world worries primarily about IF it will eat rather than WHAT they will eat. And those who worry excessively about what they will eat are usually morose, obsessive individuals who are quite unpleasant to be with for sustained periods because they are NO BLOODY FUN. Ultimately, it’s our imperfection that makes us attractive, because the Psyche recognizes the futility of the pursuit of perfection. Perfect people are very boring and usually quite troubled below the surface.

With respect to Clean Eating: It’s an old story, rejigged every few years and going back to the Ancient Egyptians, Indians, and Chinese: The body is a cesspool of accumulated “toxins” that must be “cleansed” through various rituals and avoidances. It’s amazing the power of this myth, which taps into the very core of the human psyche; its fears, its hopes, and its religious fervor to atone for past sins.

It is of course, mostly bullshit. The human body is an amazing self-regulating and homeostatic system. It is a living system, unlike a cesspool (which may have life in it in the form of bacteria). Clearly, fat-soluble environmental toxins do accumulate in the fat, where they are largely sequestered and isolated. One of the dangers of rapid weight-loss is in fact the release of these toxins in sudden concentrated amounts.

On the other hand, all these extreme diets have been shown to essentially be unsustainable because the human body needs variety and the human psyche needs satisfaction and pleasure.

But hey, money makes the world go round.”.