The world of natural health and healing is no stranger to bold claims. Many of us stand at odds with the status quo in healthcare. We are trying to change the way people think about their bodies and their relationships to disease and to accomplish those changes sometimes we get loud. We rely on inflammatory headlines (like this one) to draw people into an article or to a video. Sometimes that reliance on bold text crosses over into hyperbole and then into unsubstantiated claims about this food or that drug; about how Monsanto is trying to kill us all because Round-Up was originally designed to clean pipes (it wasn't); about how the environment is so full of mold and toxic chemicals that we all need to be regularly detoxing to avoid the diseases of modern living (interesting idea but you're gonna need to support that with some data). Here's my favorite one lately and the inspiration for this post:
"I would never feed me or my kids margarine. It's one molecule away from plastic."
This handy little comparison has been applied to lots of processed foods to illustrate their deeply harmful nature.
"Cool whip is one molecule away from styrofoam or "Cheez Wiz is only two molecules different from garbage bags"
So here's the thing: that might be true. I actually don't know what the chemical composition is of margarine or Cool Whip or Cheez Wiz nor do I know how it compares to plastic. But that really doesn't matter. I know it seems like it might. But it definitely doesn't because lots of things are just one molecule or one DNA pair away from other things and yet those things are not at all the same. They don't have the same properties or effects on the body or the environment. For example: Humans are just a few DNA links away from Chimps. Or how about Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2)? It is one atom (not even a molecule which is a collection of atoms and much larger than a single atom) away from water (H2O). How bout you fill me up a big glass of Hydrogen Peroxide since it is only one atom away from water, it must be roughly the same right? Or if you don't like thinking about it that way, you'll need to immediately stop drinking water since it is only one atom different from Hydrogen Peroxide and is probably subtly killing your gut bacteria leading to leaky gut syndrome right? The whole comparison is patently ridiculous.
Ok but you never fell for those kinds of memes or chain emails. You're not an anti-vaxxer or a heavy metal chelator or a chronic detoxer. You like to be healthy, eat good food, be responsible as often as possible. Awesome! That is great news! But there are some things we need to talk about. Because margarine IS a terrible product. So are Cheez Wiz and Cool Whip. And we need to talk about why they are bad products in all the ways that they are bad -- the resources used to manufacture them, the actual ingredients they contain and the verifiable effect those ingredients have on health, the environmental cost to producing the food and its packaging, and let's not forget about the taste! Those products taste terrible, especially once you free your Patty Hearst tastebuds from the stockholm sydrome they're processing from years of eating crap food. But one of the reasons that margarine and all the rest are terrible foods is not because they are one molecule away from plastic (if that is even accurate). And making statements like that one ping hard on rational radars as indicators for people who are so far gone from reasonable discussion that they can be discounted. Perpetuating false narratives about problematic foods or chemicals or processes only leads us into folly where the people who could actually regulate those industries and make changes to benefit us all, see the people screaming hysterical alarm as poorly informed lemmings who listen to the opinions of the Medical Medium and Gwenyth Paltrow as gospel and internalize their fringe points of view to help foment their distrust.
Classically, in order for a person to tell a lie, the person speaking must know that what they are saying is false. There is a presumption in the word lie that there is some intent to deceive -- to misrepresent what the speaker knows is true for some particular gain, often a gain considered nefarious or at least self-interested. So when I tell you that it's time to stop lying, maybe I'm reaching too far. Maybe you didn't know that what you were saying was false, but so much of what I see repeated on the internet is so obviously false or can be determined false with about three minutes of Googling, that it's hard to not hold people accountable for the crap they are perpetuating.
What am I talking about?
I work in an “alternative” medicine field. I practice Chinese Medicine in America where our medical system is at best dysfunctional and at worst actively working to prevent people from getting the care they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives. In this miasma of complex health pathologies, many people are looking for answers to their woes. They are looking to understand why they can’t stop coughing or why they always feel tired; why they can’t seem to sleep or why their libido is way lower than they would like. For so many of these conditions, biomedicine has little in the way of an answer. If all the blood tests come back negative and the symptoms don’t fit a known disease, well… just wait to ‘til it gets worse then come back to see us. Maybe we’ll know what’s wrong then.
Trouble is, people want to know WHY, and they are going to look for answers wherever they can find them, and today that means going to Google and asking the question. You might find a forum for people with your symptoms or a WebMD article that hopefully doesn’t suggest you likely have cancer. You might commiserate with the online communities you have discovered and learn about different treatment options that “mainstream medicine” isn’t talking about. You might even learn about how some environmental toxin (mold, heavy metals, pesticides) or a food component (gluten, casein, fructose) is likely the cause of your myriad symptoms — how Big Pharma and Big Ag are conspiring with corporate america to keep you sick because there is good money in your illness. You might start to feel beaten down, taken advantage of, and then a lot people start to get mad. They become zealots for a new “healthy” living movement. They listen to gurus and life coaches and many of them arrive at an “alternative” clinic wanting to know how Acupuncture can help them overcome the Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) symptoms that are manifesting as fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, and depression. They read about a woman in Boulder who was able to completely get rid of her autoimmune condition by eating only sprouted greens and bananas and using Chinese Medicine therapies. They want to know what herbs they can take to help purge the heavy metals from the fillings in their teeth and what sort of cleanses they can do to get rid of the unnamed toxins coursing through their bodies every day. And because people in medicine are usually in that business because they want to help people, we answer their questions and guide them along our own experiences and impart our own biases and points of view. It’s completely natural this whole process. And its completely misguided.
Don’t get me wrong. Heavy metals and pesticides are dangerous and harmful. Mold can set up shop in your sinuses and lungs and cause all sorts of problems. Unmanaged hormones and neurotransmitters can wreak havoc on people’s sense of health and well-being. The problem comes in when we start to assume that we are not actually part of the world around us. That we are individuals, fighting against other individuals, fate, and the poor choices of people in the past instead of realizing that we are a continuum. Not people in a continuum but the continuum itself. We are just as responsible for processing chemical contaminants, as we see them, as the rocks and the oceans, and the clouds. We are dynamic members of complex web of living creatures and biomes but we construct our realities. We give breath and life to our diseases. We give in to the idea, created millenia ago, that our bodies are corrupt and will ultimately betray us either through their irrepressible desires or through their inevitable mechanical failure.
Instead, we have to begin the practice of seeing ourselves as part of the global whole, not truly separate from other living things on the planet, certainly not separate from other humans, and definitely not independent of the people that have come before us. Our health is a complex constellation of factors that is more than a little influenced by our internal narratives, and commiseration can be empowering to know that you are not alone in your struggle but can quickly become a toxic echo chamber where a path out is beset on all sides by people selling snake oil. No matter what your suffering looks like, there is a way to feel better. It relies on you more than on celery juice enemas or high-quality supplements that cost a lot of money. It requires that you lean into your history and on the wisdom of humans collected over the 30,000 years we have been wandering the planet. Harmony with the world around you, not viewing disagreement as conflict and conspiracy, feeling the changes in the seasons and shifting your lifestyle accordingly, giving yourself the empowered permission to make big changes in your life that might at first glance seem impossible — these are just some of the practices that lead us away from the outrage that margarine is only one molecule away from plastic (factual reality still unknown) and into an informed intellectual position where we can truly assess the claims of healers and salespeople without the weight of conspiracy and exploitation at the front of our minds.
The time is now. Stop sharing BS articles that aren’t based in reality. Stop feeding your outrage machine. Embrace your life as it is and ease into change when it feels right. Cultivate your appetites for food and distraction. Give yourself permission to be powerful and in control but also know that leaning into the swirling river around you is often the best way to find satisfaction. You got this.