HWW Life Practice #1: Nutrition
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
Hippocrates, born in 460 BC, is considered the father of modern medicine. He has an oath named after him, so you know he’s no lightweight.
What this means is that even 2,500 years ago there were some of us who knew that nutrition – what we ate, how much we ate, how frequently we ate – had an enormous influence on our health. Food (and its absence, fasting) is the oldest and still the most powerful health intervention we have.
I always thought Hippocrates said this because they didn’t have medicine in ancient Greece – they didn’t have penicillin or antibiotics or radiation or statins. So of course they would consider food medicine. They used what they could find, in nature, and they ate or drank it, or made special preparations with it.
Of course, I have seen the power of a diet that can heal. I now have a whole new respect for Hippocrates and his disciples throughout the ages. Genius. Sublime.
Let thy food make thy medicine obsolete! Use food to keep us as healthy as possible so we never need medicine.
I realize that sounds utopian, some New Age hippy shit. People will always get sick. There are viruses and germs and parasites that can very effectively be treated with medicine. There are accidents and hereditary illnesses that require a doctor’s care. There is, and seemingly always will be, violence and its tragic consequences to our health. And there is aging. Last I heard, Father Time was still undefeated.
But might you accept the following instead?
Let thy food reduce thy dependence on thy medicine for as long as possible!
This is why Nutrition is Life Practice #1 of the Health Warrior Way. Health Warriors use food to inoculate themselves against sickness, illness and infirmity to the greatest extent possible. We don’t rely on luck or good genes. We actively seek to protect ourselves by eating real, wholesome food containing nourishing and protective nutrients.
The Chinese and Indian culinary traditions have been using food as medicine to maintain health and treat illness for thousands of years. They were devotees of Hippocrates, whether they ever heard of him or not.
Take turmeric, for example. Turmeric is a root, part of the ginger family. It contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and one of the most commonly used ingredients in Ayurvedic medicine. It has been mentioned in medical texts in India, China, Tibet and the Middle East for more than 2000 years. Indians, who eat a lot of turmeric in curry dishes, have only 1/9th the incidence of colon cancer, 1/5th the incidence of breast cancer, 1/10th the incidence of kidney cancer than Americans, and the incidence of prostate cancer in Indian men is 1/50th of that in American men. These illnesses are all highly correlated with lifestyle, particularly diet. Food as medicine.
SPOILER ALERT: I’m all in on turmeric. I add turmeric root to my raw juice, I supplement my diet with concentrated curcumin extract and I drink turmeric tea. I want my prostate to think I live in Bangalore.
Western science is finally catching up with our global folk medicine traditions. In a 2003 article in Nature the authors wrote that “chemoprevention by edible phytochemicals is now considered to be an inexpensive, readily applicable, accessible and accepted approach to” managing many different kinds of chronic illnesses. In other words, eat your fruits and vegetables kids!
The good news is that you don’t need any specialized training in order to use food as medicine. You just need to learn a few things, like:
- what to eat – a predominantly whole food, plant-based, diet rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients
- when to eat – during the day, when your metabolism is at its peak, alternating with periods of fasting
- how much to eat – portion and calorie control is key, though the good news is you can eat most fruits and vegetables until your heart’s content
Of course, just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes discipline, especially if you’ve essentially been eating the same diet your whole life. And it takes a plan. It’s not rocket science, though; the plan looks something like this:
You’ll start by recording everything you eat in a Food Journal for at least one month.
Then you’ll number everything in your Food Journal according to the following categories (get help if you aren’t sure which foods go into which category):
- Things you can eat or drink as much as you want, like organic fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, green tea and water, nuts and seeds, olive oil and dark chocolate (there is a god)
- Things you should eat or drink only in moderation, like high quality, lean animal protein, including beef, chicken, turkey and some kinds of seafood; organic dairy products such as eggs and butter; root vegetables such as beets, sweet potatoes and squash; sprouted bread. (Note: if you’re currently suffering from a chronic illness and are looking to adopt a recovery diet stick with foods on list #1 only; once you recover you’ll be able to – slowly and in moderation – reintroduce foods from list #2)
- Things you should never eat, under any circumstances, like fast food, processed foods, deli meats, foods with added sugar, soda, candy, cow’s milk and cheese and white bread
Next, you’ll give away (to people you don’t like, I guess) or discard everything in your refrigerator and pantry that’s on your list #3 (and list #2, if you’re adopting a recovery diet). Get rid of it. Burn it atop a funeral pyre if that’s what feels right (and if you have a burn permit).
Mourn the sacrifice, then move on. There’s more work to do. This is where it gets challenging; this is where most people go off the rails.
Because now you have to take responsibility for everything you eat. Now you’re making a commitment to be mindful about everything that passes your lips and is incorporated into your body. This is the only way this works
Every time you reach into the pantry or refrigerator or sit down to eat at a restaurant with family or friends or colleagues you will choose foods that are going defend your body against chronic illness, prevent or reduce the risk of obesity, support your immune system and prevent or reduce chronic inflammation (or, you will occasionally choose to indulge, ever-mindful and accepting of the risks and consequences of your choices). This is the Health Warrior Way.
I was forced to change my diet on a dime. One day I was a SAD eater (Standard American Diet), the next day I was a Health Warrior. I never looked back. Cancer can be a very powerful incentive.
Don’t be daunted. It may seem like the end of the world to have to give up some of the foods you love but should no longer eat. Trust me, it isn’t. It’s just the beginning.
Be curious. Engage in these changes in a spirit of adventure, as a quest for knowledge and a different way of being. Embrace the possibilities inherent in the new with the same passion with which you embraced the old, the familiar and the comfortable.
So: get busy with your own rescue. Start today. Not tomorrow, not next week, not as part of your next New Year’s resolutions. Today. There’s no time to waste.
The good news is you’re not alone. We’re here to help. Let us show you the Health Warrior Way.
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Leave us a comment! What some of your favorite Nutrition hacks? what are some inhibitors to adopting a healthier diet?