• Lijing Cobb

Friend or foe?

I met with a brilliant young woman yesterday to discuss some of her questions about nutrition, and of course we ended up talking about life in general. I think some of what we talked about merits repetition here, because it is a simple, uncomplicated, straightforward, easy, (and whatever other adjectives you want to throw in here in the same vein) way to look at food, and to apply the same principle to our lives.

What we eat, whatever it is, becomes literally a part of us 28 days later after a mysterious, laborious, and magical process of digestion and absorption. Given that, the food we choose to put into our body is literally the body we choose to live in on a daily basis. Eat well, our body is well; eat poorly, our body suffers. Simple, right?

I think we all have the desire to live happily amongst friends. Not many of us would choose to live miserably with enemies, but correct me if I’m wrong. Based on that assumption, think about food that way as well. Take an Oreo for example. Is it friend or foe? After we eat it, is it going to support our life and the will to do good like a friend would, or is it going to wreak havoc and prompt a civil war within our body like an enemy does? Hmmm.

Let’s look at what goes into an Oreo. Look at this process like when we meet a new person. We wouldn’t just want to call anyone a friend without knowing anything about that friend, right? If you agree, look at the nutrition label of the Oreo and see what it’s made of:

Number of ingredients: 9 (counting flour as only 1 with added vitamins). That means that once the cookies are in our tummy, our body is not just digesting 1 cookie. It’s tackling 9 different faces that need 9 different treatments. If we eat an apple, the body digests 1 ingredient. Conclusion: We ask the body to work pretty hard to digest an Oreo.

High fructose corn syrup: cheap sugar, a word my 10yo has been able to say since the age of 2 and we avoid like the demon. Highly addictive and offers absolutely no nutrients. Eating it is like dating someone who’s no good for you, but you keep seeing anyway because you’re hooked, obsessed. Don’t fall for it!

Artificial flavor: chemicals that have no right to go into our body. Added to things to get us addicted to that thing (yes, that thing does not deserve the name food). Have you ever wondered what “artificial flavor” is? Suffice it to say that it’s manmade, and we have no idea what it is. Oh boy, that’s like inviting a stranger into our house and we know absolutely nothing about that person. Are we safe? Maybe. Are we in danger? Possibly. The point is, we don’t know. It could be anything. Are we willing to take that risk?

The nutrition label tells us that one pack of the Oreos gives us 320 calories. Not only is this taking up a big portion of our daily caloric intake (for my women friends who are interested in finding out an easy calculation of how many calories our body needs on a daily basis, take a look at this link, a good portion of those calories are what’s called “empty calories.” A pack of these cookies contain 27 grams of sugar, which equals 108 calories (sugar is a form of carbohydrates and each gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories). The sugar in these cookies alone have met or exceeded the maximum recommended daily intake for a lot of us. But the most infuriating thing about these calories from sugar/high fructose corn syrup is that they are devoid of any nutrients, hence the fitting name, “empty calories.” This is like choosing to spend our time talking about nothing and wasting time with someone who we know can teach us nothing. Nothing! Have you ever done that before? Would you like to do that again? Invite honey to our table instead if we want some sweetness in life. It is sugar, but so much more. There's nothing empty about the honey calories. Research that. Sort people into categories like acquaintances (sugar), enemies (high fructose corn syrup), and friends (honey). Mic drop.

I could go on, but I’m not going to. I hope I’ve already made the case that in choosing food to put into our tummy, we need to be at least as careful as choosing the people to bring to our dinner table at home, if not more, because if we choose against ourselves, while it is still possible (albeit potentially troublesome or even gruesome, materials for horror movies) to get rid of enemies we have inadvertently invited into our own home, what we eat becomes a part of our body and speaks on our behalf. How alarming is that?

The astute reader asks at this point: if food takes 28 days to become part of us, that means that if I make a diet change now in the friendly direction, I can change my body in 28 days?

Absolutely. 28 days to a miracle. Theoretically. But we don’t live theoretically.

Do you imagine that after the enemy invasion, they take possession of the castle of our body, and they start to see friends coming in to fight them and push them out, that they are just going to lay down their weapons and say, ok, you win, and file out? That would just be too easy, wouldn’t it? That would have just toppled the Nabisco empire, a subsidiary of Mondelez International, whose net worth was estimated to be around $86.7 billion last year. That kind of money can buy a lot of artificial flavors, little foot soldiers that are so cute and cuddly that we just want to hug them all the time. Don’t you dare take them away from me! I NEED them! Pleaaaaaaas!

This, my friends, is called addiction, a whole other beast that calls upon the many needs in us as human beings. You see, we don’t just eat Oreos (please feel free to replace Oreos with whatever else you want, Cheetos for example) because our tummy is empty. We might eat them because we didn’t get the job we wanted. Or our lover left us. Or out team lost the Super Bowl. Or our jeans don’t fit us anymore so why not. And we don’t just eat Oreos when any or all of these things happen to us. We might chug a few too many beers. We might buy 10 pairs of black pants that are more or less exactly the same. We might collect garbage and pay to store them in a unit instead of buying our daughter the shoes they needed.

We do a lot of weird things, anything and everything, to get rid of that gnawing hunger for love, attention, care, friendship, appreciation. We will never be satiated if we do not get our ration of the said goods. And this is where things go wrong.

When we find ourselves wanting something, we usually look to the world outside of us for an answer. If I feel lonely I call up a friend, and if that friend is not available right at that moment, damn it, I turn on TV and watch the most sensational program I could find, so I can stop thinking about my loneliness. If my boss humiliates me in front of my coworkers and I can do nothing but swallow it whole in order to keep my job to feed my children, I go home and drown my frustration and self-pity in my trusty wine. If I’m bored but there are a million things still waiting for me to tackle on my to-do list, I turn on the phone and scroll endlessly so I can stop thinking about how unfortunate I am in this life to be stuck with nothing to do and everything to do at the same time.

There is a Hindu legend that talks about divinity within us. Give it a read here ( Quite shocking to find out that we will never find what we want if all we do is looking for it in the outside world, isn’t it? Our addictive behaviors are patterns of existence we create for ourselves in which we search for happiness where happiness does not exist.

Every choice we make in life is meaning laden. When we open the package of those 3 Oreos to take in the empty calories and fuel a potential or existing addiction, we are not just eating because we are hungry and they are available and cheap, but because we have given up, in some ways, the will to be good to ourselves all the time. Knowingly we invite enemies to our dinner table time after time for meaningless conversation and worse, so that we spite and belittle ourselves into believing that we are not worth more. We make fast choices that are convenient, knowing that we will regret it later, but it doesn’t matter, I’m screwed up anyway, and I’ll do better tomorrow. But happiness doesn’t exist in tomorrow either, just like it doesn’t exist elsewhere.

So, dear reader, if you’ve ever struggled with weight issues, followed countless diet plans but never saw permanent change, feel foiled and frustrated, and are ready to throw in the towel, consider this simple strategy when you are about to eat next: friend or foe? Invite them in if friend, keep them out if foe.

And finally, let me clarify one thing: I’m not saying that Oreos are evil. For someone who doesn’t have the luxury of choosing what to eat and is starving, Oreos can be a lifesaver, literally. However, when we do have options, and we go for the one that demeans and hurts, instead of lifts and builds, then we really need to dig deeper and understand the significance of our choices. We are looking beyond good and evil, right and wrong, for an answer that addresses the human needs we are looking to fulfill in any of our choices or behavioral patterns. What’s “evil” is never the thing, because an Oreo doesn’t prod open our mouth and jump in, chew itself and then slide down the digestive tubes. It’s also not evil laughing, rubbing its hands in glee, I’m going to enslave you with my artificial flavors, put fat on your belly, give you diabetes, mWahahaha. What’s not so savory and applaudable is the mind that was behind the mass production of such products that are designed to be addictive, which would inevitably lead to a whole slew of health issues down the line for the consumers.

Which begs the question: let’s all agree that the person who created Oreo is super smart. Only a genius could create something that could hook such a vast quantity of fellow human beings. Now if the power of that mind could be harnessed to create something else that would encourage healthier living instead, wouldn’t our world be a better place for all of us?

We have the power to choose to be Hitler or Gandhi: what would it be?

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