The questions I tend to hear most often about diet are: What should I eat? Which is the best diet to follow? Behind these questions is the assumption that there is indeed a perfect diet out there somewhere, and all one need do is discover it. But consider for a moment the implications of a perfect diet. Perfection implies sameness. If we all followed the perfect religion, everyone would think and act similarly. If each of us drove the perfect car or had the perfect job, we would all be parking and working in the same place. Likewise, if everyone ate the one perfect diet, we would all be eating the same food, and the nutrition experts would be out of business. Maybe not such a bad idea!
The most telling characteristic of the perfect diet is the hidden assumption that the body remains unchanged and has the same nutritional needs at every stage of development. But, as we know, nothing could be further from reality. If there is any guarantee that comes with living in a body, it is change. Each second, ten million red blood cells are born and die. The stomach lining completely regenerates in a week, a healthy liver in six weeks, and the skin surface in a month. Scientists postulate that 98 percent of all atoms in the body are replaced within a year, 100 percent within seven years. From the time of conception to the flowering of adulthood, the body grows from one cell to one quadrillion cells (1,000,000,000,000,000). Total body weight may increase twentyfold to sixtyfold from birth, while brain size, muscle mass, percent of body fat, and bone density increase (or decrease) at their own particular rates. Even within the course of a day the body undergoes a wide range of physiological changes. It rhythmically shifts in temperature, metabolic rate, respiratory function, brain wave patterns, endorphin production, serum nutrient levels, hormonal and enzymatic production, and energy output. Perhaps the most noticeable changes in the body occur in health. We move through an endless parade of aches, pains, coughs, colds, tensions and sensitivities, along with periods of relative health and high energy. With all these changes in the body, does it not make sense that our nutritional needs change? A single diet could not possibly keep pace with those changes. A changing body means a changing diet.
You have not had just one body in this life – you have had many – and each of these bodies has called for a different way to eat. Consider the dramatic shift that occurs in the life of a newborn as it makes the transition from umbilical-cord nourishment to breast or bottle. No longer is its nutritive process a passive one through the belly. It must actively reach for milk and for the first time carry out the function of digestion completely on its own. The introduction of solid food marks yet another important transition for the child. Its body grows at a rapid rate, and its digestive system must meet a completely new set of challenges in breaking down and assimilating complex molecular foodstuffs. Few of us would complain to an infant that it is getting too much fat in its diet – mother’s milk is 52 percent fat – or that it needs a wider variety of foods. For its particular physiology and activity level, it is eating the perfect diet. And yet that perfect diet will change. The infant may grow to be an active toddler, a high-school athlete, a health-food-eating college student, an office worker, a parent, a partygoer, or an invalid, with each of these different “bodies” calling for its own special nutrition. So if you’ve been looking for the perfect diet, it’s time to let go. Relax, observe the body you live in, the life you lead, the season, your climate, your likes and dislikes, your level of health, the exercise you do, the yearnings and cravings you experience – and mix them all together in the spirit of experimenting to discover what’s best for you to eat. You’ll likely discover that the “perfect diet” is a mystery to be lived each day. In the spirit of embracing change, can you list some of the “perfect diets” you’ve been courageous enough to let go of? Warm regards, Marc David Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating © Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2018