Sunday, April 18, 2010

Arts and Sciences

On days like these I miss my home delivery of the New York Times. I miss leafing through its pages by hand. Today's Magazine is entitled, "The Science of Living a Healthful Life," and I have already read every article. I also have a strong opinion about every article and if you and I were to sit down to Sunday brunch we could have some engaging conversations that might last until dinner. But one piece that caught my interest and warrants mentioning here is about Dr. Mehmet Oz, the latest self-help god, admitted to the pantheon of Oprah's expert deities. Celeb surgeon, author of the You book series, founder of Healthcorps, the title of article basically sums it up: Dr. Does-It-All.

I've always liked Dr. Oz. I've seen him appear countless times on Oprah in his blue scrubs, demystifying human anatomy and physiology. He made it okay to talk frankly about digestion and GI function, scoring him major points in my book. But I am slightly skeptical of anyone who appears to be the latest superman, wunderkind, jack of all trades. So maybe I was looking for his Achilles heel while reading about this perfect husband and father, surgeon, author, talk show host, radio host, non-for-profit health educator. Where was the flaw in this otherwise perfect human specimen?

It came on page 3, where writer Frank Bruni, describes Dr. Oz's eating habits:
I never saw him without a portable larder of baggies, plastic containers and Thermoses of food and drink, and all of it — every crumb, every drop — was healthful: low-fat Greek yogurt mixed with brightly colored berries; spinach; slaw; raw almonds; raw walnuts, soaked in water to amplify their nutritional benefit; a dark green concoction of juices from vegetables including cucumber and parsley. Roughly every 45 to 60 minutes, as if on cue, he would ingest something from his movable buffet, but only a bit, his portions assiduously regulated, like an intravenous drip of nutrition. It was the most efficient, joyless eating I have ever seen.

The details of this "joyless eating" could not be overlooked by Bruni, who spent several years as the Times' restaurant critic and recently authored a book on overeating. I don't think it's too much of a leap to assume that these biographical details likely place him at the other end of the eating spectrum as someone who enjoys eating immensely. Someone for whom a green concoction and carefully regulated drips of nutrition would be an awful sentence. Dr. Oz may have it all figured out, but, as his wife, Lisa, is quoted as saying, “He doesn’t have the relationship with food that a lot of people have.” Turns out he is a god indeed, and in this respect I find it difficult to connect with his approach.

While I certainly take health into account when I make food choices, lately I am more and more attuned to taste, preference and satisfaction. And though it is equally important to consider the nutritional content and make sure we are eating a wide and varied diet consisting of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, there is a psychospiritual-emotional component that should not be overlooked. I think about this more intuitive approach to eating often, surrounded as I am by a thousand future health providers obsessed with the science of wellness. My school is a petri dish for healthful living. The best selling cafeteria items are beets and kale. To raise awareness about eating disorders, students focused on orthorexia, encouraging students to eat less healthfully, even handing out free cans of Coke. If that doesn't paint the full picture, my friend Ginger recently posted a great definition for a "Bastyrian," as a "person or persons carrying containers of fermented foods in clay pots around with them daily wherever they go as to improve digestive health and promote flora growth in gut." You get the picture.

When you look at the statistics we are doomed. We are an overweight nation, fighting chronic disease and spending tons of money to fix the problem. We need people like Dr. Oz to write us owner's manuals, and talk about our poop and teach us that yes! there is a connection between what we eat and how we feel! And that's important. But maybe it's because we're missing the point. Sure, we eat for health and energy but we also used to eat to enjoy, to take pleasure in what the natural world has to offer us, to nourish ourselves, to commune and to celebrate. And while I was disappointed with Dr. Oz's joyless eating, it only reinforced what was wrong with the entire issue of this week's magazine. It was focused on the science of healthful living, when we all know that it's actually an art.


  1. Wow - superbly insightful, and excellently written. Even more impressive of a feat considering the few hours it took you to accomplish it all!

  2. Food + Finkel = Fabulous

    This is my first visit to your blog, and I am so excited about it! I can't wait to read more of your insights and musings.


  3. Okay so you've got me on the road to healthy digestion but I won't travel very far if it doesn't thrill my taste buds......Please specialize in excellent tasting nutrition!

  4. Thanks for posting! I appreciate the feedback :)

    Molly, love your haiku project! I'm linking to your blog so others can enjoy your witticisms too.

    Pop, you don't have to travel too far - just to Seattle...In the meantime I'll include some food tips and ideas. I'm not a big recipe person - more a fan of experimenting.

  5. I wish Dr. Oz would pack snacks for me!

  6. Me, too, Leigh. The problem is I'm allergic to all healthy snacks—almonds, peanuts, fruits. The only thing I'm not allergic to is chocolate!

    I just heard this statistic: In 10 years 45% of the U.S. will be clinically obese. Oy vey! We all need your help, Rebecca.

  7. Ah, the question of food allergies - I will have to tackle that one soon. Stay tuned...