Is moderation actually better than extremism? - opinion

Moderation means something different to everyone - but how much is too much?

 WE BLAME fruit and potatoes for type 2 diabetes when the opposite is true, these foods help prevent type 2 diabetes, says the writer.  (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
WE BLAME fruit and potatoes for type 2 diabetes when the opposite is true, these foods help prevent type 2 diabetes, says the writer.
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)

In a recent discussion, a friend suggested that the program I run for reversing disease and weight loss may be somewhat extreme. This person told me if I would just moderate the diet part of the program somewhat, it would be easier for my clients. This led me to think about the program. Is it actually extreme? Is there another way to accomplish the same thing that might be less extreme? My conclusions might surprise some of you.

Forks Over Knives is a documentary that originally aired 11 years ago. I believe it probably had more influence over people’s diets than any book or documentary before or after. To date, the documentary has been viewed by over 20 million people. The Forks Over Knives website is a spin-off of the movie and has been a huge success.

There was one line in the documentary by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a cardiologist from The Cleveland Clinic, that really spoke to me. Esselstyn uses whole-food, plant-based eating to reverse heart disease. The interviewer asked him what he thinks about people who think that plant-based eating is extreme.

He answered, “Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up, a vein taken from their leg and have it sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.”

I want to add a few things to what Esselstyn said. Other things that we have normalized in medicine are also extreme. Sticking wires in our arteries to insert pieces of metal we call stents is extreme. Two excellent studies, the latest being a study done by New York University and Stanford University in 2019, have already shown they are only effective in lengthening one’s life when done in an emergency situation.

Fresh vegetables are sold at the shuk (market) (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Fresh vegetables are sold at the shuk (market) (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

That means that half of the stents done are superfluous. Also, we take medicine after medicine to try to control and manage diseases. All these medications have deleterious side effects some more pronounced than others.

We have a way to halt the progression or reverse the condition through lifestyle. These medicines don’t cure chronic diseases. Donald Light, a medical and economic sociologist and lead author of a 2013 paper on the subject says, “About 2,460 people per week are estimated to die from drugs that were properly prescribed and that’s based on detailed chart reviews of hospitalized patients.” Let alone the array of side effects that can hamper day-to-day functioning and the general quality of life.

WHAT ELSE is extreme? Spending the last decades of life going from doctor to doctor and from medical test to medical test. Modern society has normalized that, too, but it’s not normal at all.

Let’s look at the societies on the planet that eat a plant-predominant diet, engage in activity and exercise, have low stress, have great social interactions, don’t smoke or abuse other substances and sleep enough. We call them the “Blue Zones.” Loma Linda, California, and Okinawa, Japan, are two examples of Blue Zones. The people in these areas live vibrant lives with a life expectancy of nearly 100 years old. They have a good quality of life until close to their final day.

Here is another extreme: It is unbelievable to me that people are still blaming the foods that our bodies need the most, like unrefined carbs, as the cause of obesity. Unrefined carbohydrates are necessary as our primary source of energy. They also help prevent disease and illness.

Overconsumption of animal protein, including dairy, is harmful to our health. It’s been proven over and over again in multiple studies but we still continue an unjustified war on healthy carbs. We blame fruit and potatoes for type 2 diabetes when the opposite is true: these foods help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Even the American Diabetes Association has finally validated the research of Dr. Neal Barnard, showing the best way to prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes is a whole-food, plant-based diet. Weight loss diets don’t work and they bring people to eat in a very extreme and unhealthy way.

Don't say this at The Wellness Clinic

One word that we don’t use here in The Wellness Clinic is moderation. In the area of food and nutrition, we know from decades of research what works in the long term and what does not. I can tell you that people who come to us for disease control and reversal and who are compliant with the program see the best results.

When a person gets a food plan from us, works on other lifestyle behaviors, and really follows the program, you see remarkable changes – big drops in cholesterol, bigger drops in blood pressure and much lower blood sugar readings. It is particularly important for those who need to lose weight to stay the course, as it is a very sustainable way of eating.

Those who make positive changes but maintain a diet mentality and continue to do all things in moderation may see improvement to some degree; however, when compared to the completely compliant group, the changes aren’t nearly as dramatic. Usually, clients with a diet mentality aren’t fully able to reverse their poor health conditions.

WE GIVE everyone a very doable program. We help our clients make the changes necessary and are here for support all along the way. The vast majority of these people are successful.

The playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “Be moderate in all things, including moderation.” One person’s moderation is another person’s extreme. All we ask of people in order to avoid the extremes of sickness, getting their chests opened up or having to take multiple medications is to just eat the way we used to eat. Those who eat meat, chicken, fish, dairy and eggs as their main course, like most Westerners, will experience a deleterious effect on their health.

When animal-based proteins are used as a condiment and not every day, the outcomes are far different. Vegetables, whole grains, fruits, beans, lentils and some seeds and nuts need to come to the forefront of our food consumption. When these foods are seen as the main course, our health outcomes are far better, as is our general quality of life. Now add in some exercise, a good night’s sleep, no tobacco and managing your stress and you have just reduced your chance of getting a chronic disease by 80%.

It’s true that my clients might be more comfortable with a more moderate program but imagine the disservice I would be doing by not promoting what actually works. This mode has no negative side effects and provides knowledge and actions that can take one from the health abyss and bring them back to real health and happiness.

What is the best part? People who enter the world of healthy, plant-based eating learn about all the wonderful flavors, tastes and savory foods that we have from nature. Many clients have told me they can’t believe they never knew of this way of eating before and are so happy to get rid of their post-meal discomfort.

So, keep your moderation for other aspects of life and engage in the proven and tried science of lifestyle medicine to help you to add hours to your day, days to your years and years to your life.

The writer is a health and wellness coach and personal trainer with 23 years of professional experience. He is the director of The Wellness Clinic. He can be reached at [email protected]