In last Friday’s Jerusalem Post, there appeared an article in the Magazine section in which a macrobiotic chef claims she cured herself of cancer through a dramatic change in diet and lifestyle. A woman I know claims her child with Asperger’s Syndrome has responded dramatically to a gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free diet. And when I was an aide in special ed. reading classes, a substitute teacher claimed that none of those kids would be in there if they were on proper diets.
It’s very bewitching to think that our health—including disease, mental illness, and learning disabilities—can all be controlled through diet. Despite many great medical advances, many disorders are still not fully understood and the feelings of frustration and helplessness that accompany being—or caring for—ill or disabled people can be overwhelming. It gives people hope to believe that they can cure themselves of all kinds of maladies, and for those disappointed by the healthcare field (and there are many), taking matters into their own hands through altering their diet gives them back the control they regret ceding to physicians, psychologists, and learning specialists who (for whatever reason) have been unable to help them.
There is only one problem: Since these disorders are still not fully understood, there is nothing to suggest that a change diet is all that is needed to cure them. I know a woman who, like the woman in the Post article, tried to save her mother from a wasting cancer by putting her on a macrobiotic diet. She failed.
I have no objection to someone adopting a regimen they hope will help them, especially if it’s going to contribute to their overall health. I had a psych professor in graduate school who advocated a multi-pronged approach to any mental illness—behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and medication, if warranted. Had someone suggested to him dietary therapy, he would likely not have shot the suggestion down.
What I DO object to is people who insist, loudly, anytime anyone is listening, that anyone who is sick is to blame for eating the wrong foods, and should adopt their personal regimen for perfect health. We know that high-fat, high-sugar diets can lead to obesity, heart disease, and Type II diabetes. We know that whole grains, fiber, pulses, fresh fruits and vegetables are nutritious and benefit everyone. But it’s also true that someone like my grandfather can go through life, eating whatever he pleased, smoking, drinking to excess, and still live to a pretty respectable age. Some things come down to genetics. Some things come down to a hardy constitution. Some things come down to regular exercise.
A friend of mine with a child with PDD (pervasive developmental disorder) blogs that she has not found most online resources to be useful to her, since some of them are written by what she calls “hawks,” or people who believe they have THE answers to their children’s problems, if only people will listen to them. Some of these people, I have little doubt, are skeptical of the value of traditional healthcare solutions (as well they should be) and advocate alternative, sometimes simplistic solutions, of which they should be equally skeptical.
I believe a sensible diet is essential for overall health. Avoiding foods for which one has no tolerance, substituting adequate nutrition from other sources, and exercising regularly are beneficial to everyone. If someone has certain needs and those needs are met by a specific diet, they have my blessing. But pontificating ad nauseum about what works for one person, or against one disease, or in one situation, and proclaiming that as the new gold standard of diet is preachy, bossy, and well, a bit much.
My doctor in the US told me after my kids were born that the best parenting book I can read is the one I write myself. I would apply this same wisdom to what people eat.
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