Every month or so, I receive a polite, wordy email — complete with links — from someone who is certain that if I just follow a certain fad diet, eat certain foods, or follow this or that dietary program, whatever ails me will be instantaneously, miraculously cured. These Food Fundamentalists® certainly mean well, but I don’t find their “advice” helpful at all.
The contact page states: “I know you stayed at a Holiday Inn last night, but you are not a medical professional, so please do not send me unsolicited medical or psychological advice. I am not interested — ever.” Food Fundamentalists® — who often eschew Western medicine — evidently believe that since they are “helping” me, my request doesn’t apply to them. These food zealots are not much different from Evangelical Bible thumpers who fill my email box with sermons, Bible verses, and personal attacks. Food Fundamentalists® think their gospel, if believed and practiced, will “save” me from my “sins.” In their minds, my biggest “sin” is obesity or a bad diet. If I just worshipped and obeyed their deity, why I would drop 200 pounds and look as slim and trim as I did the day I entered Bible college.
Of course, when I investigate their Holy books and websites, I find that they are filled with errors and contradictions, much like the inerrant Word of God. Every food cult has its own divine text, each purporting to be the truth. What’s someone like me supposed to do? Read. Investigate. Look at the science and studies behind a particular food cult’s gospel. (Two of the first places I go are Quack Watch and Science-Based Medicine.) I find, without fail, that Food Fundamentalists® preach gospels that are not backed up by science and empirical data. I am not saying that these cults don’t help anyone – they do. But the same can be said for Christian Fundamentalism. Some people find real, lasting help through believing in the miracle-working power of a dead man named Jesus. The reasons for this are many, and so it is with the various diets Food Fundamentalists® present to me as the cure for my afflictions. Despite the success stories, most people who put their faith and trust in Jesus find out that the dead Son of God is not what cultists claim he is. So it is with diets. Most people who go on diets lose weight for a time, but, in the end, they gain the lost weight back and then some. Diets don’t work, regardless of their name. Bruce, it’s not a diet, it’s a way of life, food cultists say. Sound familiar? It’s a relationship, not a religion.
Christian Fundamentalists blame the person when Christianity doesn’t stick. They didn’t pray the right prayer, believe the right beliefs, or really, really, really have faith. Food Fundamentalists® do the same. If an obese person fails to succeed or later regains lost weight, it’s their fault for not religiously, devotedly following the plan.
The biggest issue, at least from my perspective, is that Christian Fundamentalists and Food Fundamentalists® both make assumptions about my life — past and present. Food cultists assume — wrongly — that the reason people are obese is because of the type or quantity of food they eat. In the minds of these Fundamentalists, all fat people need to do is eat less and eat cult-approved foods. These preachers of fidelity to the BMI chart, make assumptions about me, assuming I am overweight because I eat too many McDonald’s Big Macs or eat too much processed foods. These zealots don’t know what or how I eat, they just assume that I must eat too much food or eat the wrong food because I am spatially challenged.
I hate to break it to them, but my diet is NOT the problem. Sure, I can overeat at times, and I certainly am not going to pass up ice cream if it is offered, but on most days, I eat healthily — that is, if anyone can actually define what the fuck it means to eat “healthily.” Sorry, Food Fundamentalists®, but your super-duper diet plan is not the answer to my medical problems. If it were really that simple, I am certain one of the many doctors and specialists I have seen over the past thirty years would have mentioned it. Yeah, I know, they are all members of a secret cabal who deliberately keep me sick so they can make lots of money off of me. Child, please.
The only medical problem I have that is affected by what I eat is diabetes (and it’s under control with medication). That’s it. Everything else: Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, degenerative spine disease, gastroparesis, and the excruciating, debilitating pain that comes from these medical afflictions are not helped, harmed, or cured by what I eat. The real problem now, thanks to gastroparesis, with its attendant nausea and vomiting, is that I often don’t eat enough. In fact, I have lost one hundred pounds. Did my health change after losing twenty-five percent of my body mass? Surely, losing a lot of weight magically cures obese people, right? That’s what Food Fundamentalists® say. The only measurable difference for me has been the reduction of my A1c to 5.8.
I have high blood pressure too, but I have concluded, based on a thorough study of my sixty-six-year medical history and family history, that hypertension runs in our family. My seventy-three-year-old aunt started taking medicine to control her blood pressure in her 20s, and she has never been a pound overweight a day in her life. I took a careful look at my blood pressure numbers from my high school years. At the time, I was 6 feet tall and weighed 150 pounds soaking wet. I played baseball and basketball, I rode a bicycle virtually everywhere I went — spring, summer, winter, and fall. Later in my teen years, I frequently went hiking, including hiking to the top of Miller Peak in the picture above. I was a slim, trim, fit fighting machine, yet I had high blood pressure.
As I look back over my medical history, I see a plethora of reasons that better explain where I am today than simplistically saying, Bruce, you are fat. Lose weight and all will be well. I wish things were that simple, but they are not. I am at a place in life where I do what I can, and some days, “doing what I can” means getting through the day without committing suicide. So, please walk in my shoes first before you decide to send me “advice” I didn’t ask for. Think I am being too pointed and direct? Again, walk in my skin for a few days, weeks, or months, and then we will talk. When you are doing all you can to make it to tomorrow, the last thing you need is a pompous, arrogant Food Fundamentalist® preaching to you his or her food cult’s gospel. Imagine, for a moment, you are walking home from a long twelve-hour day at work. Every part of your body is screaming for an hour-long dip in a hot bath, followed by several glasses of red wine. As you walk towards your home, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) street preacher accosts you on the street, intent on evangelization and conversion. How would you respond to this man’s evangelistic efforts? What if he persisted to hound you every time he saw you? Why, I suspect you might feel homicidal rage welling up inside of you. You might even tell him you “tried” Jesus and it didn’t work for you, and with a flip of your middle finger say to him, now, fuck off. This is exactly how I feel when I receive yet another email from a Food Fundamentalist® wanting me to join their cult. If you really love and respect me as a person and appreciate my writing, then do me a favor: leave my medical treatment to me and my doctors — men and women who, unlike you, actually went to medical school to become experts in their chosen fields of practice.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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