What works for you

I realized today that it’s been about two years since I stopped eating red meat. In about two months, I’ll have been a vegetarian for two years.

It’s not really an important milestone, just something interesting to note. Sometimes friends ask me if I plan to stick with being a vegetarian, and my answer is unequivocally yes. Clearly, being a veggie works for me; I’ve done it for two years without any problems or regrets. Why would I go back to eating meat? Sure, it could get complicated with roommates, significant others, kids, etc., but I’ll cross those bridges when I come to them.

This topic is relevant to recent class discussions I’ve had on health communication. One particular topic was the tendency for health articles to offer conclusions or take-aways for readers, even when those don’t exist. Magazines like to be serviceable and actionable, to offer advice and instructions. Science, on the other hand, is full of gray areas. Research is a long-term, cumulative process, often resulting in inconclusive findings and requiring years of study to find real answers.

This creates a conflict between researchers and reporters. Journalists are often afraid of gray area, believing that readers need a “So what?”. Consequently, too often they take the latest study and report it as truth, as proven, even when it isn’t, or they take a two-sided issue and try to portray a clear answer, even when there isn’t one.

What didn’t come up in our class discussions is that — in addition to maybe not existing — the answer might not be the same for all readers, and this gets me back to my vegetarianism. The simplest answer, when people ask me why I don’t eat meat, is that it works for me. When I stopped eating meat, initially as a trial run, I loved the way it affected me. I slept better, my skin was clearer, I had more energy, my hair was shinier, my stomach was happier. I’ve never liked meat, so I didn’t miss anything, and it worked for my body.

That wouldn’t be the case for many people, which is why I would never go around telling others to stop eating meat. (I’m also not a veggie for moral or ethical reasons, so although it grosses me out when raw, I have no problem with those around me being carnivores). Just like the articles that are only founded on one study, I’m only one person and one example, so I can’t speak for the group. For many people, meat is great.

My point is that I’m a big believer in figuring what works for you to be healthy. Yes, there are some health universals — don’t smoke, eat fruits and vegetables, minimize fat and sugar, get enough sleep — but when it comes to diet, I think many things depend on individual body chemistry. Some people have trouble digesting dairy, some people have trouble with certain vegetables. I’ve learned that meat doesn’t work for me, but my body loves yogurt. I’ve learned that the best way for me to lose weight is cutting carbs, while others could go Atkins and not lose a pound. I know that eating after 9:30 makes me feel heavy the next morning, while others can snack all night and feel fine.

It’s all about listening to your body and figuring out what works for you; I believe that’s the best way to have a healthy diet. And, like the gray areas, this is left out of the health journalism conversation. When magazines jump to conclusions based on one study or try to find an answer that doesn’t yet exist, they not only mislead readers but also leave out any room for individual variation. Everyone’s body is different in so many ways, so why would foods affect us all the same way? That just wouldn’t make sense.

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