Posts Tagged ‘food’

Dopamine signalling findings: Support for a physiological theory of disordered eating and motivation to keep on keepin’ on

Today I woke up to a really awesome, generous surprise in my inbox.   One of my best friends, we’ll call him Dan, recently attended a lecture by Frank Guido, a neuroscientist at the University at Denver.  Dan took great notes, and he took enormously gracious initiative to type them up and send them to me.  And now I am going to pass them along to you.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the details of any of Guido’s studies.  All I’ve got are the take-aways.   So I’m going to put a little bit of faith in Guido’s science (epistemologists say science is a faith anyway) and allow this awesome gift to inform my life and methods.


Guido’s talk focused on dopamine level comparisons between anorexic, bulimic, and obese patients.  Recall that dopamine is a pleasure hormone, stimulated by the act of fulfilling survival needs.  This is (partly) why we eat, and (partly) why we have sex, and all of those other very basic, very human, very animal things.  One thing that’s both fascinating and important to note is that dopamine, while pleasurable, is associated primarily with survival, and not with pleasure.  Therefore, with dopamine signalling, our bodies are trying to make us “healthy.”   They are doing what they can with the resources they have available.  They don’t want to make us have fun.  They want to fix us.  This, in my humble and highly uninformed opinion, supports the “set point” theory of weight loss.  Your body, for one reason or another, has a certain idea of what your “correct” body size is, and will adjust your dopamine regulation accordingly.   So what do you do with this information?  Maybe that means you want to allow yourself to put on a few pounds.  It could help you feel more satisfied.  Or maybe it means you can now more easily forgive yourself for your cravings.  Or perhaps you want to buckle down and fight anyway.   It’s your body, and your decision.


Anyway, first, Guido notes that Anorexic subjects generally have high dopamine levels in their cerebral spinal fluid.  This is because anorexic subjects “are good at delaying rewards,” and “have an elevated drive to avoid harm.”   Bulimic
subjects, on the other hand, have low dopamine levels in their cerebral spinal fluid.  This, according to Guido, correlates to bulimic subjects being “impulsive,” and “having reduced inhibition.”  Third, obese subjects experience lower and lower dopamine receptors the higher their BMI.  This suggests that our bodies give us less and less reward for eating if we are overweight.  This makes sense.  Also, according to Guido, obese subjects ” are also impulsive and poor inhibitors.”

Then Guido discusses his experiment.  In an fMRI, researchers measured dopamine responses to sweet flavors.
This is what they found:

Anorexia nervosa patients experience an increased dopamine response to sweet flavors. We can infer from this information that anorexic patients are hypersensitive to self-harm (i.e. weight change).  Their bodies give them high amounts of satiation for eating.   That’s quite enough!, says the sensitive patient.

Binge eating and obese patients have decreased dopamine responses to sweet flavors.  This means that they need more stimulation to feel satisfied. Binge eaters have developed a “food tolerance,” — much like we discussed before, with drug habituation.   (Read: Food addiction: harder to kick than cocaine?)  Moreover, the more frequently someone binged, the more dopamine they required to feel satisfaction.


Yikes.  So what do we conclude?

The more frequently someone binges, the lower his dopamine response.   Guido also notes that the more (calorie) restricted he is, the lower his dopamine response.  These facts mean that:

1)  If you severely calorie restrict or under-eat in any fashion, or are underweight according to your “set point,” your body is going to try to get you to eat more.   It will require you to eat more food to feel satisfied.  It will do this until you ingest the “proper” amount of calories or until you reach the “proper” weight.  Therefore, it is not necessarily your fault if you feel so restricted and so unsatisfied.  Your body might be veritably begging you to eat.

2)   Your body gives you less and less reward the more and more you binge.  This is because it is habituated to the behavior.  So what do you do about it?  You should binge less.  I KNOW!  CRAZY IDEA!  The thing is:  this motivates me to reach for food less often. It helps me stop.  Because if I don’t binge now, it’s going to make my life easier later.  And how nice would that be?    Every single time I refuse food it is going to get easier and easier to refuse, and my body will get more and more adjusted to my new eating habits.  I will begin to feel more satisfaction from a normal diet, and I won’t have to eat so much to feel satisfied.  Just like my body got conditioned to eating way too much, I can recondition my body to eat the proper amount of food.  All it takes is a first step, and as much diligence as I can muster throughout.

So keep on keepin’ on!  Each time you do a good food behavior you are making it easier to do it the next time.  If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.  For real.

Thanks Dan!


04 2011

Eating Paleo in Taiwan Food Porn, 2/6,000,000

Definitely time for an update! Lots and lots of delicious stuff to go around.  Plus I’ve been on an inspiration kick for the last couple weeks and you could probably use a break from all my soap boxing.

You’ll recall from my last post that eating paleo in Taiwan is easy.  Sure, there’s lots of noodles and rice to go around, but they are easily avoidable.   Even when in a specifically noodles or rice restaurant, it is totally cool to request a veggie replacement for your rice.  Buffets are also abundant.  This is great not only because it helps me avoid wading through a Chinese menu, but also because I get to avoid toxins and load up on all the meat balls and fish heads I could ever dream of.

You’ll also note most of my photos are fairly low quality and in take out containers.  This is because I am a giant sissy, and I don’t want to look stupid taking photos in restaurants or at markets and street-side stands, which are the truly interesting shots I’d love to share.  Anyway, this means I hurry up and snatch photos whenever I can, without much attention to detail or composition.


Item number one!  Very common here.  A whole fish on a plate, often in curry or some lemon sauce.  Broiled, baked, or steamed.  This may be haddock.  Possibly mackerel. Correct me if I’m wrong.  I don’t know what half the things I eat here are called, in Chinese or in English.  n00b.

Take out number one.  Steamed fish filet on top of cabbage, seaweed and some sort of noodle (avoided!), and what looks like a mushroomy thang sandwiched in the upper left hand corner.

This is a close up of seaweed sauteed in pork fat.  Touche, Taiwan.  Touche.

Lots of stuff going on here.  At the very top: fried sweet potato.  I’m pretty sure the Taiwanese roll the sweet potato as-is in a tiny bit of sugar then drop it in a deep frier.  Not great for your health, but not horrific, either.  Plus, these things are hugely addictive.  I have to try really hard not to over-do it.  Below the sweet potato is a slab of barbeque-fried mackerel.  I’m sure the fish sauce has some omega 6′s in it, but hopefully that’s balanced by the omega 3s in the fish itself.   It’s a bit sweet (as, unfortunately, many typically savory dishes are in Taiwan, perhaps the only Taiwan downside).  Below that, on the right, is an egg and scallion “pancake,” but it’s just eggs so it’s really no pancake at all.  On the bottom left, of course, is my heaping dose of seaweed again.  I love the curly ones, they’re my favorite.   Or they were.  You should know that I’ve dialed it back on the seaweed.  I think I over-did it once, finding out later I had eaten about 3000 percent my daily dose of iodine for a few days in a row, and I had this really high, no-sleep-for-two-days-but-high-energy, can-feel-my-heart-beating-in-my-chest episode.  It felt nice, rather like some of my favorite recreational drugs, but hyperthyroidism isn’t the best thing in the world for our health.  Moreover, the next time I ate a big portion of seaweed I got enormously ill.  Could be completely unrelated, but now I have no taste for it at all.

Some similarities in this photo with the last one.  It’s a smorgasbord.  One stick of sweet potato, a tiny portion of scrambled egg, and another serving of seaweed are scattered throughout.  This type of seaweed is kelp, and said to have the most iodine in it.  Also here:  bottom middle: sauteed bamboo.  Savory and tangy and a bit chewy, it goes great with mushrooms, with seaweed, and with eggplant or potatoes.  Bottom left: meatballs, which are surprisingly common here, and which have fairly western flavors.  I like them a lot, despite the fact that I don’t exactly know what’s going into them.  And finally, upper left: chicken stomachs!  A staple at my favorite buffet.  I eat them often.  I don’t know how nutritious they are, exactly, but since they’re organs I snarf ‘em.  My other “go to” buffet has an absolutely to-die-for cucumber, pepper, and liver dish.  I’ll get some photos of that one in the next post.

Finally some food that I know intimately how it was made!  Because I made it!  Welcome to my kitchen.  This is a heaping many-days-serving load of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, carrots and cabbage in the back, fresh from the street market.  On the right is a dish of minnows and mini shrimp.  This is my favorite snack of all time.  Take a bag of minnows and throw them right on the stove with some butter, salt, garlic, and onions.   Or just them and butter is fine.  Stir ‘em up for ten minutes and you’re good to go to munch on all week.  The little shrimp are the same.  Sometimes I toss ‘em together, and sometimes I leave ‘em separate.   They’re crunchy and salty and fishy in the best proportions imaginable, and I really, really hope I’ll be able to get my hands on some in the states.  On the front left are some cuttle fish.  Like… mini squid?  I guess.  Also for these, just buy ‘em and throw ‘em in a pan to sautee.  I eat them whole.  They taste great but can get a bit.. pungent?.. in the digestive track and brain.  Still, the body and tentacles and whole shebang really is another fantastic paleo snack.

I’ve really been getting my fair dose of omega 3s lately, eating mostly veggies and seafood.  My skin has cleared up enormously, so now I know that a lot of my acne problems were due to inflammation.   There’s also a lot of salmon here, for really cheap.  My favorite buffet (again! told you it’s great!) had salmon in it this week, so I filled up two carry out containers and walked home with EIGHT SALMON FILETS FOR FOUR DOLLARS.  This is the coolest thing that’s happened to me all week.

Finally, some sweet lime-orange-mango-vodka drink thing.  Life ain’t about perfection, it’s about life. Drink up!

Hopefully I’ll grow a strong pair of balls or ovaries and get some awesome behind-the-scenes shots for you for next.



04 2011

Eating Paleo in Taiwan

I have to tell you something.  It breaks my heart a little bit to do so, but I’m happy to do it nonetheless.

Taiwan, my friends, is the world’s best kept secret.

It’s a paradise.

No joke.  I’m okay with letting you in on it, but don’t tell too many people, because I love Taiwan too much to give it away.  The people are warm, the weather fantastic, the opportunities endless, the recreational drugs affordable, and the food out of this world.  Honestly I can’t ask for anything else.

I wrote a post a little while back about how glad I am to be living in Taiwan and not cooking my own food.  This means that I don’t know much about the home cooking scene.  I’ve heard that the produce is fresh and the health consciousness pretty powerful, too.  What I know about is my cafeteria, general trends, and street food.  And I can tell you this: eating paleo is easier than it ever was in the states for me.  It’s more of an adventure, too.


For protein, you have your choice of: fish filets, whole fried fish, squid, octopus, shrimp, escargot, shellfish, chicken, chicken heart, liver, duck–that is, an entire, fried duck, beak and all– blood tofu stew, beef skewers, pork bones, and every cut of beef or pork you can think of.

For fat, you get brilliant sauces that come from a combination of native Taiwanese, Chinese immigrants from the north and south, some Indian, and even European influences.  You also get: brains, chicken feet, fish skin soup, fried chicken or pork skin, vegetables stir fried in strips of pork fat… goodness, you name it.  None of that low fat bullshit here.  Not at all.  Lay it on, friends!  Come and get it while the getting is good.

And their eggs! You can get them scrambled with vegetables, with cheese, plain, over-easy, poached, hard boiled, hard boiled in tea (boil your eggs a little bit, then crack their shells, and simmer them in a pot of tea, anise, soy sauce, and whatever else you want for a couple hours– it’s amazing, go do it, do it, do it), or–get this: deep fried!  Fry your eggs over easy them throw ‘em in a deep frier.  It’s worth trying. Trust me.

Vegetables are well prepared and hugely variable.  I honestly have no idea what half the vegetables I eat are, but there are giant varieties of mushrooms and eggplants, and seaweed. I eat at least three servings of seaweed a day.  I think it’s really, genuinely helping with my PCOS.  They also have: kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, onions, tarot, tomatoes… all of it.  The whole gambit, and then some.  Bamboo!  Oh, the bamboo, the bamboo! Is it ever tasty.

Taiwan is also well known for it’s fresh fruits.  This one stall I walk past every day gives out free samples of guava in this salty sauce, and it’s incredibly tasty. Honestly, though, my only other fruit experience was some grapes of my roommates.  Oh, but they were so good!

Taiwan does do rice, and they do do noodles.  However, at a restaurant, if you don’t want ‘em, they just give you more veggies!  It’s amazing.  They also have a fair number of bakeries.  I just don’t go. Do they tempt me a little bit?  Sure.  The Taiwanese also love chocolate.  My professor tries to get students to do homework by promising us chocolates.  It’s absurd.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the Taiwanese use canola and sesame oil a lot.  I try to make up for these by eating a lot of their delicious whole fish.   On the other hand, I know that animal fats are used a lot, too, as evidenced by my ‘pork fat green beans’ and the ‘pork fat seaweed’ I eat every day at lunch.  I know pork doesn’t have the best PUFA ratio, but I am glad that I get to eat animal fats as often as I do.

I had my first conversation yesterday explaining my eating habits to people.  Pretty hard to do in Chinese, and I ended up, duh, resorting to English.  People didn’t think I was as crazy as I had thought they would, and even knew what insulin was, and what causes diabetes!  It was pretty cool.

And now, the photos!:

Seaweed and whitefish soup

Seaweed and strips of whitefish soup.  This was maybe the best soup I’ve ever had.  Ever.  Ever.

Braised chicken heart

Some chicken heart on skewers.  They’re sold all over the place.  Enormously tasty, and two skewers costs about 1.50 USD.

Pork dumpling, seaweed, and tea egg in broth: 7-11 staples in Taiwan

Pork dumpling, seaweed roll, and tea egg in broth.  This is a real quick meal I like to get from 7-11.  Each 7-11 (and there’s about one on each corner) has a station with a variety of foods like this floating in broth you can choose from.  Each food item costs about 10 NT, or 30 cents.  You can take as much broth as you want, so I usually get a bucket full.  Other items available at the stations include shrimp rolls, bamboo, and all varieties of meat balls.

Squid on top of steamed broccoli and ginger sauteed seaweed

My favorite meal right now: a bed of greens, composed mostly of seaweed, topped with whatever seafood is being served.  This time, three giant hunking squid.  The flavor in them is just out of the world.  Giant thumbs up.  Two dollars for this meal, and it’s simultaneously super filling and super tasty.

I have many more photos, and I can post some more soon, but these are pretty representative of my palate right now.  Loads of seafood and veggies and flavor.  My life is a wonderland.


02 2011

The ethics of eating bread: why a food choice is never evil and Objectivism is fucking nuts

Let me start out by saying that I was an Objectivist for three years. That’s with a capital O. This means that, like most others in the movement, I read the novels The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, We the Living and Anthem, and proceeded to craft my personal life and morality around them. Additionally, I read Rand’s philosophical texts, and I deferred to her on every count of debate. She loved logic! She couldn’t possibly be wrong. Plus, so much of what she said really resonated with me. I felt as though Rand was articulating ideas that I had been looking for all along. So when she made ethical pronouncements, their logical supremacy almost necessarily followed.

Plus, I was 15 years old, and really fucking dumb.

Perhaps the largest paradox of the Objectivist community is the weight it gives to Rand’s words. For a community committed to truth and logic above all other things, Objectivists sure love to hero worship.   This is demonstrated, in one way, when Objectivists engage in philosophical debate.  They almost inevitably raise the questions: “What would Rand do?” Or “What does Piekoff say?” with the answers intended to settle the debate. I’m not even close to kidding. If you disagree with Rand, you’re SOL.  Evil.  Stupid.   Excommunicated.   Fucked.  There’s a whole history to this phenomenon, and it is in fact well documented.  Another good example of hero worship is that one of Objectivism’s most popular online forums is titled “Objectivist Living: Dedicated to Ayn Rand and the Art of Living Consciously.” The Objectivist movement has made Rand (or, now, Piekoff, her official “intellectual heir”) very seriously, it’s God. It would be one thing if Objectivists looked at Rand and her work and tried to glean insights from her. But this is not the case. Instead, Objectivism parrots the words of this extraordinarily narcissistic and arguably mentally ill woman.

This shit kills me.

How is this relevant for my post today? Well. I’m almost sorry for that diatribe. I want to be fair. Diana asks an important question on her blog, and I mean no disrespect to her viewpoint. Please, take very serious note of the fact that I respect Diana’s conclusion, and I respect all of her badass work. And I have a great deal of respect for people who look at a movement’s principles and try to learn from them without centering their life around them. I do not conflate the Objectivist movement with individuals within the movement, so not a single moment of my batshit crazy ranting applies to her or to any of you Objectivists/Randians/thoughtful thinkers out there. Believe me. But I have approximately zero respect for Objectivism as a phenomenon. This extreme distaste (I hope) is not a result of “emotional” or “impulsive” behavior, moreover, but is instead due to all of the realizations I have had about logical fallacies in Rand’s work and her followers’ behavior.


In the podcast, Diana asks the question: “Is eating bread immoral if I think it is unhealthy?” This not the most irrelevant question I’ve ever come across. Morality is tied up with food in a lot of ways, and there are books and books worth of interesting things to say on the matter.  It is phenomenally important to contemplate ethical eating.

Diana’s response to the inquiry is this: Yes.  If you eat bread, and if you know that it is unhealthy for you, and if you have other food options, then yes. Your actions are morally reprehensible. Diana and Greg (her podcast partner) call this “evasion.” The idea is this: in making an unhealthy choice, such as eating bread, an individual is evading the rational truth of the harm that is coming to him.  Evasion is a common Objectivist theme, and it is in fact automatic cause for condemnation.  In his book, Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Piekoff states:*

“Evasion is the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think–not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment–on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it.”

And then:

“Morally, evasion is the essence of evil. According to Objectivism, evasion is the vice that underlies all other vices. In the present era, it is leading to the collapse of the world.”

(*By using this term, I do not mean to put words in Diana and Greg’s mouths.  They don’t use the word “evil.”  Yet most Objectivists, including Piekoff and Rand, clearly, do.)

Yet what if this individual acknowledges the harmful truth of what he’s doing, but accepts the consequences because something he values more, such as social etiquette, is at stake?   He is NOT evading truth, here, but is instead weighing his fucking options, perhaps with the most logical and clearheaded reasoning on the planet.

A food choice, evil? Maybe wrong, and maybe misguided, and maybe stupid. Maybe deliberately self-destructive. But—so?  Am I going to despise you, or are you going to despise yourself, and consider yourself immoral, for weighing the pros and cons of eating bread and concluding that it really wouldn’t be the end of the world to indulge? Food choices are Not Evil, made consciously or not, and I endeavor, in the following paragraphs, to show you why Objectivists are so completely wrong on this count.

Diana and Greg’s responses were fairly straightforward. You can listen here, but I covered all the basics of it, I think, pretty fairly above.  Bread = evasion = bad.   To get more at the root of this idea in Objectivism, I turn to the writings of Ayn Rand.  Therefore, my response is not to the podcast, per se, but to the arguments and basic tenants I have read in Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness. Unfortunately, I came to Taiwan with nothing but two shirts and a laptop, so my copy of the text is at home. I am not going to make any formal references. I’m sorry. If you have good textual rebuttals, think I am mistaken, or have objections to my statements, just lemme know, and I’ll hope off my soap box and take the beating.


Objectivists believe, generally, that a self-destructive behavior is evil. How do they arrive at a such a conclusion?  Ayn Rand’s argument is a syllogism I first read in The Virtue of Selfishness, and it goes as follows:

A) It is human nature to prioritize one’s own survival above all other things.

B) It is evil to go against human nature.

C) Ergo, performing self destructive acts such as eating bread is E V I L.

Select rebuttals:

A) It is human nature to prioritize one’s own survival and life above all other things.

The above statement is not supported by science. No scientist would (should) ever have the hubris to proclaim the truth of human existence and purpose. The human condition is one of the most complex phenomena ever encountered, and it is extraordinarily presumptuous and naïve to make statements about the ultimate human concern. Doing so disregards anthropology, sociology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and a whole host of other disciplines.

Most egregiously, this assertion is just plain false when considered in light of evolutionary theory. The most basic tenant of evolutionary biology is as follows: the propagation of genes is the primary driver of all life. I want to put a citation in here, but who the fuck am I going to cite? My high school science textbook? The most recent copy of Cell Biology? My college thesis? Life exists because DNA and RNA replicate themselves. Organisms evolved certain behaviors to ensure the replication of these molecules. Humans evolved, as organisms, the same way. Each species needs to optimize the well-being of it’s offspring, else it faces extinction. As such, it is widely accepted that practicing some “altruistic” behavior, particularly for the sake of one’s children, is universally human.

Humans do not intrinsically prize individual survival–nor necessarily should they–above all other things. QED.

B) It is evil to go against human nature.

One thing we need to think about pretty seriously here is how we’re defining our terms. We already went over one component of human nature, the survival instinct, above.  The second component is the tool humans use to achieve that survival. This tool is the intellect.

Objectivists prize the intellect above just about everything else. The intellect is what defines man against animals, is what accounts for human achievement, and is what helps man make good, logical decisions.  In essence, to survive.  To be human is to use one’s mind, and an Objectivist will never let you forget it.

The second word we need to pay attention to is “evil.” In general, I can go out in the world and define evil as “extremely morally reprehensible” and not find too many people who want to argue with me.  Moreover, most definitions of “evil” concern the well-being of others, and most of the world probably wouldn’t argue with that, either.  Yet Objectivism takes the idea of evil in an entirely different direction. To be evil is not defined by acting immorally, but is defined instead by acting directly against “human nature.”  Anything that might decease the survival chances of the self is evil, including a sacrifice made for another human being. Rand, Piekoff, and, I daresay, the rest of Objectivist movement, believe it is evil to dive into the ocean to save someone if you believe your own chances of survival are slim. This is well established Objectivist Doctrine.   Some other evil actions include imposing your will on another human being, deliberately obscuring truth, or impairing your own survival by ignoring a rational conclusion. This is the “evasion” to which Diana and Greg and Rand refer. Evading truth is an affront to the human intellect, and to Objectivists this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Why Objectivists think it’s acceptable to make an ethical pronouncement such as this is entirely beyond me. Explain to me why you can go ahead and redefine “evil” at your whim. Explain to me why your definition of evil is more accurate than mine. And explain to me why you can logically make this fucking statement at all. It’s axiomatic. Rand’s all like, “this is the definition of evil because I said so,” and never says why. I’m not making this up. Far be it for her to explain herself when thousands of philosophers before and after her have written tomes on the matter and still not yet come to any kind of consensus.

I do not understand why obscuring the truth is inherently evil. I can think of a billion situations in which lying is appropriate, and I stand by them. Telling Susie her hair looks like shit helps nobody, and telling her it looks nice harms no one. Believe me—being honest is one of my highest principles. I believe in external honestly like the dickens, and I believe even more fervently in being brutally honest with myself. But this does not mean I think it Evil to lie. I am a relativist, and I believe that each situation calls for a unique weighing of pros and cons.  And don’t you dare attack that line of thought with some “A is A” bullshit.   I just might die.

C) Ergo, it is evil to consume bread.

Since statements A and B do not hold, statement C does not hold. Syllogisms are so BCE.

The last thing I do not understand is why it is necessarily immoral to evade truth, or to be self-destructive. I understand why it is harmful, and I could absolutely get behind a statement that imposing my will on another human being and forcing them to eat bread would be an act of evil—and I could even buy the argument that eating poorly is reprehensible because it affects the relationships I have with those around me– but my body is my body, and it is my autonomical right to treat it as I see fit.

What’s more, in a given situation, eating bread may in fact be the best choice for my well-being. For example, I may deem it more important to make my aunt happy and tell her I really loved eating her pumpkin loaf than to abstain and preserve my gut lining. Is this a sacrifice I’m making for another person? Sure. But, more importantly, it is a choice I’m making about my values. Who are you to tell me what I should value most highly?  No one knows my body and my life like I do, and I may in fact be optimizing my happiness by choosing to partake in an unhealthy activity.

Evil?  Good god. Ghengis Khan was evil. Pope John the XXII was evil. Lucifer was evil. What these figures all have in common is that they committed atrocities that hurt others. They were bad guys. I, simply, am fallible. Information comes at me from a million different angles, and I process it, and I try as hard as I can to maximize my well-being. If I fail to do so—if I act as a creature with addictions and needs and desires and if I cannot always “be my best self,”—am I, in fact, immoral?

Perfection is not possible. Objectivists would do well to remember this, and to stop holding everyone to unrealistic and stupid ethical standards. Even if I do my best to eat as healthfully as possible, the science of nutrition is constantly evolving, and no one has the key to perfect health. I can always try, but I don’t even know for sure if what I’m doing right now is optimal. Why not indulge, then? Bread may be harmful, but it is not poison, and if in eating the bread I feel pleasure, then perhaps that pleasure is more important than any pain I might endure.

I am currently watching a woman I know undergo knee replacement surgery and contemplate getting liposuction. She refuses to give up carbohydrates, not even for a while to see if it helps. Still yet I do not consider this evil. I consider it misguided. I consider it fearful of change. I consider it tremendously sad. But to call being fallible wrong, especially when it is not harming anyone but yourself… that is no logic. That is cruel. This line of Objectivist thinking promotes all sorts of negative mental states, the worst of which is perhaps the self loathing that often accompanies failed attempts to achieve perfection. We see, day in and day out, where this leads with food. Exponentially increasingly numbers of young women diet and binge eat and starve themselves because they are trying to achieve some arbitrarily constructed ideal. Health is holistic, and I believe that no amount of moral judgment for lapses is warranted.

Objectivist and perfectionist ideals like this are well known for driving people crazy. Psychologist Nathaniel Branden used to live and work within the Objectivist movement and was in fact Rand’s “true love.” …That is, until he began to see loopholes in the arguments, and to notice in his psychological practice how profoundly unhappy all of his Objectivist patients were. I remember reading about one patient of Branden’s in particular who loved a woman but could not marry her because she wasn’t as awesome as Dagny Taggart. He thought that he was evading that truth whenever he spent time with her. They ended up separated and living alone. Heartbreaking.

Instead of condemning personal choices as evil, we need to move forward in life with supreme awareness of both our physical and our mental health. Optimal happiness is about a balance, and it is a balance personalizable to each human being. Your food choices are Never Evil. Being fallible without causing harm to others is Never Evil. Prizing pleasure, and occasionally elevating it over health, is Never Evil. The way that you treat yourself might be misguided, but it is not morally reprehensible. You are not condemnable for what you ate this morning, and I will not condemn you for what you eat tonight. Food is a complicated source of nourishment and of pleasure, and to turn it into a weapon of condemnation does a great, great disservice to holistic health.


02 2011