Thursday, August 21, 2008

BF's 13 Virtues, Good Nutrition, & the Masses

Benjamin Franklin's 13 Virtues to live by. Ever heard of them? Most probably have not, and I for one, am not the type to be enamoured by this, specifically because they are steeped in history and a history buff I am not! However, they do pose a thorough but crisp list of adjectives that, being very self-critical, self-analytic and self-aware, are, in of themselves, a complete section within my personal goals. Here are the 13 Virtues by which Ben Franklin tried to live: (1-8 are Personal Virtues and 9-13 are Social Virtues)

  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

  2. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

  3. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

  4. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

  5. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

  6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

  7. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

  8. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

  9. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

  10. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

  11. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

  12. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates. (Socratic Humility (with help from Plato): What is most important in managing change is to know when (and what, if possible) you do not know and to keep an open mind. In effect, remain a bit humble and always examine your own revered truths. Conversely, a wise person also knows what she/he does know. As you can see, the two dicta are inter-related. If one is to continue the process of examination, then one must also be humble, in the Socratic sense. In other words, if you think that you know more than you do, then examination is not going to occur. Examination requires a certain level of Socratic humility, i.e., knowing when one does not know.))

I love studying human behavior. Why people do what they do, say what they say, think what they think and act the way they do intrigues me. What are the underlying feelings that cause these actions? - right, wrong or socially appropriate. And by socially appropriate, who determines this? The masses? Typically, because we live in a world of great mass - there are 6.7 billion people in the world -about 3 hundred million of them are in the United States! To live as a society, I supposed we have to conform to what is presented to represent the masses, and act in such a way that it doesn't separate or alienate us from the masses. Conformity. What is interesting to me is how all of this is connected to our health (or poor health, as a society), although I'd love to rant about how it's connected to our general social structure!

Let's talk health for the masses. Breaking it down into two basic categories: the good and the bad. There are things that contribute to good health and things that contribute to poor health. And I'm talking basic things like eating healthy and in moderate quantity, versus debating the efficacy of the Jenny Craig over Weight Watchers over Atkins, or the 10 Minute Trainer over the PX90 system (both exercise trends, only one of which is credible, in my humble opinion!). The basic components of the guidelines for good health "for the masses" (this term is starting to tick me off, by the way) would be:

  1. Eat healthy & in moderation
  2. Exercise - incorporate planned, structured physical activity into your daily life
  3. Rest - get enough quality sleep

This is very basic, very simple and I don't know many who would argue that these three things are solid basic components of healthy living and are based in science. The problem lies in our individual definitions and interpretations of each of these items, specifically eating healthy and exercise. (And frankly, if we did that, then # 3 - Rest, might not be bastardized as well with prescription sleep aids! ) We all have our own definition of what healthy eating and what exercise are - and frankly, the "definition" held by the masses is so lackadaisical...ugh! Eating healthy to some is choosing Chick-fil-A over McDonalds, and planned physical activity may be accomplished by walking at a measly 2.0 mile per hour to the mailbox and back. Wala! I'm healthy, right. Good grief!! Science can't seem to wiggle it's way to the front of the line as a priority for decision making, let alone for basing packaged communication to the masses. Perhaps science-based information doesn't fit the mold for the masses, therefore "we" dumb it down, generalize it and bastardize it so it fits the masses and retains some glimpse of what used to be virginal, factual information. And this misrepresentation actually seems to hit us from two distinct sources:

  • Government. The government has good intentions and good information, but appears afraid to dictate or prescribe guidelines that are "too strict" for fear of non-compliance
  • Industry. Capitalism rules. We live in America, and that's one of the things we are known for. Industry's, specifically the food industry's, main mission is to profit; and the way to profit is with a "hook" - which molds and mushes basic science up into something that may include a smidgen of science, but is mostly hype - a quick fix, a pill, a miracle cure.

So, what do Ben Franklin's 13 Virtues, good health and conforming to the masses have to do with each other? A lot!

But first, let's talk about Ben. It amazes and inspires me that so long ago, humans were so smart - smarter in many ways than they are today, simply because ego & bureaucracy had not yet become the monsters that I perceive they are today. Of Ben's Virtues, there are a few that fit directly into our perfect personal health portfolio for nutrition (exercise to come later).

Temperance, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Moderation, Industry, Cleanliness and Humility can help us enhance how we eat and look at food in our lives.

(I continue to elude that when someone says "I eat healthy", I smirk on the inside. I can't help it! As I write this, I think specifically of those people - and actually feel sorry for them. )

  • Temperance-eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation. "Eat not to dullness" could translate as what we know of big heavy meals and the sedative effect. It could also refer to keeping some interest and joy in our meals, as they do tend to be social. By definition, temperance means moderation in action, though or feeling; a habitual moderation in the indulgence of appetites or passions; moderation in or abstinence from the use of alcoholic beverages. By George, I think we have it! Self-discipline is easier enunciated than executed, however. We have the idea, but it appears difficult to execute. I'll reference another blog here (check it out: The Art of Manliness) where the author does an excellent job of defining temperance and our societies out of control relationship with food and drink. I love how he uses fit chef's as an example of someone who relishes the quality of the food, and where the first few bites are savored with no need or desire to gorge themselves. Once again, quality over quantity might help us curb our insatiable appetite.
  • Order: let all things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. I apply this to the concept (and necessity) of planning. Especially with all of the excuses I've heard, specifically from busy moms, as to why they do the drive through. And for every excuse, I personally know someone who takes the time, or should I say makes the investment in their families health, and plans their week so they can pack the lunches, the cooler bags or the snack packs, so the infamous drive through is not in their weekly plan. Planning is order, order is success. Knowing what is coming up makes healthy eating possible and predictable. Frankly (and I think Ben meant it this way - I'm just applying it to a specific subject), this is the answer to most of life's overwhelming issues - an investment (time, thought) in planning produces predictable results, which reduces stress, disorganization and errors in just about any area. But then again, there are people who thrive in disorganization and chaos - and they're probably the one's in line at McDonalds or Chick-fil-a.

  • Resolution: resolve to perform what you ought, perform without fail what you resolve. Here's the one that needs support - commitment and staying power to a goal or intention seem difficult in our society. I admire people who say: "I'm going to avoid desserts over 200 calories for a month" and then do it. Unfortunately, there are those (like me) who have trouble sticking with it - and I can come up with every excuse in the book to break it. Human motivation is interesting. This is an area where 3rd party support has become a very profitable industry - Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, registered dietitians - all providing support at a cost - all helping to ensure we keep our resolutions. I don't have a quick answer for enhancing our resolution to eat right. My initial belief was the more people learn the basic science behind real, whole food and all the good it can do to benefit your body, as opposed to over-manufactured, processed or refined "food-like stuff" and all the bad it does to your body, resolution to clean up one's diet would come naturally. I'm not sure if this concept really doesn't work, or if the education is truly lacking. Those that just love Chick-fil-a (not that I'm discounting it) can rationalize that it's one of the healthier, lower calorie fast food options - not a sandwich over 500 calories! While that's one way of looking at it, I personally, immediately, think of that white bread bun, in what type of oil the chicken is grilled in, and that the fries may be cooked in a trans-fatty acid. Three strikes in my book and I'll stop at Publix and grab a yogurt and an apple if I'm that desperate. "Resolve to perform what you ought" - making the resolution is the easy part; "Perform without fail what you resolve"- this is the tough part. Labor on!

  • Frugality: make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing. When related to nutrition, I immediately see how doing good to others or yourself is making solid nutritional choices SOAKED IN SCIENCE versus propaganda (such as snippets from minuscule studies out of Prevention Magazine, the latest infomercial, or what you blindly think is right because that's the way you or your family "always did it"). Frugality is buying a high quality olive oil because you KNOW it's high quality, not just because it's $3.00 a bottle more than the one next to it. Frugality is knowing that the expense of poor health down the road is much higher than the current cost of time for planning and preparing (or pre-preparing) meals, educating yourself on whole foods, learning to read the ingredient list versus the pretty pink bubble on the outside of package that says "low sugar" or "reduces cholesterol". My husband always says about the "dollar menu": "save that buck and bank it toward your emergency room copay when you have your first heart attack as a result of that greasy burger you thought was such a deal". Morbid, but probably true. From a financial sense, Order lends itself to fulfilling the frugality goal. Planning meals and creating a shopping list from that plan will save money. You'll be able to utilize coupons, plan left overs for future quick meals, etc. It's wonderful how two good personal goals can be so interrelated and productive! And I still battle on to prove that you can eat healthy on a budget. Quality ingredients may (and I mean MAY) cost more sometimes, but by reducing the quantity to correct portion sizes, the average American family will see no net increase in the cost of eating healthy, and perhaps a decrease, because all than junk and those $6.00 boxes of cereal are still costly.

  • Moderation: avoid extremes; forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. More is better. Quantity over quality. This is the American Way! Translated, however, I think if we all dig in and really look at our insatiable appetite for everything, not just too much of the wrong kind of food, the revelation is that the more we take in, the greater our desire. Obtaining more doesn't appease the desire to have more, but rather, it actually increases the desire for more - a vicious cycle! Related to nutrition, society seems to come up with some darn good excuses for why we are unhealthy and obese/overweight - versus owning up that we eat too much of the wrong things - wow! - that sums it up! Seriously, though, this relates back to Temperance, where restraint is the goal. If we restrain ourselves from the urge to consume mass quantities and replace it with the goal of eating correct portions of high quality, the end result just may be a more satisfied feeling. I know that when my husband and I do go out for dinner, other than an occasional trip to trip Hooters for the novelty, we select high quality restaurants where we can predict the quality of the food. We typically split an entree because of the average portion size, and we relish in the preparation, variation of flavor and presentation - it's an event! It's most likely less expensive than that average trip to Chili's or Bennigans (which I maintain are fast food in a sit down box), more healthy and oh so much more pleasurable! Well, maybe without the wine it's equal to or less expensive than the trip to the chain restaurant - (here I go on Frugality again!) - those types of restaurant entice you to eat more...appetizer, salad, entree, dessert - once again, that insatiable appetite...more, more, more. Next time, go for quality over quantity. You'll be able to taste and eventually feel the difference in your health.

To close out this rather long thought, I have to give kudos to the years of past where the people were as smart, if not smarter than those today. Interesting...same problems, different century! (or decade?)

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