Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What's wrong with it just being in your head?

I'll spare you the gruesome details,but a few times a year my digestive system will just go completely amok, and let's just say that I have to visit the restroom frequently.  Once everything starts to calm down, and I'm ready to eat again, the one thing that often sounds most appealing is an Ultimate Cheeseburger from Jack in the Box.  (Too bad my blog doesn't have a wider audience; I'd like to make some money for that plug.)  And usually after I have one, everything starts to run normally again.

It's probably pretty obvious why this happens, as it's a known fact that an Ultimate Cheeseburger is the pinnacle of health food.  No, wait, that's not it.  It's probably one of the worst things you can eat.  What can I say though?  There have been several times where I've felt like crap, hand one, and then felt better.  I don't exactly recommend that people try the same thing, but I know that it works for me, or at least, it has a few times.  It's quite possible that I tried it a couple of times and didn't get the results I wanted, and I'm just not remembering that all too well.  I do know that I will usually say to my wife, "I don't know if this is all just in my head, but dangit if I don't feel better now."

I have absolutely no problem admitting that the reasons why some things make me feel better is because it's all just in my head.  However, I feel like I just might be in the minority though.  For example, I have had several conversations with people where I've discussed things like alternative medicine.  One person insisted that acupuncture works because of her personal experiences.  When I suggested that it might simply be the placebo effect in action, I was instantly shot down.  Was it because she could explain the exact mechanism as to how acupuncture affects the body?  No.  Apparently it was simply insulting of me to even suggest this.

I've had more than one conversation like this, and I really don't get it.  I'm not a total expert on acupuncture one way or another, but I'm pretty skeptical of it, and I know enough to know that anecdotes do not qualify as evidence.  I also know that there is a great deal of research on the placebo affect; it's a very real thing, and yet, people just don't want to even consider it as an option.  Am I just missing some sort of pride gene that makes it impossible for me to admit misinterpreting what's happened to me?

Speaking of which, what the hell is going on with people freaking out about gluten all of a sudden?  I realize that there are some people with Celiac disease, which gives them some pretty specific and extreme reactions to wheat products.  I'm not talking about them.  I'm talking about how all of a sudden you have people panicking about wheat as though it's some new sort of a thing.  Yes, I realize that when looking at the entire history of humanity, wheat is relatively new, but it's not NEW.  People have been eating it for generations, and our lifespans are higher now than they were when we didn't eat it, so how bad can it possibly be?

Like a lot of these dietary fads, the various problems are incredibly non-specific.  I keep hearing this refrain that we "cannot process" gluten in our digestive systems.  What exactly does that mean?  Does that mean when I eat a peace of bread, it just goes through me?  It stays inside me?  It stops me from living to be 1000 years old?  And again, when it comes to folks with Celiac disease, the "cannot process" is pretty specific - they vomit, they have diarrhea, they bleed, bruise, have ulcers, etc.  But what about all these other folks?  Do they just get a little gassy?  That happens to me when I eat too many refried beans.  Am I not processing them?  And why are we just realizing this about wheat now?

I came across this pretty interesting article that compares the gluten intolerance hysteria with the MSG intolerance hysteria of a few decades ago.  I know that I was victim to it, as I would avoid products that had MSG in them, and if a product read "No MSG", that would be an enticement.  Of course, I couldn't tell you exactly why; I just "knew" that MSG was bad.  Well, guess what?  Turns out that MSG is delicious, and it not only explains why my mother's cooking was so good (she used a lot of bullion, which has it) but it explains why my cooking has improved (after I finally felt free to use it).

My mother likes to relate a story about a friend of hers who came over for dinner one time.  As they were talking, he told her about how MSG would give him headaches, as he was supposedly intolerant.  She didn't have it in her to tell him that the chicken he was enjoying was partially flavored with MSG.  The next day, she called him up and asked how he was doing, and he said he was fine - even after she revealed to him that he had consumed some MSG the day before.  Let's just say that my mom was ahead of the curve when it came to figuring out that the whole anti-MSG craze was a load of bollocks.

I actually did a little research on MSG some time back to make sure that I wasn't slowly poisoning myself.  I was surprised to find out that it's a perfectly natural flavoring enhancer.  And I felt like a doofus when I realized that the supposed ill-effects of it were pretty spurious at best.

I suspect that this is what's going on with a lot of folks who are supposedly having problems with gluten.  (And yet again, I'm NOT talking about people with Celiac disease, and I do not mean to make light of it.)  I'm sure that if you'll suggest it to many of them though, they'll be offended, even though it's perfectly human to be mistaken and to convince yourself of things that simply are not so.  I realize that it's easy to understand that it's the other guy who has it all in his head, but it couldn't possibly be the case with you too, right?  Well, I have no problem admitting that I very well could be doing that to myself with any number of different things that I'm convinced are real.

I guess it's like Mark Twain said:  "It's easier to fool people than convince them that they have been fooled."

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