Moderation

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“Everything in moderation.”  Indeed, one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, expounded on the virtues of moderation.  But what does “moderation” really mean?

Heart disease runs in my family and everyday, I am reminded of, saddened, and humbled by its ramifications.  We may believe we’re doing everything right–eating a balanced diet and working out–but there is still more confusion and contradicting expert opinions than clear and hard evidence.   How much is related to genetics vs. diet and lifestyle is still unknown.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to surmise what a moderate level of a substance or activity when it comes to certain ingredients in our food supply.

When I lived in New York City, I went to a sushi restaurant in downtown Manhattan with some friends, one of whom claimed that sushi is “healthy” and then emphatically stated, “Everything in moderation.”  I am aware that most restaurants likely are using genetically modified organisms (GMO) and artificial ingredients in their food.  At sushi restaurants, I am especially concerned about GMO salmon, GMO soy-based products, and artificial flavors or colors.  Not to mention that I am even more leery of the freshness and quality of raw fish.  There has also been some news about restaurants swapping tuna and salmon for lower-quality, cheap fish (and a lot of these fish have been farm-raised on GMO feed and antibiotics).  So, while I ate my spicy tuna roll without a peep for the sake of being social, a very small part of my brain was freaking out and quietly screaming, “How can GMO salmon be okay in moderation?  Why don’t people know what is in their food? What is moderation?”

When it comes to most restaurant items, unless the restaurant specifies otherwise, there is no way to determine the quality of the food and whether it has GMOs or artificial ingredients.  These ingredients have been linked to heart disease, cancer and obesity and have zero nutritional value.*  However, there is still much debate on the (1) effect and (2) amount of these ingredients that contribute to disease.

Thus, a “moderate” amount of these ingredients in our diet cannot be reasonably estimated.  In other words, a safe level of consumption (if any) cannot be determined with the current data and research.  We cannot say with any level of certainty that any amount of GMO and artificial ingredients are safe once a week, once a month or once a year.  Given the lack of evidence and varying opinions, my personal stance is that the consumption of any ingredients that may be linked to harm and have no nutritional value is not wise, even in moderation (whatever that entails).

I am not saying “don’t go to restaurants” or “don’t eat sushi.”  I am saying that when it comes to consuming GMO and artificial ingredients (whether in sushi, soda or in any other processed foods), “moderation” is not an excuse.  Perhaps “ignorance is bliss” is a more accurate philosophy because it is up to each individual to make a decision about how much risk is acceptable in keeping ourselves willfully blind of our dietary choices.

Even if a particular food has health benefits or some nutritional content, moderation is different for each person.  One may be able to consume two cups of coffee a day, while another may be unable to sleep at night after consuming half a cup in the morning.  One may be able to enjoy a glass of red wine every night with dinner, but half a glass of wine may be too much for another.

Moderation, it seems, is a matter of individual perspective.  However, if we really wanted to be honest with ourselves, “everything in moderation” is often a guise for masking our own willful ignorance.

*See http://responsibletechnology.org/doctors-warn/, http://enhs.umn.edu/current/5103/gm/harmful.html; but see https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/09/17/the-debate-about-gmo-safety-is-over-thanks-to-a-new-trillion-meal-study/#18151f9c8a63; http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/07/are_gmos_safe_yes_the_case_against_them_is_full_of_fraud_lies_and_errors.html

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All you need to do is show up

show-up

I grew up somewhat shy and sheltered. In my sophomore year of college, I remember telling a friend that I was really nervous about going to a neighbor’s house party. Not only was I not a drinker, but I hadn’t been to a party where other kids my age were drinking. I had no idea how to act or what to say. I thought I would eventually do something “wrong,” and give myself away and everyone would know that I was a big weirdo. The advice I got was one of the best I’ve received: “Most people are so concerned with themselves and their own issues that they aren’t looking at or thinking of you. And these guys will probably be so drunk that they’ll act stupid themselves. But no one cares! Just go, relax and don’t worry.” And that’s exactly what I did. I don’t remember if I had a drink (probably just held a cup of beer in my hand), but I didn’t feel like I needed to drink in order to fit in.

A year later, I was now regularly going to these college parties where alcohol flowed easily. At one party, where I probably had little, if anything, to drink, I was shocked when the next day, one of the guys at the party said to me “Shilpa, I didn’t know you were so cool! You came and hung out!” I thought it was a bit funny—that’s all it takes to be considered cool? Just go and hang out?!  (Granted, he drank a bit more than me, so I am not sure what exactly he remembered). That was another lesson I learned: Sometimes, you just have to show up. That’s all it takes. You don’t have to be or do anything! And if you’re drinking to the point of losing yourself, then are you really showing up?

Those two incidents positively influenced the way I interact with alcohol. However, there were times in my life when I felt pressured to drink (for example, in the workplace happy-hour setting) or when I felt uncomfortable saying I didn’t want to drink because I didn’t want others to think I was a boring, goody-two-shoes. As I became more mindful of what I wanted and what made me truly happy, those fears wore off.  If someone has a problem with me not drinking (or not drinking as much), it is their problem. I am just as comfortable drinking water at a bar as I am drinking wine with dinner. I feel in control of, and comfortable with, how much I drink, when and where. I am okay with saying I don’t like the taste of beer. I am okay with saying I like champagne, but I know more than one glass will give me a headache (I am a lightweight and proud of it). I am okay with saying that I don’t want to go out for a drink, but would prefer tea or coffee or a bite to eat instead. For the most part, people are receptive and have even told me that they find my stance refreshing.

Note: I am not saying don’t ever drink. I am saying that it may be helpful to be more mindful of why you’re drinking and whether you are really enjoying yourself and doing it responsibly.

Sometimes, people pressure others to drink because they think they should do it (it may be a pattern for them, a way to make conversation, or perhaps because they feel awkward themselves), but for the most part, no one cares whether you are drinking. Because most people care more about themselves than about you. What matters most is how it makes you feel and what you want to do.  You don’t have to do or be anything for anyone else. You don’t have to be the most witty, interesting, charming or funny person at the party. That is a lot of pressure to put on yourself. It’s okay to fit out. It’s okay to feel any good, bad, weird or awkward emotions that arise in social settings. Everyone feels a little bit awkward sometimes.  All you need to be is your authentic self and show up.