COVID-19 Reality-check: You may catch it or not. If you don’t, no worries. If you do, 80% of cases are light, so pamper yourself – no worries. If you have a bad case, you’ll be happy if you survive, and you won’t care if you don’t. So why worry? In the interim, do what is socially responsible to help slow down the spread of this lovely virus.I said that, on Facebook, when the COVID-19 crisis was still young.
The world is obsessed with the COVID-19 pandemic, and everybody is focused on how to keep the virus at a distance, even though none of those measures will ever be watertight. We can wash our hands more, we can social distance more (for a while), and it all helps. But when push comes to shove, it will never be enough. In the meantime, we are waiting for vaccinations and viable treatment options.
It seems as if the one thing we are not talking about is the most effective measure anyone can take in fighting disease: supporting their immune system with a healthy diet and lifestyle. But at the end of the day, that is where the rubber meets the road, and in many ways it is also the easiest thing to do. Sure, we can assume the fetal position and gorge on comfort foods and make ourselves sicker than we were before. Or we could do the one thing that makes the biggest difference of all: we could start eating healthy food, for with every bite we take we either harm or support our immune system. You and you alone decide what you put at the end of your fork.
The real pandemic is the Standard American Diet (SAD), not a virus from China or anywhere else. The book Bluezones teaches us that in spades, similar to the observations of Dr. John McDougall, who saw so clearly in his practice how the descendants of immigrants from the Philippines and Japan became unhealthier as they increasingly adopted American lifestyles. The industrialized world has sacrificed nutrition to convenience far too long, starting with ideas like “refined” white flour and white rice, which were somehow prettier and “easier” and thus, as we now know, were adopted all too readily at the cost of our health. Numerous organizations – first among them Plant Pure Communities – are finally drawing attention to the important role nutrition plays in supporting the immune system. Following is some of the preparatory discussion for a global jumpstart to get people going on a Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet:
In recent years, the Global Burden of Disease study has glaringly shown us the price we pay for convenience foods in terms of ill health. Poor diet is the leading cause of premature death. It is the real pandemic and it is manifesting in the “comorbidities” for COVID-19 that are now being discussed more widely. Make no mistake about it, the whole entire COVID-19 crisis is about diet. Right now, people are dying for the right to eat junk food. Research points to the decisive role diet plays in the whole development of disease and premature death. All of the “comorbidities” that are associated with 90% of the COVID-19 hospital admissions are the very same chronic illnesses we already know are entirely preventable or reversible by a whole foods, plant-based diet. All of which means that the real pandemic – chronic systemic disease – is caused by our industrialized food system. SARS-CoV2 is not the start of the chain collision – just like in the chain collision of cars, there is a shared responsibility. We have sacrificed nutrition to convenience, and once we understand that, we can choose to follow a different course of action.
The upshot is that a Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet has been definitively shown to both prevent and often can reverse all the most common chronic illnesses of which most people die today-and at increasing rates with an agent like SARS-CoV-2 now on the scene, acting as a catalyst in the chain collision. Just as the plant-based lifestyle prevents or reverses many of these long-term chronic diseases, so too it builds up the immune system, giving us a fighting chance against various infectious diseases. This may or may not prevent you from contracting an infectious disease; but, should you become infected, it does predisposes your body to fighting it more successfully than might otherwise be the case. And the positive changes in your body’s condition manifest in as little as a single day. Every single greasy meal with animal protein that you eat produces TMAO (Trimethylamine N-oxide) in your gut, a primary driver of inflammation in the body, whereas every healthy meal reverses the damage in as little as three days . This is entirely in line with current findings that it is the comorbidities that predispose people to having a bad case of COVID-19, which often requires hospitalization, while 80% or more of infected people have only mild cases, not much different from a common flu, or even no symptoms at all.
No, People do NOT want to be healthy
One of the prevalent myths in the Lifestyle Medicine community is that people want to be healthy, which is clearly naive. Consciously, everyone would say so, but subconscious drives tend to get in the way. Freud observed a long time ago that patients oftentimes use illness to get attention or to get out of doing something they don’t want to do (by getting off from work, for examle), which he termed “secondary gain.” The concept of secondary gain is recognized as a problem by the medical care system, but it does not nearly get the attention it deserves. After all, it is a driver of codependence with caregivers in the health system which in turn becomes a driver of malpractice and eventually healthcare abuse and uncontrollable healthcare inflation.
In the area of lifestyle medicine, there has been some attention given to the issue of the neuro-psychological drivers of self-defeating behaviors around food, prominently by Dr. Douglas J. Lisle, Ph.D. and Alan Goldhamer, D.C. in their well-known book The Pleasure Trap, which I consider a must-read. This book will help you to become aware of why we are attracted to bad foods. This part is not enough, though. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine is currently embracing “positive psychology” as a next step. In simplest terms, that approach emphasizes the carrot over the stick in motivation, which is also a great step, but again it is not enough.
What is really needed is an understanding of the fundamentally self-destructive motivations of the ego, the individual self, which in my experience are best explained in the psychology of A Course in Miracles (ACIM). For the purpose of this discussion, the book A Course in Health and Well-being by Cindy Lora-Renard is very helpful in getting you started on that path, as well as Ken Wapnick’s booklet on Overeating. This material puts us in touch with our unconscious self-destructive motivations, and, more importantly, makes us aware that fighting against them makes the problem worse, by giving it power over you.
What matters is that we learn to see these self-destructive tendencies of our ego for what they are in a process that A Course in Miracles describes as “forgiveness,” which recognizes that eating McDonald’s fast food, and getting sick from it, is no one’s responsibility but my own. It starts inside one’s mind, not outside in the world, and I can now choose instead to listen to the voice of truth and inter-connectedness and not to the voice of our selfish and self-destructive ego tendencies. This implies growing up, as we learn to see how the illusion of individual identity, a life apart from Life itself, produces an internal conflict that has us in its grip as long as we take it seriously, but loses its power over us when we learn to forgive ourselves for this stupid little idea of separate individual identities. For good measure, here is a link to a relevant presentation by Ken Wapnick, Ph.D. titled Strengthening the Mind’s Immune System.
Dr. Stanislav Grof developed the language of “human childhood” versus “human adulthood,” in which human childhood is the totally self-centered illusion of individual existence, which always puts me in conflict with the rest of the world – kill or be killed. It also predisposes us to victimhood as our first line of defense: everything is the world’s fault, “their” fault, as we do not want to take any responsibility for how we feel.
Human adulthood involves transcending this illusion of isolated, individual existence and shifting our awareness to a more holistic, all-encompassing awareness of being part of that greater whole of Life itself. Perhaps some of the best discussion of this experience is in two pieces by Jed McKenna, Waterline 1: I Marks the Spot and Waterline 2: The Hot Zone. The essential point is that this has nothing to do with dying, but with simply letting go of the illusion that I exist at the expense of everyone and everything else and instead waking up to the idea that we are all part of this great continuum of life. All awareness of separate individual identities is nothing but a detour: we are taking a ride at the carnival of life. Our only mistake was that we believe the house of mirrors is our reality.
It is from the vantage point of human adulthood that we can simply smile at our childish desires, which actually undermine our health, and make a different choice. The crucial difference is that we not end up fighting ourselves, which only makes the conflict worse, but instead forgive ourselves and stop believing the lie. In short, it is not that we are warriors conquering ourselves and pull a Baron von Münschhausen, but instead we simply look at our resistance to healing, forgiving ourselves for being as wrongheaded as we are. That lets the air out of the balloon and eventually it becomes easier to make choices that enhance our health and wellbeing.
Unpacking the Russian Dolls
So behind the virus are the preexisting health conditions, and those underlying health conditions are all the typical chronic diseases that come with our industrialized food system. They are the comfort food for human children who prefer to stay in a victim role and scream for a pacifier. Therein lies the ego thought system that most of us would sooner not know about and deny it exists. So blaming the virus and the failures of the medical system is easier than taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing until one day you realize that this world really does not work at all and that inside the nested Russian Dolls is eventually nothing. The anxieties that come from the whole scenario are never what they seem to be, for they are not based on reality. Dr. Peter Breggin delivers a powerful explanation of that here:
The vortex of fear and anxiety that is fed or reinforced by the news cycle and the depressing political wrangling taking place leads nowhere except hell. So even if you take all the necessary precautions to protect yourself against COVID-19, it is not enough if you do them out of fear. The only way through is to join with our sisters and brothers and, coming from a place of love and peace, take care of business as best you can. Bob Marley sets the tone: