On “Scientific Research”

I don’t claim to be a “health nut”, but I like to eat healthy barring the occasional indulgence. Whether it’s reducing the consumption of refined grains or adding more fruits and vegetables to my diet, nutrition is a priority. This means reading up on the health section of the news to keep abreast of the latest developments.

I suppose I inherited this quality from my father who obsessively follows research in the health and medical fields. But, lately, I find myself very confused. The following will illustrate why. My family hails from the coast. Coconut is an integral part of our diet primarily because it is natively grown and abundantly available. Whether it’s grated coconut, coconut paste or coconut milk, almost every dish, savoury or sweet incorporates it. Coconut oil has traditionally, also, been the preferred choice for deep frying, saut√©ing or, even, as a dressing. In other words, the way Mediterranean cuisine uses olive oil is how we used coconut oil. I say “used” because this is no longer true. The reason was some research about thirty years ago which stated that coconut oil is very high in cholesterol and terrible for heart health. When my father picked up on this, the consumption of coconut oil in our home dropped drastically. We switched to alternatives for a lot of preparations. Now, almost three decades later, coconut has become the new superfood with ringing endorsements of coconut oil. The jury is still out, however, with some touting it as a panacea and others calling it “poison”.

It doesn’t stop there. Breakfast is a topic that invites contradictory opinions from the scientific community. Some call it vital while others say it’s dangerous. All of these people are scientists with exemplary credentials holding positions of importance in regulatory bodies and academia. For the consumer though, whom or what to believe, that is the question.

I am no scientist, but I wonder how such contradictory results are possible on the same¬†topic. This resulted in my own bit of research. Here are some findings. To begin with, independent studies are few and far in between. A lot of these studies are funded by big industries to malign a rival product so that its consumption drops and, then, promote their own as a “healthier” option. The results are biased in favour of the industry or lobby that sponsors it. Sometimes, the purpose is to hide the ill-effects of their product by exaggerating the so-called “hazards” of another. A case in point is how the sugar industry funded a study in the 1960s to highlight the contribution of fats to heart disease and downplay the role of sugar. This was only discovered as recently as 2016. The fact that this was hidden from the general public for about half a century is a cause of concern. And, when reputed organisations claim that something is dangerous, it is natural for people to think twice about what they eat.

Sometimes, the number of participants in a study is in single digits. How, then, can the results be applied to the general population? No wonder terms like “may” or “could” are frequently used in the title so that if the findings are debunked tomorrow, they are covered and can shirk all responsibility.

In my opinion, there is another factor to be considered – genetics. Studies are often carried out on a specific section of the populace in a particular region. Olive oil, for instance, is healthy and highly recommended. I don’t dispute this. Food habits, at least the traditional kind by which I don’t mean McDonalds or KFC, are cultivated based on crops favoured by the soil and climate. Olive oil is a product of the Mediterranean. People who reside there have consumed it for centuries, and their digestive systems have adapted to it. When it is promoted in Asian countries where other oils are more common, will the results be the same? The same applies to coconut oil which has, only recently, been adopted by the west.

Superfood is the new buzzword in the health industry. The minute something is categorised as such, people rush to buy it. Sometimes, in the quest for health, the consumption of these products gets out of hand. People don’t realise that sometimes too much of a good thing can be counterproductive. Another thing that skyrockets is the price. If you don’t believe me, check the cost of a product when a study declares that it is the best thing for you. Everyday items become unaffordable when they are branded “healthy”. When prices shoot up, you wonder whether it is because of the demand, or sellers trying to make a quick buck out of the next “superfood”.

As health conscious individuals, we are always seeking ways to make our lives better by adopting good eating practices. However, we unwittingly end up playing into the hands of lobbies whose only objective is financial gain. We, all, need to be careful about what we decide to consume based on what is termed as “scientific research”. In a world where business often takes precedence over public health, there are reasons to be wary. Beyond headlines, there are a lot of things that need to be considered with studies about health and nutrition. Sources, researchers, industries, sample sets and target populations are just a few. Because I am not sure what to believe, I have stopped taking these headlines seriously. Consume everything in moderation is one piece of advice that has persisted over time. And, for now, it seems like the sensible thing.

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Living with OCD

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
– Ernest Hemingway

I read this quote recently and decided to put my vulnerabilities out there for others to see, and possibly judge. If you are obsessive-compulsive, it won’t be difficult to understand what I’m talking about. The rest of you will question my sanity after reading this post.

I knew I had a problem. What I didn’t know was, it had a name – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I know I wasn’t born with it. But I’m not sure what triggered it or when the first tendencies showed.

It doesn’t keep me from doing things in my life. I was not clinically diagnosed. That’s impossible in a country where visiting a psychiatrist is equated with having a severe mental defect. Mental disorders that do not pose a threat to others are not considered grave. The definition of threat, however, is open to interpretation. Most ailments are swept under the carpet or considered self-manageable. As a result, sometimes things get significantly worse before they can get better.

When it first reared its ugly head, I didn’t think there was anything unusual about my behaviour. It felt natural to check everything multiple times. So, work emails had to be read repeatedly before being sent out. I had to ensure that the electric switches were off and the door was locked, at least three times before I left home for the day, among other things. Blog posts and comments had to be read and reread to death before they were posted. I thought I was being thorough. But, with time, I realised that it was the result of my inability to trust myself. I was paranoid about making mistakes. A voice at the back of my mind kept insisting that I do these things. If I didn’t, I could have no peace. The only way to get that voice out of my head, albeit temporarily, was to follow its command.

It didn’t stop there. Next, came the fear of contamination. The constant feeling of uncleanliness and the need to wash hands on contact with any surface perceived to be tainted. Very often, this resulted in the skin peeling off my hands. But, that didn’t stop me.

The last straw was when, in my effort to be clean, I started imposing my ideas of “cleanliness” on the people around me. The lucky winners – my immediate family. Noncompliance with my dictates, knowingly or otherwise, would result in me flying off the handle. I say dictates because I behaved like a dictator in this regard. If the person at the other end rebelled, which was understandable, it resulted in a full-blown meltdown. It is not difficult to comprehend the stress this can put on relationships.

But the worst part is having to deal with it outside the confines of your home. You have no control over your compulsions. But you suppress the part of yourself that expects others to comply because you risk being isolated or laughed at for your behaviour. Let alone losing friends, you might have trouble making any in the first place. People who don’t suffer from this condition can not understand it. I don’t blame them because I know my behaviour is irrational.

Years have passed, but I know I am still a long way away from overcoming my problems. I struggle with my condition every day. I continue to make my life difficult and others around me miserable. “Freak”, “Paranoid”, “Mental” and “Crackhead” are terms my husband uses to define my neurosis. My mother keeps reminding me that it’s not healthy for everyone involved if I continue down this road. The sad part is, I know I’m driving people up the wall. But I find it very difficult to control myself. I’m, just, lucky that people around me have put up with my unreasonable ways and not run for the hills.

For people who don’t suffer from this condition, I don’t expect you to understand why I do what I do. In fact, I pray that you never have to. I just hope that if there is such a person in your life, you will understand that their actions come not from anger or spite but from an underlying mental state. It’s an understatement to say that living with a person who has OCD is difficult. I know because I have to live with myself every day.

Just so you know, I proofread this post eight times before publishing it.

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