Parashat Bereshit (In the Beginning)

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.

In the beginning is G-d.

Every story in the Bible and nearly ever facet of our lives follow from this fact. It’s through creation that anything and everything that matters in our lives comes into a form that even can matter to us. It’s through creation that we are even around to find meaning and to assign importance to anything else.

In the beginning though, is G-d.

And here in this week’s Torah portion, G-d separates light from darkness. Everything else we study, experience, explore, and investigate will be done essentially in the light, or at least after this separation occurs, but there’s a little kernel of G-d’s nature hidden here too.

In the darkness is G-d.

In some ways, this truth connects the beginning of Torah to its conclusion. There, Joshua is called to replace Moses, yet all around this change in leadership are dire warnings about the fate of the Israelites when they enter the Promised Land. For all of the build-up to the honoring of this covenant between G-d and the Israelites, there’s a real cliffhanger of a conclusion to the Torah. Doom and agony following failure seem to be their fate, as a moral darkness is foretold by both Moses and G-d.

Yet here in the beginning, all that G-d will create begins in the darkness.

So often when we are struggling or when we have truly hit rock bottom in our lives, we feel incredibly alone. When tragedy strikes us, when we search our souls for where we have sinned and cannot fathom that anything we have done could have possibly caused the circumstances we are experiencing, we feel so very powerless. When everything before us seems insurmountable, and when life becomes so dark that we cannot even dream a future out of it, we feel the depth of hopelessness.

Nevertheless, this week’s Torah portion invites us to be present in these feelings as vital components to the story of creation still unfolding in our own lives. G-d’s example is laid out plainly for us. In times of hopelessness, we must seek to separate the light from the dark. We must seek out those things that renew our spirit and that fill our hearts with an eager hope. We must find the tasks which are achievable, carefully guard each and every choice we can make, and walk forward knowing that challenges, obstacles, injustices, and failures are the geography of this world, no matter our intentions or best laid plans.

Perhaps most importantly, this week’s scripture teaches us that when all of that still feels too impossible and when the darkness is everywhere and in everything, we are not alone. G-d is with us. G-d will create entire new books to our life story that render the darkness merely a footnote, so easy to overlook.

This moment may feel like the end and like a terrible fall from some former glory. Consider another perspective, however. Everything that has already happened to you (and even by your own hand) could instead be described simply as “in the beginning.” What you make of tomorrow remains your choice to make.

Diabetes and Massage Therapy: Yes, It Could Lower Your Blood Sugar

If your experience of modern medicine’s approach to diabetes was anything like mine, you were given two basic keys to managing your blood sugar shortly after your diagnosis (and neither were a pamphlet on diabetes and massage).

First, you were told that you’ll need to track your carbohydrate intake from now on. Along with that you were probably told that the expectation for adhering to any sort of diet plan is incredibly low. After all, you made it this far in your life without watching what you eat, so what are the odds you’re going to change now? 

The second key makes up for that though. It’s the promise of modern medicine. You just take a pill and go enjoy your burger and shake, no effort, no stress. After a while, you’ll up the dosage and maybe add another pill or two, or even insulin injections if those don’t work.

The likelihood of “reversing” diabetes or managing it purely through diet and lifestyle is slim. Again, the bar here is very low. Beyond a few informative packets you’ll likely toss on the way out of the office, no one really pushes you to make healthier diet choices or to find ways to maximize your physical activity like your actual health depends on it.

That’s why we have medicines.

By my reckoning the problem with this approach is twofold. First, there’s a lot we can accomplish with diet and exercise. I know because I’ve done it myself. When I was diagnosed, my blood sugars were in the 500s and my A1c mirrored it. I needed insulin and metformin to get it back down to normal. Through a years-long process of changing the way I eat and move, and much to the surprise of my doctor, I achieved remission. It’s unheard of, he assured me. And I’ve heard the same from my coaching colleagues in medical practice as well.

Even for all the focus I’ve put on my health since then, there was something in my diabetes management strategy that I missed until just last year when I experienced an uncharacteristic and alarming blood sugar spike for several months. It’s the second problem with the medicine-centered approach. It’s the key no one really talks about, not even the folks advocating for plant-based diets as a way to manage blood sugar.

I’m talking about the influence of stress on diabetes.

Diabetes and Massage Therapy

Stress relief is truly the bridge that connects diabetes and massage therapy. And that makes sense, right? I mean, if there’s anything we all associate with massage therapy, it’s relaxation. People book a massage after stressful events or as a means of managing peak stress levels.

From my perspective, both the massage industry and diabetes research suffer from a curious desire to make themselves more complicated though. It’s as if, to some degree, we’re afraid of giving our mindset enough power to influence the physical condition of our body. So, diabetes becomes this mysteriously unmanageable monster we can only ever treat with medication. And massage therapy becomes this practice we have to justify as medically necessary for some reason other than the simple reality of stress relief.

Mind and body are connected though. Where some cultures might divide them, holistically we can even think of them as one being. After all, what is a mind but the thoughts and feelings of a brain and nervous system, themselves part of a body?

Still, the need to make massage therapy “medical” (in the sense of being more than a relaxation technique) has produced some great research on diabetes. A systematic review of scientific literature on diabetes and massage published in 2001, noted that massage might influence insulin uptake at the injection site, lower or normalize blood glucose levels, and improve certain forms of diabetic neuropathy.

Of note, the paper’s authors write:

“Additionally, massage has been shown to decrease anxiety in a variety of patient populations, including people with diabetes. These stress-reducing benefits of massage have raised the possibility that massage may be of benefit to people with diabetes by inducing the relaxation response, thereby controlling the counter-regulatory stress hormones and permitting the body to use insulin more effectively.”

A 2019 systematic review covering the previous twenty years of research on diabetes and massage noted similar effects for diabetics, including “a decrease in blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels while an improvement in neuropathic pain and diabetic foot ulcer.”

What This Means For Diabetics

The bottom line is that depending on what your symptoms are, how well your diabetes is managed, and what kind of massage you’re receiving, massage therapy could really help you with a lot of the medical concerns you have.

Beyond the coulds and cans and maybes though, I truly think we (as diabetics) can look at massage as something that helps us relax. And that’s good enough, no other medical work needed. Helping diabetics relax equals better body use of insulin. That in itself is phenomenal.

The cool thing about being as fixated on healthy eating and fitness as I have been since my diagnosis, is that I can rule out most of the usual suspects when I see my blood sugar levels spike. I know it’s not what I’m eating. And I know it’s not that I’m sitting around the house or office too much.

The thing no one prepared me for or talked to me about before I saw it though was that high levels of stress in your life can send your blood sugar high on up there too. For about a month, I was seeing numbers in the upper 200s, and even after restarting medication, there was little change. It was only after I got my stress back under control that I saw relief.

If we care about our health post-diagnosis, we can’t afford to dismiss the impact of chronic stress on our physical health. And with that in mind, making massage therapy a regular part of our lives is a great way to better manage our stress level and our long-term outcomes living with diabetes.

You’ve Come So Far (And You’re Not Done Yet)

Coaching high achievers involves a lot of realizing late into your introductory sessions that this person coming to you with low energy, low motivation, and a directionless quality to life is actually fresh off an extreme sports competition or quitting a ten-year drug habit cold turkey.

You know, the stuff that the rest of us only joke about.

But to these folks, it’s real. It’s actually so real and their lives are so intense that the ambient norm of everyday living feels like depression for some of them.

More to the point, high achievers can struggle with the lows and bounce-back periods of their lives between major achievements. In particular, this struggle is amplified for high achievers (of any age) whose earlier direction and pursuits were strongly influenced by another person.

We’ve all heard that before. Behind every great person is a great spouse, great parents, or a great community. While it’s important to emphasize that most high achievers are people with very strong willpower (potentially despite their present mood), it’s these great influences in their lives that first activate them.

It’s the parents who take us to soccer practice, run drills with us on their own time, and show up with enthusiasm at every scrimmage who activate us as athletes. It’s the English literature teacher who comments on our work, recommends extracurricular reading, and encourages us to keep writing after graduation who activates us as writers.

We might follow the footsteps of a musician or artist from our hometown, someone we relate to in another way or share something extraordinary in common with. Every high achiever I’ve worked with has one of these influences in their lives. And they set us on the path of our first major achievements.

High Achievers Need to Connect to Their Own Power

Where high achievers get derailed is in individuating themselves from these early influences. When someone guides you into something you’re passionate about, it can be a challenge to realize these passions as your own too. And in that sense, it can be difficult to differentiate your own approach from theirs, particularly if they exerted a strong influence on your start.

The high achievers I’ve coached are people who reached spectacular heights early in life when these influences were still present. As soon as their late teens or early twenties, their achievement level suddenly took a nosedive, and that’s where they got stuck. Some became too focused on following the precise footsteps of their influences, and neglected their selves in the process. Others acclimated to being directed and told what to do–they show up for coaching in hopes that I can tell them what’s next for them.

Spoiler alert: it’s not my choice to make.

The truth for every high achiever is that you’ve already come so far. You’ve already proven to yourself and to the world that you have the willpower, discipline, and personal fortitude to take on tremendous tasks, and to accomplish them. Getting that high again is never going to be your problem. That’s your norm.

What you’re learning is that what’s next is not decided already. In fact, the older and more independent you get, the less direction you’ll receive from others about what comes next. The future is truly up to you to decide.

Sometimes you’re going to fail, and fail spectacularly. In every direction you choose, you will struggle and encounter obstacles that challenge you. It’s your turn now to be the influence that guided you earlier in your life. Only this time, it’s your own success story you can go back to whenever and as often as you need it.

You’ve come so far already. But you’re nowhere near finished yet.

Just Because It’s Difficult Doesn’t Mean You Ought Not Do It.

Losing weight. Changing careers at fifty-five. Changing careers at any point in your life. Starting a business. Beating diabetes. Beating addiction.

I’ve worked with clients tackling all of these things. And there’s one obvious commonality they all share. They’re all incredibly difficult things to accomplish.

If losing weight were simple, there’d be no multi-billion dollar diet and fitness industries. If changing careers or starting a business were easy, people wouldn’t reach eighty and regret not taking more chances earlier in their life. 

Diabetes and addiction, while different beasts to each other, are most often daily battles. Rarely is there a moment where one is restored to their original health. Our bodies don’t come with reset buttons. The impact of dis-ease lasts a lifetime. And every morning, peace must be re-negotiated. 

Each of these struggles challenge us to push the limits of what is possible for the individual human being. Certainly they challenge the expectations of us. 

A common refrain I’ve heard from clients changing careers is that their bosses don’t expect them to actually quit and succeed. To be fair, these guys are financially invested in us showing up to work again on Monday.

Most doctors likewise don’t expect either diabetics or addicts to ever change. Of course, if you did, they’d lose a patient, a source of income, and a source of validity in their own work. 

This was the fact that surprised me most during an international health coach call I participated in a couple years ago. Colleague after colleague of mine from the medical field lamented the fact that none of their diabetic patients were interested in adopting any sort of lifestyle change. 

While they came at health coaching from the direction of wanting to motivate these patients, I come to this field from the perspective of someone who is managing their blood glucose levels without pharmaceutical intervention through holistic nutrition, fitness, and other lifestyle-based strategies. 

I surprised the room when my own experience was the exact opposite of theirs. I’ve seen countless diabetics already implementing lifestyle changes with success. These same clients reported that it was their doctors, not themselves who were strongly against exploring lifestyle changes for beating diabetes. 

Could both be true?

What I took away from that call at first was a hot-headed reaction to the typical medical establishment. Of course doctors don’t want their patients to change, I reassured myself. That would defeat their whole business model.

The truth though is that I do the exact same thing. I want my clients to be successful because that’s my model. 

Ethics and philosophy aside for a moment, where myself and my colleagues in medicine share common ground is in creating a framework of expectations for the people we work with. It’s in everything we do, from the way we discuss diagnoses and terms to the strategies we share with our clients; it’s the entire vibe of our work. 

Doctors tend to catch people at the end of the line whose bodies have broken down in one emergency or another, or over the slow course of a thousand different not-so-great choices. Their go-to strategy is the prescription pad because most people don’t have the time or willpower to change their lives and experiment with eating better or getting outside and running everyday. 

On the other end of the spectrum, I also pick up folks on the other side of emergencies and slow breakdowns. But the folks I get are the ones who at least in part, generally want to change. I can create space for them to explore what change will look like for them, what obstacles they anticipate facing, and how they will overcome them because that’s the path they have the interest and willpower in taking.

Having Willpower Isn’t Enough Though

The harsh reality is that entertaining our desire to tackle a big life change like beating diabetes is itself not enough to push us through. As I said before, all big life changes are extraordinarily difficult tasks to accomplish. 

In my own journey, I have faced numerous setbacks including relapse into needing medication after a period of remission. No health journey I have witnessed yet as a coach is as straightforward as choosing a direction and simply realizing it.

If I may be permitted one last barb directed at the medical industry, it is exactly the over-reliance on medication my colleagues complained about seeing in their patients that exemplifies the misconception that health struggles will be simple. When our dominant idea of healing is that it is as easy as taking a pill, we are thoroughly unprepared for the reality of a more difficult journey replete with setbacks, utter failure, periods of cluelessness, and disappointment.

Big life changes like beating diabetes are difficult. But that does not mean we ought not attempt them anyway.

On the other side of difficulty is not just the goal we set our sights on, but a new version of ourselves made capable of achieving at that level. Beating diabetes is undeniably a remarkable feat. Becoming the kind of person who gets to ask themselves “what next?” after doing so is a change in self-image we’ve likely never even imagined possible.

Changing Your Life Will Destroy Everything

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” (Winston Churchill)

The popular quote misattributed to Churchill, seems to actually derive from Victor Hugo who gave it a bit more of a poetic handling:

“You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats. Do not bother yourself about it; disdain. Keep your mind serene as you keep your life clear.”

Both quotations presume a dynamic about enemies wherein they are attracted, like gnats according to Hugo, towards those who stand up for something or have “done a great deed or created a new idea.”

Perhaps it is the evolution of the era, but I perceive a great deal more enemies relative to great deeds being done in the world. And I know I’m not alone in this assessment. Even within my own lifetime so far, the degree of divisiveness, pettiness, and unnecessary urgency and politicization of even the most mundane differences of perspective has created a social crisis spectacular in the frustrated inertia it foments between us.

Today we no longer need a great idea nor to perform a great deed to attract enemies, like gnats, to the light of our perspective. No. We simply need to read a different book or article, arrive at a different conclusion, or even just decline the urgency of broadcasting our ignorance when it is demanded.

Gone perhaps are the days of great men doing great things for a country greater than its constituent ideas and movements. Here are the days where greatness is simply a product of not being the other, where positions and values change in the blink of an eye, and only those who keep up, unswayed by sentimental values or attachments, will be deemed — if only for a passing moment — great.

Chasing this sort of popular greatness chips away at us. First of course it warns us against thinking for ourselves. Second it instills within us a sense of paranoia. We are all each just one unpopular thought, unpopular word, or unpopular deed away from social exile.

To be truly great in the vein of men described by Hugo and Churchill, is to free-fall into this anti-popularity. It is to find the courage and sense of place in the world to take up the defense of those people and places one loves.

No part of this spectacularly divided society prepares one for this kind of greatness. And certainly no part of this society prepares one to become this kind of great man later in life. Indeed, the very idea of changing one’s mind, that is, exhibiting personal growth as an individual and the capacity to process new information, is a faux pas.

Popular greatness fears this kind of change because to acknowledge it may lead to recognition of its own amorphous nature, which unlike the great man, lacks the battle-earned discernment of a moral compass. Popularity is based in currency, social or otherwise. Greatness is a matter of moral discipline.

To change our lives in any sense, whether to become the progenitor of great deeds and ideas or to simply become a greater man within ourselves, is necessarily in this era an act of destruction.

It is both our own old self who must be destroyed and re-made, and also our relationships to the people and places who bind us to that old self which must be severed and re-grown.

As a coach, I have observed this dynamic countless times in clients who are becoming great men in their own right. The vision we hold of our greatest selves is rarely the vision held by our friends, our bosses, our religious communities, or our social networks. Those forces, where they exist, will often seek to shame and tame us back into the self we are leaving behind.

More than physical addictions or economic challenges, this kind of social brutality is what I see triggering clients to backslide and relapse. Changing your life will destroy everything.

Without courage, without commitment and discipline to achieving the final vision, the fire will only scald, it will not forge. That is, it is easy to simply become a man with enemies. In today’s world, one hardly even needs to try.

But to become a man of great deeds and new ideas, the man of petty deeds and popular opinion must be left behind. Everything about him must be thrown to the fires and permitted to change. Only then can the great man emerge.

So We’re Just Going to Put Vaccines in Spinach Now?

There ought to be a law against medicating people without their consent. There probably already is. And it probably doesn’t matter anyway.

When I was a child, I was put on numerous medications for severe asthma, including various kinds of puberty-disrupting hormones. The side effects of these medications were, to our recollection, rarely if ever discussed with me or my parents. In large part, it seems now that they were unknown even to the doctors prescribing them at the time. Rather, we were caught up in a market-driven model. Symptoms = diagnosis = prescription (product). And the best consumers are those left in the dark about the products they consume.

New medicines weren’t prescribed on the basis that I needed an effect that they were shown to produce. No, new medicines were prescribed on the basis of being newly available.

I was the lab rat.

In the twenty years since I was subjected to these treatments, new studies have explored the damage wrought on the endocrine systems of children put on these medications. Neurological problems including suicide risk have been associated with others. And anecdotal evidence abounds among ex-patients identifying a connection between pharmaceutical intervention for asthma and onset of obesity, adult diabetes, and even gender dysphoria despite the research not catching up quite yet with what we ourselves already know.

When you come to realize that your childhood body was a sort of experimental playground for drug manufacturers and dealers licensed by the state, there’s a degree of mistrust and sensitivity you develop for future instances when say, drug use is mandated by the government or when powerful pharmaceutical interests explore their capacity to introduce medications into the food supply.

Meanwhile, even the acknowledgment of the long ancestry of indigenous wisdom all the world over regarding the use of plants and food as medicine is enough to earn the ire of the pharmaceutical industry’s apologists.

Imagine instead medicine that is freely available. Imagine natural medicine that grows wild. Imagine medicine manufactured by the sun and rain. Imagine the security of an entire ecosystem providing for your natural immunity and natural growth throughout the ages. Try to remember that this is the planet you already live on. This is your birthright.

For a wider audience, the Flint, Michigan water crisis–in which intolerable amounts of lead were found in the city drinking water–was a wake-up call to what elements of the natural living movement have been calling attention to for decades. The water supply is poisoned by agro-chemical runoff, toxic metals, and pharmaceutical traces delivered from millions upon millions of individual consumers. You are drinking antidepressants and heart medicine, birth control and testosterone.

Tomorrow will there be vaccines growing in your spinach? Researchers at the University of California, Riverside are putting to use a $500,000 grant from the taxpayer-funded National Science Foundation to find out.

Whatever Happened to Natural Medicine

What if you don’t want to be exposed to chemicals that disable your reproductive capacity? What if you don’t want bipolar medication in your drinking water, or mRNA vaccines in your salad?

If those questions are still too partisan to entertain, imagine that you discover that you have an allergy to a certain kind of medicines. Or imagine your child’s body being disrupted by the side effects of a medication, new conditions developing, and the possibility of preventable disability forming in their future. Imagine how vigilant you must become in either of these situations when the trigger is so normalized and so commonplace, it could be in the water you’re drinking or the food you encounter at the store or in restaurants. Imagine being fired from your job for not consuming it.

The U.S. has decades now of evidence that few will resist either the presence of these conditions or the implementation of social control measures meant to stigmatize and ostracize those who, for whatever reason, do not consent. The question before us is not if there will be a future where the normalized coercive or stealth medication of the populace becomes untenable for any particular individual–we’re already there for many people. The question is whether it will ever matter to a sizable and powerful enough segment of the population to stop it.

In this regard, our institutions of science and medicine have long ago failed. No institution which can rationalize the kind of damage done to children through the medications I and countless others were put on in the 90s and 00s is ever going to have the kind of ethical standards a healthy society needs from its caretakers. My example is hardly unique.

Modern medicine is instead driven by the profit to be gained from triggering a lifetime of compounding sicknesses, not health. And this makes sense given that we have John D. Rockefeller to thank for its hegemony over our very understanding of medicine these days. Medical doctors are not healers. They’re the middle men in a drug market, and now responsible for the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

So uprooted from the elegance and medicine of the natural world is this entire system that it can, with a straight face, study the engineering of plants to interject its own patented creations to alter the bodies of its consumers. Worse still is the possibility that the very thing being vaccinated against is itself a creation of the same industry. Can we even rightly call this medicine anymore? So many pharmaceuticals have their ancestry in natural medicine. Metformin was once goat’s rue. Morphine was once the poppy. Aspirin came from white willow, and penicillin from a mould.

Today we rewrite the story. Modern medicine is all that is given value. Traditional natural medicine is written off as quackery and statistically indistinguishable from placebo. Health that was once wild and free is made captive, patented, engineered, and manufactured. In this upside down world, putting vaccines in spinach makes sense. The natural body and the natural medicine that sustains it is the crazy idea.

5 Studies on How Linoleic Acid is Affecting Your Health

Years ago, I attended a seminar on food-based holistic health which included a segment very quickly running through some of the speaker’s views on the different cooking oils that are on the market. For several years now, my own personal oil use has been more or less restricted to the occasional olive oil in a cast iron skillet to cook a stir fry, so I didn’t pay as close attention as I perhaps should have.

It wasn’t until a client of mine brought up eliminating oils from his diet that I decided to give the topic a deeper look. From what I can tell, as with many health-related subjects, there is a range of perspectives often regarding the same health indicators.

Holistic nutrition, while a passion of mine, is not yet something in which I am professionally trained. So, with that in mind, I’ll leave the conclusions for my readers to draw. Here below though, I’ve collected five studies I’ve found specifically on linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid in our vegetable and seed oils (think: corn, soybean, canola, sunflower, pumpkin seed, etc).

Linoleic acid seems often to be identified as the villain in these oils, however, more recent research (included below) suggests it may be more complicated than that. What do you think?

Risk of Insulin Resistance Lower with Use of Olive Oil vs. Sunflower Oil

In this 2004 study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology, researchers found that people who used olive oil for cooking alone experienced lower insulin resistance than those who used sunflower oil or a mix of the two. Insulin resistance positively correlated with oleic acid (higher in olive oil) and negatively with linoleic acid (higher in sunflower oil).

Essentially what this study observes is that the risk of higher insulin resistance–that is, the body’s failure to respond normally to insulin–was lower in people who cooked with olive oil compared to sunflower oil.

Reduction in Migraines Associated with Diet Lower in Vegetable Oils

Much more recently, a team of researchers with the National Institutes of Health and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found a 30-40% reduction in headache hours per day, severe headache hours per day, and overall headache days per month for sufferers of migraines who consumed higher levels of fatty fish and lower levels of vegetable oils (high in linoleic acid).

Importantly, this research adds to a growing body of studies demonstrating the impact of dietary changes on chronic pain. In a backhanded way, it also sheds light on the un-helpfulness of the American diet in relation to chronic pain such as migraines, given that the study group given a diet high in vegetable oils and low in fatty fish was meant to mirror the average American intake.

Soybean Oil Causes Higher Obesity and Diabetes Than Diets High in Fructose

Research by scientists at the University of California, Riverside in 2015 found that soybean oil causes higher rates of obesity and diabetes than fructose (the much-maligned sugar found in soda and many highly processed foods).

Mice in the study fed the high soybean oil diet were observed to experience “increased weight gain, larger fat deposits, a fatty liver with signs of injury, diabetes and insulin resistance, all of which are part of metabolic syndrome.”

Linoleic Acid Can Increase Tumor Growth

This article is less of a study and more an analysis of many different studies into the nutritional value of linoleic acid. It notes the complexity of research into linoleic acid’s impact on cardiovascular health, while also documenting the compelling connections between linoleic acid and cancer.

For instance, the article notes that “under some conditions linoleic acid can act as a promoter of tumor growth.” It also identifies connections to mammary cancer, increased incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and “correlative data that support the idea that increases in the incidence of some cancers mirror the increase in linoleic acid consumption.”

Soybean Oil Tied to Obesity and Neurological Problems

Lastly, this new study by researchers at UC Riverside links soybean oil not just to the increased rates of obesity and diabetes as noted in the team’s 2015 study included above, but also to decreased oxytocin levels and to genetic malfunctioning which may exemplify the oil’s impact on neurological conditions including autism and Parkinson’s.

As I mentioned in the introduction, recent research complicates the idea that linoleic acid alone is responsible for these effects. In a 2017 study, the UC Riverside team showed that genetically engineering soybean oil to be lower in linoleic acid also lowered rates of obesity and insulin resistance. Nevertheless, in this study, both natural and genetically modified soybean oil showed genetic disruptions, suggesting they are not caused by linoleic acid.

Parashat Haazinu (Listen In)

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.

In this week’s Torah portion, we listen in to receive this song from Moses which recounts the story of the Israelites to this point. Moses recounts how G-d made a covenant with them as a people, but also how they have been (and will continue to be) unfaithful, causing G-d to hide His face from them.

In the end, Moses ascends to the top of a mountain facing the Promised Land, and dies having not set foot within it.

Haazinu is about the identity at the core of Jewishness. The song speaks of our religious covenant with G-d, but it also reveals the nature of human experience in creation. One way to look at the entire relationship described here is through the lens of sin and punishment. The Israelites (including Moses) fail to live up to the standard of their covenant with G-d. As a result, G-d is at times hidden from them. G-d may also punish them by sending other people to destroy them, enslave or send them into exile. 

However, another way to look at this passage is that this relationship between people and the covenant is one rooted in the struggles and limits of physical creation.

“Listen in you heavens, and I will speak; hear, you earth, the words of my mouth. Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.”

(Deuteronomy 32: 1-2 NIV)

Moses’ song begins not with the story of our people, but with an appeal to heaven and earth, and a poetic metaphor engaging Torah as natural nourishment like rain or dew on tender plants. G-d is further described throughout the passage as a Rock, essentially the foundation upon which all this grows.

What is being shared here is the reality of physical creation. 

Listen In

We are each going to fail at something. Not even Moses, the great leader of the Jewish people, is exempt from this limitation. This is the nature of our story, a piece of our core identity being communicated here. It is in our nature to fail to live up to the perfect divine order of G-d. That’s what makes us people. That’s what makes us creation. That is how we are designed, how we are intended to learn, and how we are given the opportunity to grow.

Feeling shame about it is optional.

The leaders we are given to study under, Moses for instance, were flawed just as we are, but they are defined by their persistence in the face of that reality, and by their commitment to G-d despite countless opportunities to give up. Depending on our background, the passage may seem set up to describe Moses’ death as a punishment by G-d. I think a healthier way to look at this passage is to understand death and Moses’ preclusion from the Promised Land as consequences of the nature of physical creation. 

We could drive ourselves crazy debating death and punishment as a matter of worthiness, but when we understand it as a matter of reality, and the consequences of a complex calculus of different actions, we are freed again to focus on our own actions, our own choices in the face of this reality. 

G-d is at times seemingly very present in our lives. We are plugged in. We feel the presence. We feel the blessing and the favor. Everything seems to go our way, and we are hopefully grateful for that alignment. Other times, our relationship with G-d is seemingly strained and detached. It is as if G-d hides His face from us (or we are hiding ours from Him in shame). 

Both are foundational to this experience we call life. There will be highs and there will be lows. There are times we must try hard to achieve greatness, and other times we enjoy the rewards of our effort. Like Moses, we may even be blessed enough to die devoting our lives to the very mission G-d has given us. 

To some, this passage seems an invitation to just shrug. Why bother? Sin your heart out. You are doomed to fail anyway, and if this is the nature of reality, why fight it? 

For the spiritually strong and courageous it is instead an invitation to doubly commit ourselves to the path and covenant we have chosen. Surely we are each as flawed as Moses. Failure before G-d and death are certain. But what shall we make of our lives then if that is the case? What stories shall we sing to our own descendants and by what deeds shall they remember us?

Listen in. The rain rises back to the sky, even though it will fall again.

Coming Home to the Body on the Path of Teshuvah

Just over ten years ago, I experienced an intense mental setback that resulted in me withdrawing from the university I attended in order to care for myself. I remember that September because it struck me that it was the first head of the school year at that point in my life where the future was a completely clean slate for me. There were no classes assigned to me. No new semester. No job prospects or work schedule to follow. It was for both better and worse, the freest time in my life at that point.

And there within me still, a war was taking place. The logical side of me was free-falling into complete oblivion. My crisis had overridden every expectation, hierarchy, and process that side of my mind depended on for ordered perception of the world. Was I succeeding at life (breaking myself so free)? Or had I completely fallen apart beyond repair? The desire-driven side of me countered with its own newfound strength. The emptiness existed for me to fill with something new. Now was the opportunity to set things right, to reset, and to start over on my own terms.

In some ways I think I am still getting the two sides of my head to work together. Neither extreme has proved capable of governing my life for too long. Life is best in balance.

There was so much that I learned about myself though during those early post-crisis years. It was, in the greatest sense, a transformative reorientation of what I am accomplishing with this lifetime.

What’s Teshuvah Got to Do With It?

Unrealized by me at the time, Judaism offers us a lot of great traditions around this same process and, coincidentally, during the same time of year. From the month of Elul (Virgo) through Tishrei (Libra), we’re invited to right our wrongs, re-balance the cosmic scales, and set our life back in the good orderly direction it ought to be following. This process is called teshuvah, which means “return.”

For some people, it might be helpful to think of that process as a return from sin to somewhere more familiar. In Judaism, sin is where we miss the mark. So, another helpful way to think of it might be that we’re centering ourselves behind the bow again, returning to aim again at our target.

Where do we aim? Some students of A Course in Miracles like to find the answer by breaking down the word atonement into its constituent parts: at-one-ment. We’re aiming towards oneness–within ourselves, in relation to one another, in relation to creation, and in relation to G-d.

For Kabbalists, teshuvah is literally the return of the letter Hey. In the sin of our separation from G-d, the very name of G-d has fractured, and our practice of teshuvah returns us to a state of perfect awe where everything is again aligned. That last Hey in G-d’s name represents the sefirah of Malkuth, essentially our perception of G-d’s presence in the physical universe, but also the very physical acts of repentance.

Teshuvah asks of us to stop missing the mark, to feel the emotional longing that occurs when we err, to verbally acknowledge our work, and to enact a plan to make changes, knowing that the real test will be the next opportunity we have to make the same mistake again. In the process of teshuvah we learn the sanctity G-d has embedded in these acts.

The Talmud actually tells us that atonement was one of the first things G-d created (even before creation itself). It’s that central to the mechanics of our universe. Like the seasonal cycles that return us to this process every year, our lifetime is set on this cycle of learning, processing, and growing. That’s the irony to Rabbi Eliezer’s instruction in the Talmud to “Repent one day before your death.”

The nature of this experience we call life is to explore and grow. We are always repenting and evolving. Life is teshuvah. Not even the tzaddikim can do one without the other.

Coming Home to the Body

This season, I am reflecting on G-d’s creation of mankind. The Bible teaches us that life is sacred. The human body is even created in the image of G-d. Our physical self-care and self-actualization is a holy obligation, and a central part of that work is learning to decline the things we ought not accept into ourselves. Likewise, we are intended to be fruitful, and the body is designed with a million ways to realize that intention even when parenting is not part of our individual futures.

For me, a gulf has emerged between this sacredness of creation and the society in which we are living. To some degree, this is something I picked up on intuitively during the years around that mental setback I mentioned before, yet I lacked the clarity and direction to disentangle it all at the time.

Today, many aspects of the gulf are quite clear.

  • We are living through an actual plague whose outcome is connected to the ways we nourish and move our bodies. We respond with stay-at-home orders and free doughnuts.
  • Rather than avoiding drug-dealers, we have become so desensitized to the fatalities and compounding malpractice of modern medicine that to even question what ethics guide them is to set yourself apart from the crowd, and in some areas, society itself.
  • We have created a society where dangerous chemical toxins are in nearly everything and where the hormonal alteration of the natural body is laughed off, ignored, or even celebrated.
  • We have created a society where “truth” is a function of politics, singular relative to power, and closed to debate except for the courageous willing to face down what amounts to social exile.

This is not the way we are meant to live. It’s not the way we ought to respect our bodies. It’s not the way we ought to respect our minds and the different perspectives we each bring to life together. We are meant to be as one, and also to be the many who are as one. We are meant to engage critically with life, society, and each other, yet to also act as one body together. The tefillin which Jewish men wrap around their arms and foreheads each morning mirror the paradox of this simultaneous oneness and plurality.

I see an opportunity for teshuvah here, an opportunity to return behind the bow and to aim again towards something better. When I first started Free to Live Healthy, I intended it primarily as a journal to chart my own way along this path, reclaiming my health and life from a society that does not live up to Biblical values. For me, alignment within the body is alignment with Torah is alignment with G-d….

Today I can see how this blog itself is part of the teshuvah in my journey. I have got to come home again. Come home to the body, to scripture, to oneness, and to G-d. I know there are so many of us out there–my work has already brought so many of us together. My hope in writing here is to make the way a little clearer for those as lost as I have been before, and to show one path that might take others a bit further along the way we are each returning home to this body G-d has created.

Years ago I learned a beautifully simple meditation from the Plum Village teachers, and it seems fitting to close with it here:

“Breathing in, I am aware of the body.

Breathing out, I am arriving at home.”

5 Questions to Ask Before Coming Off Antidepressants

Choosing to come off of antidepressants is a deeply personal choice which unfortunately can often be misunderstood or stigmatized by both health professionals and our everyday social circles.

More than that, the choice to make any alteration to our brain chemistry is a fairly consequential decision in our lives. It may impact our emotional and physical states, relationships, career, and other areas of our life.

While being under the prescribing doctor’s care is almost always a good idea when making changes to prescribed drugs, these five questions may help you to develop a more holistic plan for coming off antidepressants if that is the choice you make.

What are you going to do when you have your next anxiety attack?

Depending on where you are in your mental health journey this question may seem moot. The truth about some antidepressants is that we feel like we don’t need them when they’re working best. Another way to look at that truth though is to consider that it applies to every coping strategy. When something works, we stop thinking about it. (Even when it does more harm than good, as may be the case with our antidepressants).

Consider how addicts view their drug of choice or how over-eaters view food. The strategy for dealing with an unwanted experience becomes so reflexive we eventually act on muscle memory more than conscious decision-making.

Coming off antidepressants shocks that whole process. Suddenly the coping strategy we’ve grown to depend on isn’t available anymore, and we’re once again facing the same beast that sent us seeking that strategy to begin with.

So what’s the next strategy? Try to imagine yourself in different potentially triggering situations, and then brainstorm your way through them. Going to yoga class might work at establishing a long-term healthier baseline, but it’s not realistic when hyperventilating in the bathroom at work. Give yourself a tool belt with as many different options as you can imagine.

How are you going to manage withdrawal symptoms?

This might be shocking news if you’ve never looked into coming off antidepressants, but the withdrawal period (sometimes lasting weeks or months) can be awful. By my reckoning, there are two components to withdrawal. First, there’s the new feedback we get from the body as it adjusts to life beyond a chemically induced altered state. Some people report the sensation of “brain zaps,” episodes of dizziness, mood swings, and more.

Second, there’s the potential intensity of reacclimatizing to our original symptoms. While you might have experienced anxiety or depression while taking antidepressants, without them, you’re experiencing the un-numbed version. It might be more intense than you’ve been used to for a while, or even worse than before.

How will you plan for, track, and address these experiences?

How do you know if you need to stop?

So here’s an uncomfortable part of coming off antidepressants. Sometimes you have to stop, restart the drugs you don’t want to be on, and wait to try again later. It happens to the best of us, and it’s no reflection on your character or strength as an individual if it happens to you too. People using any drugs for any reason often go through cycles of coming off of them. In this sense, antidepressants are no different than other drugs just because they’re prescribed or legal.

What experiences are your absolute limit in this process? What lines will you draw to protect your long-term health as you begin withdrawal?

What support systems will you engage while coming off antidepressants?

Building on the last question, who will help you through this journey? What professionals and more intimate connections do you need to engage? The obvious answer is that coming off antidepressants should be under the care whatever doctor prescribed them in the first place. But the less obvious answer is that lovers, family members, and friends are probably going to see you more than that doctor.

Who can you trust to give you objective external feedback about your emotional or physical state while withdrawing? What groups or communities might be able to help you feel safer and supported during this process?

What does long-term mental wellness look like for you?

Not a lot of doctors seem to want to ask this question. And that may be an important piece to why so many of us seek health beyond what conventional doctors offer.

Long-term mental wellness is more than just applying a prescription to a set of symptoms, or slapping a diagnosis over it all. How do you want to feel? How do you not want to feel?

Your vision for long-term mental wellness might include mitigation of certain symptoms or experiences, but it could also include aspects like finding time or a medium for creative expression, not being on medications for the rest of your life, eating healthier, sleeping better, or feeling more confident in yourself.

Write or sketch all this out.

Coming off antidepressants isn’t a choice in league with picking out a shirt for tomorrow. You’re making a life-altering decision here. Be certain you’re making the choice you want to move forward with, and that it fits into your vision for your long-term sense of self.

No one else can answer that question for you. Truthfully, no one else may even ask.