Do you live in, and respond to, a world as it is? Or do you carry on as if you are in a world as you would like it to be? The former requires clarity of thought and integrity. A bit of mental toughness. The latter stems from a reluctance to accept reality.
At certain points, you get a stark choice: look at the evidence, see the facts, and alter or choose your behaviour accordingly, or turn a blind eye to the evidence and facts and logic itself, and find a way to justify continuing with one’s faith or ideology, what one WANTS to be true.
This is a constant in life. A conflict between how feel about ourselves, how we construct our identities, and the harsh realities of the world.
This must happen with religion all the time as one grows up; it certainly happened to me. I was told at my primary school that there was a God, and that He was my boss, basically, and I had to pray to Him and sing hymns to Him. By my early teens, studying sciences at school, and developing my mind, at a certain point it became clear to me that there could be no God. So I altered my behaviour. I stopped saying the Lord’s Prayer. I stopped being afraid of retribution from above if I sinned. In a parallel universe, though, I might have carried on with these behaviours in the face of the evidence, and rationalised it by saying ‘This is all part of His plan,’ for example. I remember this transition from believer to non-believer being distinctly scary, but I was helped by the fact that there was no need for me to identify strongly with being a Christian – I wasn’t letting down family members or a community.
Changing your whole philosophy as an adult and an intellectual, however, is not as easy. Take André Glucksmann, French Marxist philosopher, who stood and cheered in 1968 as students rioted in Paris. He saw his philosophy as the saviour, politically, of a world about to die from the ravages of capitalism, and as a morally and economically superior way of running a country. Yet the deaths of millions under Stalin’s regime alone, not to mention the others in the 50s and 60s in the Eastern Bloc caused Glucksmann to renounce Marxism in the 1970s. Faced with the choice between humbly accepting the evidence, as a man of intellectual integrity, or continuing to deny it and sliding to ideology and faith, he chose integrity. The world as it was, not the world as he had wanted it to be.
Tim Noakes. One of the world’s most celebrated sports scientists, and now a fervent LCHF advocate; he wrote in 1991, in the 3rd edition of his widely read ‘Lore of Running’ that carbohydrates were essential in large quantities for exercise, that saturated fats would cause heart disease, that the success of a rowing team that trained on beef alone was in spite of, not because of their diet, and much more in the same vein. All the dogma of the 70s and 80s was there in his book (which I too, embarking my own endurance journey as an athlete, and later as a coach, absorbed in good faith). Professor Noakes was prepared to review and rethink, when the evidence became so strong that he was faced with THAT choice – change your stance or drive down faith highway.
Veganism. There seem to be a few high-profile vegans – high-profile in the sense that they have thousands of YouTube followers – publicly renouncing veganism simply because it is ruining their health. This takes a lot of courage and I admire them for it.
A 2014 study in the USA on over 11,000 people found that 86% of vegetarians returned to eating meat, and 70% of vegans renounced their veganism. Here are a few snippets from Lierre Keith, author of the must-read ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ on what her veganism did to her: ‘For fourteen years, I felt sick, nauseated and bloated… I was hungry. All the time… I had to eat semi-constantly to not feel I was about to die… My spine was coming apart at the seams… I had lost most of my youth to the dull, grey nothingness of depression… I will live in life-altering pain for the rest of my days because I believed and believed and believed in veganism.’
And here’s the daughter of a writer who studies the psychology of vegetarianism and meat-eating: ‘I stopped eating meat when I was 13… For the next 17 years it seemed like I was always hungry, no matter how large my bowl of beans and rice… Eating was a chore, but if I didn’t do it I would die. I was sick of being hungry, I was sick of beans and rice, so at the age of 31…I decided to try eating meat.’
Is it ok to change your mind about things? Yes, yes, a million times yes. Politically, intellectually, scientifically, socially. It doesn’t actually matter that much if you are an ex-Marxist, or an ex-post-modernist or an ex-alt-rightist or an ex-relativist or an ex-Liverpool fan – no-one really cares. But when it comes to rescuing your health, your sanity and your relationships by changing your mind about how best to feed yourself to get through every day of your life in the best possible way, then it really is important. And people close to you DO care about that.
It’s one thing to act with integrity, objectivity and reason. And it’s another to finally listen to the heartrending screams of an undernourished body and to answer the call.