Being an obesity researcher, people who don’t know me often assume that I must have an extremely healthy diet. These people are somewhat mistaken.
Let me be clear: I think my diet is pretty healthy. My breakfast and suppers are usually vegetarian. Almost all of the meals I eat at home are home-made from scratch. Although I am involved in the food preparation, I can’t take credit for the healthiness of our meals – my wife has been vegetarian for many years, and since I will eat anything, we tend to eat vegetarian at home (my pre-wife diet involved a lot more Kraft Dinner). I eat lots of fruits and veggies, legumes, etc, and rarely drink my calories.
In contrast, when I eat out, I tend to eat much less healthy food. I enjoy pizza for lunch at least once a week (some weeks it is much, much more than once), and at conferences I often eat all manner of deep fried specimens. I also enjoy the odd KFC. And so when people see me eating out for the first time (or see me eating pizza at work week after week… after week), they are often taken aback.
To complicate matters, I have also come out against food-industry sponsorships of obesity research. For a variety of reasons, I don’t think it’s good for health researchers to profit from the sale of demonstrably unhealthy products (even indirectly). I’m leery of bake sales and video game marathons for the same reason.
My question is – does this make me a hypocrite? Is it ok for me to advocate that people limit their sugar sweetened beverage intake, argue that researchers should avoid taking money from soda companies, but still consume the odd can of pop ourselves? Can I actively discourage people from playing video games, or fundraising via video game marathons, while still playing Angry Birds from time to time? If I don’t want to take money from these companies, why am I happy to give them my own?
The way that I view it (or rationalize it), is that it seems unreasonable to avoid all unhealthy behaviours. It might be possible, but it seems to make for a rather dull existence. And since I really enjoy the odd bit of deep-fried meat or TV viewing, I choose to include those activities in my life. And (borrowing a page from Yoni Freedhoff), I try to make a conscious decision to only engage in as much of these behaviours as I need to be happy. That is what I would advocate that others do as well, as it seems like the most realistic method of living a (generally) healthy lifestyle for the long term.
I know that many colleagues view things differently – that bake sales aren’t so bad, but that health researchers should set a good example by engaging in healthy behaviours. I can’t say that I find any errors in that logic, although I don’t think I have the self-control (or the desire) to abstain from unhealthy foods/behaviours altogether. And I don’t think that total abstinence from unhealthy behaviours is something we should be promoting either.
I know that the folks who read this blog are generally a health-conscious bunch. So I am curious – how do you walk the balance between promoting a healthy lifestyle, while also enjoying the odd bit of unhealthy fun? And is it possible to do so without being a hypocrite?