McDonalds, doughnuts and primary food
Updated: Jun 21
I want to tell you about a man whom I’ve been trying to help for some time now. I don’t normally share about my clients – but this is a special case. Let me tell you about a typical day for him – Breakfast is almost always McDonald’s, and has been for years. He used to go out for lunch every day as well – frequenting places like the local Austrian restaurant or another local takeaway place. Sometimes, he’d have marshmallows, white wine and a nap for lunch. If there was a special after a holiday on chocolates or lollies, you can bet there would be a couple bags stashed around the house. Dinner depended on the weather but was always wrapped up with a donut and tea “with Splenda” at the local coffee shop.
He drives everywhere and doesn’t get any exercise. He sits longer than the average and has always had a desk job. He would be classed as 'overweight' and is on several different medications to treat his different conditions. Who is this man? A nutritionist's worst nightmare??
Nope – he’s my dad.
It can be hard at times to watch as our loved ones make themselves sick and for as long as I can remember my mother and I have always tried to change the way my father eats. His usual response was “I’m still alive aren’t I?”
He most definitely is – and at nearly eighty – he’s a marvel of modern medicine (as well as holistic medicine!). Despite his diet and lifestyle – he is in fact alive, and active. Several times a month he plays guitar and sings for crowds of the elderly at retirement homes, he’s been doing this since long before he became a senior citizen himself. He loves to entertain, and has been glued to his guitar since he got his first one as a child.
He is also always on the go, scooting around – driving to town and back and even shovelled him and mom out of their home after a few massive snowfalls this winter in Canada. He spends hours decorating our home and our tree each Christmas and is still working part time for the Canadian Government.
How is this possible? With the diet he eats shouldn’t he be sick in bed? Or with some debilitating disease in the hospital? Happily, he is not, and I believe that there are a few reasons that this isn’t the case.
While studying nutrition with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition we studied two types of food – Primary food and Secondary Food. Secondary foods are the foods we feed our bodies; fruits, vegetables, meat etc. and primary foods are the foods we feed our souls, and my dad is the perfect example of why these foods are primary and not secondary. When we were children, we can no doubt recall a time when our parents wanted us to come in for dinner but we were just having so much fun outside playing that we just weren’t hungry – we wanted to keep playing! This fun and the outdoors are primary foods. On another note, we can all recall a time when we were sad and upset – perhaps our boyfriend dumped us and we hastily devoured a full tub of ice cream. Our primary foods were in crisis so we made poor choices. Finally – imagine a time when you were truly in love – maybe you still are! We all recall that light, dizzy joy that we felt when we were with that special someone – we could have hung out with them all day and lunch may never have crossed our minds. We need balance in our lives and when our primary foods are in check – our secondary foods are simply that – secondary.
So, what does this have to do with my father? Well, I believe his acceptable health besides all the junk he eats and has eaten for so long, is due to the joy he gets from certain aspects of his life.
1. He never feels (or acts) his age. My father will never accept that he is getting closer to 80. He acts like he is younger (sometimes much younger) than that and pushes himself to be the best he can be despite his age. He doesn’t consider himself a senior, nor does he act like one. He just does what he enjoys and well, enjoys it!
2. He has a passion. My dad loves to play the guitar, it’s not just a hobby, and it’s a part of whom he is. He is always talking about the next time he is going to “play and sing” and fills me in on all the details after the fact. He gets so much joy out of doing what he does and planning his “gigs”. He loves to see people enjoying his music and basks in the compliments that he gets after the show. I honestly believe that finding a creative outlet that brings us such joy is a huge part of being a healthy person.
3. He doesn’t believe the food he eats will hurt him. Call it denial – but I call it the law of attraction! Despite having a Health Coach for a daughter – he has never believed a word me or my mother has said to him in regards to the foods he is eating. He doesn’t honestly believe in the connection between food and disease and if he does – he certainly isn’t letting on. Perhaps this denial is simply doing just that – not letting the food hurt him to the extent that it should. Mom and I have stopped telling him what to eat because his ever popular remark, “I’m still alive aren’t I”? Is starting to have some ring of truth to it. If you've ever heard of placebo studies - well my dad would certainly be a classic example.
4. He engages in a spiritual practice. Another aspect of health that is often overlooked is engaging in some form of spiritual connectedness that allows you to believe in something bigger than you. For my father, it is God – Christianity- for others it could simply be the energy that revolves around all life. Whatever it is, I believe that spiritual practice –be it prayer, meditation or chant is a huge contributor to wellness and there are countless studies to validate this. My father prays, sings and engages in community activities within his church further supplementing the primary foods in his life.
5. Lastly, one of the most powerful primary foods of all is something that my father has mastered – LOVE. My father has unconditional love for me my family and even his community at large. He would fly to the moon and back for anyone who asks and is no stranger to tears when taking on the magnitude of love that he has for those closest to him. So yes, my father eats MacDonald’s every day, he drinks white wine and eats marshmallows for lunch and tops it off with a donut, and tea with Splenda. He may not be the poster child for health, but he’s right – he’s still here – and I am grateful for that every day.
** UPDATE: At the age of 82, 4 years after this was written, my dad passed away. He was happy and smiling right until the end, drinking his wine and enjoying his marshmallows. I love you dad, I miss you.