Being, Having, and Doing: The Metaphysics of Disease

22 Nov

Several years ago, I had an acquaintance who had previously been diagnosed with diabetes. He began a low carb diet, against the advice of his doctor, (this was in the dark 90’s), and over a period of time his symptoms abated, until one day his doctor announced that he no longer had diabetes (though in a bizarre, but perhaps common feat of cognitive dissonance, she could not help but advise him that he “really should eat more carbs”). Of course, my friend hadn’t actually stopped being a diabetic. If he were to have started eating carbs again, as recommended, he would quickly have returned to his diabetic state. What it means to “be” a diabetic is to have the susceptibility to manifest diabetes under the right, or perhaps I should say wrong, circumstances.

We all have weaknesses, to a greater or lesser extent. We all have our own special ways in which our bodies break down in response to a poor environment. For some diseases, we call this “being”. We “are” diabetic, epileptic, alcoholic, schizophrenic. For some reason, we identify less with other diseases. A person merely “has” cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, or MS, even though these are not considered less permanent conditions once identified, even if they can go into remission. It does seem somewhat arbitrary that a person who was theretofore “normal” suddenly becomes or acquires a disease that they then are or have for the rest of their lives regardless of whether the disease continues to manifest. There may be a sense in which we are all diabetic, for example, even never having had symptoms. We all have the potential to some degree, no matter how small, and just because the degree is not yet known, it doesn’t make it not so.

In any case, what truly matters to a person who is or has or happens to know they have a genetic predisposition to such a condition, is whether or not their body is doing that which characterizes the disease. It is for this reason that one would seek to optimize their environment: to prevent themselves from “doing” a disease state. The Paleo diet and lifestyle is conceived with this in mind. It is reasoned both from an evolutionary standpoint: eat only that kind of food to which the body is well-adapted; and from a clinical perspective: do not eat foods which tend to cause disease. Without seeking to re-enact the environment in which we evolved — an impossible, and not particularly desirable goal (civilization does have some benefits) — one attempts to create a metabolic environment which is maximally healthful, and to which we do not tend to respond by breaking down in our various ways.

For my part, I am a fat person living in a reasonably fit body. (Fat is one of those rare states that we treat linguistically as transient, even though the obese, pre-obese, and post-obese have a signature metabolic profile such that a formerly fat person is not the same as a naturally thin one. This contributes to the blaming of fat people for their condition that would never be tolerated for other diseases.) I have Bipolar II, but for some years now my moods have no longer been disordered, and I use no medication. I wasn’t able to achieve this with a diet that is “just” Paleo, however, or even just low in carbohydrate. My body continues to do fat and bipolar unless I eat nothing but meat (though coffee and tea are mercifully tolerated). No doubt, there are people for whom even this is not enough, and others for whom it is not necessary. My idiosyncratic susceptibilities are simply deeper than most. However, I consider it likely that a great many people will do without disease simply by following a Paleo or low carb diet, or both. If nothing else, they are starting points that make sense for anyone wishing to give their body the best chance to manifest wholeness and well-being, whatever its underlying constitution may be.

10 Responses to “Being, Having, and Doing: The Metaphysics of Disease”

  1. Jules November 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    Fantastic post!

    • Paul W February 4, 2014 at 8:01 am #

      You don’t actually have “Bipolar II disorder” as it doesn’t exist.
      Remember that these so called “disorders” have no scientific foundation. They are simply voted on behaviours. Meaning that a group of idiots get together and have a raise of hands “who thinks this is a dosorder and who doesn’t” if more are for than against this group of normal behaviours is classed as a disorder then added to the DSM.
      Argue against this all you will but you do not and cannot have bipolar II disorder as it is an invention. I know this from my own personal experience but if you wish to delve into the science behind my claim then i suggest that you study the facts. http://www.breggin.com Stop labelling yourself as having a disorder. See yourself as responding correctly to any given situation

      • L. Amber Wilcox-O'Hearn February 4, 2014 at 8:19 am #

        I think it is useful to classify clusters of symptoms. I make no claims about etiology by doing so, but on the other hand, it can lead to discoveries about etiology. Those symptoms existed, I assure you. Of course the name for it is an invention. So is the name for metabolic syndrome, which is also a cluster of symptoms. I don’t care about recognition by the DSM.

  2. Andrew Day November 22, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    I disagree with your definition of disease, Amber. Many of us have the ability to express a disease under the right conditions. To be self aware of the areas in which you are physiologically vulnerable is valuable, but to be vulnerable doesn’t mean to have a disease. To be diabetic doesn’t mean to be able to be become diabetic. It means to present with the symptoms of diabetes. In order to be diseased means that there has to be presentation. If there are no symptoms, there is no disease. You could use the definition that you’ve laid out in order to define disease but by doing so you are choosing to speak a different language than the rest of the world and that is going to make interactions confusing. To realize that almost all disease occurs on a gradient and there isn’t this magically moments when a person goes from asymptomatic to symptomatic is important. Disease doesn’t tend to be spontaneous, but it also isn’t necessarily permanent. There is such a thing as bringing a patient to cure and that mean causing the pathology that made the individual vulnerable to disease has been reserved. Great post regardless!

  3. roseannamsmith November 22, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

    Love the distinction between “doing” and “being.” I’m another meat-only person who found great benefits in dropping the last bits of plant matter; in my case, my body continues to “do” fat and autoimmunity when I’m just VLC and paleo. Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

  4. ambimorph November 23, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Hi, Andrew! I’m not so much calling for redefinition, as just looking at the implications. There are diseases that are never considered cured, even when the symptoms are gone. They are only “in remission”. So, for example, this creates a contradiction when we say, as most people would: “once bipolar, always bipolar” without also saying “always *was* bipolar”. And then if you say that, then who *isn’t* bipolar? Only people whose risk of becoming bipolar is known to be below some threshold?

    Really it’s all about risk factor. If you’ve had heart disease, and then reversed it, you are still going to be considered high risk, because you’ve been known to develop it. It’s kind of ironic, because someone who has reversed heart disease probably knows how to minimize the risk much better than someone who is on the brink of being diagnosed, but hasn’t been; someone whose lipid panel results are all at the edge of the normal range, for example. And though we have many sophisticated measurements with which to predict, we really don’t know a lot. Most diseases, and many diagnoses come as a surprise, don’t they?

    I was being a little bit silly in saying that I am a fat person in a slim body. I’m not fat by any regular definition, and I agree it would be confusing for me to normally talk about it that way, because when we use the word “fat” we are talking about the symptoms currently present. But this is only convention, because people *would* say I am bipolar, even though I am no more bipolar than I am fat. To me, the situation is the same for both. What I have is a high risk for returning to both states, and I only avoid them by dint of having learned how to manage my environment. An insurance company will use only my current weight, but my mood history in making judgments about my probable future. That’s a mistake, though I’m not sure in which direction.

    Thank you for helping me think about it!

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