The Delicate Chemical Balance of Health and Consciousness

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What if how we feel and think is determined by what we eat?

Human beings are fleshy bags of water and chemicals. Lots of chemicals. Our minds work because of countless chemical reactions. I say countless, because their number is beyond my comprehension, but I suppose scientists might have an exact list somewhere. Both our physical and mental health depend on walking a razor’s edge chemical balance. Every time we eat something we change that balance. Taking medicine also stirs up our chemicals. And drink and drugs do who knows what. And as we age, maintaining that chemical balance becomes trickier.

We’re all used to taking a Tylenol when we get a headache. A fraction of a gram of a single chemical makes our headache go away. But what caused the headache in the first place? Other chemical reactions set off pain receptors. And pain receptors, again work through chemistry, causes our consciousness to experience pain.


I’ve been experimenting with juicing because I saw Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, and Joe Cross claims it will make me feel great.  Last night I made a concoction called a Mean Green that was quite stimulating, even though it tasted god awful. It didn’t quite make me high, but did made me more alert, energetic and I think speeded up my heart a bit. This morning, after a good night’s sleep, my mind is back to its more sedate steady state. However, on average lately, I’ve been rather lethargic, thus the impetus to try juicing.  Does drinking vegetables and fruits juices make my overall balance of chemicals better, or just give me a temporary micronutrient boost? Is better health a different blend of chemicals?

When studying the pros and cons of a juicing diet I came across an interesting YouTube video by Matt Monarch warning about raw food diets. The interesting aspect of the video was it was from a pro raw food site. Here was a prophet warning people against his own message. Monarch warns eating extremely healthy is hard, and going back to do your old diet would have consequences. He placed a raw food diet at one end of a spectrum, with whole food eating in the middle, and the average American diet at the other end. He didn’t focus on health per se, but how you’d feel on each diet.

If all you know is the normal American diet, then what you feel is normal. And what you feel might be your baseline for what you think of as a health reality. What if eating whole foods creates a different state of mind, and eating raw foods creates even another state of mind? Monarch says there’s a danger to switching to healthier states of mind. This suggests we may prefer our junk food state of mind over health food state of mind. This guy is warning people that the healthy state of mind is different, and if you get used to it, or even addicted to it, he says it might be too much work to maintain, and going back to even the whole foods stage will have consequences.

In Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead 2 Joe Cross deals with falling off the juice diet and what it means. Even he can’t always maintain the discipline.

In the last few years I’ve been eating healthier, and every time I fall off the wagon the effects of eating junk food hit me harder. My junk food binges are also getting shorter because they make me sicker quicker. I’m not sure I can go back to the junk food diet. And now I’m worried about playing around with juicing and raw foods. What if feels bad to return to just eating whole foods? Is Monarch warning us that we can’t return from extreme health once we find it? Or is his extreme health some kind of altered consciousness caused by an extreme diet?

We like to assume that health is like inner vitality. We like to think health is a reservoir of energy that slowly drains away as we get older.  You either have it or you don’t. What if health is like juggling balls – the more you can keep in the air the better you feel. If optimal health requires effort and skill, then being lazy or unskilled means losing health or never gaining higher levels of wellbeing. What if mastering ten balls in the air feels really good, does juggling just five seem unhealthy, even if it’s whole foods? Can we all be Jack LaLane, or should we aim to just be Dr. Joel Fuhrman?

I’m lazy. I just want to feel healthy without any effort. But what I’ve learned from eating a lifetime of junk food is I have an unhealthy consciousness. That the balance of chemicals I call normal is really not what I’d like to be feeling all the time. I think some health is youthful vitality. And when we’re young we have an abundance of wellbeing because our chemical systems are all running in an optimal fashion. It’s robust and its momentum is hard to alter. Part of the bad feeling is getting old could be due to a lifetime of imbibing chemicals that abuse our system, or not eating the right chemicals to maintain it.

At 63 I’m struggling to find the right list of chemicals to add to my body each day. But the complexity of our system is hard to understand. Between my normal chemical processes I’m having to add chemicals my doctors tell me I need, but they have side effects. Whenever I change my diet, hopefully for the better, it has side effects too. At 63 I’m suddenly realizing I’m juggling a whole lot of balls – more than I can count. If I mess up, and they all fall to the ground, I get sick. After being sick, it gets harder to get those all those balls juggling again.

When I was growing up, DuPont had an advertising slogan, “Better living through chemistry.” In the 1960s hippies coopted it as their slogan for getting high. Now in the 21st century, the phrase takes on another new meaning. We used to worry about a small list of chemicals that aided health – vitamins and minerals. The macronutrients. Now with whole foods we worry about hundreds, if not thousands of chemicals called micronutrients. It’s impossible to know which recipe of chemicals creates the perfect state of mind.

It’s a shame I didn’t understand the importance of body chemistry when I was a child, and worked to eat healthy right from the start. I’ve waited to when I got on the home stretch of life to study chemistry. Now that my arteries are clogged and my bones are growing arthritis deposits, I’m suddenly needing a PhD in bio-molecular interactions.


9 thoughts on “The Delicate Chemical Balance of Health and Consciousness”

  1. I had a pretty poor diet (too much fat and salt) years ago but now, at a few years older than you are, I’ve balanced it out pretty well. I just eat kind of good healthy food, take a couple vitamin pills (multi and “D”) in addition to the blood pressure and cholesterol meds from the doc. – My last lab reports were close to perfect. I have arthritis and osteoporosis and a condition I call sloth – I don’t exercise much. And it’s the exercise which would really improve my overall health.

  2. Interesting, Jim,… but I’m not sure I agree. Everything is chemicals, true. Drinking a ‘Mean Green’ isn’t any different from taking a pill, if it’s the chemicals causing you to feel different, instead of the placebo effect (or even if it is just the placebo effect).

    But food isn’t medicine. When it comes to food, I agree with the guy who said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Simple. Simple and effective, especially if you add in moderate exercise.

    Of course, I don’t do it, myself. We evolved in a world where food was scarce – especially fats and sugars. We’re still animals, still the same animals who evolved in a world of scarcity, despite brains desperately trying to control ourselves.

    So we still gorge on food, even in a world of abundance, because we’re fighting our own natural tendencies. Fats and sugars still taste good, and we still feel like storing up for poor times. (And multinational corporations who want our money do their best to sabotage our better intentions, too.)

    It’s simple. We just don’t do it. We don’t need supplements. We don’t need to take vitamins. We sure as hell don’t need raw foods or a juice diet. That’s complete overkill. And it’s the very rare person who needs to avoid gluten or some other particular substance (in moderation – always in moderation).

    If you eat a reasonably healthy diet, you get all the vitamins you need and then some (everything is ‘fortified’ these days). You just piss out the excess, and having very expensive piss probably doesn’t do you much good.

    As I see it, there’s no trick to any of this. It’s just hard to do, because we’re hard-wired for scarcity, not abundance. It’s like exercising. It’s easy to do. You don’t need a personal trainer unless you’re a competitive athlete, and you don’t need to obsess about it. You just need to do it regularly, in moderation.

    It’s very simple, but it’s still hard to do. I know that as well as anyone. I can’t stand to exercise, even when I know I’m just asking for back trouble. I don’t eat much junk food, but I eat way too much of everything I do eat. Even when I’m full, I keep eating.

    The solution is simple. Actually changing your behavior is not. And if it takes tricks and gimmicks to help you change your behavior, I suppose that’s valid enough, even if they’re not really necessary.

    But usually, gimmicks are just gimmicks. Fad diets succeed fad diets, because none of them work for most people – or not for long, at least.

  3. If you want that mean green to taste a little better, add a spoonful of honey. It works wonders and is also good for you.

  4. Jim:

    After seeing “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead,” I started into Joe Cross’s “reboot” program at the start of the year with considerable success. A “reboot” as Cross defines it isn’t a diet or a cleanse, but a kind of reset of one’s outlook on food. It’s been working for me–I don’t know whether my outlook on life in general has changed–to change the chemicals in my head, I generally read Kurt Vonnegut. But, as a result of the Cross program, I feel a lot better, have a lot more energy, and (I have been told) look better, certainly thinner.

    The “reboot” is a kissing cousin to the Paleo, as I understand it, only without the animal protein and the seeds and nuts. When I’m where I want to be per weight, I’ll probably add the meat back in and (sparingly) the pasta.

    But right now, I’m good and hope to meet and thank Cross in person–he’ll be in Nashville for a book signing on June 14th.


    PS: some of those heavily green juices are rough-mixed in with apples, pears, citrus, melon, grapes or berries, anything is tasty.

      1. Jim:

        My “green” staples include “romaine” lettuce, celery, cukes, and handfuls of nixed greens (like chard, spinach, and baby kale in the bags). Other of my veggie favorites include red, yellow, or orange bell pepper and, of course, carrots.

        I’ll put some or all of the above with about 50% fruit, usually lots of orange, some pineapple, occasionally watermelon. Sometimes I’ll forgo the citrus entirely in favor of apple or pear.

        I’m a big fan of seedless grapes of all kinds and, when in season, cherries (I bought a pitter).

        The soup recipes that are online–in the pre-reboot and post-reboot days of the regimen–are really good. My squash and apple soup has been a big hit with everyone, and even Joe’s green detox soup is palatable when I mix it with a homemade tomato soup I do.

        As I said in another post, some “Paleo” recipes, although not juice, are compatible with the reboot notion. I do one called a Mediterranean Bake that’s all veggie and can serve either as a side or a main dish.

        In my view, whatever you can do to increase the ratio of plant-based foods to all others–especially any kinds of processed foods (which is about 90% of the American diet)–is a step in the right direction. All juice is very hard core and lots of work. But over short periods (10 to 15 days), it’s eminently doable and, given this foundation, relatively easy to build upon and maintain.


        PS Beets and Kale still taste like dirt to me.

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