Jessica Else, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maybe it’s not a lack of willpower that’s causing you to reach for that unhealthy food day after day. Maybe it’s bacteria.
Food addiction, elevated stress and a culture of unworthiness go hand in hand with many failures on the road to wellness, according to Kapaa man Benjahmin Koenigsberg, who will be presenting on the topic at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Sun Village Clubhouse in Lihue.
“We’re superorganisms, less human that microorganisms,” Koenigsberg said, citing the scientific conversation about the abundance of bacteria versus human cells in the body.
Recent research out of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel shows an average man of 70 kilograms is made up of about 40 trillion bacteria and 30 trillion human cells, giving humans an average ratio of 1.3 bacteria to every human cell.
Many of those bacteria live in the human gut, and it is Koenigsberg’s understanding, and that of some nutritionists and medical professionals worldwide, that the bacteria’s demand for certain foods cause cravings.
“People are ruled by their gut bacteria to crave things like alcohol and unhealthy foods,” Koenigsberg said. “We can’t fight cravings. Using willpower won’t work. You have to change the makeup of the bacteria in your gut.”
Fruits and vegetables encourage the growth of different bacteria than processed foods, animal products and alcohol, scientists explain, and these little organisms can affect mood, too.
That’s according to a 2014 study published in BioEssays by the University of Mexico, which showed some bacteria are aligned with the dietary needs of humans and some aren’t.
So, the trick is to encourage growth of bacteria that are harmonious with the human body, scientists, and Koenigsberg say.
“I believe we can populate good bacteria,” he said.
But Koenigsberg’s theory on wellness is about more than just macrobiotics, throughout his journey implementing veganism, fruitarianism, and raw trends into his diet for years, he’s found what he calls a key wellness: starches.
He eats a vegan diet, heavy in potatoes, yams, corn, legumes, rice and beans, which helps keep him full longer and provide essential fiber and other nutrients.
“By incorporating more starch, we fill up the tummy and it’s more satiating,” he said. “Plus, coming from a diet that’s restrictive, it’s liberating to find that those are health foods.”
Much of his research on starch comes from the book The Starch Solution by John McDougall, which explains the theory that the human diet is naturally built on starches. He recommends a diet that consists of 70 percent starch, 10 percent fruit and 20 percent vegetables, while avoiding fats and processed foods.
“I’ll steam a yam and wrap it in tin foil, or make a pot of oatmeal and it’s satiating,” he said. “It’s so freeing.”
Life used to be made up of thinking about food for him, Koenigsberg said, and constantly deciding what to eat, and that obsession was something he’s working on letting go.
“I’m just looking for an accessible fuel source so I can be in personal relationships,” he said. “Now it’s about how I want to show up and serve the world. Relationships are the cornerstone of health and well-being.”
Trends of unworthiness extend beyond nutrition, Koenigsberg explained, and his passion is also focused on the unachievable standards men face in society, and how to break free from unrealistic expectations.
“What is masculinity and how has culture pushed men to believe masculinity is all about hypermuscularity,” he said. “There’s an extra stigma on men not to discuss these issues.”
In a culture “with terrorism occurring by white men dealing with anger management issues,” Koenigsberg said he thinks the conversation about social isolation and unachievable standards needs to be happening.
“I talk about, there’s a lot of stresses on the nervous system — chemical, physical and emotional stresses, and the body is reacting. Most of our functioning is subconscious,” he said.