Enlightening The World
Founding Partners
Faculty & Associates
Workshops & Institutes
Executive Coaching
Client Comments
Web Links
The Event Horizon: Essays On Our Spiritual Journey
Empowerment Stories
Networking Groups
Paul Houston's Blog: Political pH
Contact Us
Center for Enlightened Leadership

Empowering Yourself by Healthy Eating

  Adam Sokolow
  Adam Sokolow
Senior Advisor

I’m going to come right out and admit it: I really like the taste of Popeye’s extra-spicy fried chicken. Sadly, however, it’s been over a year since I’ve had that scrumptious morsel throwing a party for my mouth. Let me tell you my tale of woe. It was my third trip to Popeye’s restaurant in as many days, and I was returning to my table with my third helping of an extra-spicy fried chicken thigh, when I saw my reflection in the window that was also a portal to the cacophony of Times Square. My instantaneous rationalizations seemed transparent and hollow—but it was such a small piece and anyhow I don’t eat the skin, and why shouldn’t I have it, this was Times Square, after all, which is permission enough to eat like this. I was busted and I knew it—my self-deception revealed in all of the uncomfortable clarity of my reflection in the window: I was guilty of gastronomical crimes against myself.

I returned to my table sadly, half-admitting to myself that this was probably going to be my last Popeye’s chicken thigh. So I munched my chicken thigh in adolescent abandonment, savoring every bite, breadcrumb skin and all. What a delight, and what sadness. I stood up, looked my reflection in the window squarely in the eyes, and heard myself say softly, I’m out of here.

That epiphany was over a year ago, and I haven’t been back since. It hasn’t been easy. For the first few months I went through cold-turkey withdrawal from hot spicy fried chicken. But each time I felt compelled to visit Popeye’s, I lectured myself about what that fried chicken was going to do to the rest of my body once it left my happy mouth. I gave myself no room for ambiguity or self-deception; the inescapability of my understanding the actual biochemical downside to mindlessly eating something harmful to me gave me the powerful cerebral support that I needed to help me overcome my unhealthy emotional cravings.

I reminded myself about the process of deep frying, which heats food in oil at 450-500°F. At these temperatures the oil becomes so stressed by a combination of the three things that can degrade oil—heat, light, and oxygen—that it changes its shape by reconfiguring its natural molecular structure. This reconfiguration is very significant because when you change the shape of an organic molecule it most certainly affects how that molecule will interact in biological processes with other organic molecules. Think of trying to force a bent key into a door lock; when the key breaks off, the lock becomes jammed and the door won’t open. Or picture the molecular structure of oil as a very ordered, microscopically tiny freight train traveling on parallel railroad tracks. If the tracks become bent out of shape because of excessive heat, the result is molecular train wrecks—resulting in laceration and bruising of tissues at multiple cellular crash sites.

Well, in essence each of these analogies holds true, but the actual reason why frying food is so bad for us is that it turns an oil into unnatural transfatty acids and a harmful source of free radicals. Transfatty acids are very sticky and cause harm when they show up in inappropriate places such as our circulatory system, where they increase the likelihood of clots in our small blood vessels. They also cross-link tissues that were never meant to be bound together, causing a loss of elasticity in our organ membranes (our skin, for one). And free radicals cause lesions in the otherwise smooth interior arterial walls, which then become opportunistic sites for the buildup of plaque and can lead to cardiovascular disease. Also, if these free radicals migrate to your joints, over time they can damage the cartilage and bring about degenerative arthritis. And, if all of that’s not bad enough, both transfatty acids and free radicals cause micro-damage to our tissue and organs, which provokes our own immune system’s inflammatory response. And ongoing or chronic inflammation is the single most destructive factor underpinning autoimmune disorders and just about every one of our major degenerative diseases such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

This is not to suggest, however, that we should never eat fried food again. That would be a bit too restrictive. Instead, if we govern what we eat using the principles of moderation and portion control, then we can consume a snack of fried food every once in a while, or use it as a garnish to highlight a meal—and then we’re on the right track. Actually, our immune system is quite amazing in its ability to maintain our health. So I believe there’s no harm in indulging in a fried morsel every now and then. What’s more, it’s possible that an occasional inflammatory immune response could be beneficial because it keeps our immune system in good working order—we literally get stronger and healthier the more efficient our immune system becomes, and it becomes more efficient by being exercised appropriately.

So, on those special occasions when the taste of fried chicken or French fries is exactly what you want to complement your mood, by all means enjoy yourself. As for me, except for a brief period last year when I lost my discipline and overindulged in a fried food entrée, I’m back to maintaining a cardio-friendly Mediterranean diet. Every so often, though, when I’m dining out with a friend, I have yet to be turned down when I’ve asked if I could please sample a couple of their French fries. Finally, to bring you up to date about my cravings for Popeye’s extra-spicy fried chicken, I’ve moved on: to Zabar’s always-ready-at-the-counter sautéed and simmered chicken cacciatore.

Center for Empowered Leadership ®
Email: info@cfel.org
Phone: 1.609.259.7911