Macrobiotics and Much More with Debra Lynn Hook


Jonathan: Hey everybody, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim Podcast. I’ve got to tell you, I actually have a unique, you know I’m always pretty excited about these show, but today I’m uniquely excited because we have a woman with us who is, she’s just out there living with passion and living with passion very well. She’s been an independent writer for top lifestyle publications for decades.

She’s a photographer, she’s got the family thing going, and she’s smart. If you read her stuff, it’s a refreshing departure from so much of what we see today, which is hype and top ten list or political tirades and she’s making healthy, healthy again, and I like that. You’ve seen her work in healthday.com, everydayhealth.com, she’s internationally syndicated, Debra Lynn Hook. Welcome to the show.

Debra: Wow! Thanks Jonathan, I hope I can live up to all that.

Jonathan: Well, I have no doubt that you will. Well, Debra Lynn, to get started, can you please tell us your story as it pertains to eating and exercise, because I know it’s an interesting one.

Debra: Well thanks. I grew up as a child, I grew up in South Carolina and I grew up with a mom whose parents kind of a revolutionized the grocery store business, so we grew up with healthy meals. Every meal she cooked every meal for us from scratch and so I had a good, healthy food intake. I didn’t have the best experienced childhood wise I supposed, a lot of stress in my family, a lot of chaos. My parents eventually divorced, and I ended up with an eating disorder, oddly despite having that great childhood early start and I spent probably the next 15-20 years really researching, doing a lot of therapy, doing a lot of reading trying to understand where this food disorder came from? Was it me? Was it the culture?

It took me some good couple of decades here to really to come to an understanding of how the culture promotes eating disorders and how we ourselves end up being unwitting contributors to that, by what we tell ourselves about what we eat. So, about 4 years ago I was diagnosed with chronic leukemia and the words kind of tells the story. It’s not an acute leukemia that you need treatment for right away, it’s a chronic kind that kind of sits and smolders and they tell you when you’re diagnosed just to go home and live your life and just wait for it to creep up on you and get you. I thought that was kind of a not a very good way to live my life, so I began to do my own research about healing myself.

I had been introduced when I was in my 30’s to macrobiotics by a college friend who was kind of out there, talk about out there and she ate a lot of brown rice and she ate a lot of sea vegetables. She ate a lot of miso, and I did it with her for a bit, I found it to be little bit boring, but I was interested and then when I was diagnosed I remembered macrobiotics has being not only just a healthy way of living, but I was under the impression that many people had actually reversed and recovered from really serious illnesses. So, about a year and half ago I drove to Washington DC from here in Ohio and met with a world renowned macrobiotic counselor who got me started on the path to wholeness and health through the macrobiotic diet.

Jonathan: Debra Lynn, for listeners who are not as familiar with The Macrobiotic approach, can you overview that for us?

Debra: You bet. Essentially, for, if you want to talk some simplistically about macrobiotics, it’s the food is the start and that’s whole grains. It’s all whole foods, it’s no sugar, no processed foods, limited alcohol, for something on a healing macrobiotic diet it’s no alcohol. I thought it would be a game stopper for me because I really like to drink wine but as it turns out to be a free, because it’s nice to wake up on Saturday and no you’re not hung over, by the extra glass of wine you had at dinner the night before. So, it’s whole grains, lots and lots and lots of vegetables.

On a normal day with macrobiotics, I’ll eat 12 different vegetables, and that’s not 12 servings but 12 different vegetables. So, it’s variety of vegetables, it’s a variety of grains, it’s a variety of beans, also a small amount of sea vegetables, a lot of fermented miso, miso soup, which is a fermented soy that’s also in combination with a fermented grain which is really great for enzymes, natural enzymes and probiotics, and vegetables, beans, a little bit of nuts and seeds, not very much fruits which is kind of also can be a deal breaker for some folks, but fruits according to macrobiotics is a lot of sugar and very watery sorts of foods that we really don’t need in our bodies.

Jonathan: Debra Lynn, there are some things in common and things very different from other dietary practices, I noticed the description you just gave. So, for example focusing on fermented foods and a lot of vegetables and maybe not so much on fruit, and then also incorporating nuts and seeds. That sounds a bit like a Paleolithic hunter gatherer or type diets but then on the same hand you have, it sounds like an emphasis also on whole grains and legumes. What is the, are those basically because you need calories from somewhere and it’s a good source of calories? Why are those part of the diet?

Debra: It’s Interesting. Once you get into macrobiotic you find that the word calorie and even the word nutrient are not in the literature. Brown rice is considered to be the heart and soul of macrobiotics, because it is in the middle between yin and yang. Now this is where you can get into some real complication here and when I talk the macrobiotic councilors around the world about yin and yang, they tell me that they’ve been studying macrobiotics for decades and they still are confused about yin and yang. Every food has a yin property and yang property, some food are more yin some foods are more yang. The yin foods tend to be the watery sort of expensive foods: alcohol, fruit, those are all at the yin end of the spectrum. The yang foods are the heavier dense foods, more contracting more compacting, those are salt, meat, cheese, dairy. In the middle is brown rice, and brown rice is considered to be the perfect food. In fact, when macrobiotics first came in the United States from Japan, it was, a lot of people where on purely brown rice and water and a lot of people died but and so, at some point macrobiotic has got a bad name because of that, but macrobiotics researchers have since learned a lot more about what we really need. Essentially, brown rice is chockfull of vitamins.

It’s not the calories, it’s not the nutrient or I guess it is the nutrients but at some point, it’s the vitamins and minerals that is in brown rice and so, you want to stay in the middle as much as possible, not going to the outer edges. That’s what makes macrobiotics different. In the middle is grains, vegetables and beans. You start going out to the outer edges and you get off balance. The whole point of macrobiotics is harmony and balance, in fact lot of people say macrobiotics is not about brown rice it’s about living in harmony. So it’s harmony and balance, and balancing all the energies of the foods that’s more important than anything.

Jonathan: Debra Lynn, with that very unique goal, it seems to make a lot of sense this idea of a spectrum and you’re staying away from one end or the other and sticking in the middle. I see how brown rice then fits in the middle, so is a macrobiotic diet by definition a Vegan diet? What’s the relationship?

Debra: A little bit of fish, is sort of, is on my particular diet. Macrobiotics like to say that at some point macrobiotics is not about avoiding or denying yourself anything. It’s about coming into balance so that you are in such balance usually without animal products, to begin with, that you eventually can eat a little bit more yin and then make sure that you balance it out with the yang. You don’t do it very often like a friend of mine whose practice I respect the most here in the Cleveland area, Francois Rolling, drinks a 6 oz bottle of Heineken in every couple of weeks. That’s his stepping out to the outer edges.

So, and then he might have something else on the yang side to counter balance that. When I used to, it’s interesting to me now that I’m aware of this. When I used to, if I would have two, to three glasses of wine, two glasses of wine at dinner, the next day I would want cheese and fatty foods and I never understood why but I know now, is because the wine was yin and the fatty the cheese and the meats are yang. When I am eating, if I eat a plate of food that’s balanced energy and that’s upward growing greens, a round vegetables like cabbage, certainly a root vegetable like carrot and then I have some miso soup, and a grain and a bean and always a little bit of a homemade pickle.

A very, very important part of the macrobiotic philosophy is putting microbes in your body so that the enzymes can help digest the food so that you don’t have to do all the work. When I eat like that and I also need to add another component which can be daunting, chewing. You may be familiar with this yourself, with the research that you’ve done. Chewing our food is one of the primary rules, if you will, without saying like a cult or a law-based philosophy, is chewing. It’s so important because it gets the enzymes moving in your mouth. You chew and chew and chew and chew so that the food is like a river of quality then goes to your stomach and through your body and doesn’t have to go to your stomach and can turn into this agitated, acidic experience. More often than not, including me, we eat on the run.

We stuff our food down our throats, you know, 5 minute lunches. I watch my husband, a college professor, do this all the time. He’s so busy. So if I eat a plate of food that’s balanced and I’ve chewed it well, I’m not a hocus-pocus believer but I feel like I’m in ecstasy after I’ve eaten that meal and if I’ve done that really good practice for a week, I feel so balanced. Why would I not eat macrobiotic?

Jonathan: I appreciate you bringing up those terms. I feel in balance, I feel energized, you technically used a better word than that, I can’t remember it but there was another positive word because one of the reasons, I’m going to reveal my true intentions here, Debra Lynn is one of the reasons I bring you on the show is I know some our listeners are going to be like “Wait a second, Jonathan.” You are not about starches and here you have a guest who is saying a corner zone of her diet is eating some starches. One thing, Debra Lynn that I really want to draw attention to is, and I’m not trying to be selfish here but give me two seconds

Debra: Sure.

Jonathan: Listeners, you know that one important part of any way of eating, and I know Debra Lynn will back me up here, is that it helps you reach your goals and what Debra Lynn has developed here and what she’s found is a whole foods based, natural, non-toxic way to, Debra Lynn correct me if I’m wrong, but you have stabilized your disease.

Debra: Right

Jonathan: Some of your physical symptoms have gotten better and your blood work is quite robust.

Debra: That’s correct. Absolutely and I don’t know what to say about the Paleo diet versus the macrobiotic diet. I am never, ever, never have been, I have been writing a family life column for 20some years here. I never espouse to be an expert on anything nor do I ever believe that I know the right way for anybody any more than I could pick the religion that I should choose for yourself, if you choose a religion. I believe that everybody is different, some people might need the Paleo diet, some people might need more grains.

I personally have found myself to be in better balance than I was before and I find myself to have good energy. I sleep better, I feel better, I’m calmer and I think at some point when you’re choosing which way to eat, I believe that there are a few, as you’ve mentioned Jonathan, sort of a universal understanding, stay away from processed food, stay away from sugar and moderate the alcohol, if not cut it out.

Beyond that, I don’t know if we should be eating meat. I don’t know if we should not be eating meat. I kind of tend to think we eat too much meat. I don’t know about dairy. I actually personally believe we shouldn’t be doing dairy but I don’t know a little bit of yogurt with good quality acidophilus, and bacteria isn’t a bad thing. Goat’s milk, I’m hearing, goat cheese turns out to be a very good food but beyond that, I just know what makes me feel good. Somebody who grew up in Africa, somebody who grew up in Florida might have a different experience.

Jonathan: Debra Lynn, you’ve mentioned “I’m not an expert in nutrition,” And what I think, you represent so well though, based on your heroic stabilization of a deleterious and tragic disease is that you are an expert on yourself. We are all experts on our self.

Debra: Yeah.

Jonathan: But I think we lose sight of that, in fact we look everywhere else, like the last place we look often for nutritional guidance is ourselves and how we feel.

Debra: Right. Yeah, that has been a lifelong quest, really. I credit the genes that I was given for being a chronic searcher and I guess chronic is sort of a pejorative word, for being a lifelong seeker. One of my most challenging quests has been seeking myself and finding my instincts and being courageous enough to follow my instincts. I do this every time I go to the doctor and he looks at me and he says at some point we would like to consider treatment at such and such a point.

He said to me the other day that so and so had agreed at some point that this particular point on the chart is where we will begin treatment and I said, “Doctor, with all respect, if we lived in the same town, I’d want to hang out with you but I don’t know who this we is because I didn’t agree to it.” And at some point, we have to stand up and say no. A few times before we gain our sea legs and we have to wade through a lot of stuff to get to the truth of ourselves. One of the ways I do that, in addition to being macrobiotic, I also added a meditation practice to my day. I walk outside, often barefoot next to a natural prairie land. I do some natural energy practices. I do yoga. I spend a lot of time trying to be quiet with myself so that I can get to those instincts.

Jonathan: Being quiet with yourself, being in touch with nature, Debra Lynn, we also talked earlier about these universal principles: non-processed foods, things like that, actually eating food not edible products and it seems that the universal characteristic of health for anyone who is involved or wants to be healthy is to minimize the amount of negative emotions such as anger or things like that.

The reason I bring that up is because it seems that sometimes those who are most passionate about health, myself included and I try to work on this, we do something very unhealthy and that’s we get angry if people don’t follow or adhere to the same nutritional practices that we do. How ironic is it that this pursuit of health then turns into something ultimately unhealthy and a stressor and a source of negative energy.

Debra: I wish you could see the look on my face. I’m so getting this, I so get this. I so respond to this. Right off the bat, what I’ve got to say about negative emotive is that – you know, a counselor, a therapist once said to me “What is a negative emotion?” We all have anger. We all have sadness. We all have frustration. We all have disappointment and if we don’t allow ourselves to have those very human feelings then we’re not being true to ourselves and if you’re not being true to yourselves, you’re locking a part of yourself away.

I don’t believe in necessarily “wallowing in negative emotions” but I do believe in experiencing them, naming them, understanding where they came from and then if you don’t like the way you’re feeling, try to spin it in some way. Try to be respectful of yourself. Same with feeling negatively about people who don’t eat the way you eat and I can tell you that one of the challenges of being macrobiotic, because it’s so unusual, is the isolation. I have lost – I won’t go so far as to say as I have lost friends but I have lost some big social groups that I used to eat and drink with. That was what we did and we don’t get together anymore but as my sixteen year old, very wise son said the other day “But mom, you are making other friends.”

So, somewhere along the way, you know I feel compassion and sorrow for people who don’t get it, more than I do anger and I try to stay away from mainstream grocery stores. I’ve been known to walk in a mainstream grocery store and cry. I know that sounds a little mod but I’m really not a moding person but trying to shop for my family and I just stand there and cry and I’m like “What is this stuff? And who is in-charge?” That’s when I get angry. I get angry at the people who made us like this because at some point I see the rest of us is unwitting, we’re just duped.

I met a man the other day who was probably in his seventies, who was overweight and walking with a cane and I just happen to meet him through another friend and we were talking and I was just enjoying his stories of his life and how he’s getting ready to move to another place because his health was bad and he’d be near his family, and this health problem and that health problem… He has diabetes, and he was overweight and etc.

I said just casually, I wasn’t even trying to be judging, I said “How is your diet? What do you eat?” and he said, he looked at me like “What? How is that connected?” He said “I eat good. I go to McDonald’s and have a nice burger for lunch and I have chicken and French fries and baked potatoes.” It blew me away that he did not have even a vocabulary, he had no clue what was available to him and how he had been living was probably a major contributor if not the number one contributor to why he was in the shape that he was in.

Jonathan: Debra Lynn, it is so important for people like me, people like you, everyone listening to remember those types of stories and maybe to even go out to the local grocery store and ask around and ask a few questions because it’s really easy to forget about the 99% of the population that doesn’t listen to nutrition podcasts and doesn’t spend decades finding the right formulation of food that makes them feel balanced and energetic. If we are to direct our efforts externally, it would seem that directing them towards making that supermarket less of a crime against humanity is a place we could all agree on and we need to because while we’re up against some pretty big competitors.

Debra: Well, you’re dealing with capitalism, my husband’s a political scientist and I often have debates/arguments about this but at some point, people have been making money like this for decades and there’s a trajectory. There’s an upward trajectory toward more and more and more and more and the rich get richer and the poor get less healthy. I don’t know how to stop it although I do see what’s going on in local communities and we are a big example of this here in Kent, Ohio. We were recognized recently in a national publication on farmer’s market. We have a very robust farmer’s market here in Kent, where, increasingly, our farmers are being called to a greater standard by the community.

In the community here, a lot of people are growing food on their lawns and very much supporting organics, very much supporting fresh vegetables locally-grown. So the local farmer’s market is responding to it then you begin to see locally-grown in the grocery store so that’s a start. You have people, more and more people are beginning to go to rely on whole foods and specifically whole food markets and co-ops to get their food. They know what’s in that food. They trust the person handing it over to them and at some point, I just think it’s some kind of like instead of proselytizing.

Proselytizing is important, just as important as living your life well and having people see you live your life well. This ‘Going Macro’ page that I have on Facebook, again very much don’t subscribe to supporting myself as an expert but I started this ‘Going Macro’ page. The very words are ‘Going Macro’, meaning I am on a journey and please come help me with it. I get a lot of people on my page saying to me, “Thank you so much! This is so inspiring, this is so inspirational. Just seeing this plate of food that you made today makes me want to make this plate of food. It looks so beautiful.” And then they support me.

So I think at some point, you develop a community around your healthy practices in whatever way you can. I have a friend who comes over twice a week and she brings the vegetables, I make the grain and the beans and the soup. Or she brings the grain and I make the soup. We have a meal together and we just spend half an hour eating and trying to chew fifty times each bite and we just have a meal together. So, that’s part of my community and it may be small but it’s something.
So, at some point, we develop or own communities around our health and it feeds off itself, no pun intended and trickles down and becomes wider and wider. I think if we hold on too tight to things, they slip out of our grasp or they explode. So, in some ways we’d like to see the food movement explode but in other ways we have to be respectful that these things, we are talking about turning a ship around, they take time and it’s not going to happen as quickly as we’d like.

Jonathan: Debra Lynn, we could talk for hours, I just realized that we are significantly over time but I do want to highlight, just really celebrate this example you are giving, which is listening to yourself, being the change you want to see in the world and then living better and letting that example speak for itself with a sense of respect and with respect a sense of serenity. I just really wanted to celebrate that and share that and I salute you for living that way, Debra Lynn.

Debra: Thank you. As I said earlier to you before we started I also celebrate what you’re doing and very much respect the fact that you go out into the community looking for other voices. Again, as I’ve said, I don’t think anybody has the one single answer that’s going to work for everybody and the fact that you start with good health and then move out from there to me is everything.
Jonathan: Well thank you so much Debra Lynn, it’s been an absolute pleasure chatting today and folks if you want to learn more about Debra Lynn, she has many resources on the web, for example she has her personal website which is debralynnhook.com. You can also check out her Facebook page that she mentioned, just search for ‘Going Marco” on Facebook and of course you can just search for her name which is: Debra-Lynn, with two n’s, Hook. Debra thank you so much for joining us today.

Debra: Thank you Jonathan very much.

Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Please remember this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.

This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Debra Lynn Hook. In her own words:

***A graduate of Louisiana State University’s School of Journalism, Debra-Lynn is also a print journalist and syndicated family-life columnist who has spent more than two decades writing and reporting for newspapers, magazines, Web sites and research organizations. Her passion for excellence in communication has taken her to the university setting, where she taught journalism, and to the bedside of the dying, where she interviewed and photographed hospice patients as a lasting gift for their families. Her attention to detail, to complete reporting and to the authenticity of her work has been recognized by a number of organizations, including the Institute of Southern Studies. Debra-Lynn is a native of South Carolina and a former resident of New Orleans and Geneva, Switzerland. She lives now in Kent, Ohio, with her husband, political scientist Dr. Steven W. Hook, and their three children. In addition to writing, taking pictures and managing her family, Debra-Lynn spends her time performing African drumming and gardening. She travels as often as possible to New Orleans — where her family of origin lives — a city she vows to continue helping resurrect.