One of the main messages we want to convey to everyone on this site is the fact that you yourself have the power and ability to take control of your health, function, and well-being. At the heart of this is something each of us does multiple times each day that can dictate not only the way we feel day-by-day, but our overall health: the choice of what food we eat.
Both Sarah and I strongly believe that food is one of the main factors contributing to a person’s health and overall well-being . If done right, your diet can be a game changer, limiting your risk of chronic disease while helping you to optimize your functional ability on a daily basis. Done wrong, and you can be wrecked by a host of symptoms: stuff like fatigue, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, weight gain, skin changes, anxiety, and mood instability (and this is only a small list). Add on top of this the long term effects of obesity (leading to the downward spiral of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases of western society) and you have a recipe for disaster.
How is a person expected to navigate this minefield of food and nutrition while also surviving daily life with a tiring stressful job and a family to take care of? It is not an easy proposition, especially when many of the worst foods for you are also the most convenient (think processed snacks or fast food). Sadly, it’s as if the food system in this country is stacked against us and our health, promoting foods that are extremely detrimental to our health.
One of the main issues with food in this day and age comes from the prevalence of the Standard American Diet. Through many processes including, but not limited to, the industrial farming culture, new food processing techniques, food marketing and advertising, bad-mouthing of saturated fat and cholesterol, and addition of sugar to so many foods, our country’s food quality has decreased while rates of chronic metabolic disease have skyrocketed.
In speaking with both patients and peers in the medical field, it is quickly apparent how few people understand and appreciate the importance of food in health; and this includes many healthcare practitioners. As medical students we were taught only the very basics of nutrition. Anything more than the basic calories-in calories-out low-fat low-cholesterol diet philosophy was outside of what was deemed the necessary realm of knowledge for a physician. Furthermore, while seeing patients in a primary care setting, we were encouraged to specifically focus on treatable medical issues, the ones that required medication management, as there was often a feeling among practitioners that diet counseling generally fell on deaf ears.
This is acute-care medicine at its best: diagnosing and treating short term ailments and abnormal lab values while rarely looking into healthy lifestyle modifications.
I honestly hate this model. It drives me insane that many in medical care refuse to look at lifestyle in helping to treat and prevent our most common medical conditions. This is a big part of why we started this site. I want people to feel empowered to take charge of their health through the lifestyle changes anyone can make, and food is one of the most powerful tools.
Eating the right foods can do more for your health than practically any other intervention. Diet changes have been used very effectively to cure type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome – enabling people to completely get off their diabetes medications. Diet has even been shown to cure multiple sclerosis, a debilitating neurological disorder that has very few treatment options.
My point here is you can use food to improve your body, both in the short term and long term. While it takes a little more work than popping a pill, the benefits far exceed the amount of work it takes to start eating well. I want to make this easy for you, that’s why below you’ll find my starting blocks for eating well. If you start with these principles, you’re going to do an enormous amount of good for your body and your self (it feels good when your body works well).
Where to Start:
If you’re looking to improve your diet and overall health, here are the simple starting blocks for helping to optimize your body. Start here, and as we get this blog rolling we’ll delve deeper into the intricacies of these diet manipulations and how to use these principles to optimize yourself and your body.
1) Cut the sugar and white flour – If I could get all my patients to do one thing, this is it. The overabundance of sugar and other simple carbohydrates (e.g. white flour) is pretty much singlehandedly bringing on metabolic syndrome and the associated health disorders (again a dedicated post is coming).
The gist is you want to stabilize your blood sugar levels for optimum energy levels and to keep fat (adipose) tissue from growing. Blood sugar spikes that come with meals containing large amounts of sugars and simple carbohydrates lead to energy crashes and frequent hunger. It also increases your body fat, as with these spikes, blood sugar gets stored as fat. Keeping your blood sugar stable with less sugar (and eating more fat and complex carbohydrates) will prevent all of this from happening.
Be aware though, sugar has been shown to be as or more addictive than cocaine. If you’re currently eating a lot of sugar, your body is not going to be happy as you wean off. It is well worth it though. As you eat less sugar, foods will start to taste more sweet, and you’ll find that a handful of berries can easily satisfy your sweet tooth.
2) Get rid of processed foods – This goes hand in hand with #1. Food companies tend to sneak sugar and other unhealthy sweeteners (i.e. high fructose corn syrup) into food because it tastes good (and it’s addicting). Processed foods often include a host of other chemicals/preservatives as well that are best to stay away from.
A good rule of thumb is to look at the ingredient list on a food you want to buy. If there’s an ingredient that you don’t know or has a chemical sounding name, don’t buy it. This also applies to fast food. Fast food is designed to be addicting, not healthy. Given that motivation, can you really trust what’s put into that fast food burger? Getting rid of processed food allows you to know exactly what you are putting in your body (always a good thing).
3) Eat more (good) fats – I already know I’ll need a full post on this one soon. Many doctors I speak to don’t understand this one, even though scientific research is showing that fat is not as harmful as we once thought. In fact, fat has been shown to be a stable source of energy (unlike sugar as noted above). Eating high quality fats (stuff like coconut oil, olive oil, and butter) can help your body run in what I like to call “fat-burning mode” which enables your body to access its fat stores more easily . This leads to decreased fat tissue and subsequent weight loss.
Side Note: if your doctor tells you to cut fat from your diet and rely on sugar, either tell them to get educated or get another doctor
4) Eat a ton of vegetables – As I’ve dug into the research and science, I have become more and more convinced of the power of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that can be obtained from whole food, particularly veggies. A multivitamin is not going to cut it. Your body digests and absorbs nutrients from real food far more effectively. Again we’ll dig deeper into this in the future.
I should note that if you have any major medical conditions and particularly if you are on medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, etc, you should always consult your physician (make sure it’s a good one) before changing your diet. Food is powerful, so you and your physician need to be ready for the changes that may occur as your diet changes. Take this as the first step towards optimizing your body and taking charge of your health.