Taking the Good Out of Food
A couple snapshots on food from clinic:
My patient, “I was thinking about fasting on bone broth. Do you think that would help right now.”
Me, “No. I do not.”
My patient “You mean its best if I keep eating?”
Me, “Yes. I’d like you to eat as varied a diet as possible. Please enjoy your food.”
My patient, “What a relief! I really didn’t want to stop eating.”
People with digestive discomfort often feel anxious around food. It can seem that eating is what is causing their symptoms. “If I could just get the perfect diet I would feel good again.” Under- eating is common and so is low body weight. But the problem isn’t food. The problem is an infection. Once resolved people feel better. The right diet does support the process but needs to be done with care and the right information.
The New Eating Disorder
Orthorexia is any fixation with specialized or restricted diets. Often people try one and then another. Like other eating disorders the underlying motivation often has very little to do with food or even health. I see this in clinic and help people find a new, stable way to relate to food while referring out for support when indicated.
“So what you are saying is this ketogenic diet is making me GAIN weight?”
“Yes. I’d like you to eat a moderate to high carb diet because this is what your life requires. Your hormones will balance and your body will stop storing weight.”
Changing macronutrient ratios can be helpful. This is one way to vary diet and ensure adequate nutrient intake. Those eating lots of carbs could experiment with a less carbs and see excellent benefits.
A mother with a toddler who is training hard everyday will not benefit from ketosis. It sent this patient into a stress response and her brain likely thought it was a time of famine. Generally speaking mothers of small children are already giving a 110%. This is not a good time to fast. Fasting requires down time that’s just not available when there’s a little one. When famine would hit, normal activity levels would also drop. Modern life makes this hard.
Carbs, Fats or Proteins?
We have research on cultures where people thrived on carbs as their staple food. Others did well with protein or fat as their main energy source. Humans can adapt to any of these macronutrients as their baseline. Today we need to be careful with highly processed foods and anything that our ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food.
This decade carbs have been under attack. Last decade it was fat. Too bad people were told that industrial seed oils like canola and sunflower were safe alternatives to the so-called ‘bad’ fats that we have always consumed. The result is increased inflammation contributing to all chronic disease. Equally unfortunate is how sugar was added to low-fat food to make it taste better. Higher sugar means endless hunger. Diabetes and obesity are epidemic.
What about a Bone Broth Ketogenic Diet?
There is a trend of starvation in our culture that perhaps is us trying to mimic times of famine. It takes different forms and has been going on for decades. You may remember the lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne cleanse of the 90’s. Bone broth is great for many reasons. So is fasting under the right circumstance. Energy requirements and stress need to be low during a fast. Ketosis is only indicated in specific neurological diseases like epilepsy. Restricting food intake for longer contributes to weight issues, cortisol and hormone imbalances.
Physiological starvation is often going on in those who are overweight. Nutrients are not being absorbed and the body is therefore in a state of constantly searching for a way to stay alive. Storing weight, especially around the abdomen, is how we survived famine. It also indicates stress has been high for a prolonged period of time.
Food is Not a Moral Issue
What all this comes down to is that food is not a moral issue. Certain foods are not inherently bad or good. Ideally food is nourishment for our bodies. It plays a central role to the health of our families and communities. Yet we refer to it with words that add meaning which takes it into the moral realm when its not. If a dietary ‘rule’ is broken, we aren’t deliberating hurting another. This is what would qualify it as a moral issue.
New research shows us how we’ve linked food with morality by using words like “cheat” or “bad”. Removing a specific food for a period of time can be helpful to see if your body is reacting to it. However, in the long term, a varied diet is best for both gut health and social connection. I aim for my patients to have only one or two restrictions if necessary.
Our brains still plan for times of famine by seeking out high energy foods to consume. Often high energy foods are extremely rich in taste as well. An ancestral or paleo-type diet gives us a template to eat nutrient dense food and remove those that are highly processed with little nutrient value. This leaves room for a lot of variety. Its also satiating without compromising health.
We are hardwired a certain way. By learning about and embracing this we can thrive. Our world has changed faster than we have adapted. To explore this topic more I encourage you to check out Dr. Guyenet’s recent book The Hungry Brain.
“In The Hungry Brain, I argue that the problem is not necessarily a lack of willpower or an incorrect understanding of what to eat. Rather, our appetites and food choices are led astray by ancient, instinctive brain circuits that play by the rules of a survival game that no longer exists.” Dr. Stephan Guyenet, Ph.D The Hungry Brain