In todays day and age what and why you eat something says a lot about who you are. We all know about the “isms” and their various factions. Fasting, Juicing, Green Smoothies, Vegan, Vegetarian, Raw, 801010, Paleo, Primal, Gaps, Body Ecology, Nourishing Traditions, SAD, Weight Watchers, Low and High Carb, Starch Solutions, Atkins – you get the idea right? Well what is rather sad is that I have done ALL of the above or at least given it a red hot go. Whats even worse is I am still overweight, unhappy and unhealthy. I have successfully managed to add a host of ailments and conditions in addition to each and every additional kilo I have padding my 5’4″ frame.
So what do you do, which is right? What has been learnt along the way and how do I make sense of it all? I’m going to sum up my most recent adventures into diet and nutrition (please note I have over the last however many years actually attempted all of the above as well as a few more dubious ones that I won’t mention – surprise I’m still fat)
- Pros: This really is so gentle on the system, all inflammation reactions and bloating go away and you feel like some good is being done (note I said feel like I haven’t got any evidence to back up this emotional reaction). You are getting huge amounts of vitamins and minerals in though not all of them and if you’ve been deprived this is a nicer way to boost your health than taking endless tablets.
- Cons: This is not maintainable and doesn’t prepare you for life. You are healing and detoxing or just plain tired, weak and not wanting to do very much. I have no doubt that those who are on it for a longer time or who are more hard core are better off. Heck if you have enough body fat in reserve you will be living on a combination of pure human fat and high vitamins and minerals, that sounds like excellent fuel for the human body to me. Biggest con to me is that no matter what combination of fruit and veg I took I couldn’t stomach my much needed supplements (which I have been tested for and do know are depleted).
- Learnt: I am actually very happy to do Juice Fasts (not so much water ones thank you very much). I do feel better and I do get relief from any digestive issues I’m suffering at the time. I fact I now will revert to a day of juicing when I have been struggling but the practicality of doing this long term (like the 90 day people) isn’t going to work for me. I will continue to include juices with high veggie/green levels as part of my lifestyle. Oh and the maximum I’ve been able to do the fasting has been 11 days, I’ve done a variety of them for various lengths and for some reason thats my personal maximum.
- Pros: As with the juicing there were a number of positive changes I have felt and I feel pretty satisfied and happy on the green smoothies. I’m actually having one right now as I type this. I find that when I consume the green smoothies I crave healthier food more. I actually will hunt out fruits and vegetables or walk past the bakery with a little less desire to launch myself over the counter and devour the lot.
- Cons: The biggest con is that you really do need a powerful blender. I have used my Breville Kinetic to make a basic one using spinach or baby kale with berries and a banana for ages but it was only when I saved up for my Vitamix TNC 520 that I was able to get really creative and add some real variety to my smoothies.
- Learnt: Sometimes you just have to get enough good in to start the change process, and that doesn’t have to be hard. This is a great way to get some greens and fruit into my kids who due to sensory issues are beyond the point of fussy with food. In fact its the only way to get fresh fruit and greens into my kids at this point. As with the juicing this won’t be what I eat all day every day but it is a nice addition to my meals and like today becomes a great meal alternative for when you can’t be bothered to mess up the kitchen.
- Pros: Once you take out the meats and animal products you have to get creative with how you find what your body needs. I actually didn’t mind my vegan experience and found it thought provoking. It was actually very interesting to see that I could feel full and satisfied without needing to resort to animal products. I certainly saw that the actual amount of protein needed to survive and indeed thrive is far less than the average person consumes. I would have to say that this was the most informative and useful part of my journey in how much my understanding of nutrition changed and grew.
- Cons: As someone who’s body for whatever reason doesn’t agree with certain foods this made a vegan diet rather hard. As most of the lifestyles/diets I’ve tried require thought and effort this wasn’t a deal breaker however I can see how this would be an issue for many.
- Learnt: I have learnt so many things and some things are rather hard to ignore or forget. I don’t feel obliged to add meat to a meal or that I must consume the lactation of another species to survive as an adult (I mean seriously we are not meant to need milk after we are weaned) all in all it was liberating. I feel far more confident in being able to source and meet the needs of my family, that you can be informed and make your own decisions. If anything (and I know vegans will hate this) I am much more comfortable in being an omnivore now that I’ve experienced both ends of the extreme.
- Pros: There are some seriously tasty foods out there and so many of them can have a positive impact on your health. Just as veganism liberated me from the meat at every meal mindset Raw/801010 showed me that you don’t have to cook the life right out of everything. I personally have increased my “cooking” skills and discovered all sorts of amazing ways to bring healthy nourishing meals to my family table. Due to the nature of this style of eating (there are some key differences between raw and 801010) you can lose weight and feel pretty vibrant and healthy.
- Cons: Right so whats the catch? Honestly its not bloody feasible, seriously if I have another single or couple touting the ease and virtue of this lifestyle WITHOUT any real appreciation for trying to feed larger quantities of people on organic, in season produce at those volumes I might lose the plot. Even growing our own and trying to go to the markets etc its hard work and hard on the budget. Add to that there is a natural rhythm to life and during cooler months your need for warmth and cooked foods increases. And when the weather warms up? Well its almost like nature intended it but just when your body is open and receptive to raw foods you find it growing all over the place.
- Learnt: I walked away from raw with a greater appreciation for how the seasons and cycles of our environment actually have a deep impact on how we nourish and sustain ourselves. Raw foods are now a permanent feature in our home and heck it won’t hurt to turn off the stove. I did realise that I have a huge mental block when it comes to consuming larger volumes of fruits, my body is fine with the idea but obviously I’ve had it truly ingrained that you mustn’t eat lots of fruit. Logically this is silly as I am yet to find an overweight person who binges on fruit all day however its there and I am working on it. After all its as easy to find and eat fruit as it is to locate a big mac but the outcomes are rather different.
- Pros: Saw a huge improvement in all family members on paleo diet. Primal isn’t for us but we don’t do well with the Casein/Lactose, if you can manage it (like my husband can) then go for it. Our tummies were happy and without problems. Focus and concentration improved and many of the behavioural issues settled down. This is pretty much what the Dr’s ordered for us and it would appear for good reason as it does work.
- Cons: Its hard cooking everything from scratch. Most people are not accommodating (though much easier to be paleo than vegan) and many are convinced that gluten is a vital nutrient in human development. The biggest reason why we are had a hit and miss approach with this diet is down to me not having the time or the energy to maintain it.
- Learnt: That THIS works, and trust me it is the most begrudgingly admitted realisation that this lifestyle is the one that suits my family most. I was really hoping that I wouldn’t have to be quite so vigilant or busy in the kitchen. After all who wants to live without takeout as an option?
GAPS/Nourishing Traditions/Body Ecology
- Pros: These are very targeted and healing diets. They include many of the same elements in various combinations with differing emphasis. I have met many lovely people who have benefited from them and are healthier and happier than they have been before.
- Cons: Seriously restrictive and hard to do. More so for GAPS and BE however they are all restrictive in their own way. If you are struggling with a serious complaint or need to do this to heal then these are amazing diets. If however you are not quite that bad then a softer approach is much more attainable.
- Learnt: A lot actually about the internal gut flora and its role in our overall wellbeing. I will always keep these diets in mind in the even that what we are doing is not enough to change our wellbeing however at this time its just not what I am mentally, financially or physically able to adhere too. Many of the principals have been included into our home such as fermentation and reducing sugars also the inclusion of beneficial fats.
Weight Watchers/kJ Restricting Diets
- Pros: The support was nice and as I have family members doing Weight Watchers it was fun having others to talk to and be with.
- Cons: I gained weight, like a significant amount. This is the second time I have done WW and each time left me fatter.
- Learnt: The moment I reduce or deny myself I kick into “oh hell no, this gals gotta eat” mode which make the whole process painful and unsatisfying. No amount of glossy magazine images or cute quotes can override the mental backlash of restrictive eating.
- Pros: You feel full on high protein food. I did lose weight.
- Cons: Ok that amount of protein and fat is just not ok, sure if I was shivering away in the arctic circle then yes that would be fine but there is such a thing as too much. Oh and the headaches, wow they hurt.
- Learnt: I obviously have an upper limit to the protein and fat I am willing to consume.
High Carb/Starch Solution
- Pros: This is pretty tasty food. I can seriously live on potatoes of all shapes and colours for a long time quite happily.
- Cons: Too many of the foods didn’t agree with my tummy unfortunately. With no dog to blame it on it was time to add in a bit more variety.
- Learnt: Our bodies are quite capable of making the most of starches and its a great asset to us omnivores. After all at some point of the year all the fruits gone and digging up a tasty root to eat is a darned good plan B. Aren’t we clever little monkeys working out all these great ways to survive?
Standard American Diet (well I’m Australian but its the same)
- Pros: You can find it EVERYWHERE!
- Cons: You can find it EVERYWHERE! This diet has not done me ANY good apart from keeping me alive all this time.
- Learnt: Just because its easy doesn’t meant its good for you. Don’t get me started on marketing and manipulation.
So where does that leave me? What next?
Confused? Baffled? Overwhelmed? You betcha! This diet thing is a nightmare to navigate especially when the battle lines appear to have been drawn based on extremes. We all want to be healthy, we want to be inspired and to know our health and wellbeing is going to see us live long happy lives. We want this and yet so very many of us are doing the very opposite.
I have felt the harsh sting of misleading packaging, I was trying so very hard to be a “good vegan” even though I was time poor so blow me down when I finally realised that the “portion” of lentil curry I was happily consuming for lunches actually put a donut to shame health wise. I have pinned my last few bucks on programs that “guarantee” my success only to end up fat AND broke. I am so darned jaded and over this BS that I almost want to say stuff it all and eat what I want till I keel over from a preventable disease.
Almost but not quite, I have two lovely kids who will need their mum around, perhaps a little longer than most. I have a happy marriage that I would like to be around to enjoy and frankly life is pretty good. I want to be able to see my toes again, to walk and heck even run. I’ve been bedridden and unable to physically move for months on end, you know what? That sucks, its truly awful being physically limited.
So pulling it all together, reflecting on what experiences I have had and all that I’ve written I have a way forward. I don’t know if it will work, I have no guarantees but I have looked at what has and hasn’t helped. I’ve taken a long hard look at who I am, who my family members are and had to admit a few honest truths.
I have chosen my path and will be going down it with eyes open. In the next few days I will be completing the Whole30 challenge in order to break some bad patterns and return to what works for us. I have decided on this as there is access to online support from likeminded people – something that is important to have. I am under no illusions that I am retiring to a caveman utopia or that I will suddenly become a crossfit junkie. What I do want to see is happy well fed tummies, no discomfort and a stop to the negative patterns of sugar highs and junk food binges.