Time to learn to eat?
Is this for you?
We must eat, we want to eat, but do we eat what we want? We plan so many things in our lives, but do we give our diets the right attention?
Are you perhaps, like I was, better at other things in your life than with your eating? Would you prioritize to learn not to be hungry, to have energy, to lose weight, and feel great? Contrary to what many people say – it is learnable.
Food, today, is complicated. Much of the time, we don’t know what we are eating. It is clear that far from all food (combinations) are good for us. How can you learn about the links between what you eat, how you feel and what you can do, without immense effort?
I’m Anna. I had gained weight and lived with back pain. The loss of my job triggered me to shape up, literally. I studied healthcare management and had a course in medicine for non-clinicians, which inspired me to learn more. I also took advice from friends who lived healthier than me, one of whom is a trained naturopath. And I found functional medicine.
I got fascinated by metabolism and endocrinology, the effects of food in our bodies, glucose and insulin, and decided to change my shape. I lost 10 kilos, and then set a new target. I had had diabetes when pregnant and was about to get it again (scoring pre-diabetic on my Hb1Ac). I reversed that. My interest now extends to psychology and neurology and I work on how my activities and mental habits interact with my wellbeing and health.
I want to help people with or without health issues, who are willing to learn about food and ready to invest effort to change, in order to not be hungry (and eat less), have more energy, lose weight and feel great. I help by publishing information and by web-based food coaching (details at bottom). I believe any otherwise-healthy individual can come back to any weight they have had and kept in past period of their adult lives, even before having children. Setting a diet that brings you back to your prior weight and health is not difficult, nor does it make you hungry. It is worth attention and care. If you don’t try, you won’t know if it’s possible for you.
Soon I will publish a quiz, with which you can test if and how well you fit in my target group.
Setting and keeping a purposeful diet is a skill, worth to learn
It involves finding the right sources, taking in and processing information, analysing habits, testing results, drawing conclusions, and refining what you know and what you do. Take my example. I am a consultant and problem-solver who decided to solve the problem of my weight. I lost 10 kilos, 14% of my weight. I keep my shape. It’s with effort, a very reasonable effort that I choose to make. I never think that I am on a diet. But I am. I decided in 2017 what my diet is. Through trial and error, I refine it. I continue, slowly, to lose weight. Eating with purpose is part of who I am.
Diet is a long-term game
Even though it may be trivial at each moment, it matters what your diet is. By learning about food and eating with purpose you improve your life and influence people around you. You gain control, and change becomes much easier. Once a body adapts to better eating so does taste, encouraging healthy eating! Hunger reduces. Energy levels go up. Isn’t it a nicer problem to look for nutrient-rich foods at mealtime than it is to be disturbed by bursts of hunger during the day?
Does learning about food automatically mean to change diets? It depends. We have different lives, preferences, health states, motivation and ability to control and change how we eat and live. For some people food is very central in life. Others have given up caring. Some of that depends on how we think about it. If we choose to make eating a topic, we dedicate and release resources to change it. For those of us that have, will have, or would have diabetes type 2, it makes every sense to set and keep a purposeful diet. If you don’t know whether you are on the – wide – path of getting diabetes, get one of those cheap glucose meters and find out.s
Learning about food includes Functional Medicine
Functional medicine is the study of the human system and of root causes, for both disease and wellness. I studied basic physiology, anatomy and pathology and combined that with following leading functional medicine physicians.
Concepts from functional medicine include:
that toxic influences exist, and impact us,
inflammation as a driver of disease,
the benefits of fat metabolism (ketosis),
the physiological functions of the gut,
the brain-gut connection,
the effects of vegetables,
the set point for satiety, as well as
the effects of stress, hormones and sleep.
My food knowledge is based on what I like to eat and what I have found worthwhile to find out. I’m the kind of person who prefers simple foods and to spend little time cooking, who is fine to pay a premium for extra good food. I like the health hack to be in ketosis. It has worked great for me since I was pre-diabetic and am still sensitive to carbohydrates (like most people are). If you are the kind of person who loves cooking or wants space for carbs, you may want to look in more places. But start here, and now.
Learning about food and nutrition has multiple parts. There’s biochemistry and metabolism: macro-nutrients, enzymes, cell mitochondria, and more. There’s physiology (how the body works), and in particular endocrinology (hormones and messaging). There’s diabetes and obesity. There’s exercise. There are toxins, and immune responses. You don’t need to study all these topics, but you should, I think, learn more about how food carries information to our bodies and our bodies react and adapt. The food we eat affects us from within and we react and change based on that. Therefore, once you make it a topic for yourself to learn about food, you will get the cause and effect of how your body works much better. We are not doomed to slowly gain weight and loose health year by year. Our bodies love us, and do their best, whatever we do. Learn, so you can help yourself to feel and live better.
Forget diets. Learn about food. It is definitely possible to learn more about food and nutrition and to steer yourself towards health and wellbeing, away from diabetes type 2 and many other diseases. Once you get going it is actually quite logic. The more you learn (provided that you search in the right places), the more you will be satisfied with answers. You will find explanations to contradictory information and see reasons behind why experts sometimes take extreme positions. The more I learn, the more I conclude that experts are actually saying the same things, albeit with different leading convictions. If you look carefully, you see that popular diets actually merge: Dr. Mark Hyman talks about “Peganism” (Paleo + Vegan) and Dr. Will Cole has written a book about “Keto-tarian” (Ketogenic + Vegetarian).
We are. Not only do different foods within one and the same food group (like white and sourdough bread) have different effects on us – the way that specific foods work for us is different between individuals. You are not like me. There are spectrums of wellness and disease for many things: diabetes (type 2), inflammation, and auto-immunity. We are a product of our past, but we are also able to strongly influence becoming and staying well. Diabetes type 2, for example, builds over years of food exposure and lifestyle habits. The ketogenic diet, done right, alleviates or reverses diabetes type 2 (read more from Virta Institute, or DietDoctor). Avoiding gluten and dairy does help for auto-immune disease (see thedr.com).
I share the food hacks I believe in, the ones I have tested for weight-loss and wellbeing and the ones that I understand how they work.
To the food hacks!
Eat more vegetables
Eat (even more) vegetables. They are rich in fibers and nutrients, especially phyto-nutrients. A variation of vegetables is good for our guts. Vegetables are extra tasty and nutritious when in season. Organically-grown and non-GMO (genetically modified) are the safest, but all vegetables are real foods that work really effectively as food. Wash them before eating, especially the dirty dozen.
Always have proteins
Eat protein, not to be hungry. To not eat too much but also not to become hungry between meals, make sure to have protein in all your meals. You don’t need much protein in each meal, but stop yourself before you eat anything with only carbohydrates and fat.
Get what sugar is
Learn what sugar is. Sugar is not just sugar. It is anything with grains in it (bread, pasta, rice), because grains get broken down during metabolism just like sugar. Whole grain products, with high fiber, have slightly better metabolic effects than refined grains, but they are still sugar. Fruit in refined form (juice) also gets treated as pure sugar by the body. Even milk has much sugar. Your body can handle sugar, but not too much of it! Set yourself a sugar budget. The combination of many calories and too much sugar means: weight gain (or hindered weight loss), insulin resistance (diabetes), inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, and low energy. When you know this, you can investigate which sugar you eat, and which strategy will work for you.
Eat more fat
Eat more fat. Increase the fat content of your diet: with avocados, olive oil, nuts and olives. This will make you eat less carbohydrates, since it is difficult to compensate with protein. This will curb your food cravings (when you also skip the sugar). Select your fats. Look at specific ingredients to avoid high-fat foods that also contain toxins, such as nitrates. Identify fish and meat sources to avoid animals that were grain-fed or were routinely given antibiotics. A higher fat content will decrease your post-meal blood sugar spikes and keep you satiated for longer. Not diabetic? Blood sugar matters for us all. Interested in weight loss? Well, that’s only possible with low levels of insulin; insulin follows blood glucose levels. Keep them low.
Forget low fat. Whenever there is low fat, there is high sugar. Processed foods cannot taste well and keep decent consistency unless certain mixes of fat and sugar come together. If you worry about calories, check and control them. Indeed, check all ingredients. But “low fat” is not an argument for anything.
Eat less. Calorie restriction and fasting have proven health benefits. In between eating the body recovers; cells regenerate and “poor” cells and cell parts get programmed for death, triggering new ones. Select your foods so that you will not get hungry again soon. Respect that metabolism is a process. Eat slowly. Chew. Sit when you eat. Concentrate. Finish eating before feeling full. Eat as regularly as you can. Have long breaks between meals.
Don’t snack. Never eat anything that isn’t a meal. Drink when you like, but make sure there is no milk, sugar, fruit or other food in your drink, and stay clear of all artificial sweeteners (reason being that they mimic brain reactions from drinking sugar, and make your body want more calories and sugar). Every time you eat, a metabolic process starts. Give your cells breaks from metabolism.
Always make choices
Choose your foods. Always check your food contents. Read labels. Ask in restaurants. Always make a choice. Never eat what you don’t want to eat. Plan ahead, as you need.
Pick the best
Pick the best food products. In the choice between different products, check the specific ingredients and make conscious choices of which products to make yours. Quality over quantity.
Make exchanges. Systematically analyze and replace food that is in your diet that isn’t good for you. That’s anything heavily and unnaturally processed, and anything with high sugar content. Learn to recognize such foods, by reading labels and looking them up (for example using the cronometer app). Replace your poor foods with better foods that you also like. Focus on what you eat much of, and make substitutions. Give changes some time. Taste is adaptive. Cravings go away. Gradually change your mix of foods into a better mix. Do waves of changes.
Make it easy
Make your food choices easy. Set yourself up so that your choices are easy. Buy only foods that you want to be eating. If you must keep food at home for family members, put that food out of your sight. Decide in advance when, where and what you will eat. Bring food if you will go where you will find yourself with poor choices, like on an airplane. The less you need to search for it, the better.
Set strategies for how to eat and drink with others. It may be challenging for you to be purposeful with your diet while others will continue eat as they have. If you think this through in advance, you can set strategies and gain control of what you will do. For example, you can avoid going to places or be with people that influence your diet too much, you can influence what the group will do, you can substitute what you will eat and drink, or you can join but abstain from foods and drinks, or leave food or drink unconsumed.
Test the ketogenic diet. It is based on a large intake of fat and a systematic reduction of carbohydrates, with control of (not too much) protein intake. On this diet, the liver begins to produce ketone bodies, which the body increasingly learns to use for energy. The body is forced into a state called ketosis, which means it is burning ketones to a greater degree than it is burning glucose. Ketosis is more effective than glucose metabolism, causes less oxidation (=”burning”), and reduces inflammation markers. Since insulin levels go down significantly when in ketosis, fat cells can release fatty acids (to make ketones), that were otherwise locked inside the fat cells. The first-time transition into ketosis can be a little hard, especially if you don’t drink enough water; this can be made better by putting extra salt on your food. The liver eventually adapts to produce more of its own glucose, and cells get better at using them for energy. This requires an adaptation period of between two weeks and two months. The ketogenic diet keeps you satiated for longer after each meal, and is very effective for weight loss. It also reduces cravings (or ends them entirely). If this kind of eating appeals to you, try it. This diet is much easier to stay on than other diets. There is plenty of information about this diet. DietDoctor is the place that most consistently impresses me with relevant high-quality information.
Test to fast (more). Fasting also be induces ketosis (see “Try keto”). When done over several days (fasting), or repeatedly (intermittent fasting), the body adapts to more flexibly make and live off of ketone bodies and liver-produced glucose. The idea of fasting can be a little hard to accept, but once you get through it the first few times, it becomes normal and you begin to feel the benefit. If fasting is hard for you, try combining it with the keto diet; the point is to keep insulin low, which is what you do when you don’t eat carbs (or much protein). Fasting helps the programmed death of imperfect or old cells and for cell renewal, which is beneficial in many ways, for example insulin-sensitivity and longevity. DietDoctor is a great resource for fasting and intermittent fasting.
For the most serious:
Know your glucose
Get that glucose meter. There is no recovery from carbohydrate intolerance (which most people have) or (pre-)diabetes type 2 without knowing and managing the level of glucose in your body. For the seriously-health focused and anyone caring about weight-loss, knowing your glucose pattern is essential. The meter costs 25 EUR (30 dollars) and you will also need test strips and needle stitches for pinching your finger. Unless you have great values, begin to manage them. Test as often as you like, but if you didn’t already learn about this – start now! Great glucose values are: max 80 mg/dl (or 4,4 mmol/L) for three consecutive mornings, before breakfast, and for two hours after each of your typical meals. Good values are max 80 mg/dl (or 4,4 mmol/L). Above that, you are pre-diabetic, or diabetic. You manage your values by learning about the glycemic index and the glycemic load, for example here, and by respecting both when making your food choices. Trying keto and fasting will help too. If you do, consider a meter that also measures ketones.
Aerobic train when you have energy. Aerobic training, the kind of training you can do for a long time without running out of oxygen, can help metabolism by a good bit, but – in my experience and based on what I read – it’s actually hurting your health if you do it when you don’t have the energy for it. If you have the energy to jog, bike, etc., do it. If you have the energy for a one-hour walk, do that. If you don’t have that energy yet, work on your eating to get your energy up, then do the walks or the training. Begin with the everyday things: always choosing stairs over elevators, walks over short commutes, etc.
Train anaerobically to get better. Anaerobic training, the kind of training you cannot do for any length of time without running out of oxygen, causing the build-up of lactic acid, can lift your performance, and raise your metabolism significantly. When you do it, you have to eat more, especially protein. Weight-loss based on protein-loss has negative consequences. When you get your metabolism up by this kind of training, your body increases the flexibility with which it can take nourishment out of all foods. Still, give yourself the best food. Growing muscle cells want and need protein.
Rush and relax. A trick to refresh and boost the mitochondria inside of our cells is to force the unfit ones out. You can do this by a special type of interval training. Training is always stress; the right kind of training stress causes marking of mitochondria that are not fit (for that exercise). those marked mitochondria later get got rid off, whilst keeping the fit ones, in a process that also signals to your body to make more mitochondria. To do this when jogging, for example, look forward 100-200 meters for a bench or something to lie down on, run that 100-200 meters like a tiger was chasing you, then lay on that bench for 1 minute (and yes, tell anyone who happened to see you that you are OK). The laying down part is important, a part of the adaptive process. Apply this to any sport you like.
Test and measure
Measure what you do, and test how you change. Very few things in life are truly intuitive, and what we remember from what we do is rarely correct. So get into the habit of writing up what you eat, at least for a while when you are learning about cause and effect. Test the cronometer app, or something similar. Get a food scale. Get the kind of scale that not only measures weight but also body (fat) composition; they don’t cost more. Then look at how you change: your glucose levels, your weight, your body fat percentage, your energy and your mood. It is not chance causing us to become and feel healthier, or not. Certainly, we are impacted by everything that happens around us, but our eating is a very significant agent. Work with yourself and not in spite of yourself. The next level of this is to speak with your doctor, convince him or her to extend the scope of your bloodworks (check for inflammation, get a proper lipid profile, check the thyroid values, iron and vitamin D), and insist to speak about the results until you both understand them. Remember that “normal” is not good. Normal is normal. You want good values, for everything.
Find your teachers
Learn from your right teachers. It is impossible to synthesize what one should better learn for managing their health and wellbeing. We are different, physically and as persons. It takes a while to figure out what is important for oneself, what to learn more about, and whom to listen to. In my case, I would be diabetic if I hadn’t recently learned so much and taken care; I used to have a systemic inflammation (and pain), but don’t anymore; I appear not to have no issues with auto-immunity, or with clearing of toxins. Therefore, I am an expert in anything to do with glucose, insulin and inflammation, but I don’t bother too much about the ubiquitous toxins all around us, the radiation from 5G, or micro-emissions from plastic. For you, the mix of what you need is different. Perhaps you need to learn about gluten and pesticides. One day I’ll list and classify everything I’ve come over (the people whose books you see at the top of this page), but for now let me leave you with these three: Dr. Mark Hyman is my teacher and hero. He runs a clinic, steers a hospital, writes books and holds conversations that matter in his podcast. Browse through them to find something that touches you. Dr. David Pearlmutter is a neurologist, linking what we eat with our abilities, mood and aging. And Dr. Tom O’Bryan is entertaining and funny, describing the army of the immune system, and teaching how health is managed.