“Health information-seeking is one of our population’s primary intellectual pursuits”. (Unknown)
You would probably agree that wisdom is rare. Nutritional or not. Knowledge, on the other hand, is… well… sometimes dangerous. Especially the nutritional kind.
I recently took a molecular biology class and we happened to have quite a few medical students enrolled. During one of our conversations the medical guys all agreed that when they were studying specific diseases each and every one of them was projecting the symptoms onto themselves and felt they surely had the disease! And if allowed were testing their own blood for it.
It was so refreshing to hear that. At least I was no longer feeling like a crazy person trying each and every diet we had to study during my Integrative Nutrition training. If perfectly sane and intelligent people get tempted to project symptoms of some weird illnesses onto themselves I stood no chance to remain immune to all those diets!
Despite the nutritional information overload our IIN program remained as neutral “as Switzerland”. At no point did they say this diet is better than that one. Or this diet does not work. We had to decide for ourselves. This was the actual learning part.
Let’s see if I make you dizzy with a few examples:
* We were never meant to eat cooked food. Eating cooked food raises white cell count in our blood meaning our immune system must perceive cooked food as invasive and toxic. (Raw Food diet)
* We should only eat cooked food. It makes food more digestible. Our brains developed significantly after fire was discovered. By raising white cells we prepare our bodies for when a true invader attacks. It’s like a fire drill in your office on a Friday morning. (Macrobiotics – example borrowed from Mark David – see my Favourites library for his books)
* You should eat a lot of protein, cholesterol, and omega 3s as well as some vegetables. Remove all grains, sugar and fructose as they are pro inflammatory. (Paleo)
* High protein diets such as Paleo are highly acidic and toxic. They clog your liver and create an environment where pathogens thrive. The bulk of your diet should come from plants. (Acid/Alkaline, Nutritarian diet)
* Dairy is great as long as it’s raw, unpasterised, grass-fed, organic.. (Weston Price, Sally Fallon as well as Ayurveda)
* Dairy is loved by the bad bacteria in your gut. Don’t feed it unless it’s kefir and you are ok with it. Eat loads of fermented foods. Cut all the sugar and fruit. (Body ecology)
* You don’t need to cut all the sugar in your diet. Or take industrial quantities of pro-biotics. It’s the nervous system that is far more significant for your micro biome. Work on your stress levels. Get a dog. Get your hands dirty in the garden. (That’s just me saying it, actually!)
* Fat is great. Fat wont make you fat. Replace sugar craving with fat. (Fashion magazines these days).
Ok, now I have to stop because this last statement in particular makes me shout – if you gorge on fat you WILL get fat. And if you are my client I will work bloody hard to make sure you don’t replace anything with anything.
The point I am trying to make is that none of the statements above are wrong and none of them are right.
I think any dietary approach – as long as it exists – must have worked for at least one person. Either of these approaches could work for any one of us at different times in our lives or for some of us at a given moment.
The theories are useful and I deeply appreciate all the work that these wonderful people have been putting into figuring out what typically happens when you eat or don’t eat certain foods. As long as I am prepared to use this information as a toolbox. And have the discipline to ignore some of it.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s really cool to go to a specialist, say, a Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor who after 20-30 mins of chatting with you says “I got you! Yin deficiency. Although it appears as yang excess”. Of course, you probably have no idea what it means but it does feel good when a professional “gets you”. Except it would make me put too much responsibility for my wellbeing into someone else’s hands. And get drawn into thinking that the answer was somewhere out there. I just needed to find it.
I’ve seen a lot of wellness professionals, incredibly competent wonderful people with hearts of gold. And I deeply appreciate all the help I ever got on my personal journey. But it took me long time to realise that most answers are much closer than I thought. Our bodies speak to us all day long. Sometimes we need a translator. But I think a lot of the time we don’t.
What I try to do for myself is to figure out what my body is asking for right now. You can not lose if you give your body what it needs. You are almost sure to lose if you try to trick your body replacing one food with another.
When I notice that I start sabotaging some areas of my life in an attempt to start anew I suspect I am in a “cleansing phase”. I could feel anything from wanting to sell my entire wardrobe and start fresh, get a fringe, or more seriously review some of my work and personal relationships. A raw food diet (given the right season), alkaline, or nutritarian diets might feel right and complement the process.
When I feel homesick, crave nourishment and, in general, feel tired and lost I need to build myself up. Ayurveda is probably one of the most nourishing diets I’ve come across particularly within the vegetarian universe. Some of you might want to go with more protein, bone broth or healthy dairy when you are in the “building up phase”. And I don’t have to follow the diet. One meal is what it takes sometimes.
Of course, I know some people who have an embedded radar. They intuitively know what their bodies need. I admire it. Maybe they never had to study 100 dietary theories? Although, I do feel that acquiring this trait as opposed to being born with it is particularly precious.
Don’t know about you but I feel that going completely “food rules-free” is impossible. Maybe my grandparents could sail free as far as their food was concerned and focus on what really mattered. For me, if I want to stay healthy it takes some effort.
And I am as guilty as anyone else in this health information-seeking pursuit but I do try to remind myself that wisdom lies not in knowing but in making sense of what I already know.
Oksana Grinchak, Ph.D., is a Certified Health Coach, yoga teacher and a Reiki healer. Having spent years working in Financial industry she now runs a full-time coaching practice helping clients who want to improve their life in a balanced and nourishing way, overcome fatigue, erratic eating, excess weight, and, most importantly, self-inflicted stress.