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The Most Important Piece of Nutritional Advice You Need

There are a lot of “nutrition experts” out there. Everyone fancies themselves a nutrition guru. I see these folks all over the Internet, amateur nutritionologists- they give weight loss advice, they tell people what to include in their diets and what they should absolutely NEVER eat. But here’s the thing. They’re not really nutrition experts. I’m sure that many of them have read everything they possibly can on the Internet about nutrition, I’m sure that they are avid readers and self-experimenters (I won’t say researchers, researchers are in labs) many have taken classes on nutrition, or have a certification in health coaching from an online coaching school…  and I’m sure that they truly believe that they are nutrition experts.

The truth is though, that the highest, highest level researchers in the field of nutrition, molecular biology and metabolism– I’m talking people with multiple PhDs and years of research– those people know that they are not nutrition experts either. This is because the fields of nutrition and metabolism are largely mysterious and untapped as of right now.  The people with the highest degrees and research backgrounds are the ones who are most willing to admit how little they know about nutrition. 

If you are dubious, let’s do a comparison. Here is a list of the classes needed to become a PhD in nutrition and metabolism at Boston University, and here is a list of the classes needed to get a degree from Health Coach Institute. Of note, the PhD in nutrition is a six year program and the coaching certification is a six month program. In looking at the curriculum of the coaching program, only one of those modules is dedicated to actually learning about nutrition, the other five months are coaching and business skills. I don’t necessarily think that health coaching is a bad thing;  there are people who can certainly benefit from learning to eat healthy whole foods, how to shop for them, and how to look inside themselves with a support person to help them understand what foods will help them feel their most optimal. But nobody can actually tell you that. That’s because nutrition and metabolism are extremely complicated.  For instance, there are some foods that are considered anti-inflammatory that will interact horrifically with one person’s constitution and will be great for another person’s constitution. Not even someone with a PhD in nutrition can tell you what foods are best for your body and how specific molecules will interact with different molecules given any particular time in your cycle, or given how much or little exercise or sleep you’ve gotten, where in the world you live, what genetic components your Grandmother was made of… etc. There are a billion different variables that make up how you will react to a certain food at a certain time. Don’t look outside yourself for nutritional advice, look within.

Here’s what inspired me to write this post.

My client (we’ll call her) Jenny. Jenny’s boyfriend is super into bulletproof coffee (hey we’re in the Bay Area, it’s a thing here..) anyway, her boyfriend swears by drinking his coffee with yak butter and coconut oil and raw cocoa every morning. He swears that it gives him mental clarity and that he can run 15 miles without eating anything other than his coffee drenched in high quality fats. He keeps on convincing Jenny to drink bulletproof coffee with him so that she too can lose weight and feel great. So Jenny keeps drinking bulletproof coffee… and she hates it. It makes her have diarrhea every.single.morning.  But she continues to drink it because of what the “experts” on the bulletproof forums say. She feels that she is not doing the right thing by being miserable drinking it, she feels bad about herself. The experts on the forums keep tell her to push through this “break-in” phase where your body has to get used to the coffee and eventually it will habituate. You know what else does that? Laxatives. That’s why laxative dependent bulimia sufferers keep upping their dose of laxatives. Jenny’s body is telling her something pretty significant, yet she’s ignoring it and listening to the advice of “experts.” She doesn’t trust herself or her body, she trusts strangers who don’t live inside of her body. 

My other client (we’ll call her) Debbie.  Debbie was told by her health coach that if she gave up gluten, grains, sugar and dairy that she would feel amazing. So Debbie gave up all those things and she did in fact feel amazing. Wanna hear another thing about Debbie? She’s a recovering anorexic. So being restrictive in her eating complements her psychological schema of feeling amazing when being totally in control and deprived of food. Oh and the other thing about Debbie… after four years of recovery, she started bingeing and purging again.  Her health coach keeps telling her that if she stays away from those four things that her system will heal and that her brain chemistry will even out and she won’t binge and purge anymore. The truth is, when Debbie’s not restricting, her eating disorder is fine. It was her depression that led her to look for nutritional alternatives to Prozac. She then started restricting again, which was of course helpful for her depression because she used her eating disorder to manage her depression symptoms. But now she’s bingeing and purging again. It makes sense… depression is super painful and distressing and anything we can do to make it go away quickly feels better than working with it directly. So the eating disorder comes back and we are distracted from the depression because we have to work on the ED symptomatology. See how that happened? 

If you want to work with someone around nutrition, the best way to do it is to start to focus on what your body tells you that you need. Your body knows. YOUR BODY KNOWS!  

When two of my girlfriends came back from being in the Peace Corps in Mali for two years, one came back super curvy and the other came back super skinny. They told me that they were both eating the same things (lots of rice) but one lost copious amounts of weight on a low protein high-carbohydrate while the other gained weight on the same diet. Two different ways of processing nutrients.

Sit with your food after you eat it and see how your body feels. Are you energetic? Does your belly hurt? Do your joints hurt? Do you have rashes? Are you sleepy? Are you anxious? Are you happy? Looking within and feeling your feelings both emotional and physical is the only way to know what foods are helping your body and what foods are hurting you.  Your body wants you to take care of it, and when you listen carefully to it, it will give you the right messages. Let the wisdom of your body be your nutritional expert. 

I Can’t Stop Eating Carbs!

CARBOHYDRATES ARE NOT EVIL (1)“Help! I can’t Stop Eating Carbs!!!!!!!!!”

Because you shouldn’t.

“But carbohydrates make me fat!”

I’ve had several clients over the years come in believing this very thing, that eating carbohydrates would make them fat. So, what they would do was go on these all high-protein and high-fat diets, eating only eggs, bacon, butter, steak, water, vodka, and whatever else had very low or no carbohydrates in it for a few days, sometimes a week or two, then having a carb binge, only to beat up on themselves again and again, hating themselves for doing “the wrong thing.” Have you ever done this, or some variation on this?

Well, the truth of the matter is this, you can lose weight very quickly on an extremely low-carb diet. To say that’s not true would be a lie. However, it’s a bad idea. And it almost never works. And I know that because if it did, people would go on a very low-carb diet once, lose all the weight they wanted in a few weeks or months, and never look back.

Your body wants carbohydrates. It really does, and it runs more efficiently on carbohydrates and protein than on protein alone. Which is why starving yourself of carbohydrates will inevitably result in a carbohydrate binge (not to mention the strain it will put on your organs), and for most people, this isn’t usually a binge on garbanzo beans and yams, but on processed boxed foods (think Chips Ahoy, Twinkies, and Ben & Jerry’s).

Let’s look at why very low-carb diets result in quick weight loss. Your body relies on carbohydrates as quick energy, when you starve your body of carbohydrates, it’s going to have to go into your fat stores to burn for energy. Theoretically this sounds great. But, most people don’t get there. This is later on, after a few days when your kidneys have let go of all the water in your body. The initial dramatic weight-loss you experience is water weight, which is why if you eat like one potato chip, and knock your body out of ketosis (a state that very low-carb dieters strive for), and you will hold onto water again and feel as though you’ve gained all the weight back that you lost. This creates a really intense cat & mouse game between you and carbohydrates.

People tend to feel extremely grumpy, depressed and many experience some feeling of a cognitive decline when they are on very low carb diets long term, they have trouble with word recall, experience memory loss and battle with insomnia.  If they are unable to stay on their low carb diet (not unusual) they start bingeing and feel grumpy because they’re bingeing… this is because your brain runs on glucose and depriving your brain of glucose in the form of a low carb diet can make one feel foggy, depressed, lethargic, and all around distressed. Because your brain is running less efficiently and your brain is foggy, it makes you more vulnerable to a binge. And what happens? You binge on lots simple carbohydrates – which then makes you more depressed and more apt to binge more.

When you don’t supply your body with any carbohydrates, it needs to slow down to preserve energy.  This is why when people dramatically  restrict their carbohydrates, they find that they are unable to exercise very much at all,  they find that they are constipated due to lack of fiber, and they often become nauseated from ketosis.  Because glucose stabilizes serotonin levels,  some folks might find that they are depressed.   Because your body runs so inefficiently on a very low carb diet, you will probably find yourself rebounding at some point with a carbohydrate binge.  This sets up a cycle, again and again.

 

I had a client come in telling me, “I once lost 10 pounds in two weeks eating just steak and red wine, I know I can do it again…” and despite how much we worked on integrating healthy carbohydrates into her diet, her belief was that all carbs, in any amount were bad. So if she woke up in the morning and “accidentally” had a piece of toast with her eggs, she believed that her whole day was ruined and would continue throughout the day by eating ice cream, cake, cereal, pasta, whatever she could get her hands on, then use that as proof that carbohydrates were the problem. She would then hate herself. It wasn’t that one piece of toast that started the binge, despite the fact that she told herself that she couldn’t eat any carbohydrates because she was addicted.  It was the belief that she couldn’t eat any carbohydrates and the black and white thinking that triggered the binge. She got so angry at herself every time she ate anything with carbohydrates in it and she got so angry at herself for the binges. Each time she started her diet again, she believed that this time it would be different. This time she could stick to it. Her body didn’t want her to stick to it. And when she didn’t, she blamed herself and her lack of willpower.  Finally, after many, many years of this cycle, she agreed to try something different. She saw that she’d been doing this for so long and now weighed more than she ever had. She agreed that for just one month, just 30 days, she’d work in some balance.  “I’m still not eating pasta or bread!” she told me. “That’s fine,” I told her, “but what about some apples, some sweet potatoes, some onions and peppers, some beans…” She agreed and began bringing unprocessed carbohydrates into her regimen. She decided that for the month she would “eat anything that grew,” which was something that she’d read in Louis Hay’s You can Heal Your Life. Not forever, just for 30 days.

Our start date for her experiment was April 1st of last year and she agreed to go until May 1st without succumbing to the lure of a no-carb diet. Despite the fact that she was allowing herself to eat more, each day was a struggle because she really wanted to give in to her desire to reject carbs. As we discussed it over the month, she realized that a huge part of her wanting to control her carbs so intensely was also a desire to have some control in her life. When she gave that up, it opened up more space for us to discuss in therapy what was actually going on in her life that felt totally out of control, such as her career, her relationship, and some of her friendships. As carbohydrates stopped being the center of her focus, her real life, which was admittedly difficult, became something that she was actually able to focus on in therapy.  Each day in April she let herself experiment with different whole food carbohydrates, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, yams, apples, bananas, avocados, sushi with the rice, and she even ate pasta once or twice without bingeing on it, which shocked her.

The magic that happened in that month was the letting go. As she was able to work on what was really going on inside of her and allow herself to eat really healthy whole foods, she began to let go of bingeing.  Those ten pounds that had been haunting her for years didn’t magically fall off in a month, but about 2 or 3 pounds did. No, it wasn’t the ten pounds in two weeks that she was hoping for, but the promise of that was what kept piling the pounds on year after year after year.

As of right now, she’s not on a no-carb diet, and she’s not on a high carb diet. She is just trying to be nutritionally savvy. She eats whole foods, and exercises and has recently began to feel at peace with her body. She has certainly lost weight and come to a comfortable place for herself physically,  but that’s not what makes this important, what makes it important is that when she stopped obsessing, she was able to come home to herself.

That doesn’t mean that taking care of yourself by choosing not to eat certain refined carbohydrates is a bad thing, however it might be good to reframe your thinking not as a “low-carb” diet but as a “whole foods” way of eating. Allowing yourself healthy whole foods will do nothing but nourish your body. And if you wind up eating a piece of cake or some pasta once in a while, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed miserably, you haven’t knocked yourself out of ketosis and you don’t have to binge. This is just about being good to your body by choosing to bring in healthy whole foods rather than reject carbohydrates totally.

Most people find that they are able to fend off bingeing much more effectively when they reintegrate both carbohydrates and proteins into their daily meals.  So go ahead, eat that potato and let go of the guilt. Carbs are not the enemy, in fact they will make your brain happier, calmer and you will begin to find more peace when you are integrating whole protein, fat and carbohydrates all generously back in to your daily diet.