Dogmatic Diets…When to Break the Rules

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No matter what way of eating you follow, chances are there will be a few rules you must abide by. Avoid dairy; no processed foods, refined oils, or gluten; refrain from drinking alcohol; use this sweetener but not that one; and the list goes on…

Reflecting back on my own journey, and thinking about all the different diets I’ve tried–whether they were for bodybuilding or Crohn’s management–I think I can say without a doubt, that I fall into the category of “chronic dieter.” Over the past 20 years, I’ve read and followed so many diet books, programs, and articles, that I lost count a long time ago. From the Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution to The Maker’s Diet, I’ve tested the dieting spectrum from plant-centered to all meat (although, I’ve never gone vegetarian…if you can’t tell by now, I love steak too much to do that). But, no matter how different all these diets might appear to be, when you break them down, they all really center around the same basic principles of eating real, unprocessed food and cutting out both sugar and highly refined seed/vegetable oils. And (in my humble opinion) it really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

But, there are two things that I really don’t quite understand about dieting:

  1. Why people become so dogmatic about the way they are eating, and
  2. the amount of hate that people will shout from behind a computer screen to others who don’t eat what they do.

 

The trouble with becoming so dogmatic in a particular approach to eating is that it can make us lose sight of what we are doing. For example, I am currently following a carnivore diet. But, I also eat avocados, drink wine, and periodically have green drinks or protein shakes. I also like to intermittent fast. All of these things are making me feel really good and makes up a way of eating that is easy for me to follow. However, depending on which Facebook group you might join for following this way of eating, fellow group members will basically run you out for not abiding by the rules.

If I were to allow the rhetoric to get to me, I might feel that I have to throw out the non-carnivore things that are actually working for me and adding enjoyment to my life. Then, I’d probably get so frustrated that I’d just throw out the whole approach…when it was actually working!

On top of that, if you simply do a quick Google search, you’ll most likely find people on both sides of the spectrum from all-meat to all-plants throwing hateful comments back and forth. Why so much negativity? (I honestly don’t know the answer…)

One of the biggest things that having Crohn’s Disease has taught me, is how different each one of us really is. Take two Crohn’s Warriors…we both have the same digestive system (unless surgery has removed part of it), we both have evolved the same as the rest of the human race, we both have the same disease, yet the diet I follow might wreak havoc on the other and vice versa.

There is so much information available on what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat, that it can be too overwhelming for many people and leave them in analysis paralysis. Trying to follow too many rules or just not knowing where to start can result in someone not doing anything. Although it may not seem like it–because of the amount of time and effort I put into researching and following particular diets–I don’t actually believe food has to be this complicated.

If there’s anything that all these different types of diets has shown us, it is that the human body is a pretty incredible machine. It is adaptable and it is individual. There is no magic shake, pill, macro formula, or single diet that is going to make everyone on this planet ripped and full of energy. But there is a unique combination of things that will help you be your best self and a few basic principles that will apply no matter what diet you follow.

So I felt compelled to share with you a few basic guidelines I’ve used over the years that anyone can follow to help figure out what works best for you when it comes to food.

  1. If what you are currently doing works for you and you’re finding good health and happiness, then keep doing whatever it is you’re doing!
  2. Identify trigger foods (whether or not you have IBD) and steer clear of those foods that cause you gastrointestinal distress, allergic reactions, etc.
  3. Identify real, unprocessed foods that you enjoy and make those the foundation of your diet; my foundation is meat, but yours might be vegetables.
  4. Avoid highly processed and refined oils (cottonseed oil, corn oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and soybean oil)
    Why? For everything you ever wanted to know about fat, read Dr. Cate’s “List of Good Fats and Oils versus Bad” article. I’ve recently started reading her book, Deep Nutrition, and she has a wealth of great information to share.
  5. Cut back on sugar, grains, and starches (if you don’t cut them out completely, cut back and eat them only occasionally; we’re all human…without Crohn’s Disease, I’m pretty sure I’d be indulging in a chocolate chip cookie or even a sweet potato once in a while…)
    Why? Reducing carbohydrates (i.e. sugar, grains, starches) helps control blood sugar and improves insulin sensitivity, which helps our hormones to balance out and our bodies begin to function optimally.
    Want to dive a little deeper into the insulin and blood sugar topic?
    Watch this great podcast/YouTube episode with Dr. Anna Cabeca, OBGYN, and Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo on how sugars (note that all carbohydrates break down into sugars during digestion) affect blood sugar and insulin levels.
    OR Listen to this podcast episode with Jimmy Moore and his wife, Christine Moore, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner: Blood Sugar Balance Keeps Your Hormones and Health Happy.
  6. If there’s a less-than-ideal food you can’t do without (for me, it’s wine–although there are many claims of health benefits for red wine!), limit those to once or a few times per week (depending on how “bad” it is…don’t be eating chocolate cake all throughout the week!)
  7. Learn to listen to your body’s hunger signals; eat a meal when you’re hungry and don’t eat when you’re not.
    Admittedly, this can be hard. I love food and it probably took me 6+ months into my latest carnivore experiment to really learn to start listening to my body and learning what was true hunger vs. what was a Pavlovian response to expecting food at a certain time or snacking because I was bored.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts and podcasts, my diet has evolved radically from when I was a child and living off of ramen noodles, cereal, french toast, and junk food. I didn’t get to this point overnight and you shouldn’t expect yourself to change overnight either. My progression in dieting over the last 20 years started from the simple act of swapping out the two cookies I was eating everyday for lunch with a yogurt and an apple…baby steps.

As the years went on and I learned more and tested different things, I discovered what I liked and what was easy for me to follow. Eventually, I ventured into the low carb arena and dabbled with intermittent fasting (which was “too hard” at first because I was not fat adapted and relied on carbohydrates as my energy source; eating a ketogenic diet now allows me to easily go half a day or a full 24 hours without food). Since then, I’ve transitioned to keto, gone full carnivore, and finally settled into a keto-carnivore approach where I feel great, eat the foods I like, and am keeping my health in check.

Take some time to reflect on your own health journey. Don’t over-complicate what you’re eating. Use common sense to point you to foods that are real and unprocessed (and that you enjoy)…and just take it one day and one step at a time. 🙂

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