We’ve all been there. As soon as you think you’ve found the magical diet, detox, challenge, or cleanse that actually works for you, a new study comes out showing that what you’ve been doing has only contributed to your problem, and you should do the exact opposite because Harvard says so. One study indicates that there are multiple health benefits from cutting the fat out of your diet. Another study illustrates all of the harmful effects on the body when you cut out the fat, so you should really cut out the sugar because, ironically, Harvard says so.
So what should you do? Cut out the fat or cut out the sugar? Is the answer in the Paleo diet, Mediterranean foods, Subway, gastric bypass surgery, pills, juicing 3 pounds of kale and eating 12 bananas a day? Who should you trust? Harvard? Researchers? Your doctor? Your local yoga instructor? A support group? You could argue with yourself that research doesn’t lie, but then how can it show so many different and opposing outcomes?
The truth: Research does not lie, but people do. And for enough money, research can show whatever it wants. Is this a conspiracy? Perhaps it is; but I’ll take my chances on not taking the advice from an industry that only makes money if I’m sick and confused.
One thing that you can trust, however, is your individual physiology. Sure, you can follow the latest diet craze, but you can only trick your body for so long before it screams out to you that you need something else. For instance, you may swear by the Paleo diet and truly see health benefits: losing weight, feeling more clear-headed and energized, lower cholesterol levels, and more. But, after years into the diet, you start losing your hair, your cholesterol rises, your hormones are on a roller coaster, and your thyroid gland is almost non-functioning. (This is purely an example that I’ve seen happen to individuals.) That's not to say that all Paleo experts have bad intentions, but research outcomes can still be misleading.
So now what do you do?
I’m glad you asked. For so long we’ve been depriving ourselves and cutting out vital nutrients and life-giving behaviors. Why cut out calories (i.e., energy/fuel) and run off of stress hormones? Does it make sense to try to drive your car across the country with no gas in it? We’ve been misguided to look to others to take responsibility for a lifetime of unquestioned and unchallenged actions when it comes to health. The good news is that you can take back control and responsibility for your life simply by questioning and paying attention.
1) Start listening to your gut.
2) Pay attention to how you feel after eating a meal or skipping a meal or macronutrient (i.e., protein, carb, or fat). Do you feel bloated, tired, and/or have a headache or stomach ache? Did that meal give you energy?
3) Avoid anything processed and any product that contains more than 5 ingredients, especially those of which you cannot pronounce.
4) Eat real fruits and root vegetables.
5) Eat quality meats, broths, seafood, gelatin, and other anti-inflammatory proteins.
6) Eat saturated fats like coconut oil, butter, ghee, and tallow.
7) Focus on quality: organic, free-range, grass-fed, local, cage-free, etc.
8) Focus on quantity: relative ratios of protein, carbohydrate, and fat.
9) Drink quality water like Evian, FIJI, and other spring waters.
10) Pay attention to your movement: Do you exercise? Are you exercising too much? How well do you recover from a workout? Do you have pain and/or soreness in your body?
13) Take time to do things for yourself.
The above is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it’s a good starting point to help evaluate your lifestyle. As always, you have to do what you feel is right for you. You may not be happy about needing to incorporate new behaviors in your life, but I have found that the truth heals more than it hurts.