Monday, 4 April 2011

My Genetic Battle Plan and Diet Approach

I am 100% obsessed with Michael Pollan, and all of his books on food, diet, and nutrition.

I have tried a lot different types of eating plans throughout my many diet attempts over the years. Some healthy...and others not so much. Everyone, especially those who are worried about their weight, are hoping for a quick fix. And I have definitely been there. With all this convoluted information about nutrition and weight loss - you name it and I have probably given it a whirl. I tried the Grapefruit Gimmick, that's where you eat half a grapefruit before every meal to fill you up. This does not work and you end up spend a lot of time and money focusing on grapefruit. I have been really restrictive with my calories, diligently monitoring every morsel and every crumb of food I ingest. This works, but is NOT healthy and not something you can maintain.  Many women are known to do this to an extreme, and this behaviour can really harm your body, which is the exact opposite of what I am trying to achieve. Food is fuel, so we need to remember that and relinquish our unhealthy attachments to food. I was vegan for about 3 days...that was not for me. 1.) I really like cheese, and 2.) the recipes I tried ended up tasting like bird seed, so no -just NO. I was a vegetarian for almost 5 years, which definitely worked for me and is the lifestyle I used to lose the 50 lbs initially. I realize it is not for everyone, and after falling off the wagon with a pound of chicken wings - I can honestly say I am a carnivore again. The list of various things I have tried is lengthy, and after all of the many gimmicks, quick fixes, and legitimate approaches to nutrition I have experimented with I have learned that extremes don't work, are not healthy, and can not be maintained. This is where my love of Michael Pollan comes in, why my diet approach during my battle with genetics is based on the theories in his books and his sage advice.

I have read, loved, and currently own three books by Michael Pollen, and everything he says makes sense to me. He is a journalist - not a doctor, scientist, or nutritionist. He is not who you would expect to be writing extensively about nutrition, but perhaps because he is also just trying to understand all the same things we are about the grey areas of nutrition his approach just seems so balanced, simple, and correct to me.

One of the things he stresses is the fact that science knows a lot less about nutrition than we would expect. He describes nutrition as "a very young science", because our study of nutrition science started less than 200 years ago. I know that sounds old, it did to me. I thought, "200 years, wow that is a lot of time to collect data and research. I am not really seeing the problem here"... I thought this until he compared that 200 years of research to the same place surgery was in the year 1650! I probably would not have signed up to get a robotic heart in 1650, nor would that have even been an option. So subscribing to the research generated from nutrition science of the same age probably doesn't make much sense either.  

In Defense of Food describes the role nutrition plays on our health, and the problems with the Western lifestyle. Populations that eat a so-called Western diet - which is defined as a diet consisting of lots of processed foods and meats, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, and low on fresh fruits and veggies - end up suffering from high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Some of the stats that go along with this research suggest that 80% of all cases of heart disease, and more than 1/3 of all types of cancers can be linked to this diet. So as a Darwinian fail with both heart disease and a family history heavy on the cancer, what I took away from this is; this diet is a problem!

The good news is that there are really reliable and accurate studies showing that people who get off the Western Diet see dramatic improvements to their health. One study suggests that when a typical North American population departed even modestly from the Western diet and lifestyle they were able to reduce their risk of heart disease by 80%, their chances of type 2 diabetes by 90%, and their chances of getting colon cancer by 70%. Those are some seriously powerful results, and results this Darwinian fail could really get behind!

So after presenting all of his stats, surveys, and research what does Michael Pollan suggest we do to lead a truly healthy life? It all came down to just 7 little words:
Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.
And those 7 words make a lot of sense, because it means we cut out the processed food (since that is not actually food), we stop over eating, and we eat the fruits and veggies we know are good for us! It is just so simple! No mumbo jumbo about antioxidants, trans fats vs saturated fats, gluten, polyphenols, and the like. No biochemistry degree required! Its perfect!

Michael Pollan's next book (Food Rules) is fabulous, because it expands on the research and theories he generates throughout In Defense of Food and formats it into easy to follow rules for the average eater (me!). I have chosen 6 other rules from the 64 he presents in Food Rules to follow during my genetic battle.

1. Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.
So that means if you see words like "ethoylated diglycerides" or "xanthan" it means that this product does not really contain whole foods, and it is probably best to be avoided if you are hoping to attain a clean healthy lifestyle. 

2. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
Most supermarkets are set up the same way. Processed food products dominate the center aisles of the store, while the fresh foods - produce, meat, fish, dairy - line the walls. If you keep to the edges you are more likely to end up with real food in your shopping cart.

3. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
In countries where people eat a pound or more of vegetables and fruits a day, the rate of cancer is half what it is in North America. If you are battling against a genetic predisposition to cancer like I am, than eating more vegetables probably wouldn't hurt!

4. Eat your colours.
The colours of many vegetables reflect the different antioxidant phytochemicals they contain. Many of these chemicals help protect against chronic diseases, but each in slightly different ways not yet understood, so the best protection comes from a diet rich in as many different phytochemicals as possible.

5. Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored (or depressed)
Pretty self explanatory I think...

6. Treat treats as treats
You have to live a little, so this is where my 80/20 ratio comes into play. You can't spend your life battling your genetics, but feeling hard done by for doing it - it simply won't work. Plus sometimes I need a delicious decadent meal as a way to celebrate or pamper myself . A healthy life is all about moderation!

So that is it! Those are my food mantras - basic, simple, and easy to follow. Genetics you have been forewarned! I refuse to take your abuse lying down, and I am fighting back with my diet!

Talk to you all again soon!
Love your favourite Darwinian fail,