One doctor’s take on Whole30: when the Magic doesn’t happen

I can’t take any credit for today’s post. Pam, a general practitioner from Wellington, NZ, has shared her recent Whole30 experience with Jamie and myself, and then kindly allowed me to make it public. We first got in contact with Pam via Twitter a few months ago. A New Zealand based doctor who is vocal about being anti-grain, anti-sugar and pro-real food? Yes, please, we are very interested! I don’t even know how she went from being from a voiceless Twitter handle to a huge part of our “kiwi Paleo gang” (not entirely sure how a Russian-born Australian got invited there either but they tell me it’s a privilege). Pam is 47 years young and her voice is loud and uncompromising. I have been greatly entertained and awestruck watching her take on conventional nutritionists, media and medical authorities, all in a 140 character format. When Jamie and I announced Whole9 South Pacific she became one of our most staunch supporters. It was only a matter of time before we convinced/coerced her into doing a Whole30. I found her insights particularly compelling because it was not all fireworks and champagne. Her motivation is to improve health, prevent becoming hypertensive and diabetic (yes, believe it or not, doctors worry about this too!). Here is her story.

My Whole30 roundup – When the Magic doesn’t happen

I am learning.  Learning to be patient. Learning to have realistic expectations. And learning to appreciate the value of small changes. I have learned that it’s ok not to experience the ‘magic’ that many other people do when they make purposeful changes to their lifestyles. It is hard not to feel disappointed or that you have been rather unsuccessful when you constantly read of these ‘magic’ stories and personal epiphanies. That is the nature of the beast. People crow unashamedly about their great achievements. And so they should. They have done the work. They should be proud of their achievements and we should share in their success. They inspire others to give change a go. I am happy for them. Really I am.

But what of those who put their very best efforts in and don’t experience that ‘magic’. I am sure there are as many or more who land up in this place. But they are not shouting from the ‘comments’ or ‘discussions’.  What happens to them?  I suspect many give up and slink quietly back to their old habits feeling as if they have failed yet again. I’ve been there. Many times.  Not any more. Part of the reason is that I have accepted reality. There is no ‘magic’ for most people. So, what would have been the ‘magic’ for me? Despite trying to convince myself otherwise, a dramatic weight loss would have been my magic. I didn’t start with health problems that others have had to suffer with. Gluten and dairy didn’t mess with me. I had no autoimmune issues. Just too much body fat. So I guess I could say I had /have hormonal issues! What I did learn was that even if there is no magic, there is hope. And there is certainty that you can become healthier.

My ‘aha’ moment occurred about 9 months ago. A chance comment at a random moment piqued my curiosity. With the world of information at my finger tips I could Google, follow links and find any information I wanted. I could formulate questions and find answers. I found the pathway to the truth about dieting, health and weight loss. I found amazing people and I also found out about the lies, politics, egos and money which have ruled the information about diet and health on which the average person relies on for better health. Information gives you knowledge. Knowledge is power.

So what the heck has all this got to do with Whole30? You may be wondering. It has everything to do with my Whole30. You own your own Whole30. I owned my Whole30 and because of this I got through the 30 days (and continuing on).

Whole30 was one of many plans/programs/guides that I came across. When Whole9SouthPacific put out the challenge and fronted the charge to lead by example, I made the decision to take up the challenge too. The time was right and the challenge was right. I had been eating pretty clean for 8 months. Too clean to bother with Whole30? Maybe, maybe not. In my head I decided to commit. Although the challenge was for January I made the decision to delay starting until after our holiday when I could be fully in control of my environment. We were going to stay with friends and I felt it would not be right to be too picky about everything I could and couldn’t eat ‘because it’s not Whole30’. That didn’t mean that I didn’t come pretty close to adhering most of the time.

Holiday over, time to start. My weight had not changed much for 2-3 months. Maybe up a kilo over Christmas/ New Year and holiday. I wasn’t expecting miracles but I was hoping for at least a small change in direction and getting off the stalled weight loss. In order to become totally Whole30 I needed to quit dairy (had already reduced a lot), no alcohol – not too difficult, no coke zero (a bit more challenging). I had already quit bread and wheat as well as other grains many months before. So that was the ‘leave out’ bit.

Whole30 was also about ‘adding in’ – more food and more meals. I was eating very low carb, not eating even starchy vegetables. I started adding in some pumpkin and sweet potato. I also added in occasional fruit as I had not been eating any for months. And it was berry season. I had to put more effort into having 3 meals a day. I was used to skipping breakfast at times. Sometimes because I just wasn’t hungry and other times just because I didn’t have time. My egg intake soared. Spinach became my ‘go to vegetable’ – I added it to everything where I needed more on my plate.

I didn’t find it particularly difficult to complete the Whole30. I made sure I wasn’t hungry. I also made sure I always had some compliant foods to grab if I was hungry coming home at meal times. A stash of ready boiled eggs, homemade mayo and salad greens made sure I had no excuse to eat the wrong things.

So what did I get from Whole30?

  • I lost about 3kg. I am sure that had I gone from SAD to Whole 30 directly I would have lost double that (the double bit being water loss). I think my clothes loosened fractionally.
  • I don’t miss my wine. I seldom really feel like my latte coffees. Black is fine (as long as it’s not too strong).
  • I am absolutely fine eating more vegetable sourced carbohydrates – very low carb is not necessary for me.
  • Bread does not have a hook out for me. The trick is not to be hungry – making sure I eat enough.
  • I think about sweet things less often and they are less tempting.

Perhaps a lot of this resilience to reverting to SAD food is pure willpower because I feel so strongly that I have to avoid unhealthy food to prevent future health problems. But maybe there is a biochemical change that has occurred and that I really have a true lessening of desire for those foods. Probably a bit of both.

The only Whole30 ‘rule’ I broke was the scales one. I make no apologies. This was MY Whole30 and I had to make it work for ME. I get why the rule is there but for me it wasn’t going to work. In the past when I have lost the scales it has started the slippery slope back to weight gain. I realised that I might not lose weight so I wasn’t too stressed about that. But there was no way I was going to contemplate gaining. I didn’t weigh myself every day. I weighed here and there, maybe 2-3 times a week and in a random fashion. It helped me knowing that despite eating well I was not creeping up the scales. After close tracking of weight for 8 months I can recognise the fact that weight loss is both slow and definitely not a straight-line graph. It is an alpine graph with lots of ups and downs but the overall gradient slopes downwards.

The direct and indirect support of the cyber-community has reinforced my awareness of why I need to stick to the plan. My own knowledge growth has made me realise that having knowledge is only part of the plan. It’s up to me to do the very best I can for my own health. Whole30 provides the rudder, its up to me to steer the ship. The pathway doesn’t have to be straight and narrow but if I lose the rudder, the ship will loose its way. The tighter I steer the more stable the ship.

My message: If you don’t feel the magic, don’t give up. Your health depends on following a real food template for the rest of your life. Give yourself years before you decide real food doesn’t make a difference. Your future health is not measured in days or months.

PS: there are no ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos. It’s not what you look like that tells you whether you are healthy or not. There is so much more to health than a picture. For me the pictures do not speak a thousand words.

A case for simplicity

Case 1. Bev

Bev is a jolly 63yo farmer who came in to the hospital after suffering a minor stroke. One quiet afternoon when I spot our medical student looking a bit out of place (well, even more so than usually) I take him to see Bev for a neurological exam practice. Bev looks flattered and obediently sits back in her bed, being the perfect patient. I remind the student that we start with a general observation of the patient,the side of bed assessment. He dutifully recites “alert, comfortable and in no respiratory distress”. I gently nudge him to describe the patient’s body habitus, the student gets instantly embarrassed and looks lost. How do you tell a patient she is fat? I explain while looking at Bev that her central obesity is an important risk factor which may be pertinent to diagnosis at hand. Bev chuckles good-naturedly: “I love me food, I’ve always been a good baker!”.

Most medical students hate the neuro exam: it’s tedious, long, complicated and seemingly impossible to make smooth. I don’t rush him and Bev seems happy with the attention. The student correctly identifies the weakness on the left side of Bev’s face. He asks Bev to blow up her cheeks, Bev makes a valiant attempt but ends up making a noise like letting out air of a balloon and promptly laughs. I hear laughs from the other side of the curtain: evidently this has been a source of amusement to other patients as well. Bev’s limb weakness is improving and we take her for a gait assessment. With her tiny feet, narrow shoulders, perfectly rotund middle and a wide crooked smile, she looks almost comically cute. The student summarises the findings of his examination and correctly identifies that Bev has likely suffered an ischaemic stroke in the area of a middle cerebral artery in the right brain hemisphere. I thank Bev for being the perfect model for us, she wisely nods:
- They all gotta learn somehow, don’t they? So you think it’s gonna get better for me, doc?
I point out that she already has made marked progress and then ask her how she feels about the future.
- Oh I know. I gotta watch that cholesterol, don’t I? No more fish’n’chips for this chickie! (laughs)
I tell her I’ll come back to chat to her about diet before her discharge, thinking I’ll get to her before she gets fed some pseudo-nutritional rubbish.

Two days later, on my day off, Bev suffered a major stroke. The nurse found her in the morning, stiff in her bed, unable to move, call out or ring the bell. The stroke affected the other side of her brain and left her completely paralysed on what just 2 days ago was her “good side”. I never got to see her again because she was transferred to another hospital to a dedicated stroke unit.

Case 2. John

I only find out about John at morning rounds as he was admitted last night. I barely have enough time to register “64yo male transferred post BKA” on my handover sheet as we enter his room. BKA stands for Below Knee Amputation. John has just had his second one. As I stand in the room while the consultant chats to John about his surgery my eyes keep drifting to an empty space below John’s knees. No matter how many times I have seen it, this sight still unnerves me.

I distinctly recollect one of my most distressing experiences in operating theatres when I was assisting in a BKA. My job was to stand at the bottom of the table and stabilise (a.k.a hold tightly) the foot and calf of the leg being amputated. I still remember own visceral startle when the toes suddenly started to move, as if in a mute protest, when the surgeon was severing the tendons at the knee. At some point through the cut the lower leg stopped being a part of the human being and became an object. As the last thread connecting it to the breathing body was dissected I was left holding that object in my hands, temporarily stunned, until the nurse offered a big bucket to deposit it in.

John is looking defiant. The consultant has just finished drawing a pretty bleak picture and suggesting a nursing home placement. I feel the hot wave of indignation at this seemingly cruel crushing of a patient’s determination to maintain independence and mobility. John repeats mulishly that he wants to have double prosthesis, he wants to walk again. Later that day I find out that my anger was misplaced. While his raging diabetes destroyed the small vessels in his feet and opened him up to ugly ulcers and gangrenous infections, John’s dementia caused him irretrievable short term memory loss and, consequently, an inability to learn new skills required for amputation rehab. He has been on insulin for years but has been steadily forgetting to inject himself in the evenings when he gets most confused.

Case 3. Pat

Pat is a 47 year old Indigenous woman who presented to our Emergency Department with chest pain. The ECG and cardiac markers do not show any signs of heart muscle damage but she is at high risk for coronary artery disease as she is a former heavy smoker and a diabetic. Routine nursing observations show that her average blood sugar has been between 25-30 mmol/L (450-540 mg/dL) over the last day. She normally takes metformin but it’s clearly not doing very much. Like many Indigenous patients she doesn’t look grossly overweight, with her skinny arms and legs sticking out of her hospital gown. The gown cannot fully hide her round belly though, and I have to double check the notes that she is not pregnant. No, she is not. I try to be gentle when I tell Pat that she is likely going to need “the needles”. Sometimes the mere mention of injecting insulin serves as a good wake up call and a good opener to the lifestyle modification conversation. Pat doesn’t seem phased: “Ok doc”. I feel a hint of frustration: the conversation is not going the way I planned. I try to bring it back to the diet, saying that stopping junk food may be an easier solution than injecting yourself every day. “I don’t eat junk food, doc! I didn’t have Maccas for yonks!” – she protests. I note a half empty 2 L apple juice bottle on her bedside table: “And what’s this? You can’t have that with your sugars!” She looks confused. I take a breath and start to rant about soft drinks and sugar but she has already turned off and when her mobile phone rings she picks it up leaving me with my mouth open mid-sentence. As she starts to chat, I walk away taking the juice bottle off her table and pouring it out into the nearest sink.

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My other life, on this blog, as a part of Whole9, on social media, is like another world. Highly motivated people sharing their success stories, intelligent eyes watching our Whole9 South Pacific presentation, challenging questions being asked – I find my enthusiasm recharged and renewed. Although recently I see more and more splinters appear in the community.

Recently a video made rounds in “Paleosphere”. Some bloggers that I respect and follow found it offensive in its simplicity. I won’t comment on the video itself, I have a few minor quibbles with it myself, although I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to show it to my average patient. I want to comment on the “It’s not that simple” critique. Maybe it’s not that the message is too simple, maybe we are trying to make it too complicated. We dissect this diet thing to its smallest constituents, calories vs grams vs ratios vs micronutrients vs cytokines vs endocannabinoids. Critical scientific discussion is enormously valuable and discourse should only be viewed as the way forward. But somehow discourse all too quickly  turns into a personal attack, a spiteful tweet or a post from the safety of a computer screen. And, sadly, some who used to offer valuable contribution to the body of knowledge now seem to offer nothing but negativity. Are we turning into the equivalent of elderly cranky academics arguing about the best fire-fighting methods while the room is engulfed in flames?

What about your average reader who has just googled Paleo or primal or ancestral health? Are we causing “paralysis by analysis” by not making it crystal clear what we actually all agree on? Even those firmly indoctrinated in beef broth/bacon/kale seem occasionally lost. Sometimes getting lost is easy if you are given a way out – maybe Lustig is wrong and sugar is ok? Maybe Taubes is delusional and it’s time to count calories again? Oh no, this thing is not simple at all! Let’s browse through some blogs, maybe we can catch the author out, find an error in the archives and pronounce the final judgment. It’s not exactly helpful for own health problems but sure is satisfying.

I did not choose the three cases for their dramatic value, I chose them because they are average. I see between 20 and 30 Bevs, Johns and Pats daily. Sure, I love reading the latest research papers in a search for truth but for these guys I want SIMPLE. I need a heuristic. If your goals are getting to a single percentage body fat, running a marathon or continue setting PBs by doing smashfit 5 days a week (hopefully not all at the same time!) you may need more tweaking but you are not exactly your Average Joe, are you? My favourite Internet testimonial this year is a 71 yo lady on a social security budget who reduced her HbA1C, came off insulin and halved her blood pressure medications, probably without giving a second thought to the latest blogosphere drama.

We are onto something good here. It’s real and, let me tell you, it may better than any expensive medication I can offer my patients. SIMPLE will get most people most of the way there. Here is my heuristic:

- eat meat/fish/eggs + vegetables (tubers, greens) three times a day to satiety and activity levels

- prioritise your sleep

- move in a way you enjoy

Do this every day for 3 months. Without dissecting, or philosophising, or looking for a loophole. This may just be enough to see change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whole30, Goldilocks and evil carbses

Back to posting after long silence.

Things have been downright crazy here at primalmeded/Whole9SouthPacific HQ. Jamie and I have successfully held our first ever W9SP workshop in Cairns. I expect this to be the flashiest workshop we will ever have since it was conducted in the Shangri-La rather than in a Crossfit gym surrounded by pull up bars, chalked up weights and breathing in the sweat the smell of victory. But hey, we can talk to people about nutrition anywhere as long as nobody decided to punch out 20 burpees when they get bored of our ramblings. The Paleo Cafe in Cairns were awesome organisers and they will be conducting a Whole30 in February and we will get to judge the winner. Our next stop is Crossfit Toowoomba which is getting close to being booked out!

Jamie dropping some knowledge bombs to a full house in Cairns

Jamie dropping some knowledge bombs to a full house in Cairns

Me, with my "d'er" slide

Me, with my “d’er” slide

The obligatory glam shot: me and Julianne Taylor from Paleo Zone Nutrition who was our special guest. Post workshop dinner at Cairns marina

The obligatory glam shot: me and Julianne Taylor from Paleo Zone Nutrition who was our special guest. Post workshop dinner at Cairns marina

This post is mostly about Whole30 and random thoughts on troubleshooting. This is my 4th whole30 and yes, I’m getting pretty good at this. Plus I have the benefit of being intimately familiar with the book, knowing the references and also presenting that material. Not to blow my own trumpet but I think it’s fair to say it gives me a little bit of an insight. But in spite of all this, I found myself wide-eyed and amazed at how much I learnt this time around.

A little bit of personal background to put this into perspective. I have been eating low carb/primal/Paleo for over 2.5 years now. I don’t have any medical conditions or an overt food intolerance. Junk food (sugar, grains, processed food) gives me pimples, makes me bloated and pushes me to the sarcastic bitch end of the spectrum. When I eat well I contain my natural impatience with stupidity a lot better. I never thought I had problems with dairy but I have been having less and less of it in the last few months and my skin which was already pretty good improved more. Plus I don’t really miss it. I put on some weight this year mostly due to stress, irregular hours and meals, and sleep deprivation. I have made it my priority to improve those areas in the last few months and was already getting good results. We decided to do the January Whole30 to “walk the talk” (so nobody could tell us “eating THIS way is soooo hard”) and see what results we can achieve with perfect focus.

First the results:

  1. My satiety levels are the best they have EVER been. I used to snack occasionally (i.e. daily) and felt no hunger in the morning, then was practically starving by lunch, and again before bedtime. Now I have 3 full meals spaced out at around 6hrs with some gentle hunger around hour 5.
  2. My energy levels improved dramatically. We go to the gym 3 days a week doing basic strength. On the days that we don’t train we go for beach walks, sprints and short hikes. Instead of wanting to collapse into the couch when I come home and play dead, I actually look forward to getting out of the house and dissipating some pent-up energy.
  3. Strength gains. This year my training has been really inconsistent. I remember thinking at my surgical rotation that the only exercise I get is holding the retractors in OT. Last few months I introduced more gymnastics-style training which I hugely enjoyed. I sustained a minor injury in late December and somehow found myself coerced convinced to take a month off gymnastics and do a strength block instead. Never thought I’d say it but I actually do enjoy it and will introduce some deadlifts (gasp!) into my regular program. Ok, ok, I’m loving it. I have no doubt that having extra energy and good recovery contributed to that.
  4. Body composition. If you are expecting the Before and After photos you are out of luck. It ain’t happening. The water weight and some extra insulation (he he) that I picked up over winter started to shift in the last few months. But in the last few weeks I felt like somebody just pushed the right button. I am leaner with the biggest differences in my stomach and waist. I probably could say more but I am going to stop there. Let’s just say I am very happy with the change.

So what did I do differently???

  • More food. Seriously. I have always considered that I eat a lot “for a girl”. I thought I was tired and apathetic because of work, stress, “I am just lazy”. It is practically ingrained in women that they should eat less than a man. Dishing out dinner I would go with the Goldilocks principles: papa bear meal, mama bear meal and a baby bear. And of course, somehow accurately estimating with a trained eye that my portion should be about 30% less than Jamie’s. This time we decided to run an experiment and fill my plate. So now we plate out a portion of protein about 150-200g each and fill the white gaps on the plate with veggies and fruit. Occasionally it’s too much and I don’t finish it. More often than not, I do.

I had a few people ask me recently on Twitter and at the workshop whether it was 200g per day or per meal which caused me a lot of merriment. Get you calculators ready, doubters!
3 eggs at 11g protein each = 33g (breakfast)
Smoked salmon 150g = 32g (lunch)
Lamb chop = 33g (dinner)
Total around 100g protein a day. I weigh 60kg. Which makes it ~1.6g of protein per kilo. Hardly a huge amount for a young active female. Don’t forget, you have eliminated snacks with “healthy” sources of useless protein, a.k.a. gluten, like Nutrigrain cereal bars. 3 meals of between 25 and 40g each does not add up to a whole lot.

 

Very typical dinner: lamb chop (of course!), sweet potato+orange+pecans in olive and ginger marinade, braised cabbage with garlic

Very typical dinner: lamb chop (of course!), sweet potato+orange+pecans in olive and ginger marinade, braised cabbage with garlic

Just in case you think I used an entree plate. Palm size is a minimum, ladies!

Just in case you think I used an entree plate. Palm size is a minimum, ladies!

So yeah, I lost MORE body fat eating MORE food. Still think calories count?

  • More vegetables. When Dallas and Melissa said “Fill the rest of your plate with veggies” they weren’t joking. When I talk to people about vegetables I normally get this slightly guilty shifty look: “Yeah yeah I know they are good for me…” and the voice trails into the distance. Yes, they are bloody good for you. Eat them. I don’t go into throws of ecstasy over broccoli and bok choy. But I eat it. I am a grown up, FFS. I love how people who dislike them find all sort of reasons to avoid them. I know there are many with autoimmune conditions etc. who genuinely need to avoid nightshades or FODMAPs. But something tells me that it’s all too easy to use that excuse to avoid “boring” veggies. Which actually undermines the distress of those who actually cannot tolerate these veggies. Needless to say, all our veggies are cooked in fat (I don’t just want to chew fibre, I actually want to absorb some micronutrients here). And try not to spot diagnose yourself with intolerance to <coconut, onions,=”” radishes=””> after 1 week just because your gut is not used to that amount of fibre and you feel a little bloated. Don’t blame the food. Give it some time to adjust then reassess.
  • Whole30 Meal Template. One of the mistakes that I see often in the newcomers (and sometimes old-timer paleos) is focusing on Whole30/Paleo-approved ingredients. People tend to forget about the fact that these ingredients still need to add up to a MEAL. So yes, almonds, blueberries and cocoa are technically all Whole30-approved but it is still not a meal. Swapping your protein+veggie lunch for a “light” soup with some nuts may sound like a good idea but you are shortchanging yourself on nutrition and will likely crumble like an almond meal cookie in a day or two. The Whole30 Meal Template does not just apply for dinner (most of us are down with that) but also to your Meal1 and Meal2. We successfully melted a few brains at our Cairns workshop suggesting slow cooked lamb and stir-fried veggies for breakfast. For us every single meal but 2 (caught out at Brisbane airport)  followed the protein and veg (and some fruit) format.
Breakfast: 3 eggs, slow cooked lamb and random veggies. Oh and an apple

Breakfast: 3 eggs, slow cooked lamb and random veggies. Oh and an apple

Work lunch sitting on my lap

Work lunch sitting on my lap

  • More starchy vegetables. Oh boy. I am in the process of actively opening a Pandora’s box and I know it. Let’s get one thing straight: “starches” are vegetables. I am not talking about tucking into potato starch with a tablespoon or sprinkling flour over steak. They are VEGETABLES. Since when are vegetables bad for us? News flash: they have more than strings of glucose held together by glycosidic bonds: vitamins, minerals, nutrients. They are cellular carbohydrate sources (if you haven’t yet read this paper you must!)

For those concerned about their glucose tolerance. The glycaemic effect of a meal hugely depends on its fat content. And if you were a diabetic who decided to tuck in a bowl of plain white potato on its own on an empty stomach your BSL may indeed shoot up. But why would you do that unless you were getting paid by a sugar company keen to sell their low GI sugar? If you incorporate the same potato into a normal size meal containing meat/fish and a decent source of fat to slow the stomach emptying I betcha you will see some different numbers.

But of course, everything is a spectrum. And as much as this applies to the middle of the bell curve there are always outliers. I have seen people get a BSL of 18 after a piece of fish and 10 after a bowl of pasta, making me swallow the pill of humility and bite my tongue. If your glucose tolerance is indeed shot to pieces you may have to watch your sweet potato “allowance”. AND you need to look at your activity level and building some good muscle where you can sink some glucose. If you are bed/couch-ridden you will tolerate less. If you get yourself a decent muscle sink and empty it regularly you will tolerate more.

What I find infinitely more frustrating is not the glucose intolerant individuals who have to have a little less sweet potato because they are sick, unable to exercise, their pancreas is on its last legs and they are trying to minimise the damage. It is those who claim that a piece of pumpkin with dinner sends them into hyperglycaemic coma and goes straight to their thighs but pumpkin gluten-free pancakes/cookies/muffins on the other hand are totally “Paleo”. I’m sorry, what? Sure, I like to let my hair down from time to time, I am not some boring Paleo prune who never has fun, I want to give some treats to my child and help her grow up well adjusted. So I will bake her some nut flour/maple syrup/honey/cocoa concoction but will vilify half a sweet potato? Holding onto paleofied sugar methadone with a death grip will prevent you from assessing your real starchy vegetable tolerance. Those evil carbses might actually work for you if you let go of the dessert addiction.

Argh. Ok. This is turning a little more ranty than I intended. I’ll get off my soap box and stop my preaching. Take from it what you want. There is no need to send me BSL measurements to prove that beetroot gets you higher than cocaine. This may not be you. But I sure do see this a lot from people who then go: “This Paleo thing doesn’t work for me!!!!!! I tried it, was tired all the time, couldn’t lose weight, got weak in the gym. It’s a fad people, get over it”.

Anyways.

Good luck with your Whole30.

Whole9 South Pacific: holy moly!

I like when a plan comes together. It all started with a few jokes over email, continued over delicious meals in Boston and got sealed this November with some very official-sounding paperwork. No, I am not talking about my personal life. This is about a new exciting venture involving myself, some kiwi hunk and a Good Food power couple from the US.

Yes, I am referring to our partnership with Dallas and Melissa from Whole9.

Whole 9 Eventbrite bannerIf you are not yet familiar with their amazing work you are missing out big time (go dive into their blog and get their book RIGHT NOW). I have always been a huge fan of their approach and I am tickled pink that I can now call myself a part of their team.

They have now introduced us as Whole9 South Pacific on their blog and have kindly allowed us to write a post discussing one of our pet topics: socialisation and its role in healthy nutrition. And I cannot believe that they didn’t edit it to spell the word with a “z”. Un-real.

Anyway, Jamie and I are now officially available to run Whole9 workshops in our part of the world. Obviously Australia and New Zealand are high on the list but if there is an eager host in Japan (always wanted to visit!) or Vanuatu (we can run it on the beach!) we are open to ideas.

If you are a gym/cafe owner or Paleo group member and would like to find of how to host a gig send your request to workshops (at) whole9life (dot) com. If you are an enthusiastic whole9/Paleo/primal fan and would like to participate, keep an eye out for our event announcement or better still, start harassing encouraging your local meetup group or Crossfit gyms to host.

And to top it all off, we are happy to announce that the first ever Whole9 South Pacific workshop in Australia will be held in Cairns and hosted by the Paleo Cafe. Spread the word!

Whole9 South Pacific is our new baby but I am definitely not planning to step away from this blog. I will continue to write on random topics that take my fancy and share my thoughts and frustrations with anyone who can understand my slightly twisted sense of humour (cheers to all eight of you).

Saturation be damned

Night time reading

I love interacting with this informed and educated community of ours who take responsibility for own health, read and interpret scientific articles, ask intelligent and incredibly tricky questions and look at the world through a prism of human evolution. It’s really really cool. I also don’t own a television or read newspapers. I know, I am missing out on the vital information on the recent exciting advances in the field of laundry detergents, easily foldable exercise equipment and female hygiene products. But I’ll take my chances.

So when I was approached recently by an Australian reporter to comment on why saturated fat might not be as bad as everyone thinks, I was temporarily stunned. Everyone still thinks that? An hour-long lunch outside in the company of co-workers brought me back to reality. Listening to the less-than-lithe lady lecturing a younger employee that “pasta is perfectly healthy as long as you avoid creamy sauces and stick with tomato-based ones and add psyllium husks to increase fibre” plunged me back to earth from the AHS12-induced heights.

Oh boy. On this planet, margarine is still a health food.

So I thought I’d write down some thoughts on fats, why we still need to talk about them, the strength of evidence and where we go from here. The article ended up being published at The Age and I was amused to see our hour-long phone conversation and the exchange of several emails with attached studies reduced to one sentence quoted from me, but I am not complaining since I think the article was quite well-balanced and hopefully gives people some food for thought. Here is the link.

If you are totally new to all this, I recommend that you read my post on fat basics and the slightly more complicated polyunsaturated fat primer.

Don’t all scientists and doctors agree that saturated fat is bad?

My main gripe with conventional advice to reduce saturated fat in the diet is that it makes it sound that everyone in science and medicine agrees that it is the right thing to do. They say “scientists” and you imagine a group of nerdy-looking men and women in lab coats and glasses with clipboards, all nodding in unison: “Saturated fat will kill you”.

Bad cow, bad!

Sorry, no. Far from it. In the year 2012 we still run trials on dietary fat and its effect on mortality, cardiovascular disease and weight. In fact, a Pubmed search on “dietary fat” yields close to 700 article from 2010 to present date.

If “saturated fat will kill you” is a done deal why do all these folks get research grants and waste years of their life on the pointless pursuit of the truth that has long been discovered and incorporated into every government-led nutrition advice?

And yet, the consensus is farther away than ever. Nutrition and Metabolism Society publishes critiques of the American Dietary Guidelines, as well as scores of papers on the subject. Then there is THINCS, The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics, which really sounds like an evil mad scientist organisation from a Bond movie, but in fact has respected members like a biochemist Dr Mary Enig and a scientific researcher Dr Uffe Ravnskov.

Not to mention a fine gathering of clinicians, scientists, nutritionists, researchers, physiotherapists, bloggers at Harvard Law School this year for 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium, most of whom seemed to think that bacon is rad and margarine is bad.

Can you refute XYZ study and the rest of the body of evidence on saturated fat?

Yawn. I have no intention on memorising every study conducted in the last 50 years, no matter how bad or good they are. We have been eating fat, lard, meat, eggs, butter, ghee, coconut oil for thousands of years. I think the burden of proof lies on those who say that these traditional foods have been our silent killer all along. All I can do is to politely present the vast body of scientific evidence that does not support the lipid hypothesis (YES! IT IS STILL A HYPOTHESIS!)

Sarcasm alert. Lipid Hypothesis 2.0 = we have come to realise that total fat intake has no bearing on heart disease or weight (sorry! Our bad!) But it’s all about the type of fat. There are only 2 types of fat: saturated (=evil, comes from animals, eating animals is bad, you immoral cruel self-serving glutton) and unsaturated (=pure good, comes from vegetables, like cottonseed, soybean, canola and sunflower, botany be damned). Substituting unsaturated for saturated fat is the real reason why we are healthier, thinner and fitter than thousands of generations of traditional cultures because they couldn’t work out how to get 10% of their daily calories from PUFA, suckers.

 

He needs to be told how unhealthy he is from his 40% SAFA intake. Those coconuts will kill you, buddy! (Source: http://www.thatpaleoguy.com)

Several studies have shown improvement in CV markers and mortality when saturated fats were replaced with PUFA. Regardless of how good/bad sat fats are, shouldn’t we make the substitution just in case anyway?

This is a very common reasoning from many educated doctors and academics. They are now aware that sat fats are not much of a problem. Great. But what’s the harm in tinkering our diets if all we have is improvement, right?

Wrong.

I have a real problem with a blanket advice to increase PUFA in general as if they are all the same. PUFA are not all created equal, they have different physiological functions and effects on the body! (go back to basics). At the very least they should be differentiated into omega-3 and omega-6. However, even that’s too simplistic.

If you are planning on dividing fats on the basis of the biochemical structure and biological function, you have just only scratched the surface. Behold! All saturated fats are actually not the same either. Lauric fatty acid is metabolised differently and has different effects on serum lipid profiles than stearic. Even omega-3 are not a homogenous group (gasp!). The intake of the shorter-chained ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) does not come close to providing the same benefit as the long-chained DHA due to inefficient conversion.

Jacobsen’s analysis of 11 cohort studies, quoted in the article as the final proof of the miracle qualities of PUFA,  showed that substituting PUFA for SAFA seemed to reduce CV events and mortality. However, simplification, as usual, can only take you this far. The analysis lumped omega-3 and omega-6 PUFA together and did not take into account the deleterious effect of trans fatty acids separately from SAFA.

“Linoleic acid selective PUFA interventions produced no indication of benefit but rather a fairly consistent, but non-significant, signal toward increased risk of coronary heart disease and death. ” (Kuipers ER al, 2011, hyperlinked above)

That’s what happens when you simplify a complex concept. Why? Because the public are so dumb they won’t get it? Because 2 types of fat is quite enough to remember? And to make things even more visually and conceptually appealing let’s represent them as ying and yang, bad and good, dark and light?

So you have some studies, “they” have some studies. How do lay people know who to trust?

As much as I respect Evidence Based Medicine, I am well aware of its limitations. You can pull apart every study, point out the confounders, small sample size, confirmation bias, lack of double-blinding, the grant approved by a completely impartial third party with key investments in related area. Let’s not reduce the process to “Mine is bigger than yours.”

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution“. Repeat this 5 times before going to bed every night.

How much omega-6 was available in our diet as Homo sapiens for 2 million years up to the advent of industrial processing? How much oil can you get out of a soybean without the benefit of extraction chemicals?

Aaaaaaah! Would you just tell me how much PUFA/SAFA/Carbs I should be eating?

Talking about macronutrients (fatty acids, carbs, etc) is useless unless it applies to food. If the advice to increase PUFA translates into “eat more fish” I will be the first one to shout it from the rooftops! But what if it translates into “eat more peanut butter”? Still PUFA! But are you going to get the same benefits? You don’t need to read an insightful review by Christopher Ramsden on omega-3 vs omega-6 to know that peanut butter ain’t gonna make you healthier than salmon. But sometimes we really really want to believe it. And deluding ourselves is oh so easy when somebody in a position of authority gives you the green light.

Yum

Focusing too much on macronutrients is what allowed abominations like “low fat banana bread” to become a healthy morning tea snack. The “reductionism” approach has successfully indicted natural foods such as eggs, coconut, avocado, butter. At the same time we have low fat sausage rolls, sugary cereal, margarine and other foods devoid of any nutrition, riding on the coat tails of the lipid hypothesis 2.0.

One of the benefits of using the evolutionary approach is that it allows you to make rational decisions about your life choices without having to double-check them with Pubmed. And it doesn’t involve re-enactment of Paleolithic times, although heaven knows, I find some modern social conventions really tedious (like people requesting to know how I am going on a Monday morning prior to my first cup of coffee). As the opponents of the Paleo approach correctly point out, we don’t really know what our ancestors ate. But I sure as hell know what they DIDN’T eat: excessive amounts of sugar, grains, seed oils and other industrially produced food-like substances. Not even almond flour cupcakes. Sorry.

Regulating your fat intake is easy: eat fish, seafood, meat (preferably grass-fed), eggs, some nuts, seasonal fruit and veggies.

Go back to eating food, not labels.

Imperfect Day

 

When people embark on a new venture, like a new nutrition program, they do not expect to fail. Full of vigour and enthusiasm, they feel ready to improve their diet, exercise and lifestyle. But if you ask them how they imagine their new life, almost inevitably you will get a picture of a PERFECT day. The day where they bounced out of bed early to go for workout (or at the very least, an energising walk), had all their meals prepared for the day, felt perfectly satisfied and full after each one, managed their work stress, astonished their work colleagues with own weight loss and vitality, had enough energy to attempt a deadlift PB in the evening, spent quality time with their family, browsed through at least 20 Paleo blogs, meditated, mastered a homemade jerky recipe and had a restoring 8 hour sleep undisturbed by blue light.

Nobody wants to think that one day they will want to throw their alarm clock across the room in the morning. Or that their work pressures will pile up over the course of the day culminating in a massive verbal punch up with a co-worker. Or that they will have a fight with their boyfriend and the thought of a pity party for one, complete with a tub of ice-cream and Lindt chocolate balls (ahem), seems like a perfectly reasonable idea.

Because that would be failure. And it wouldn’t happen. And, anyway, if it did, you would know exactly how to deal with it. Sure, 99.99% of people in your situation, would crumble and lose the plot. But you are different. You are SPECIAL. You have superhuman willpower, steely determination and you totally mean it this time.

Sorry to break it to you, a unique snowflake you are not.

But I was soooo strong…

Reality will bite you on the arse just like everyone else. Human physiology trumps willpower every single time. If you are working shift work, don’t expect to have energy for daily WODs. If you are stressed at work, don’t marvel at your increased appetite, and for God’s sake, don’t hover around a muffin platter. One of you is going to lose, and it ain’t gonna be the muffins.

So my new theory is, prepare for a IMPERFECT day. Think of everything that can go wrong (yes, I know, it’s a bit morbid) and work out a strategy of how you are going to overcome it, minimize it or at least mitigate the damage.

Here are a few of my strategies:

1. Too tired to cook healthy food at night -> Do a massive cook up prep with cut up veggies and pre-cooked meats Melissa Joulwan style on Sundays
2. No motivation to work out -> go for a long walk on uneven terrain, accelerate on a few stairs and recover in the open air
3. Fatigue/stress/frustration building in the afternoon -> take a 5 mins break outside, preferably on the open air, and take 20 deep breaths with your eyes closed
4. Cold/sore throat/cough/fever -> (I can’t believe I have to write this) please do not go to the gym. If energy levels are still ok, go for a short walk. If feeling tired, go home and curl up on the couch. Please.
5. Everything went wrong for you today, personal life in shambles, work has been shit, you want to cry, watch soppy movies and eat chocolate -> cry, watch soppy movies and eat the best goddam chocolate you can lay your hands on.


 

The spice of life

I’m sick of nutritional thought-terminating clichés. They are repeated ad nauseum everywhere from morning TV to a doctor’s surgery. One of my pet peeves is “Eat a wide variety of food“. I was not surprised to see this statement in the recent draft of Australian Dietary Guidelines.

What does it even mean?

There seems to be a strange notion floating around regarding our human nutritional  requirements. Since we need a wide variety of micronutrients and each food (apparently) only contains a limited amount, we best to stay on the safe side and eat a little bit of everything. This idea is perpetuated by the constant mentions of newly discovered “miracle” compounds in the media.

Reading all these you would be forgiven to think that to obtain optimal health you need a fridge full of exotic berries from Africa, a pseudo-grain from South America, tea leaves grown on a particular valley in Sri Lanka and a vegetable you have never heard of from the Pacific islands.

The ADG draft pitches another argument in support of the variety theory:

“Dietary variety has the benefit of diluting potential toxicants found naturally in food”

They go on to mention the potential vitamin A toxicity from excess liver consumption (most westerners today would gag at the mention of liver anyway) and a potential of mercury poisoning from fish for pregnant women (enough to scare off anyone from consuming any measurable quantities of DHA/EPA. What? Babies’ brains need those?)

This makes no sense (#FFS).

Let’s take ourselves from our first world everything-is-readily-available-when-I-need-it mentality and apply some good old fashioned common sense and a bit of evolutionary logic. Is it really likely that the compound which will turn on some beneficial gene expression in humans world wide just happens to be only found in a berry from Colombia? Hey, evolution, that’s a major oversight! It took the rest of us, non-Colombian population, 2 million years to work out how to build planes and stuff and this perfect nugget of nutrition was sitting there all this time?

It amused me no end that quinoa made it into the list of cereals recommended to be eaten as part of the 5 food groups daily (Guideline 1) in Australia.

“Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five food groups daily: 3. grain (cereal) foods mostly wholegrain, such as bread, cereal, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, cous cous, oats, quinoa, barley”.

But enough about South American wonder foods. What about a humble blueberry? All those anthocyanins and phenolics repairing the oxidative damage inflicted by the food group number 3. Has to be good for you, right? And lucky for us, health-conscious consumers, blueberries are available all year around courtesy your friendly local supermarket giant.

I still remember picking wild blueberries in a Russian forest as a child. We looked forward to a month-long blueberry season,  doing a few forest trips around July to check if berries were ready for picking. Some super keen villagers would go a few days early just to beat the crowds, their payback for keenness was a few extra hours of forest-wandering. The official start of the season would see whole families venture into the woods, each person laden with a ten litre bucket, me, a child, proudly carrying a one litre container. People would gorge on blueberries for a few short weeks, sell the excess, make mountains of blueberry jam. Every kid would be walking around with a dead giveaway of blueberry gluttony: purple lips. And then it was over for another year.

Think of it next time you buy your punnet of blueberries in the middle of February.

In the world where most fruit, vegetable and berries are farmed and/or transported across the planet we have lost a concept of seasonality. Even a 100 years ago these foods were not available everywhere all year round.  Is there any scientific evidence to suggest that eating food out of season or out of your area is harmful? Nope. But I don’t see any sense in chasing variety for variety’s sake.

“The most recent dietary survey data available for Australian adults – the National Nutrition Survey 1995 – showed an increasing number of foods being consumed by adults in that year compared with 1983 [44]. It is expected that the variety of foods consumed has continued to increase since 1995. This is largely as a result of cultural diversity in the population arising from waves of immigration from European countries after World War II and Asian and African countries since the 1970s [99, 100]. Initially, new varieties of fresh fruit and vegetables, grain (cereal) foods and different types of meat and legume/beans became available. Increasing demand for convenience and/or fast foods – also as a result of changes in social and economic conditions – has led to the availability of approximately 30,000 different types of foods and drinks [101]. However, many of these – particularly snack and fast foods and drinks – are energy-dense and nutrient-poor, so care is required to choose diets consistent with the Guidelines [102]. ” (the draft of ADG)

(my bold italics)

30,000 types of food? Looks like our diet is varied enough. And it’s not just the snacks, fast foods and drinks. Ask your grandmother if she knows what cous cous is (forgo this step if you grandmother is from North Africa).

Wow so much variety!

I am not for a minute suggesting that you should stick to the boring bland diet of steak and 3 veg (of which one is potato, the other is corn, the third is beans). But the concept of “you will develop a secret micronutrient deficiency unless you eat a huge variety of foods just in case” is dubious at best.

Once again they missed the mark, mistaking quantity for quality.

Milan vegetable market.

Lessons from history

Dairy products – foodstuffs made from mammalian milk.
Food Standards Agency UK

Cute child - check, sexist humour - check, false health claims - double check.

I hope you don’t eat margarine. Just like I hope you don’t smoke, drink alcohol excessively or do illicit drugs. Since margarine hasn’t been on my shopping radar for a while I just walk right past the brightly lit refrigerated shelves with hundreds of colourful tubs and packages straight to the “naughty corner” where a few lonely packs of butter have found refuge.

But recently a thought struck me as I was passing all that splendour: what is margarine doing in the dairy section of the supermarket? Or listed as “dairy” on the supermarket websites?

I will not bore you with the debunking of the so-called health claims of margarine. They all go along the lines of “we will save you from a certain death caused by the saturated fat in butter clogging your arteries”. Yawn. You can read  about the saturated fats here (Gary Taubes “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?”), here (Stephan Guyenet “Butter, Margarine and Heart Disease”) and here (Sylvan Lee Weinberg “The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: a Critique”).

Instead, I want to step away from the health conundrum to explore the history of margarine and its amazing rise from a lab-created inferior butter substitute to a major item in our shopping carts. I found myself more and more intrigued by the history (of food) as I get older which is scary because I find myself turning into my father: “Back in the days of the Empress Catherine the Great…” If you are under 30 and you are already bored come back in a few years.

History of margarine

Surprisingly enough, we can actually blame the French for the birth of margarine. The shortages of butter were crippling for the fat-loving nation in the middle of the 19th century. The war with Prussia was on the horizon and everyone knows you can’t feed cereal to soldiers. At the Paris World Exhibition in 1966 Louis Napoleon III announced a contest for the development of an acceptable butter substitute. In 1869 a French chemist by the name of Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés applied for a patent for a substance made from beef tallow emulsified with skim milk. He called it margarine, after a margaric fatty acid (considered a separate fatty acid at the time), and was subsequently awarded the government prize. The food industry began mass production but the product never took off. We can only imagine what the French public thought of spreading a colourless derivative of beef fat onto their morning croissants. My sympathies are entirely with them.

The Dutch firm Jurgen, one of the founding firms of Unilever (aha!),  bought the patent in 1870 and made a few improvements on the taste and the marketing. Other Northern European countries got in on the act, realising the potential of the new product.  It took awhile for the dairy industry to see the looming danger but by the end of the 19th century several countries had legislation in place to protect butter from the new kid on the block. The most bizarre of the margarine regulation laws was to have it coloured unappetising pink. Not surprisingly, it didn’t last.

As you can see at this point margarine is still largely an animal product. But with the growing shortages around the time of World War I and the development of food science new raw materials were required. The solution came in form of “vegetable” oils: soybean, cottonseed, canola, corn.

Quotation marks around “vegetable” are my little act of defiance against the food  industry which wants us to believe that these are vegetables because it makes it sound oh so wholesome. Until I see a potato oil on the shelf they are not vegetable oils (not even corn which is, of course, a grain)

The problem with oils is that they are, well, oily. But turns out that if you push hydrogen atoms through the oil under pressure in the presence of a metal catalyst such as nickel or palladium, you can solidify the oil. This basic biochemistry site gives a good description of what happens with unsaturated acids during hydrogenation.

Partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fatty acids leads to the formation of trans-fatty acids. Yep, we all know they are the real bad guys. Oops.

Over the next few decades margarine continued to develop as a combination of animal fats and seed oils. World War II brought the food rationing, relaxed legislation, (some might say more money behind the margarine manufacturers) which led to the margarine taking over the spread role from butter for the first time. The dairy industry was running out of ideas; their last resort was the colour advantage. Margarine companies were not allowed by law to mix yellow colouring into their product however they successfully circumvented that difficulty by selling a separate colouring which a housewife could mix with the margarine and serve to the unsuspecting dinner guests. The animal fat portion all but disappeared as the grain industries swelled up with government subsidies, especially in the US.

In the post war 1950 the diet-heart hypothesis started to make waves in the scientific and nutrition world and all of a sudden margarine went from a inferior and apologetic butter substitute for the poor to a heavily marketed health product. Housewives did not have to be ashamed of serving margarine in a butter dish any longer. Dr Ancel Keys said it was ok.

The rest, as they say, is history.  The word “margarine” is not even used very much anymore. Now we buy “spreads“, some of them are a combination of dairy and seed oils, some are pure seed oils promoted for their “heart healthy” polyunsaturated fat content. It is practically impossible to tease out which is which.

"When school is out each child needs their sandwich with Jurgen's Planta" 1916-1917. Run, kiddies, run!

Manufacturers still have to tread a thin marketing line between taste (the smooth softness and dairy aroma of butter) and the perceived unhealthfulness of saturated fats. Oh, how the tables have turned.  Now they apologise for butter. The fundamental difference between two products has been carefully ironed out and nowadays the terms “butter” and “margarine” are mostly interchangeable in the eyes of general public. So much so that if you ask for “butter” in a restaurant you are just as likely to get margarine.  If you attempt to raise the issue with an unsuspecting young waitress (poor thing,  she had no idea what she was in for when she was approaching my table), you’d be met with a blank look. Isn’t it the same thing? No, my dear, they are not. Just like when I order a piece of steak I don’t expect you to bring out a slab of tofu coloured red.

When can we restart calling these “foods” what they actually are? Imitation products,  lab-created and mass-produced to utilise agrarian commodities and chemically manipulated to suit the nutritional fad of the month.

And here is a little video on how to make butter.

How to make butter

My Whole30 experience

This is going to be a pretty personal post so if you are after something scienc-y call back next week or go and geek out on the amazing series on time from New Scientist (free rego required but worth it).

Most readers here would have figured out by now that I follow a traditional primal/Paleo-ish diet based on high quality animal products, vegetables, nuts, berries and some high fat dairy. Being a part of this Paleo Internet community is amazing but I think sometimes we lose touch with the nutritional reality out there. Let’s face it: the majority of our population still believe that low fat yoghurt plus a cereal bar is a healthy afternoon snack (my rant on the big picture here). I think it’s preposterous and hilarious that my diet is viewed as extreme by those who regularly ingest food-in-a-box with ingredients that you need a degree in biochemistry to pronounce. Yeah, and I’m the weird one.

A few people who in my view do a fantastic job of bridging the gap between the real world and the real food world are Whole9Life, Diane from Balanced Bites, the original caveman Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson. What I like about them is that they recognise that most people need a simple and practical approach to changing their diet and lifestyle. I chose to do a trial run of a 30 day program The Whole30 by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig of Whole9life.

My goals for my Whole30

Weight loss was not a priority for me. I’m pretty petite and in a normal weight range but definitely not skinny. Some days I wish I looked the way I did a few years back in ‘teen % body fat (yes, I was vain enough to get it measured) but then I remember that I was running myself to the ground by training, teaching in the gym, studying and looking after my family. I ended up with some serious overuse injuries which took me out of action for more than a year. Perspective.

Although I’m Russian I am not a big drinker (despite constant references to alcohol on Twitter!) I enjoy my glass of red wine with dinner and it is about all I can normally manage before getting a bit giggly. However since our trip to Italy earlier this year I have noticed myself having wine most nights and also ordering a bottle for 2 at restaurants. Not that I was concerned but I was curious how I would go without alcohol for a month.

The only other tweak that I had to make on my Whole30 was to say au revoir to high fat dairy. I’m a bit of an artisan cheese fiend, sour cream fan, Greek yoghurt addict, you get the picture. I was interested to self-test the theory that dairy has insulinogenic properties exceeding its carbohydrate content and to see if it affects my overall wellbeing.

Impressions

The Whole30 Guide which Melissa and Dallas kindly sent me was easy-to-understand but comprehensive. It would be suitable for both rookies with little nutritional knowledge and hardcore jaded cynics like me. The science was solid but not overwhelming. I like the good cop-bad cop approach: they encourage people to try new foods, listen to own bodies (a skill many forget they possess!) and forgive indiscretions but at the same time tell you to harden the f#%^ up for 30 days. The Facebook page is great to get perspective from other peeps on Whole30 or to ask a direct question. And in case you wondering at this point, no, I’m not getting paid for this.

I was surprised how easy it was to give up alcohol. I just seamlessly replaced my glass of red with a glass of sparkling San Pellegrino and I didn’t miss the wine one bit. In the whole month I had a glass on two celebratory occasions but I checked with Dallas on Twitter and he gave me a-ok :) Now that Whole30 is over I re-introduced red wine but I feel like it has reclaimed its place as a special occasion drink a couple of nights a week rather than a staple.

I wasn’t so lucky with dairy. I hadn’t realised how much I relied on my sour cream, yoghurt and cheese for my fat sources. My downfall at the end of the first week was probably due to my failure to plan other fat sources like coconut oil/milk, avocado and fattier cuts of meat. 5 days into this lowER fat state my brain cells went into meltdown. My mood started zigzagging in step with my food intake (my partner had the lucky foresight to go overseas for that week), I had a couple of spectacular afternoon crashes requiring a nap and the old friend hunger reared his ugly head. Oh, hello, I remember all this. That is what I used to feel like every day when I conscientiously adhered to the Heart Foundation diet high in whole grains and low in fat. Anyway a few rescue tweets and Facebook messages later, I was back on track armed with cans of coconut milk, a few avocados, casserole beef cuts and nuts.

Surprisingly enough, I still found myself a little hungrier than usual for the rest of the month. I attribute my dairy tolerance (some would say dependence) to my Eastern European genes (epigenetics counts, people!).  I didn’t get any digestive upsets when I re-introduced some natural yoghurt back into my diet and it completely solved any niggling hunger issues. However I feel a lot more confidence in controlling my soft cheese cravings and also haven’t felt the need for more high fat dairy since.

An unexpected benefit of focusing more on what I eat and how I feel daily was an appetite for more vegetables. I’m not a big veggie eater. I allow that they might be good for us and generally eat them drowned in butter but I resent the ad nauseum push for 2+5 as if the lack of fruit and veg is the sole source of all our heath problems. That said, on the Whole30 I found myself looking for new varieties at the grocer and doing some veg experimentation in the kitchen.

So at the end I reckon even a pretty good diet can do with a few tweaks. It’s easy to get into a rut with your food choices and the Whole30 allowed me to bring a little more focus and awareness to my food choices.

Anyone who is still on the fence about giving up grains, sugar and industrial food should seriously consider a 30 day program like this. I really believe that cold turkey is the best approach when comes to diet for most people: better struggle for a couple of weeks than drag it out for months and fight the recurrent cravings.

Feel free to share your experiences with Whole30 or your own story of lifestyle change. How did you do it? What mistakes did you make along the way and how did you deal with them?

A different perspective: nutrition from a 9 year old.

My guest blogger today is my daughter Michelle. As many other children, she has been on the receiving end of the well-meaning advice by her mother to eat her greens, then a conscientious change from white bread to wholegrain, cereal bars to school, “don’t eat that chicken skin” and many others in her 9 years. Over the last year we have managed to turn it 180 degrees and finally indulge her love of red meat, ribs, eggs and sausages. Along the way we have discovered that wheat, even in a tiny amount, triggers her eczema. This has been both a curse and a blessing. A curse because we realised that even a piece of battered salt and pepper squid can set off the dreaded red spots (funnily enough, even gluten-free products given to her by the well-meaning family members cause a breakout). A blessing because it gave Michelle extra motivation to avoid processed food.

I know I might have been a bit harsh on parents in one of my previous posts. Saying “no” to junk food has never come difficult to me. But I was little prepared for the onslaught of wheat-, sugar-, preservatives-, colours- and refined-carb industrial-strength garbage called “kids food” and the incredible temptations faced by Michelle every day. I know that she feels different. And sometimes being different is a lonely place to be, especially coming up to your teenage years. I did not want to medicalise this into a “condition”: you can’t eat wheat because you are allergic. I wanted to teach her that all these kids around might not have her skin but shouldn’t be eating what they are eating anyway. In an attempt to show her that there are other children out there who believe in eating real food that doesn’t come in a box I introduced her to Paleo Parents website. Reading the stories of Cole, Finian and Wesley was eye-opening for Michelle. I recommended that she should write down her experiences and her thoughts and maybe it will make it easier for another child (or adult) to say “No, thanks” to the sugar-in-the-box cereal in the morning or a sugar-in-a wrap snack bar.

So without further ado, here is Michelle:

Before I changed my diet I believed the government which was encouraging the point that wholegrain is best. Now I know otherwise and so does my family.

Nowadays when I go to school I notice a lot more about what my fellow students eat. Everywhere there are children stuffing themselves with chips, cookies, cake and donuts. The healthy options for lunch are a sandwich, a wrap, a bagel or some sort of batter. All my friends ask why I don’t eat like them and they offer some of their food to me because they think I’m missing out. Other children who follow the same diet as I do know how hard it is to skip the temptations, even my parents do.

After I changed my diet I noticed that an average child’s daily meals consist of:

Breakfast: Toast, pancakes or cereal, sometimes sprinkled with malt or sugar

Morning Tea: Packet of chips, brownie, donuts or any other sugar treat with one serving of fruit

Lunch: A sandwich, wrap or bagel/bun with sometimes a chicken schnitzel, low-fat yoghurt, serving of fruit or veg and some more chocolate and lollies

Afternoon tea: cake, biscuits and fruit

Dinner: Pasta, pizza, chicken nuggets, garlic bread with soup

Desserts: Waffles, ice-cream, chocolate and milk

As you can see every meal has at least one serving of wheat or sugar in it. Every day I go to school I yearn to say to my friends: “You shouldn’t eat that, it’s unhealthy”. But I know I can’t do that because nobody will believe me. It is difficult for a child like me to explain the matter that big.

I like the way I eat now because I don’t get “sugar crashes” anymore. I don’t get tired and have naps after school like I used to. I find that when I used to have wheat I was always hungry. Eating cereal for breakfast made me starving before recess, and then lunch. Now eggs and sausage make me full for hours. I also like that I get to try things I would never have tried before which I never thought I’d like.  I even tried chicken hearts once. The other day I tried baby octopus and it is now my #2 dish after osso bucco. I bring prosciutto to school and dare my friends to try it. If I had never changed my diet I would not be enjoying such great food.

We took some photos for you of my average day diet. Hope you like it.

Here is my breakfast.

And my lunch box.

And my dinner.

I also love to have a few squares of 85% cocoa chocolate for dessert.

I hope this helps some children and their parents to make better food choices.

Being active comes naturally if you are well nourished

I do too. Please feel free to share your journey across the muddy water of nutrition, conventional advice and real food in comments. Michelle and I would love to hear yours or your children’s story.