My wife, Jenya, and I have been living in the health-conscious worldfor about 15 years, so you would think that we have it all figured out. By now, we must have perfect bodies, perfect health, perfect skin and boundless energy, right? Well, it just isn't that easy. Life can get in the way. The stress of family, jobs and finances often lead to stress eating (i.e. chocolate, potato chips or maybe those chocolate covered potato chips from Cocoa Cabana), excessive caffeine, and a fading memory of your workout routine.
In addition to 'life getting in the way', the contradictory nature of health information can be a nearly impossible path to navigate. I have been studying countless dietary perspectives, fasting, detoxification, laboratory testing, Eastern medicine, exercise physiology, weight loss resistance, meditation and biofeedback - yet determining which steps are the most helpful for me, or Jenya, or you, is the art of medicine.
There is still one more thing you must have - the will. You have to be willing to make the good choices, put in the effort, and continually seek the right path for you. Fortunately, the New Year is the time when willpower seems to be in abundance. So dump the remaining holiday treats in the garbage, then keep reading.
I may not be able to solve all of your health problems in a blog post, but I can certainly get you started and tell you what has worked for Jenya, me and many of my patients.
When looking for a point of view to determine healthy lifestyle choices, the common sense approach is the paleolithic records, which has come to be known as simply Paleo. For millions of years, 99.5% of man's time on Earth, humans lived a nomadic existence as hunter-gatherers. During this time, the human species evolved into a higher-thinking, problem-solving, king of the food chain. We evolved on a diet of produce (vegetables and fruits), animal meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, herbs, eggs (a rare delicacy) and maybe an occasional green bean. We also exercised, a lot. But, we rested a lot too.
It is only in the past 10,000 years (or 0.5% of man's time on Earth) that we began to cultivate crops, such as grains and beans, and begin living in a more settled fashion. We also began to keep livestock to be used for dairy and meat, which we fed our cultivated grains.(Feeding livestock grains, rather than grazing on grass, makes the meat less healthy.) Nomadic people did not successfully milk migrating animals (form funny mental image now).
Man's next mistake came with the grinding of grains into finer and finer powder, or flour, until the industrial revolution made refined flour and refined sugar widely available. The human body evolved over millions of years and it simply cannot evolve fast enough to deal with the Standard American Diet.
So, the first step to losing weight and creating optimal health is to make 90-95% of your diet Paleo. The idea here is to eat plenty of protein, as it is necessary to grow healthier cells and organs. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, and it does the best job of boosting the metabolism. As long as your protein is from healthy animals, it is healthy, but if it is high fat, nitrate-filled, bologna from sick animals, that is a different story. Focusing on high-quality protein as the majority of your calories will reduce cravings, stabilize blood sugar and boost your mood.
But, how much protein? There are certainly charts and calculations that can help to guide you - generally 0.7 to 1.0 gram per kg of bodyweight, if my memory is correct. But the problem with a standard calculation is that you may be unique. Jenya needs protein to be the focus of her diet: eggs, chicken, pork, salmon, tuna or protein shakes are at every meal. If protein is not enough of the meal, she will be hungry, or tired, or fussy :) For me, protein is the enemy. I am a Paleo gatherer-gatherer-gatherer-hunter. My body has a difficult time handling protein's breakdown products of ammonia and sulfur. You can test one aspect of protein waste products with urinary sulfite and sulfate test strips (read more about this here) or you can simply eat a few protein heavy meals and a few protein light meals and pay attention to how you feel.
Here are the basics of the Paleo Diet:
- Free-range, grass-fed or wild animal protein and seafood
- Veggies and lots of them. Minimize starchy veggies and omit white potatoes
- Fruit is packed with nutrients, but most of us have elevated or unstable blood sugar issues, so focus on the low-glycemic fruits and minimize the high-glycemic choices (Download GI Chart with Header)
- Nuts and seeds should be raw and of high quality.
- Eggs are acceptable
The Paleo Diet is a low-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, nutrient-dense diet. In fact, it is very common to see similar dietary principles called Detox Diets. So, if this diet is so health promoting, why would you want to limit it to only a week or two per year? Once you experience how great you feel, vitality will win out over the cultural pressure of being normal (i.e. unhealthy).
Jenya and I entered our most recent health kick by doing a Detox, which looked like this:
- A liquid diet for one week (which was a little too long for Jenya)
- Protein smoothies: PaleoCleanse detox protein powder (basically either whey or dairy-free protein powder combined with minerals, vitamins and herbs that are necessary for optimal cellular detoxification), PaleoGreens nutrient-dense superfood powder, 1 tablespoon of fiber (either psyllium, ground flax or chia), fruit, water and I like to add cinnamon.
- All food for the first week was pureed soup or soup broth. It is far superior to make these from scratch, but in a pinch there are some higher quality store bought choices at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods or the health food aisle of your local store.
- Teas for the Liver and Kidney (Traditional Medicinals is a good brand).
- Water, water, water - sometimes with lemon.
- On a detox, you must always be sure to keep the colon moving. This can be accomplished with a laxative tea, but I prefer a fiber product that had added laxative herbs, such as Perfect 7 - available at most health food stores.
- Working up a light sweat daily is very helpful for detox.
- Download 21Day-Detox-IndividualPgs This is the handout that I use when guiding groups through a detoxification program. It is not a liquid diet, but a fairly strict Paleo diet with beneficial supplements and tips.
Jenya and I did a liquid diet because your body uses a tremendous amount of energy on digestion, so if your foods are easier to digest, then you have more energy left over for healing. However, even with the protein powder, a liquid diet is difficult for Jenya. I, however, feel great! Next time Jenya will probably keep more substantial protein in her detox diet. In addition, Jenya is so strict with her Paleo Diet, every day is a detox.
So, you probably want to know what is not on the Paleo Diet. Here goes:
- No grains - no wheat, corn, rice, etc. Although, many cultures eat grains and are relatively healthy, there are many unhealthy attributes to grains. Gluten containing grains may be the worst offenders, but all grains have a propensity to injure the gastrointestinal tract. When we eat grains they kind of "fight back" which leads to intestinal hyperpermeability, aka "leaky gut". When the thin lining of the gastrointestinal tract is injured food sensitivities often develop. This process can further develop into minor, or major, autoimmune diseases. In addition, grains contain an anti-nutrient called phytates which block mineral absorption AND another called enzyme-inhibitors which block digestion. The result for most people who cut out grains is less bloating and less cravings for sweets and carbs. Grains are often the "gateway" for sugar cravings. Jenya, as well as other patients, have found that trying not to eat sweets is nearly impossible with sheer willpower. Omiting grains was the key to control over the sweet tooth.
- No dairy (kind of) - Paleo proponents tend to disagree a bit on how strict to be with dairy. Jenya and I limit dairy to her very high quality whey protein powder. Recently Harvard downgraded the role of dairy in the diet. There have been research studies showing links between dairy and autoimmune diseases, as well as, acne.
- No beans or legumes which have many of the same problems as grains.
- No artificial or refined sugar
It is best to do the diet strictly so that you have the best opportunity to feel your best, then when you introduce questionable foods, you will have the ability to notice any symptoms. Now, when I or Jenya cheat, we can tell if there is bloating, indigestion, an itch, a craving, fatigue, or redness around the nose or mouth (inflammation). But if you don't get to that point of feeling great, you can't cash in on the most elaborate and sensitive device ever created, you.
The other key piece, of course, is exercise. Humans are meant to move. Period. Exercise is essential and after 35 you can't just eat well, or exercise, both are required. Sustainable weight loss is approximately 1-2 lbs per week. Although that may not seem like much, when you lose weight quickly (often with severe calorie restriction) you ef-up your brain and body. Often the result of rapid weight loss (which is usually preceded by more than 3 years at a significantly overweight or obese weight) is a body that has lost it's ability to regulate blood sugar, burn (rather than store) calories, and know when you are full . Couple that with a brain that has doubled or tripled its pavlovian response to food. To lose weight successfully you must do more than move the needle on the scale, you must completely rebuild your metabolism, and this can not be done by being the Biggest Loser.