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7.20.2012

The Biggest Modern Health Danger

While I really hate focusing on the negative, I could list off the top of my head probably 20 things that could qualify as "the" biggest danger to our health- environmental toxins, GMO's, conventional pesticides and fertilizers, modern vegetable oils, soy.... you get the idea.  But there is one that is less obvious, (possibly) less controversial, and more often ignored.

Dieting.



Dieting is dangerous.  Dieting is unhealthy.  And dieting is the number one predictor of future weight gain.

Think about that last one for a minute, and think about the last time you dieted.  What was the end result of that diet?  Weight gain.  It's inevitable.  When we deprive ourselves by dieting, be it of fat with a lot fat diet, of carbs in a low/no carb diet, of both fat and cholesterol in a plant based diet, we end up both feeling deprived (because nothing makes you want something more than being told, even by yourself, that you can't have it) and deficient in nutrients.  It's not your lack of will power that results in you failing- it's your body's need for nutrition.

Because we weren't meant to be fat, nor were we meant to be hungry, at least not all the time.  Our bodies are designed to self regulate.  And the argument that we are fat purely because we are more sedentary now doesn't cut it either.  Our bodies are smart enough to know when we are active and when we are not.  If everything were working correctly and we were eating real, whole foods, our body would be able to tell us to eat when we need food and stop when we don't, all while maintaining a healthy weight.  We wouldn't have cravings and feel like binging on chips or ice cream or donuts.

Sound overly simple?  It is, and it isn't.  The processes the body uses to achieve this are complicated, and something we have done in the past hundred years has upset them.  So it's not as simple as just starting to eat real food.  Many of us have upset these systems so significantly that we need to reset them before we can truly be healthy again.

I don't think there is any one answer to this problem, though.  Because while we all need the same things to be healthy, everyone's system is upset in a different way (like Anna Karenina... Healthy systems are all alike; every unhealthy system is unhealthy in it's own way).  And I am by no means an expert on this (yet... working on it).  But here are some possible problems, and their corresponding suggestions.
  • Gut dysbiosis- for those with any auto immune disorder, including allergies (seasonal and food), asthma, eczema, ADD, autism spectrum disorders, and many others; also those with IBS and IBD, crohns, celiac, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, many other mental disorders, sexual dysfunction.  The theory of the compromised gut is a compelling one, and many people have had huge success with working to treat it.  The basic premiss is that for a variety of reasons (use of commercial baby formula, vaccines, oversterilization, the standard American diet, antibiotic use, etc) the beneficial bacteria that should be in our guts helping us to properly digest our food and utilize it's nutrients are out of balance, creating a variety of problems.  There are two commonly used treatments.  GAPS (stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome) is a real foods diet that begins by eliminating a number of foods, healing the gut, and gradually reintroducing eliminated foods.  While it can take a year or more to fully heal, the idea for most (with the exception of those with serious disorders like autism) is to eventually reintroduce all real foods back into the diet when full healing has been achieved.  Another similar option is SCD, or the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is based on the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health through Diet, by Elaine Gottschall.  I'm not as familiar with SCD, but it focuses on only eating specific carbohydrates- mostly those found in vegetables, fruits, and some legumes.  Sugars, grains, and most dairy is forbidden.
*I know I said forbidding foods is bad.  The point of the above "diets," if you must call them that, is healing in the short term.  Once healing is achieved, foods can usually be re-introduced... although I'm not sure if that is how the SCD people present their info, as I did notice it said "some people are not capable of processing..."  
  • Low bile production.   Some people don't produce enough bile, or because of plant based diets their bile has become too thick and isn't able to move into the intestine.  This can make it hard to digest meat, which we need for so many vital nutrients, and make one think they "don't handle meat well."  Pam Kileen, I noticed during the Real Food Summit, really liked to talk about how important good bile production is and how it is an important thing to focus on to improve health.  I couldn't find a specific article talking about it on her site, but she does give free consulations on her site (link above).  Her recommendations during the Summit seemed really simple- drink a glass of water every morning with lemon or ACV.  I would imagine that would be a start, but she did mention she had more specific strategies for her clients.
  • Low stomach acid.  I'm sure when you hear stomach acid, you think of heartburn.  But stomach acid is not an enemy- it is something that we need, and that many of us are actually low on.  Low stomach acid can lead us to be deficient in protein and minerals since we have a harder time breaking down the food we eat (and stomach acid helps to stimulate the production of bile...).  Heartburn can actually be a symptom of LOW stomach acid, but taking heartburn medication actually makes the problem worse... and you can see where this is going.  Increasing intake of fermented foods and using digestive enzymes can help.  I've heard that you know you have low stomach acid if lemons taste sweet to you (I'm talking to you dad...).
  • Adrenal Fatigue.  This seems to be running rampant these days, and no wonder.  Poor diet + busy, stressful life + caffeine and other stimulants = stressed adrenal glands.  This can result in feeling run down, loss of appetite, weight gain, and a host of other problems.  Pam Kileen said during the Summit that if you frequently get dizzy when you stand up, you could have adrenal fatigue.  Here are a few stories from people healing their adrenal fatigue:  Cheeseslave, Pretty in Primal, and some tips from Keeper of the Home
  • Hormone Imbalance.  Thanks to phytoestrogens in our food, our milk, and our environment we can develop imbalanced hormones, which can cause a wide variety of problems like infertility, irregular cycles, mood disorders and irritability, excessive cramping, and weight gain.  Often the thyroid is the cause, and it is often linked to adrenal fatigue.  Avoiding parabens (and other environmental phytoestrogens) and foods containing soy, eating more fat and cholesterol (hormones need cholesterol!), and insuring adaquate intake of minerals are often helpful (but do more research...).
  • Low metabolism.  We often think of overweight people as having low metabolism, but it is a problem underweight people have as well.  It's often a side effect of... you guessed it, DIETING.  We deprive our bodies of calories and nutrients, causing them to go into fat saving and energy conservation mode, lowering our basal body temperature and eliminating unnecessary functions... you know, like reproduction and circulation to the extremities.  Because the body wants to survive at all costs, so what if it has to sacrifice a toe or a limb or the ability to procreate?  According to Matt Stone low metabolism is the root of all evil.  Personally I feel the same way about that as he does about the traditional foods diet... it is too gung-ho for me.  I don't think any one thing is responsible for ALL health and diet problems.  But I think this is one possibility that is worth considering, since dieting has been so prevalent in our culture for the past forty years.  I'm actually going to look into it myself, as my temperature has always run a little low and I have chronic cold toes... not to mention having a hard time loosing stubborn belly fat (fat from pre-traditional diet, for those of you ready to scream "it's all that fat you eat"- I've actually lost weight since changing my diet).
  • Micro-nutrient deficiency.  Some also think that obesity is linked directly to nutrient deficiency, which we develop due to the SAD, over farming/poor farm practices, and the cultural loss of many traditional food preparations (like making stock and fermenting).  The theory is that our body continues to tell us to eat past our caloric needs because we are deficient in micronutrients, in hope we'll make up for it.  While I think there is merit to this idea, I dislike the fact that the proponents of this idea really push a (very expensive) dietary supplement.  1) good health shouldn't be out of reach for people of lesser means, and 2) if societies who lived over a hundred years ago could live and thrive into their 90's and 100's with no signs of chronic disease, so can we.  I can buy into the over farming angle, but since I focus on spending a little more on good, organic, local foods I can't ALSO spend nearly as much on just vitamins.  I also worry about supplementing because it can throw nutrients out of ratio and because certain nutrients aren't as easily absorbed in supplements.
As I said, despite reading neurotically about nutrition for years, I am no expert.  My intention is to get you to think beyond the traditional nutritional and diet advice you get from doctors and "experts" and to get beyond the overly simple "calories in vs. calories out" and "I have to be hungry to loose weight" and "low fat=good" mindsets.  If you suspect that you suffer from any of these systemic upsets, please do your own research, and never ever go off of any prescription medications without first discussing the possible consequences with your doctor.

This post has been shared on Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday and The Healthy Home Economist's Monday Mania.


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