I really want to spend some time in the next couple weeks looking at why we eat. Let’s forget about we eat because we are hungry, we eat to fuel our bodies, etc… Lets look at why we eat the way that we do and why we make the choices we do regarding what we eat. I touched on this on the He Said, She Said radio broadcast Thursday night, but lets get deeper. Let’s look at each stage of eating we find ourselves in.
1. Eating for Pleasure
The 2 year-old in each of us. This is the eating which is immature and impulsive. It is the voice inside that says “I want… Gimme…” The drive is for instant gratification. Because this stage is not fueled by any physiological benefit, it is the most dangerous. It is fueled by emotional desires to maximize pleasures and minimize pains. Emotional eating. This is accomplished through junk food, sweets, snacks, pop/soda, coffee, and alcohol. Now, keep in mind, consuming these items does not always fall into the realm of this category that is entirely negative. Having a glass of wine with dinner or while spending time with friends is not what we are talking about. Neither is the occasional dessert. What we are talking about is uncontrolled excessive consumption. Eating for pleasure is not a stage that needs to be eliminated from our lifestyles. The key is discipline and making smarter, more evolved choices as we will look at later.
2. Eating for Energy
This is where most of Americans find themselves. Eating for energy, or eating out of hunger as we more typically understand it, is a direct result of the typical American lifestyle. The average day for most consists of waking up eating a carbohydrate and sugar loaded breakfast (juices, cereals, grains, breads or baked goods) resulting in a insulin spike and elevated blood glucose levels. This quick boost gets you moving as you start the day. But, by mid-morning, blood sugar levels begin to drop along with energy levels and brain function. To compensate we turn to stimulants in coffee and energy drinks to pull us through, but these too lead us to the same result, a crash by lunchtime. If we have time to eat lunch, we don’t usually have time to wait for it. Judgement for the most part goes out the window in the options we consider. From fast to fast casual cuisine economy and quantity rule our decisions most times over quality. It becomes a vicious cycle day in day out as we try and find balance in the energy roller coaster. This is the stage we seek to eliminate. As mentioned, the pleasurable eating discussed in Stage 1 can be evolved with smarter more conscious choices. Stage 2 eating for energy is what reeks havoc on our blood sugar and hormones and results in the greatest threat to our health.
3. Eating for Recovery
We find ourselves here as a result of Stages 1 and 2. These recoveries, AKA “diets”, are the measures we resort to in order to lose weight, gain weight, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, improve cardiovascular performance, reverse diabetes, lower risk of heart attack, etc etc etc… And, as numerous as the conditions are that we may be trying to counteract, there are at least as many recoveries/diets out there claiming to bring balance back to the chaos we’ve created within. Names like Paleo, Zone, Whole9, Atkins, Gracie, Weight Watchers and others come straight to mind. I’ll get into more on each of these individually in future posts. We will also look at some of the more drastic techniques like the Master Clense, carb cycling, water manipulation, tapeworm, yes, there is a tapeworm diet. These drastic options are the ones I would love to steer everyone from considering as they do not in any way resemble a diet that could or should be maintainable in the long run. We’ll discuss how these get results, but also why they can be very risky.
When we are speaking about recovery, the approved diets should be treated as just that, recovery.
Recovery is defined as:
– The act, process, duration, or an instance of recovering.
– A return to a normal condition.
Once we have removed and achieved homeostasis in our bodies again, it is important to then focus on an maintainable lifestyle that does not lead us back down the same path. Which leads us to Stage 4.
4. Eating for Health
Eating for health is where many, even those of us within the Paleo community, disagree. While we are all in agreement on the issues of avoiding:
– Grains, especially gluten containing products
– Sugar, specifically refined sources
– Refined oils
– Inhumanely raised animals, farmed seafood and any animal protein sources containing additives such as hormones, colorings and fillers
– Soy products
There still remain some grey areas such as dairy and legumes.
– While dairy does have an inflammatory and insulin spiking effect on the body, it also has some amazing growth-promoting effects. In the case of a client with no history of autoimmune or inflammatory conditions who has trouble putting on or keeping on healthy weight, I would encourage keeping dairy a regular part of their diet provided it could be sourced from an organic, pasture-fed source.
– Legumes do have an inflammatory effect as well being a “musical fruit” producing gas and bloating which can lead to gastrointestinal distress. They are also a very rich source of minerals and fiber. The biggest problem with them lies in the fact that they contain phytochemicals that bond to these nutrients making them impossible to be absorbed by the body. Preparation methods such as soaking however can reduce these phytates considerably, but not completely.
So, where do I stand on eating for health? I believe that although we have all evolved essentially the same, we are all still affected differently as a result of individual differences in our genetic coding, individual deficiencies as a result of poor lifestyle choices or living conditions etc. For me, maintaining a paleo diet has given me the greatest benefit in health as well as performance. Does that mean that I don’t ever stray into the forbidden foods zone? Not at all. I love popcorn when I’m watching a movie. I just don’t eat it very often and when I do, it is organic kernels, popped on a stove (thank you dad for what was probably my first cooking lesson so many years ago) and flavored with organic butter, not the hydrogenated oil flavored crap in a bag or the stuff at the theater. The same is true for dairy and beer. I love cheese as much as I love a good IPA with hops that will punch you in the face. But these are not regular parts of my lifestyle. These are very rare occasions when enjoy these. This brings us back to Stage 1 again. Eating for pleasure can be ok, we just need discipline and evolved choices.
Once we have recovered from the chaos and brought balance back to our bodies, this is when we can start reintroducing some of these forbidden foods back into our lifestyles individually in order to see the effects. For me, going Paleo led to virtually all of my allergies (inflammation) disappearing; something I have battled my entire life. But, reintroducing any grains back into my diet results in them returning if there are even moderate levels of allergens in the air. This includes beer. Even having just a couple will cause me to wake up feeling like I dropped a kettle bell on my head if there is mold in the air so I limit this to very rare occasions and stick with a glass of red wine the rest of the time.
How do we get to Stage 4? I highly recommend reading It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig or The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. Commit 30 days to recovery and educate yourself on the “sciencey stuff” so that you can make informed choices for yourself when you look to reintroduce some of these foods back into your lifestyle. You may find that you don’t even miss any of those foods.
Please feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear about your experiences and answer your questions!