Do you get confused and overwhelmed by all the information about diets that you see in the media? Are you not even sure where to start?
Food is such a complicated topic, we are bombarded by marketers trying to ‘sell’ us their products or their diet plan directing you to the best way to lose weight, or the best plan to follow – Keto, Carnivore, Paleo, Vegetarian, Vegan, etc! How does one navigate all of this information? It can be so overwhelming! In this article, I want to show you that none of that matters, and what is far more important is learning to listen to your body! It will guide you.
If you struggle with food, whether it be food intolerances, digestive issues such as bloating or gas, heartburn, indigestion, or even skin issues like eczema, acne, brain fog, weight control issues, or feeling low energy, you’ll want to keep reading, as when you understand the right way to eat for your body and how to heal your digestive tract, you can eliminate these symptoms!
First of all, as you know, we eat food for energy. It is as simple as that. Food contains the nutrients that our body needs in order for us to have the energy to live our lives optimally. However, if our digestive system isn’t functioning optimally, our body cannot break down our food properly, in which case the nutrients aren’t getting to our cells that need them. There are many reasons that our digestive system may not be functioning properly, but a big one is a stress! (You can read more about this in my previous article, “Stress – The Silent Killer”.)
Stress is a huge reason why so many people struggle with heartburn and indigestion. When the body is under constant stress, it causes the lower esophageal sphincter to weaken and become floppy. This sphincter is a one-way channel from the esophagus into the stomach, it is only supposed to let food into the stomach and then close up nice and tight again. However, when it becomes floppy, it doesn’t close up nice and tight, which means stomach acid (HCl) can escape out of the stomach and go up in the esophagus causing the sensation known as “heartburn” or “indigestion”. This makes us ‘think’ we must have too much stomach acid, and so we should take an antacid to stop it.
But here is the problem with that theory – we NEED stomach acid to break down our food properly, so if we are popping antacids constantly, we are stopping our body from making the very thing needed to break down our food. If we aren’t breaking down our food properly, we aren’t getting the nutrients needed for us to thrive, not to mention the body doesn’t know what to do with the food it can’t break down – so it will store some of it in our adipose tissue or “fat closets” or it might expel some of it out, in the form of diarrhea, or we might end up constipated because it can’t actually properly remove the food that isn’t broken down.
Ongoing constipation and diarrhea are NOT normal by the way, they are a clue that your digestive system isn’t functioning properly and you CAN resolve that! But back to antacids, they are a problem! If you’ve ever read the fine print on the bottle, you’ll note it says not to take them for more than 2 weeks at a time, and yet I’ve had many clients tell me they’ve been taking them for years!! I work with clients to help them lower their stress, and heal their digestive system so they can put an end to the heartburn once and for all.
What’s healthy for one person, may not be healthy for you:
You may have never had heartburn or indigestion though, but still struggle with certain foods that leave you feeling low energy, brain foggy, induce skin issues, and more. You may not really know which foods cause these symptoms and you may feel confused as you eat “healthy” and yet still have these symptoms. This is because not all foods are going to be healthy for you!!! Yes, that is right, just because a food is healthy, doesn’t mean it is healthy for you! You see, each of our microbiomes is as different as our fingerprints. Our microbiomes are formed as we come through the birth canal and then supported through breastfeeding, as the breast milk contains prebiotics to feed the bacteria that are building our microbiome. Not only that, the health of our microbiome is handed down 4 generations on Mom’s side! The healthier our microbiome, the fewer food sensitivities we’ll have. In today’s world though, our microbiomes are no longer as healthy as they once were. If you were a c-section baby, your microbiome didn’t get the boost of Mom’s microbes because you weren’t squeezed out via the birth canal. If you were bottle-fed, you didn’t get the prebiotics to feed your bacteria. (Thanks to the food industry for telling whole generations of women that bottle-fed is best – it is beyond me, why we think we know better than nature!) Science has now proven breastfed is far superior to bottle-fed, but I do realize that there are times when the baby formula is needed, but it should be used to supplement what nature offers, not instead of, which is what was “sold” to all Moms in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s in N America.
So given that our microbiomes are all different, it makes sense that the way we need to feed them will be different! Yet, for convenience’s sake in families, we tend to make 1 meal and serve it to all family members. I get that, I was raised that way, and I did that for my own family until I realized it wasn’t working for one of my daughters!
The body has an innate wisdom, beyond any book or authority:
As a child, you might have been served your meal and you ate some, but your body signaled to you that it didn’t like it and you tried to instinctively listen to your body and told your parents you didn’t want the meal. You were then likely told something like “eat everything on your plate, there are children starving in Africa”. I know, I heard that too, and I said it to my kids too because back then I didn’t know what I know today! When we hear that often enough and can’t leave the table until we’ve eaten everything on our plate, we learn to override our instincts and learn to ignore those signals. Then we continue eating that way all our lives until at some point when our toxic load gets high enough, our stress levels have impacted our digestive system enough that our body screams out with new symptoms that make us stop and consider why some foods are making us feel like crap! I have many clients who come to me and say “it’s not the food, I’ve eaten this way my whole life” and then we run the lab tests only to find out they do have sensitivities to some of the foods they’ve been eating and when we remove them temporarily, while also healing the digestive system, their symptoms go away. We need to get back to trusting our body’s innate wisdom or rediscovering it! To learn more about the lab testing that is available, please see my previous article “Wondering Why You Feel The Way You Do?”
There are as many ‘‘right’’ diets as there are people on the planet:
I like to teach that there are as many diets on the planet as there are people. In other words, you have to find the right way to eat for your unique body, you don’t just follow a “dietary plan verbatim”. For some people, being Vegan is a great way to fuel their body as their body loves plant-based proteins, and doesn’t need animal protein. Other people however need animal protein and will feel weak if they try to sustain a Vegan diet. Or some people can eat nightshades and other people cannot, it doesn’t make nightshades “bad”, it simply means some people are going to do better by avoiding them, and others don’t have to. I am not a proponent of any 1 diet, I help my clients to find the right way to fuel their unique bodies.
Your diet changes as YOU change:
Another interesting fact is that we don’t eat the same way throughout our entire life. For instance, you don’t eat the same way as a teenager as you did as a baby, and you don’t eat the same way as a senior as you did in the prime of your life. As your life changes, so does the way you eat. Rigidly following one dietary plan is not going to work for everyone! I’ve had Vegan clients come to me crying because their body was craving animal protein and they had some steak and then felt like they’d gone against their “Vegan beliefs” and were beating themselves up. I asked them to instead consider the fact they listened to their body – perhaps they were low in iron or B12 and that is why their body was sending them the cravings for red meat and to pat themselves on the back for having listened!
Our body will always guide us when we tune in and listen. When we give ourselves the space and flexibility to then respond to that guidance, we can truly learn to fuel our body the way it wants to be fueled. When we give our kids the chance to say “no thank you” to the food on their plate, we can teach them at a young age to be in tune with their bodies. They come by it naturally, we parents tend to teach them to override it. Having had kids of my own, I know that kids can also play games at the dinner table, and sometimes it can be hard to determine if they are just messing with you, or are they truly listening to their bodies? You can navigate through this by asking, “Is there one particular food on your plate that you don’t want right now?” Help them narrow down the food that their body doesn’t want, or ask questions they can answer such as “do you know why you don’t want that right now?”. Notice over time, if there is a consistent food they say they don’t want, if so, it is likely a food they have a sensitivity to. Yes, it can take 7 times for a child to determine if they like a food or not, be aware that there are foods they are never going to like if they are listening to their body and give them that space to figure it out.
We all have different sensitivities to different foods, some people are highly sensitive to sugar and it causes energy spikes and crashes more so than in others. Some people are highly sensitive to caffeine and can’t sleep if they drink it in the afternoon, while others can have a cup of coffee after dinner and sleep just fine. Some people are sensitive to gluten or dairy or soy or eggs and others aren’t. I have a friend who can’t eat raw apples and another who can’t eat kiwi fruit and fish. These are deemed “healthy foods”, but they are not healthy for these individuals. We are all different. I know for me, I’m highly sensitive to soy and caffeine, so I choose to avoid them. My daughter is sensitive to dairy and gluten, and when I saw her struggling at school and having awful tummy aches, I found my way to functional medicine lab testing to discover these specific foods were the problem, it was so helpful as I was able to remove those foods from her diet, and her tummy aches went away very quickly and she was able to fully participate in school again. Our doctor had told me, “all little girls get tummy aches, she’ll grow out of it” and had nothing else to offer…the lab tests gave me what I needed to change her diet – I had no idea that she was sensitive to these foods and had been feeding them to her daily! Once I knew the trigger foods, I was able to remove them from her diet. She grew out of gluten intolerance about 7 years later, but still doesn’t eat it very often, by her choice! She still chooses not to have dairy. Imagine if she’d had to suffer for 7 years, that wasn’t acceptable to me! Do you know what foods you have sensitivities to?
I also want to add here that dairy, gluten, and sugar are some of the most highly inflammatory foods that can trigger other health issues if eaten too often. I know the milk industry wants you to believe that milk is the best source of calcium, but that is not true, in fact, there are many other foods that have more calcium in them than a glass of milk! Inflammation in the body can trigger our cells to turn on a disease that we are predisposed to, so we do not want to be adding to the inflammatory load on our body by eating these foods three times/day, 7 days/week! Our body is already struggling with inflammation due to an Omega 3:6 imbalance, our toxic load (see my article “Are Your Trashcans Overflowing?”) high stress, poor sleep, and unknowingly eating foods you are sensitive to, without adding in inflammatory foods as well. Sugar is in everything, it can be hard to avoid but reading labels will help and if sugar is in the top 3 ingredients on the list, put that product back on the shelf!
I haven’t even mentioned how much food to eat, which of course can vary greatly depending on how much exercise you get, whether you are wanting to lose weight or gain weight, but at a very basic starting point for someone who is wanting to maintain their weight and gets moderate exercise on a daily basis you want to be eating:
7 – 9 cups of fruit and vegetables each day, approximately 2 – 3 cups/meal
1 – 2 tbsp of a good quality fat per meal (avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil)
0.8g of protein per kg in body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, that is 68kg. 68 * 0.8 = 54.5, so you will want to eat about 55 g of protein in a day, divided over your 3 meals.
I hope you have found this article to be helpful regarding the complicated topic of food. Perhaps you’ve had a few “ah-has” reading through it, what I really hope for you is that it allows you the freedom to stop listening to the media and start listening to your body! Just remember that your body is the ultimate dietary authority for every phase of your life. Listen to your body and let it guide you. Remember too, that unless you know of anaphylactic responses to food, which of course you need to avoid, you can experiment! Your body is the most powerful, least expensive, and BEST dietary experimentation lab in existence.
You can remove certain foods from your diet, keep a food journal and notice how you feel as a result of removing those foods. You need to remove them for at least 21 days to notice a difference. I always start with my clients by removing gluten, dairy, and eggs. Those are the top 3 food sensitivities I see in the labs I run. Then you can re-introduce those foods 1 by 1 after 3 weeks and see what you notice in terms of symptoms that show up. It can be a lot of work to keep track of all of this in a food journal, if you’re someone who wants to cut to the chase and just know, then please reach out and book a complimentary call with me to discuss running the Food Sensitivities lab test, which will assess you for over 190 different foods…and then you will be able to stop guessing as you’ll know, exactly what foods your body is struggling with right now!
Don’t panic, it doesn’t mean you have to remove them forever, but we may remove them for 6 weeks, 12 weeks, or 6 months, depending on the degree of your sensitivity, while we let your body heal. Each time you eat these foods it causes inflammation, and when we stop that inflammatory response, the body can heal itself. Then you can choose to re-introduce them, and you may choose to eat them only once a week or once a month, depending on the signals from your body! I find that when I guide my clients through this process, they really don’t want the food very often anymore as they feel so much better without it. However, if they are out and eat it, they don’t have to stress about it either…it puts them in the driver’s seat of what they put in their body, knowing how it will make them feel and function!
Remember too, nourishment is about much more than just food! What are you doing to nourish yourself in other ways?