The common cliché of losing weight as a New Year resolution is familiar to a lot of us. Especially after a holiday period of excessive consumption, lack of movement, and excessive sugar intake. In today’s blog I want to make some helpful suggestions on what modern research says about science, what our ancestral past can tell us, and how dieting is viewed through the lens of Chinese Medicine.
Firstly, we must tackle the question everyone wants answered. What diet works the best?
The answer is (and research is coming to this conclusion) that it all depends on the diet you can stick to. Clinically I have found the high protein and fat diets with low carbohydrates to have the most dramatic effect on weight loss. However, the problem becomes the difficulty in maintaining this diet consistently.
There are lots of fad diets and diets for western diagnoses but they too, in my clinical observance, run the problem of longevity in practice. Like in the FODMaps diet you are supposed to avoid garlic and onion. Good luck eating out.
This presents the reality of many diets, the restrictions placed on what you can and cannot eat do not always mesh with everyone’s lifestyle or access to food. So, to reiterate the best diet is the one you find you can stick with for a longer period of time.
Research also conclusively shows that a better diet and activity level is one of the biggest contributors to longevity and averting chronic disease. I would also argue as many others have, that the more whole foods you eat, the better, and it’s better to have a healthy relationship with food rather than constantly stress and have anxiety around the subject.
It’s ok to eat the occasional sweet or have indulgence around major celebration time, but for the majority of life your food should still be viewed as a fuel that is best non-processed and close to the earth as possible without processing. Mindfulness can be difficult when eating but simply just paying attention to your plate or each bite you put in your mouth allows you to realize you’re full or that just a taste of something sweet is enough rather than eating several handfuls.
Why is dieting so hard? Well an answer that often gets overlooked is that we live in a time where the human species has more food at its fingertips for most of the population than ever before.
Historically food is a story of availability. Our ancestors had to farm or hunt their food, and periods of feast or famine were common. And depending on where our ancestors came from also has a big impact on our genetic makeup.
Genetics often gets blamed as this ethereal thing to blame all our troubles on, but really what it is, is the physiological pattern our bodies operate off from thousands of years of our ancestor’s behavior. If your ancestors lived in the colder regions of the world, they probably herded animals like sheep, deer, and yak to provide sustenance through the long winters.
Coastal areas certainly had higher concentrations of fish and saturated fats in their diet.
Areas that arid like desert climate relied heavily on following hunted prey and foraging plants that were difficult to farm from the wild.
River regions would most certainly have more grains in their diet that could bolster a larger population.
Most of us are not the descendants of royalty that ate a large variety of food that contributed to their longevity (except in cases of prolonged inbreeding). Our ancestors had shorter lifespans and did not always have food available wherever they’re from. Famine, changing migration of animals, or invasion from an outside group could lead to prolonged periods of food scarcity, so some of us are still programmed to fast and store energy in our fat stores more efficiently than others.
With the advent of the grocery store this has all changed. It’s very rare any of us miss a series of meals or have to live off the same small amount of food for a week at a time. Simply having a huge amount of choice and food stuff loaded with calories and sugars has led to an obesity outbreak in the US, simply because there’s never been this much high caloric food. Our bodies are also programmed to fear for a coming time where food may not be available. Therefore, we overindulge, and our bodies will store excess calories in our fat cells rather than excrete what we don’t need right now.
There is no time that we overindulge more than the holidays. It’s not something that we should feel guilty about, because it’s something we’ve done since we started having celebrations.
Again, our ancestors across the globe celebrated the end of harvest season, the winter solstice, and the return of spring by eating a lot food and wine to fill up before the harshness of winter.
Eating throughout the summer and especially the fall and beginning of winter was encouraged simply because food in winter is either hunted or what has been stored from the previous harvest.
A little extra weight was a good thing when there were no HVAC systems. Our problem today is a little extra weight turns to an abundance of weight that never comes off because there is no fasting period.
Furthermore, our modern beauty standards have pushed people to the other extreme of hyper diet and exercise both of which I have found to create very unhealthy people who think they’re healthy even though their bodies are breaking down from insufficient nutrient intake or over exercise.
Clinically I have found keto style diets can be helpful for quick weight-loss to get started, but diet plans like weight watchers seem to be better for long term as the program teaches you how to view food and what portions to eat of the food that you’re going to keep coming into temptation with.
I agree with the Chinese Medicine view on vegetarianism, that it can be helpful for short periods, but generally it is not advisable as it can lead to anemia problems (especially in women) and that it is not a guarantee against hypertension or heart disease. In fact, modern research is now showing a higher risk of stroke from vegetarian/veganism and my own experience working in Nepal, where many of my patients were eating whole grains, lentils and rice as their primary food source, had very high rates of hypertension and blood sugar levels. I also highly recommend staying away from crash diets and detox diets. Again, they may work temporarily but cannot be sustained and may even be harmful.
Whole foods are your best bet. Moderation, and movement are key.
Stay tuned for a comprehensive blog post on the Chinese Medicine views on food and how to effectively incorporate the foods that may benefit you best into your diet plan.
have Netflix I recommend the episode of Explained on Diets (season 2 I think)
For further reading I recommend the following articles (I apologize if some are behind pay walls):
Jason Gauruder, RAc (registered acupuncturist)
NCCAOM Board Certified Acupuncturist & Herbalist
Owner, Garuda Health