On experimenting with your diet
I enjoy experimenting with my diet, as my umpteen posts on the subject illustrate. I learnt the term ‘bio-hacking’ recently, and I suppose I am low level doing that in my quest to feel the best I can feel. What I like the most, is seeing the variety of ways my body responds to different foods, positive and negative. I wish more people would do it: figuring out the best clean diet for yourself, plus adequate exercise, is simple preventative healthcare.
The more you read about nutrition, the more you realise how shaky the foundations of this field are. For starters, most nutritional studies are observational studies, rather than interventional ones. This means that they rely on people self-reporting what they eat, and also cannot properly account for other factors in a person’s life which may be impacting on the results.
So when they say ‘eat your leafy greens’, they aren’t telling you that doing so will definitely make you healthier. They’re just observing that people who self-report that they eat green vegetables are generally healthier. Crucially, they haven’t done a study where they withheld green vegetables from one group of people, and not another, and then compared longitudinal health outcomes between groups. So is it the greens or is it something else the leafy green eaters are doing? Or a combination of things?
After my carnivore experiment, I’m now of the mindset that most plants can do one. Vegetables are definitely over-rated. In particular, my personal interventional experiments over the last decade show me that:
- Cereals and grains cause mayhem with my guts, give me IBS (pains, cramps, bloating, gas, the shits, etc.), and cause enormous swelling of my abdomen. I get a ‘wheat baby’.
- Any plant with significant levels of oxalates in it causes chronic muscle tension and/or tendonitis (especially at sites of old injury), gives me insomnia and night sweats, makes me feel tired and low in energy, gives me mild IBS, and causes me to pee A LOT.
- Soy and dairy trigger my eczema. (I’ve known that for 15 and 35 years, respectively.)
After reading Sally Norton’s excellent Toxic Superfoods, I am also convinced that a great many of the negative symptoms people experience when they transition to a zero carb / carnivore diet are to do with oxalate dumping. Certainly I know it is true for me. If I could give any advice to someone thinking of going carnivore, either temporarily as an exclusion diet like I did, or permanently, it would be to do it slowly. Going from even a moderate carb diet to zero carb overnight is not a good idea, in my experience. Tapering off the plants off over a week or two is a much better strategy, I think.
When I came off carnivore, I decided that I was going to only add in fruit (including vegetables which are fruits) and nuts. I went straight for the things I loved: almonds, dried figs, 90% dark chocolate, blueberries, for instance. Pretty soon after, the chronic shoulder pain, which has plagued me for over a decade but completely disappeared at some point during my carnivore experiment, returned. My sleep quality deteriorated again, and I was struggling with my exercise due to feeling weak and tired.
By chance, I listened to a podcast with Sally Norton and subsequently bought her book and saw that the plants I had reintroduced were mainly very high in oxalates. Given that my symptoms matched some of what she describes in her book, I decided to only eat low oxalate plants to see if it helped. Low and behold, three weeks after removing oxalate-heavy plants from my diet, my shoulder pain has gone, my sleep is improved, and my energy levels are better.
The point I am trying to make here, which is the point I am making in all of my posts about my diet experiments, is that you cannot rely on received wisdom about what is healthy. You have to experiment and play around with your diet in order to find the right combination of foods which give you optimal health. Importantly, this will change throughout your life. For instance, the older you are, the greater your need for high quality protein due to sarcopenia. This is true for everyone (more or less), but there will also be things specific to your body which will change throughout your life. For instance, I was able to eat soy until my early thirties, when it suddenly, and severely, started triggering my vesicular eczema. I no longer consume it at all.
My current diet is now animal foods-centric (meat, fish, eggs, and sheep/goat/bufala dairy) with a small amount of low oxalate plants. In general, I am only eating fruits (avocado, cucumber, lemons, red peppers, apples, etc,) but I have been experimenting with some tubers: radishes and African puna yam. So far, so good.
So many people complain of low mood and low energy and yet don’t do the most obvious thing: consider how much their diet and lifestyle is contributing to that lack of emotional and physical energy. I wholeheartedly encourage you to experiment with removing and adding different types of food to see how that impacts your whole self. I think you will be surprised by how much can change with just a little bit of attention.