My Journey: I started writing this as a... - Healthy Eating

Healthy Eating

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My Journey

Subtle_badger profile image

I started writing this as a response to @cooper27's question about dietary advice, but it turned into nearly an essay. So I decided to make it a proper essay.

_____

I have been on quite an adventure finding trusted dietary advice.

I used to listen to the recognised experts until very recently. I was checking the labels to make sure I wasn't eating too much salt or saturated fat and keeping all fat low. I only ate low fat dairy, fat-free or low fat versions of other foods and never bought butter. I was filling 1/3 of my plate with low nutrient grains, because that was healthy. I ate breakfast even if I wasn't hungry and even though I was more likely to need a snack before lunchtime if I ate it than if I didn't, because I was told slim people eat breakfast. I ate frequently to keep my metabolism raised.

I kept doing this even as my weight started to climb up, and dieting only worked in the short term and my once slender waist was replaced with visceral obesity. I kept going even though my BP was gradually climbing, and my hbA1c was moving towards pre-diabetes (though I didn't realise that, and my GP thought it was "good"). I doubled down after an MRI showed me the damage this diet had wreaked on my body, becoming more strict on fats and salt.

I still believed this in October 2019. I decided I was going to really focus on my health and improve it. I installed an app on my phone to count calories. This app immediately put me on a CICO (calories in/calories out) diet - it asked me my age, sex, height and weight when I started using it and immediately suggested a calorie deficit. It linked to a fitness app to log my activity. For three weeks, I let this app rule my life. I weighed every skerrick of food I made (even putting a cold pan on my kitchen scales to record how many grams of oil I was using) and diligently entered all the nutritional data from any package foods I ate if they were not in the database. This took a lot of time, I was obsessed with food and hungry all the time. At the end of 3 weeks, far from losing 1.5kg the app predicted, I was exactly the same weight as when I started. I appealed to the support forums for the app, and was given usual nonsense advice. There was no suggestion that maybe this approach was faulty.

So all the hard work I had done over the 3 weeks turned out to be what I would have to do just to maintain using CICO. Constant monitoring, constant hunger, hours spent obsessively weighing and measuring everything. Never able to relax, never able to eat out, always obsessing about food. It was a red Queen race I was going to inevitably fail at. There was no way I could do this for the rest of my life, and before I could even start maintaining I had 10kg+ to lose by more obsession and more pain than I had already experienced - moving more and eating even less.

So long term weight loss was not an option for me. Unless I did something completely different 💡

After some research, 5:2 diet seemed right. Maintaining would not be a constant obsession, it would just be obsessing 1 or 2 days a week, if the scale crept up. That seemed doable. However, when I tried to get my hands on the diet book, I found a newer version, Fast800. That plan was low carbs and low calorie (800/day) for the first 4-12 weeks, then two 800kcal days per week for the rest of your life.

Low carb with fasting was a revelation! On my previous calorie controlled diet, I was hungry almost constantly, but I would prepare a meal of 500-800 calories but only a few grams of carbs, so I was completely satisfied after eating it and for hours afterwards. If I wasn't satisfied I would eat a little more. The rest of the day I would get hungry for a little while, but I would drink a coffee, and find that the hunger disappeared. If I couldn't fast for the full 20+ hours, I would make myself a smaller meal of 300-400kcals,which would keep me going. I was still well under my daily calorie requirements. So less hungry, less obsessed and the weight was falling off me. I soon didn't even have to log my food, I knew what a meal looked like, and I had 100s kcal margin of error, so I didn't have to obsess.

At the end of the first month, I joined HU for fasting support, found the LCHF group so joined that too. I switched to a more standard keto diet. It took me about 8 months to lose the 20kg that seemed right. That included a few stalls, which I defeated with fasting - some quite intense fasting - but for more than a year I have effortlessly kept my weight were it got to.

My BP has gone back to the level it was in my 20s. My waist, not quite, but well below any red flag levels. I weigh less than I have in my adult life. I haven't repeated any blood tests because of coronavirus, but it looks like my hba1c is below the level it was in 2016, so 🤞 for the others.

I couldn't see any reason to ever eat pure carbs again. My body doesn't need them, they have no nutrients that I can't get elsewhere, and I don't miss them.

So who do I rely on for nutritional advice? I like to go to primary resources, especially studies. My most useful one is the n=1 study I am running on myself. I can't use myself to see what diet is best for preventing heart attack, cancer or stroke - but when I want to know what is best improving the biomarkers of chronic disease, how my own body responds is more useful to me than any study - any study may be flawed, but also there are always outliers who don't respond the way the rest do, so maybe I would be one of them.

Obviously, I need to know about what to try or what to change, then I am very circumspect. The standard dietary advice seems to be based on conjecture, and most of that conjecture has never been proven, despite them trying. Also, the diet pyramid/plate that is recommended across the anglophone world comes not from a medical authority by the USDA - that's Department of Agriculture. Their job is to support farming, not health. Telling everyone in American (and affectively Canada, UK, Australia, NZ) to eat 5-10 servings (🤯) of grain per day is definitely good for agriculture. Is it good for us? I'd say not, from my experience, and from looking around me where 2/3 of adults and many children are overweight - and that humans evolved with very little grain in our diets, so how could it be essential? They also say things like "we don't know the long term effects of low carb", which maybe we don't but we do know the long term effects of low fat - 1/2 American adults have diabetes or pre-diabetes. The resolution to stick to dietary advice that is obviously not working is rather terrifying.

So I listen to people like Eric Westman, Diet Doctor, Low Carb Down Under, David Unwin, Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz etc. Then I go looking at the papers they are referring to and see if they convince me to make a change.

But also, Dr Google. Eg I suffer cramps, Dr Google says take magnesium. I google downsides of magnesium supplementation. Seems fine. Take magnesium - cramps go away. Simple. No need for anything more complicated.

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😂 That was long. Anyone read this far?

27 Replies

The health journey of others fascinates me. Especially when someone is so vocal/ passionate about something, so I read until the end..lol.

It gave me a better glimpse for your reasons to avoid carbs. If it works for you and has allowed you to improve your health that's all that matters. As you rightly said the best study is ourselves and we are our own lab rats.

Subtle_badger profile image
Subtle_badger in reply to Imaaan

Thanks Imaaan! And you read all the way through. Well done.

Jerry profile image
JerryAdministrator

Hello Subtle_badger this is well thought out and very interesting as you have discovered what works for you rather eating breakfast because of advice of others we have to learn to listen to our bodies needs and you have found yours and I'm very pleased for you.

Now I cant imagine not eating breakfast and enjoy mine a lot but I agree that whole milk is far more nutritious than skimmed and semi skimmed so I drink organic whole milk delivered in bottles which I'm very pleased about.

So thank you for posting this as we are aware of how passionately you feel about dietary advice.

You are also being modest as you are a very popular member of Fasting&Furious the HU Community its for fasting so here's a link for anyone interesting in fasting:

healthunlocked.com/fasting-...

You showed a photo of yourself on another Community and you definitely look healthy to me and the proof of the pudding or avoiding the pudding is evident.

Subtle_badger profile image
Subtle_badger in reply to Jerry

Thanks Jerry.

The breakfast thing was ages ago, maybe 10 years ago. I was cycle commuting about 11 miles each way. My typical breakfast back then was overnight oats. If I ate it before I cycled at around 7am, then I was likely hungry again well before lunch. I'd find myself heading down to buy a small pot of yoghurt (low fat, with added sugar 🙄). If instead, I took my breakfast with me and waited to when I felt hungry to eat it - well, I was never hungry straight away, so sometimes I would have it instead of my mid morning snack, and sometimes I wouldn't get hungry until it was lunch time. Then my brekky would replace my mid afternoon snack. So not eating first think in the morning eliminated one or two snacks, yet I started doing it again, because the advice was so insistent. I wasn't counting calories, so I couldn't be sure I didn't eat more in the evening on the days I had breakfast, and of course, how would I know if my metabolism was slowing 🤔

Speaking of milk, looks like I am giving up both types. I have just found out I have a similar glucose response to whole milk or semi skimmed (in coffee), and just 150ml gives me a glucose spike not that dissimilar to a slice of thick crust pizza! 🤯

(oh, and don't mention my selfie series - it doesn't take much to make me repost it 🤭)

MTCee profile image
MTCee in reply to Subtle_badger

I also don’t bother with breakfast. Like yourself, I used to eat it because that was the commonly accepted practice. After I switched to a low carb way of eating and trying out intermittent fasting, I only began to eat when I really felt hungry and since I never felt hungry until midday most days, I stopped eating breakfast. Lunch is also optional nowadays. When I was eating low-fat style food, I was always hungry and the notion of going without a meal would have been horrific. Low carb has been quite a revelation and a relief.

Interesting post, I too am always interested in people’s weight loss journeys. Just one question - where has it ever been suggested that we eat 5 - 10 servings of grain a day? I have never seen this written anywhere.

Thanks

That is from the USDA's my plate myplate.gov/eat-healthy/grains. They explain the convoluted oz-equiv as "1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal" - so, a serving.

The NHS advice isn't that different, filling 1/3 of your plate with grains (or other starch foods) is going to be roughly the same amount nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/s...

Grain servings recommendations from the USDA.
Cooper27 profile image
Cooper27Administrator in reply to Trimmerteacher

When we learned about nutrition in home economics (high school), the official advice was to aim for:

5 portions of fruit and veg

5 portions of grains/carbs (potatoes come under this group)

2 portions if protein

2 portions of dairy

2 portions of sweets (max)

We were given a food pyramid too, which had grains at the base, more important than fruit and veg even.

What era was that, if you don’t mind me asking? I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. I don’t remember being given any such advice back then. I count myself lucky that I was taught to cook properly at school - a term on meat cookery, a term on bread, term on eggs, etc, over three years. But the rule of thumb then was no snacking (you would spoil your dinner), sweets on Friday when dad got paid, cake on Sunday if mum baked, egg or cereal for breakfast, school dinners and bread and jam for tea, maybe an apple if lucky. And I think we were healthy because there was no opportunity to overeat! And of course everything was made from scratch. I am sentimentally harking back to a different era perhaps - true everything was eaten in season, few air miles involved, but I do enjoy the variety we have nowadays.

Cooper27 profile image
Cooper27Administrator in reply to Trimmerteacher

It would have been early 2000's :)

That's interesting. Personally I think it was a shame when they stopped calling it cookery lessons, or Domestic Science, as it was when I was at school, and relabelled it Food Technology. My children, who were at secondary school in the 90's, didn't feel they learned anything useful in those lessons, nor Textiles or Resistant Materials. Basic skills in all those subjects would have been much more useful!

Cooper27 profile image
Cooper27Administrator in reply to Trimmerteacher

Home economics taught a lot of the same stuff, I think they just renamed it. We learned to cook, sew and about food hygiene and nutrition in the class :)

Sounds as though things were improving in the 20's then 😊

Grains includes things like bulger, quinoa, farro, and many others. Usually a serving for me is 1/4-1/3 cup.

I’m glad you found your path.

I am sorry you feel like the science failed you. You are not alone of course. They are at fault. By design it evolves. It is unfortunate that we grew up during what they now call the reductionist period of nutrition science. It is what it is. The fact is modern nutrition science is only 100(-5) years old. What you have been experiencing is not a rejection of the status quo but the evolution of science. It is working as it should. History and recommendations for its future are below.

A limited history of food charts and to clear up any confusion …every country has their own. They are based on guiding that country’s population which partially depends on what access they have. A poorer country has very different priorities. As an example…the US says half your grains should be whole. I hypothesis they wouldn’t say all because many cultures in the country enjoy refined grains. In moderation…the message is. Unless the UK has one the pyramid is long dead. The US version addresses different stages of life but is always focused on balance. We have easy access to all of it. Not all places do. It is regularly reviewed with new information. I am surprised at how robust it has become. There is even an app. USDA is the appropriate place. Ensuring the food supply is good and also that children are properly fed (SNAP and education) makes sense to me. They maintain a huge food database as well. It includes where the food comes from as well as nutrition information. It is the entire supply chain. I wouldn’t want two separate departments.

For me my diet has evolved and I don’t see a time when it won’t.

myplate.gov

bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2392

I don't think you could be more wrong about nutrition science. It might be only a hundred years old, but that's just a little younger than nuclear physics, and much older than information technology. It's age is no excuse. The fact is, it's not a science at all, but a set of beliefs. Science involves forming a hypothesis, testing that hypothesis and then rejecting that hypothesis if your tests fail. Nutrition science suppresses, buries or obfuscates results that go against it's thesis. There is a strict sticking to the orthodoxy. If your physics is wrong, the reactors don't work and your bombs don't explode. Incorrect ideas in IT are crushed by the market place. Everyone getting fatter and sicker, yet no one blames the ideas, they blame the victims. That would not stand (for long) in any real scientific discipline.

The dietary advice in the countries I mentioned is very similar to the US advice, and they all developed after the USDA developed it's food pyramid (and they all have the similar levels of obesity). I have no doubt they were led by USDA's example. I can't speak for other countries.

The USDA can't recommend that all grains are whole, because refined grains are fortified in the USA, and if the recommended diet would be nutritionally deficient if significant refined and fortified grains weren't included.

You made me laugh…Comparing nutrition science to computer science thinking it is actually a mature science. Have I got news for you!

You know the studies you read are written by nutrition scientists right? You make a good point with usda reacting to what is available in the market. That is why each country publishes their own guidelines. USA is still the home for most scientists so is it surprising their scientists would confer with American scientists? Of course not. The usda has the largest database of food that is also open source. Food tracking apps all use it. You get nutrition information from it. So do scientists from all over the world. So of course they use it. That doesn’t mean other countries don’t do their own research.

Cooper27 profile image
Cooper27Administrator

Thank-you for the very full response 😁

You definitely highlight the reason I'm asking the question: trying to figure out who is teaching good information Vs bad, and who's just out for a following whatever they have to say to get it, is not easy.

I sympathise with how frustrating it is to try so hard for no results, and to be treated as if you're just not trying hard enough.

What frustrates me is the whole country (world really) is being treated as if they aren't trying hard enough - no one considers that perhaps the advice is wrong, just that we are all lazy and greedy.

Oh, and liars.

Cooper27 profile image
Cooper27Administrator in reply to Subtle_badger

Yes, the "you must be miscounting your calories and misjudging portion sizes", even if you weighed and measured and overestimated everything that passed your lips.

Blueruth profile image
Blueruth in reply to Cooper27

I encourage you to read the article I posted earlier before rejecting nutrition science. Maintain a curious mind. For me I evolve over time and as I get older, my activity changes, information changes, even the foods available changes, and my goals change. Stay open.

Whydothis profile image
Whydothis in reply to Blueruth

I have just followed up the links you posted - thank you.The bmj article is spot on - nutrition science started by discovering some vitamins and moved on to more micronutrients, and this led to a reductionist science, looking simply at remedying deficiencies in known nutrients.

Then we had the debate between whether fats or sugars were the "baddie" - and as we know, this was decided in favour of reducing fats, especially saturated fats, and ignoring sugar. It is of course debatable whether this was truly a science based consensus or more of a commercial one, but that is beside today's point.

Science has developed as it should, gaining better understanding of nutrition over the years, through experiment and population studies.

The most recent science has come up with two main findings (although of course they are very closely linked). One is that the low fat, low calorie advice has been wrong, and that if we had made people frightened of sugar instead of fat we would all have been healthier. The second is the recent improved understanding of the microbiome and its importance to our total health, not just to our digestion.

The real problem is that these developments of science have not been properly translated into health advice. While both the US guidelines you linked to and recent UK advice has at last begun to tell us to reduce our sugar consumption and eat more veg, both sets of advice are still putting more emphasis on avoiding saturated fat and on eating large quantities of grains (whole ones, to be sure, but still grains). This is ignoring the very latest, up to date research, which as far as I can see all points towards the conclusion that we have better health outcomes if we eat much less carbohydrate in the form of grains, and considerably more natural fats. The US guidance still tells people to remove the fat from their meat and to buy reduced fat dairy - these ideas are not supported by the latest evidence.

So - I am agreeing with you, in that science has given us valuable information, but I am strongly agreeing with Subtle_badger, in that the advice dispensed by government agencies is not following that science - it is driven by the belief, supported by vested interests, that the earlier, now disproved, ideas are still what we should live by.

My personal experience is somewhat similar to Subtle Badger - eating whole grains and reducing fats made me obese and tired - increasing my intake of veg and natural fats has allowed me to lose the weight and to feel much healthier and more energetic. I made these changes as a result of reading real science, not by reading government advice.

Sorry this has turned into an essay of a reply!

Blueruth profile image
Blueruth in reply to Whydothis

I completely agree that reducing carbs and eating more healthy fats is the prevailing science. What I struggle with is such low carbs suggested and large amounts of fat with an emphasis on meat. What I have also seen is accolades with no risks mentioned at all. A lot of YouTube videos and isolated studies. The whole point of getting to scientific consensus is to repeat it. An isolated study invites cherry picking. Then I see charts that are just unrelated data trying to prove a point. I found several articles on benefits and risks. Below are a couple. What i glean is low carb high fat doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. The writer in the first article is vegetarian. And so if this is something you want to help people learn that needs to be understood and honored. I’m not seeing that.

greatist.com/eat/low-carb-h...

health.usnews.com/wellness/...

Whydothis profile image
Whydothis in reply to Blueruth

A very brief reply as I am rushing around to go away for a couple of days!I agree that there is a great deal of stuff on youtube promoting very extreme versions of low crab and high fat, and some of them still suggest the Atkins formula, relying on a great deal of meat. They often forbid root vegetables and pulses on the basis that they contain carbs.

However, this is not what I suggested in my last post, and it is not what the science suggests. My own way of eating is based very heavily on vegetables, with eggs, cheese, pulses, and some red meat. I use butter, lard and extra virgin olive oil - but I don't go overboard with "fat bombs" and trying to eat more fat - I just use the most natural fats I can to prepare my meals, without being frightened of them. What I don't eat is anything with added sugar (ever!), foods that are eaten purely for their carbs, and seed oils.

If this discussion is still going on when I get home, I will come back!

Blueruth profile image
Blueruth in reply to Whydothis

Your diet looks a lot like mine except I rarely have red meat, favoring salmon and avocado. I am a foodie and regular traveler. I like to break the rules so I can try different things. That is when I may have red meat. Im also focused on healthy lifestyle not significant weight loss. Diet is actually 1/4th of the picture. There is also mind, exercise and sleep. I can see you are not selling the religiosity. If you want to be a near-zero carb diet so be it. I don’t care for sharing orphaned studies and bad charts… it is misinformation which is completely unnecessary because there are mainstream places that publish good information about low carb diets.As for the usda. I think there is a mix of science, lobbyists and human engineering. They have to convince a huge geography with a mix of cultures to improve their eating patterns. You don’t just say no refined grains all of a sudden. A lot of people are already confused. Sugar corporations…we know they are horrible and powerful. We got a huge powerful corporation problem everywhere. “No-fat” actually needs more sugar. But I don’t think it is as simple as saying the usda is lying.

Blueruth profile image
Blueruth in reply to Whydothis

Th un actually has the dietary guidelines of all countries. You can see how specific they are to a country’s resources and culture. Mexico only has 3 groups and their first recommendation is a very good one :)

“Take your time to eat and enjoy your meals by sharing them with family and friends whenever possible”

fao.org/nutrition/education...

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