Today we have an over-abundance of information regarding health and wellness. There is so much information out there, often conflicting, that we can feel frozen with indecision. Unfortunately, in a sea of expert opinions and one-size-fits-all food pyramids, finding what truly works for your body can take a little detective work.
As a teenager, Oprah was my health guru. It was the 90’s and all about cutting out fat anywhere and everywhere. I can still remember when my mom brought home Snackwell’s Sandwich Cookies and being astonished that they were “good for me.” Of course I would go ahead and have more than one, they were low calorie! I really don’t know where my weight was at in high school, I just remember knowing that I was heavy compared to my friends. I plodded away on my mom’s treadmill and joined the girl’s rugby team hoping that exercise would make a difference, but nothing seemed to change either way.
For the first time ever, I began to really pay attention to my
body’s cues about when and how much to eat.
It was when I went away to college in another province for a year that weight really began to pile on. I missed my family and friends terribly and turned to food to soothe the ache. I can remember eating an entire box of crackers even though I wasn’t hungry and then heading to supper in the cafeteria with my dorm mates. If there were healthier choices at the cafeteria, I didn’t choose them, and there was always ice cream available for dessert. Late at night we would order pizza or walk to a nearby convenience store for a slurpee with soft serve in it. It was around this time that my mom introduced me to Gwen Shamblin’s Weigh Down Diet. The gist of it was that you could eat whatever you like without guilt, as long as you strictly obeyed your body’s hunger signals. I learned to wait until my stomach actually growled before eating and to cover the food left on my plate with a napkin if I felt tempted to eat past satisfaction. For the first time ever, I began to really pay attention to my body’s cues about when and how much to eat. While I never lost as much weight as I would have liked, this strategy helped me take off the college weight and keep my eating relatively controlled day to day. However, whenever life got hard or stressful, I would always run back to my old friend food for comfort, regardless of whether I was hungry or not.
Adventures in Infertility
When I was 27, my husband and I had a miscarriage at 11 weeks. It was extremely difficult, but it brought us closer as a couple and we were still very hopeful to be parents. After waiting the recommended 3 months, we began trying again. As month after month with no positive pregnancy test passed by I became increasingly desperate for answers. I spent hours reading books and delving into fertility chatrooms – I was willing to try almost anything; baby aspirin, expensive supplements, even a chinese moon-phase calendar (don’t ask me to explain it – I still don’t understand how the moon can get me pregnant!) It was through reading Toni Weschler’s book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, that I realized how little I knew about the inner-workings of my own body (I really believe every young woman needs to read it!) Thankfully, I managed to get an appointment with a nontraditional doctor practicing environmental medicine. After an extensive questionnaire and many blood tests, he determined that I was extremely deficient in a few crucial vitamins. I thought, “how is that even possible?? I live in North America!”
If what I ate could shift my infertile body to a fertile one,
what else could it do for me?
Amazingly, 10 days after supplementing with high doses of those vitamins I had a positive pregnancy test. This single event revolutionized my thoughts on nutrition. I had tried every “get pregnant” method I could find, but each time nutrition was brought up I disregarded it. In my mind, I ate a reasonably nutritious diet and couldn’t possibly be deficient. This event began my transformation into a health “nerd” and my trip down the rabbit-hole of nutrition and wellness. If what I ate could shift my infertile body to a fertile one, what else could it do for me?
Becoming A Health Nerd
Being pregnant was a magical time for me. For the first time in my life I was on good terms with my body and proud of it. It was the first time in my adult life that I was not on a diet. I was nauseous for most of it, but when I could eat, I did – whatever and whenever I wanted (blizzards at 10pm? Heck yeah!). Unfortunately, all that magic landed me at my highest ever weight the summer after I delivered my son. I was shocked and dismayed when the scale read 299 lbs. Something had to change. I began to read and discover new thoughts on nutrition. The “eat less, move more” philosophy clearly hadn’t worked for me in the past.
Every time I was eating my sensible bagel with low fat cream cheese and tomato, my body got to work converting it to fat.
It was when I read Gary Taubes book, Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It that I began to put some of the pieces together. We have been taught to eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates like breads, cereal and pasta. Not only are these carbohydrates very low in nutrition when compared to other food choices, they actually contain anti-nutrients that strip your body of the nutrients you do eat (no WONDER I was deficient in basic vitamins). On top of their lack of nutrition, carbohydrates spike insulin, the fat-storing hormone. So every time I was eating my sensible bagel with low fat cream cheese and tomato, my body got to work converting it to fat. I had heard of the Atkins diet years earlier but thought it was just a fad and an excuse to eat unlimited amounts of bunless McDonalds cheeseburgers! When I read the science behind it and began to understand what happens in my body depending on the type of food I put into it though, it made so much sense. I bought Dana Carpender’s 500 Low-Carb Recipes and began my new weight-loss journey.
I had two more kids in the following years, and being pregnant was always a setback, but I continued to slowly and healthfully lose weight. I also continued reading and listening to podcasts and learning everything I could about health and nutrition. It was through reading Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint that I learned that it’s not just what I eat that matters, but the quality of it as well. I began to source ethically raised, grass-fed meat and buy organic as much as possible. It was through Jimmy Moore’s work (check out his book, Keto Clarity), that I discovered how the body can enter a state of “ketosis” where it uses it’s own fat stores for fuel. Ketosis is a game changer for anyone who has struggled with their weight long term, the kind of weight issues that calorie-counting and exercise just don’t seem to help. The popularity of the keto diet is exploding right now and you can find a lot of helpful information and recipes online. If you are interested in learning more about it, there is a great guide for beginners here.
Battling Insulin Resistance
What it really all comes down to is insulin resistance, which is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes and closely related to metabolic syndrome. We are all sensitive or insensitive to the insulin in our body to some degree. Remember how I said carbohydrates spike insulin? Carbohydrates convert to glucose (sugar) once we eat them. The higher the carbohydrate count, the higher the resulting blood glucose. High blood glucose is dangerous, so our bodies release insulin to shuttle the sugar away into safer places, like our muscles and fat cells. After years of too much insulin circulating around in us, our cells begin to become insensitive to it. High blood glucose is still dangerous though, so our body keeps ratcheting up the amount of insulin released until the job is done. Our pancreas is the organ responsible for making insulin and simply can’t keep up with the constant high demand. If nothing changes, it will eventually just shut down and you will find yourself with Type 2 Diabetes and needing to take insulin shots. Because the keto diet cuts carbohydrates way down and regulates how much protein you consume (protein also spikes some insulin) your pancreas can release less insulin and over time your cells will regain their insulin sensitivity.
Fasting is the best and fastest way to improve your insulin sensitivity.
Another beautiful thing about being in ketosis is that while your body is happily burning away your love handles, you don’t need to eat nearly as often and can naturally begin to fast intermittently. According to Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Obesity Code, fasting is the best and fastest way to improve your insulin sensitivity because you give your body a break from releasing any insulin at all. Since I have added in regular fasting, my weight loss has become easier and more consistent. It is also freeing to not have to think about food so often. There are so many other positive benefits of fasting as well; like detox, cell renewal, improved mental clarity and spiritual expansion. If you are interested in learning more about fasting, check out Jimmy Moore and Dr. Jason Fung’s new book, The Complete Guide to Fasting.
Refuse to Give Up
It has taken a lot of learning and detective work, but I have finally found a way of eating that I enjoy, supports my healthy weight goals and benefits my mind and body in so many other ways. I really believe that God brought each resource my way exactly when I needed it. There was absolutely struggle and frustration on my part, but He was and is so faithful. Joyce Meyer says, “The simple truth is, if we will do what we can do, God will do what we cannot do.”
There really is no one-size-fits-all way of eating.
When I refused to give up, kept learning and trying new things, God met me and kept me on the path to what I was searching for. I certainly don’t eat perfectly, but I’ve learned that “perfect” isn’t what I should be striving for anyway. There really is no one-size-fits-all way of eating. Humans have thrived on a variety of diets throughout history. I realized somewhere along the way that God doesn’t care all that much about what we choose to eat – He put it all here for our enjoyment. What He cares about is our hearts, and a heart that loves Him above all else will honour the body it’s in as the temple of the Holy Spirit:
“Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”
Have you found a way of eating that you enjoy and supports your health goals? Whether you know exactly what works for you or are still searching, I’d like to invite you to share some of your journey in the comments below. Either way, don’t give up! Keep learning about how different foods affect the body. Become curious: start to pay attention to how various choices feel when you eat them. After you’ve eaten it, do you feel nourished and energetic? Do you feel sluggish or mentally foggy? Start to draw boundaries for yourself from a place of self-care rather than simply restricting for the point of weight-loss. Every time you eat is an opportunity to collect data about what works or doesn’t work for your unique system. Commit your health journey to God and seek His guidance as you strive to honour Him with your body. We’re all in this together!
“Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That’s the most sensible way to serve God. Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.”