There is something super personal about listening to someone talk about their struggles, their health, their perceived failures, their diet, their weight.
When others see people who have “weight to lose”, I see someone completely different. I wonder what their journey has been like up to this point in their lives… What millions of diets they might have tried, what disturbing experiences/abuse/bullying they may have encountered, what environments they may have grown up in, how much money they actually had for food, if their parents were home with them or working 4 jobs to survive and feed the them as children. I wonder how far they have come in improving their health.
You see, by creating judgments in our minds we miss the wins of these beautiful individuals: such as - they just lost 20 lbs, or their inflammatory markers have improved, or they have just normalized their blood sugars or just come off of blood pressure medications or come off their C-pap machine for sleep apnea.
Also, we need to face the fact that as a society we have been told for 30 yrs to cut out fat and eat more carbs and sugar (as long as the calories are low, it doesn’t matter what you eat). That if we eat less and exercise more we will be healthier. That if people are not seeing success, then they are lazy, gluttonous sloths. Boy have we got it wrong.
There is a saying: 'insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result'.
Eating low fat or/and low calorie has consistently proven to not work (especially over the long term). Even increase in physical activity alone has not worked. Please read The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung, Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, and The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz for much more detailed and referenced information on this topic.
So what's going on?! Well we focused so hard on calories that we didn't to look at how different foods influence our hormonal responses.
When we cut the fat out of our diets (which we have done for the last…30-50 years!), we were left with protein and carbs. (And wow how the food industry jumped on that bandwagon really quickly). We can eat protein to a point. But without fat for satiety, we have all still been hungry and struggling with cravings! And in a sense, we were granted permission to overeat carbs, which has increased are blood sugars and also increased the hormone insulin (which our body uses to keep the blood sugars at a safe level, as elevated blood sugars can cause serious harm and even death). But what else has changed? we eat ALL.THE.TIME - from sun rise to beyond sunset; we graze. And we have been taught to NEVER skip a meal and to always eat snacks! Additionally, as a society, we don’t fast the way cultures did in the past. We certainly don’t stop eating after dinner. And that means that insulin never has the time to come back down to regular levels, so it remain high… and then we start eating again the next day. No break! So insulin levels remain high in our bodies…. what does this lead to? 2 things.
- Insulin resistance… when we have too much insulin all the time, we stop paying attention to it - like a sleeping baby at a party. Baby ignores the noise. The body ignores high insulin levels. …. which means over time we need to pump more and more insulin to see the same results with our blood sugar regulation. [read Dr. Jason Fung’s ‘The Obesity Code’ and ‘the Diabetes code’ for much more detailed information on this. This also puts us in a state of fat storage and fat creation, as sugar taken from the blood is turned to fat, and also extra fat eaten with high carb meals is stored as fat. In this state, it is very difficult to burn much fat off your body, no matter how much you work out.
- Increased inflammation (or damage) at the cellular level. High insulin appears to turn on inflammatory pathways in the body which seem to put us at increased risk of chronic disease. From my clinical experience, this tends to follow whatever chronic diseases you are genetically pre-disposed to: diabetes, elevated triglycerides, low numbers of high density lipoproteins, high numbers of small dense low density lipoproteins (LDL), weight gain, high blood pressure, etc.
And guess what? Most of use have insulin levels that are higher than we want them to be! Dr. Joseph Kraft, who wrote the book “Diabetes Epidemic and You”, worked in hospital and had the opportunity to see ~14,000 people’s insulin levels compared to their blood glucose levels over 5 hours after drinking a heavy sugar drink (~75g glucose). And he found that for a very large number of people, their insulin levels showed diabetic tendencies long before their blood sugars were elevated! He was able to diagnose people at risk of diabetes years before they would get diagnosed! Think of how much easier it is to help your body heal before having cellular damage of elevated blood sugars and extra stresses of chronic disease and weight gain if you can catch this type of thing early!
What’s the best way to reduce our insulin levels? I only of 3 ways:
- The low carb high healthy fat diet.
- Time Restricted Eating - where you eat all your high quality caloric needs within a restricted time…. so limit eating to 8 to 12 hours per day, and don’t eat anything and ideally don’t drink anything other than water in that time. Give your body the TIME to rest, heal, and reduce insulin levels.
- Fasting. There are different approaches to fasting (not to be confused with starvation). My suggestion is that you read Dr. Jason Fung’s book “the complete guide to fasting”. But here is a quick overview: there is intermittent fasting (similar to Time Restricted Eating) where on a regular basis (several times a week, or every day even) you go 16 hours without eating (but can have water/tea/coffee with small amount of milk or cream) and eat all your food in 8 hour window. many people choose to stop eating after dinner, and then skip breakfast the next day, eating their food between 11-7pm or 12-8pm. Now I must say that sometimes 16 hours is not enough for individuals struggling with high insulin to see the results they want. some people choose to fast for 20 hours and eat in a 4 hour window ; or fast for 24-36 hours maybe 2xs per week. Some people find that extended fasts from 3 days to 7days make the most difference for their health.
PLEASE NOTE: fasting is not appropriate for everyone. Especially: children, adolescents, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, underweight individuals, malnourished individuals, people who struggle with eating disorders. I recommend that all individuals, especially people on medications consult a health professional before starting to fast. Young children, once their are at the age of sleeping through the night, can then adopt a Time Restricted Eating window of 12 hours as part of the family's meal schedule - eating breakfast around 7-8am, and going to sleep between 7-8pm. Always seek a doctor or health professional's advice to find out what is right for your/your family's specific situation.
I hope this gives you an idea of why I teach what I teach and eat the way I do.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best of health, Eliana Witchell, MSc, RD