HOW TO INDIVIDUALIZE YOUR DIET
by Dr. Jon Repole, D.C., N.C., H.H.P., C.P.T., C.F.M.P.
So many diets, so many different choices!
I have discussed in a previous blog (SEE HERE) the general tenets of a life-long dietary regimen that can be applied in a universal manner – namely to eat foods in accordance with nature’s inherent wisdom. When one eats WITH rather than AGAINST (such as factory farmed meats, processed foods, GMO-laden foods, etc.) the bounty nature provides, one will find him or herself gravitating towards a diet based primarily around whole plant-based foods including: organic sun-ripened fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and fungus (mushrooms). In doing so, Mother Gaia rewards us and packs her foods with increasing nutrient density – high levels of vitamins, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and minerals.
In addition, these foods are also the lowest on the food chain (trophic level) of life – which simply means that they have the least amount of toxic exposure and bodily burden. In turn, we reap the benefits for protection from an entire host of degenerative diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and so on), increased longevity (quantity of life), and decreased aging (quality of life). It is truly a win-win – for our body, for our environment, and, of course, for all sentient creatures we share planet Earth with.
In this article, I want to discuss diet individualization. For within the universal tenets of diet, there are nuances, changes, additions, and subtractions that can prove to be advantageous and helpful for certain individuals. This is particularly true for those persons suffering with conditions such as: fatigue, sugar-related problems, hyper-sensitivities, GI-related disorders, addictions, and so on. It is even more important, however, for those individuals who feel that he/she is doing the right thing but not “getting” the magic from the diet they are currently consuming.
One note to be reminded of before we move forward in this discussion is that these ideas/recommendations should be considered only AFTER (not BEFORE) you have tried switching to a whole foods plant-based diet. In other words, it doesn’t offer much help (or make much sense) if you haven’t preliminary tried to experiment or see “how you feel” after eliminating factory farmed meats, dairy, processed foods, meat analogs (such as soy hot dogs, soy hamburgers) and so on. The fundamentals always come first!
In this article, we will cover the following topics:
PSYCHOLOGICAL AWARENESS – WHAT’S EATING YOU?
I always like to begin with the basic concept of awareness. For starters, if you find that you have a poor relationship to food – it is never really about what you are eating but rather what it is that’s eating you. Thus, you may want to look inward and introspect in an effort to see if the decisions you are making around food may be, in fact, masking deficiencies in one or more of our universal human needs such as: safety, security, love, significance, purpose, contribution, self-esteem, self-actualization, growth, and so on.
As you continue to look inward, you may want to ask yourself the following question:
Are you eating the “wrong” foods due to shadow elements in your psyche?
For example, are you eating to…
TWO TYPE OF EATERS
In general there are two “types” of eaters – conscious and unconscious. Read below to see if you resonate with any of the descriptions.
The unconscious eaters fall into a varied spectrum including:
The conscious eaters can also fall into a varied spectrum including:
Sugar-related concerns are perhaps one of the most potent problems influencing our dietary choices. This can include everything from simple sugar cravings, candida (yeast overgrowth), hormonal fluctuations, to more serious concerns such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes. I have already written about this topic, so will not repeat myself here – please click here to dive deeper into this very important topic.
SLOW AND FAST OXIDIZER
When you eat food, it goes through a process of digestion and then ultimately becomes distributed to our cells as fuel to be burned for energy. If things go right, the hormone insulin carries the broken down carbohydrates (sugar molecules) and presents them to the cell where they are carried to the cell’s factory warehouse – the mitochondria – to be processed for ATP (the energy language of our body). Some persons, can burn their food like a newspaper and some can burn their food like a log.
Newspaper Burner (Fast Oxidizer)
These individuals burn their food quickly and need to eat more frequent in order to avoid the “hangry” problem – becoming both hungry and irritated as a consequence of blood sugar lulls. These individuals tend to need more “protein” and “fats” in their diet in an effort to help stabilize any blood sugar fluctuations. This can also be the individual that says that they have tried eating or making a switch to a whole food plant-based diet and report that they still feel fatigued or are simply “just not feeling right.” (Note: This is to be distinguished from the person who switches from a meat-centered diet to a plant-based diet and is simply going through a psychological rather physiologically need for more “protein” and is erroneously just not consuming enough calories. This can also be the person going through a cultural crisis of sorts).
Log Burner (Slow Oxidizer)
These individuals burn their food slow and can oftentimes find themselves forgetting to eat for “relatively” long periods throughout the day (from a relative perspective when compared to their "newspaper burner counterparts"). These individuals usually do very well with a high carbohydrate-type diet based around fresh fruits, veggies, smoothies, juices, etc.
OK, time to take the QUIZ to find out your “type”
There are, of course, more in depth analysis that can be performed including more advanced diagnostics (blood and saliva) and detailed questionnaires. But for now, if you resonate with one of the “types”, here are some easy to implement suggestions.
SLOW AND FAST DETOXERS
When we eat, breath, absorb (through our skin) or drink toxins our body’s detoxification pathways kick in and attempt to take the toxic substance and convert it into an inactive form that can be expelled outside the body – through our urine, sweat, or feces. A lot of this “work” is done in the liver through certain pathways oftentimes referred to as Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification.
Consider the following questions?
We are going to use the generic names of fast and slow detoxer to help distinguish between those individuals that process “toxins” rapidly through the liver (fast detoxer) and those individuals that process “toxins” slowly through the liver (slow detoxer). You can think of the liver as a “bucket.” Some people are born with rather large buckets (fast detoxer) and, thus, can eliminate toxins efficiently without overflow. Others, however, are born with small buckets (slow detoxers) and, thus, have a hard time keeping up with the toxic burden - oftentimes spilling their toxin burden directly into the bloodstream (rather than the urine and feces) causing a host off signs and symptoms.
Consider a few of the above questions once again with the concept of slow and fast detoxer as the known causative agent?
What can be done to help support our detox pathways?
GI-related disorders, unfortunately, have now become commonplace. This is a direct result of food manufacturer’s assault upon our precious food systems and the drive of consumers for faster, cheaper and more convenient food products. Conditions include: IBS, constipation, loose stools, Colitis, Chrohn’s, food sensitivities, leaky gut (intestinal permeability), ulcers, acid reflux, dysbiosis (overgrowth of bacteria, yeast, etc.), SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), etc.
Even though these are “gut-related” signs and symptoms and diagnoses – they have far-reaching effects throughout the entire body. Without a properly functioning GI system – the entire body will suffer. Why? Quite literally everything in the human body (from growth of tissues, to energy, neurotransmitter production, hormonal health, etc.) has a reliance on the elemental sequence of digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Furthermore, research has shed light onto the true functionality of the amazing GI-system – which goes above and beyond its previously held notion of being a conduit or tube for the simple breakdown of nutrients. For example, it is now an accepted fact that our second brain (the enteric nervous system) and 70% of our body’s immune system is housed in this amazing and complex area of the body!
Although, this article is unable to tackle all the above related concerns. We can, however, come up with some universal gut-related ideas that you can try and/or experiment with.
FOOD ALERGIES, SENSITIVITIES, AND INTOLERANCES
This is a very large topic so I will only attempt to touch on some key points. In brief, food allergies and food sensitivities are immune-related responses whereby the former is an immediate response causing “allergic” symptoms such as visible hives or anaphylaxis and the latter correlated with less obvious delayed symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, depression, gut dysfunctions, autoimmunity, and much more. Food intolerances, on the other hand, are non-immune mediated and are due to deficiencies in certain key enzymes that are required to digest certain foods. For example, lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the milk sugar, lactose, in milk due to a deficiency in the enzyme lactase.
A word of caution! Although food sensitivities are an important part of any functional and holistic approach to health and disease management, it is important to walk through logical steps before jumping to conclusions. I offer the following as a guide (not to be taken dogmatically – as there are always exceptions).
Click HERE to watch an older video explaining the differences between food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances.
Click HERE to learn about “leaky gut”
We are no longer mere victims of our inheritance! Through the newly emerging field of epigenetics, we now know what rules of reasonableness and commonsense have been telling us all along. How our genes are bathed (the environment) dictates gene expression or suppression. In other words, our diet, lifestyle, decisions, etc. play a crucial role as to what chapters of our book of life (DNA) are read, skipped over, torn out, and so on.
The field of genetics is ever-growing and will continue to do so month to month and year to year. In this brief section, I wanted to highlight just two genes that, I believe, are noteworthy simply because the information they provide can be useful in dietary individualization.
The first gene is called MTHFR and I have dedicated an entire blog post to this topic – click HERE for more information.
The second gene is called ApoE. It explains the diversity and mixed results, for example, of such things as alcohol consumption, fat utilization, cholesterol control, Alzheimer risk, and type of exercise on our overall health. For example, it is well documented that certain individuals have what can be thought of as a cardio-protective effect in regards to alcohol consumption while others have a deleterious effect. This gene tells you which category you fit in.
The ApoE gene also gives insights (in much the same analogy as alcohol) on to the damaging effects of animal products on your overall health. This gene will tell you exactly which individuals are at the highest of risk.
SYMPATHETIC VS. PARASYMPATHETIC STATES
The nervous system can be thought of as having two major components – the fight or flight reactionary system (sympathetic) and the rest and digest (parasympathetic). It is analogous to our car whereby the breaks are the parasympathetic and the gas pedal our sympathetic. When we want to get up and move – we push on the gas pedal – thereby diverting energies (blood supply) to our extremities (to “fight or flight”) and away from our core (including our digestive system). Conversely, when we sit down to eat – we press on the breaks – thereby initiating energies (blood supply) away from the extremities and toward the core – thereby calling upon production of digestive enzymes in preparation for digestion, absorption, and assimilation.
Imagine, however, eating in a state of sympathetic dominance – while anxious, while driving in the car on the way to work, while walking, etc. The result will be poor and depleted digestive enzyme production.
Now imagine, “grounding yourself” by concentrating on the recommendations below. The result – maximizing your digestive capabilities.
I will have to devote an entire blog post to the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda as it would be impossible to explain all the details and nuances of what is thought to be the oldest healing science known to man and womankind.
Ayurveda can be translated at the science of life. Its goal is to live a virtuous life in accordance with the natural rhythms of nature. Ancient Vedic texts tell us that the Rishis, or Holy Ones of India, acquired the knowledge of Ayurveda through meditation and the keen observation of nature. For generations the knowledge that the Rishis attained was passed along through an oral tradition.
Ayurveda is a mythology (which when defined appropriately – is a metaphor or a type of metaphysical realization that cannot be explained in words. It attempts to explain or point to higher truths). The Rishis believed that the human body and the universe were composed of prana (the primal energy or the vital life force) which manifests in the form of 5 gross natural elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. Any imbalance of these elements found within our bodies would be experienced as “dis”ease. From a more practical understanding, these are the elements that make up of the "Great Chain of Being" that nearly all cultures discuss but, however, use different names such as gross (physical, tangible – such as earth, water, and fire), subtle (energy, non-physical components – such as air) and causal (properties that transcend the gross and subtle, our spiritual components – or ether).
Furthermore, it is believed that when these archetypal forms collaborate or come together, they produce individual constitutions or “energetic blueprints” which govern all biological, psychological, and physiopathological functions of the body, mind, and spirit. These are referred to as doshas. Included below are each of their season/time correlates, association to regions of body and functions, particular body type, characteristics, positive/negative personality traits, and physical manifestations.
Vata (combination of AIR and ETHER): The Archetypal “gypsy.” Winter, 2-6 a.m. and p.m., (Small and Large Intestines, kinetic energy, catabolic), slight build with small bones and thin frame, movement, dry, imaginative, enthusiasm, freedom, adaptability, unpredictability, energy and mood fluctuations, difficulty establishing routines, anxious, nervous, decreased metabolism, gas and constipation, nerve/muscle tension, adrenal and circulatory issues. Easiest to move out of balance.
Pitta (combination of WATER and FIRE): The Archetypal “overachiever, type A, extrovert.” Summer, 10-2 a.m. and p.m., (Spleen, Liver, Stomach, 1st part of small intestines, pancreas, gall bladder, enzymes), medium build with good musculature, heat, metabolism, entrepreneurial spirit, likes to experience intensity, confidence, decisiveness, concentration, angry/aggressive, active mind, impatience, acid/bile-related problems, loose stools, infections, inflammatory issues and heart disease.
Kapha (combination of WATER and EARTH): The Archetypal “solid as a rock.” Spring, 6-10 a.m. and p.m., (Bronchi, Sinus, Nostrils, Throat, nutrients, potential energy, anabolic), short or medium height, strong, tend to hold/gain weight easily, structured, centered, grounded, patience, stability, calm, attachment to routine, desire to sleep, accumulation of fluid, fats, and toxins (congestion, mucus), cold, thyroid and blood sugar issues. Hardest to move out of balance.
Before we talk about a rather simplistic treatment approach (from a Ayurveda perspective) we need to understand the following:
General treatment recommendations:
Kapha (remember structure, water, and spring)
In general eat foods that are light, dry and warm. Low fat foods. Low glycemic foods. All beans except for soy. Non-stored grains (millet, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa). Leafy greens, berries, and sprouts. Avoidance of excess water.
Other: novelty (biggest issue is complacency), dry and warm climate, daily exercise – especially aerobic, etc.
Pitta (think metabolism, summer)
In general eat foods that are cooling, liquid-based, low protein (however, increase amounts of plant-based protein foods such as hemp, chia, and beans may be necessary to keep in balance), raw, sweet fruits, and foods with a high water content. Avoid salty, sour, hot or spicy foods. Avoid stimulants (i.e. caffeine).
Other: balance, rest, time in nature, exercises that are cooling or calming (i.e. swimming), emotional intelligence
Vata (think movement, winter, and unpredictability)
In general, foods should be warm, heavy, fat, oily, and hydrating. Decrease beans (unless you find ways to integrate that does not produce adverse GI effects). Sweet fruits. Spices for digestion such as ginger. Root veggies. Increase hydration of foods such as soaking nuts and seeds, and avoid dried fruits. Reliance on more cooked foods especially veggies. Eat regularly to maintain routine. Possible increase in plant-based proteins if in “adrenal fatigue” and blood sugar issues present (in this respect it would be similar to Kapha but maintenance of blood sugar for different reasons).
Other: creation of routine, live in warm and tranquil environment, pay attention to the rhythms of nature (sun and moon), and perform light exercise that provides balance and predictability (i.e. Tai Chi)
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