It is so hard with all the different diet trends out there to know what the right diet is out there for you. Low carb, high fat? Ketogentic? High carb vegan? Everything in moderation? Then, these experts say “But, ultimately it’s what works for you” with no further information as to how to figure out what that is. AHHHHHHH!
I’ve definitely struggled with this myself. I’ve tried calorie counting with nothing off limits, high carb and running marathons, low fat, low carb and high fat, and fasting (that’s never lasted very long). None of these are for everyone, and I have come to realize that long term, none of these are for me.
In my high school and college years, I tried to calorie count. Some days, I thought eating only low fat ice cream and cheerios was okay as long as I ate under 1500 calories that day and did some sort of exercise. At the end of college and in the beginning of my working career, I started running half marathons and marathons. I was still watching my calories, but I focused on carbs because I thought that is what my body needed, and I thought because I was running I had the permission to eat whatever I wanted: pizza, hard cider, sugar cookies, and every other processed junk out there. I was carb loading for races with apple juice, crackers, and pasta. I craved sugar and didn’t feel that great all the time. I drank several cups of coffee a day to get through! Plus, my weight hit a plateau even though I was exercising more.
Then, in the winter of 2013, I had a case of acid reflux and a stomach ulcer. This made me take a long, hard look at what I was eating. When researching foods that caused acid reflux and inflammation in the gut, I realized this was the main part of my diet. At that time, I cut out fried foods, dairy, alcohol, coffee, grains, hydrogenated fats, and sugar. I realized how little focus I was putting on fruits, vegetables, and just real food in general. By cutting out those foods, I quickly lost 5 lbs. Once my stomach healed, I added some of those foods back but definitely more in moderation.
Then, my husband and I decided to have a baby. I researched the best foods for fertility and pregnancy. The researched showed eating lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like avocados, and good quality protein like salmon. I also started eating eggs for breakfast every day. Over my pregnancy, I moved from eating at egg sandwich to an egg wrap with a sprouted tortilla to an eggs with avocado and sauteed greens. I was feeling great in the morning. My lunches started to include salads, and my snacks were fruit, nuts, seeds, and whole fat yogurt. I had a great pregnancy and labor, and I only gained 20 lbs, while being able to run until 36 weeks pregnant.
After my son was born, I played around with a low carb, high fat diet. This worked well for a short period of time for me as a therapeutic intervention. I think I needed to do this to help cleanse my body of inflammation and some insulin resistance from previously being on a processed, high carb diet. Plus, breastfeeding and pregnancy had caused a fatty acid deficiency. I was eating a half batch of “Get Some Ice Cream”, feeling rushes of energy afterward, and losing weight. Then, after a few months, I started to get more tired and gain weight. I was confused since I wasn’t eating more or less “clean”, running more, and still breastfeeding. It took awhile to realize that my body just didn’t need that much fat anymore since I had become such a high fat advocate, and I realized I needed more carbs especially as a woman, who breastfeeds, runs, is a tired mom, and was looking to have another child and needed my cycle to come back.
So, at 13 months postpartum, I made adjustments again. I decreased my fat slightly and started to really be mindful of how many servings of fat I was having a day. Since I no longer had a fatty acid deficiency, I didn’t need as much fat. I looked to Jonathan Bailor’s SANE approach of 3-6 servings of whole food fats a day. I started to look at how many I was having and realized I was knocking out most of those just through breakfast by having avocado, Bulletproof coffee, and cooking in butter. I thought it was eye opening that Jonathan notes that you should have 30 g of protein in the morning, and percentage-wise whole eggs fall more in the category of whole food fats as opposed to quality protein. This made sense since I always seemed to feel hungry if I didn’t have some salmon or bacon with breakfast. Protein is especially critical in the morning for women. Plus, many days I was using some combination of the following: Primal Kitchen mayo, Bulletproof collagen bar, nuts or nut flours, cocoa, fatty treats like Get Some Ice Cream, cooking with coconut oil or butter throughout the day, and coconut meat. I realized I needed to be much more mindful of my fat intake and give my body more of the other things it needed like carbs and protein.
Along with my diet, I wanted to address my cortisol since I suspected it was higher than I would like, and being a busy mom, wife, runner, and breastfeeder, I had adrenal fatigue. I started to increase my carbs again by having fruit and a serving of whole food starch with dinner like white potato, sweet potato, or plantain. I still wasn’t eating processed carbs though. So, my diet was still real food based. Most of what I eat is not in a box, needs to be refrigerated, and doesn’t have a label. I also switched my cup of coffee in the morning to a cup of swiss water processed organic decaf with only a splash of milk or cream. I also started taking a whole food fruit powder, Camu Camu, for Vitamin C. Finally, I incorporated liver into my regular diet, making a liver and beef meatloaf, for B vitamins and Vitamin C along with continuing to eat brazil nuts (selenium) and seaweed (iodine) for thyroid health.
As you can see, it’s no wonder people get confused since one protocol may not even be right for a person long term. Some diets are just therapeutic interventions to heal, and then, we hope to find a healthier moderate diet afterward long-term. I can even argue that a raw vegan diet will make you feel great in the short term due to the cleansing nature of the foods, cutting out processed ingredients, and the increase of glutathione in the body. That doesn’t mean we can function without the essential Vitamins A, D, K2, and B12 that are only from animal foods.
It may help to go into these “diets” or “nutrition protocols” with an experimental mindset. Tell yourself you will try it for X amount of time, maybe 30 days, like the Whole30. Take notes of how you feel and do research as to why this may be the case. What did you add? What did you remove? Then, once you get through the 30 days, you can either chose to keep certain things the same or introduce foods back in and see what macro-nutrient ratios work for you. I would assume that many Americans would benefit from starting with a low carbohydrate diet for 30 days and then assessing whether adding more real food carbohydrates back in makes them feel better or not. It may even work for some to include more carbs every few days and not every day. When you are playing with your macros after the therapeutic intervention, your weight may fluctuate as you make wrong turns. Just think of these moments as data to prevent getting discouraged. A few lbs is easy to fix. Moving to a real food based diet will make the most impact long term.
This is where I have currently ended up with my macros to lose weight, heal my adrenal fatigue, balance my hormones, and sleep better. I was listening to the Ancestral RD podcast, and they discussed three things that really struck me:
- It is sometimes hard to get enough carbohydrates on a real food, highly plant based diet.
- Sometimes, it is important to track your calories occasionally to make sure you are getting enough on a real food diet.
- Those with adrenal fatigue or are active should get at least 30% of calories from carbohydrates and to heal hypothalamic amenorrhea, you should potentially titrate up to 50% from carbohydrates.
So, I started tracking my calories and worked on incorporating more carbohydrates while reducing my fat intake. I realized that it was actually hard for me to get enough calories since all my snacks are veggies and fruit, especially while breastfeeding and running. No wonder I was waking up in the middle of the night to pee! Learn more about how this may indicate you have cortisol disregulation in this podcast. The gist is that when cortisol rises, vasopressin (what prevents you from having to pee) is suppressed, and you have the urge to pee. So, I was having a rise in cortisol a few hours to early because I was not eating enough carbohydrates. I started eating a macro ratio of approximately 40-50% carbohydrates, 20-30% fat, and 20-25% protein. I will see how this goes for a while and will have to adjust over time as my stress and activity change.