Monday, January 13, 2014

Beating Your Genes

These are my genes. As you can see, my genes run more to Stocky the Dwarf than Twiggy the super model. Without giving away too much personal information, my family tree contains plenty of the fruit of modern non-infectious diseases that are rampant in western society. 

Hopefully, you can work out that my Mum is 
the one on the right

While I have never been fat, I have worked over the years to stay slim – at least as slim as a stocky body type allows. Previous to the last few years that typically involved what conventional doctors and dieticians prescribed for maintaining a healthy weight – lots of exercise and a diet based on “healthy whole grains”, lots of vegetables, some fruit, plus a bit of protein – lean, of course – and low in overall fat. During this time, I also read lots of books and articles on nutrition, including many books that specifically addressed sports nutrition and they all emphasised a diet high in carbohydrates and low in both fat and protein. Many, if not all of these sources, while not strictly advocating a vegetarian diet certainly did not discourage vegetarianism or highlight any of the pitfalls of a vegetarian diet, and none ever acknowledged any idea that the body might run efficiently on fat. Carbohydrate was mostly assuredly king, despite the fact that there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. 

Fun exercise

 Luckily, I like exercise and was quite happy doing hours of exercise every day (I regularly did four hours of exercise every work day and another eight hours each day on the weekend). Which, in hindsight, is probably a good thing, as without all that exercise to lower my insulin and burn the excess carbohydrate I would have been in a highly inflammatory state. As it was, I merely struggled with continual hunger – which I could never fully satisfy for fear of “getting fat” - and a series of almost daily hypoglycaemic episodes which left me shattered for hours afterward. If it sounds pretty grim, it actually was. 

In addition to daily hypoglycaemic episodes I had a host of other grain and carbohydrate induced irritations which, like most Westerners, I assumed were normal. My own list of symptoms induced by the standard high carbohydrate, grain heavy diet included (note that I did not eat junk food):
  • Abdominal gas and bloating.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Frequent and overpowering hunger. If I did not eat every two, or at the most three hours I would deteriorate to a state where I would eat anything and everything.
  • Irritability, particularly when I was hungry, which was often.
  • Moodiness.
  • Hayfever.
  • Asthma.
  • Various skin rashes.
  • PMS and painfully debilitating menstrual periods accompanied by vomiting and diarrhoea (those symptoms were particularly fun).
  • Poor recovery from strenuous exercise.
  • Anaemia (during the dark days when I was vegetarian).
When I got involved with Crossfit, almost five years ago, I changed my diet radically. I went from eating around 70 to 80% of my calories from carbohydrate and the remainder from fat and protein to the Zone diet (40% carbohydrate, 30% fat and protein), and I completely cut out grains of any kind (yes, quinoa is a grain). Within one week most of my annoying symptoms had disappeared and those that I still had were much ameliorated. 

More fun exercise

About 18 months into the Zone diet, a friend introduced Doug and I to the Paleo diet and we switched, very easily at this point, to a Paleo diet. That was nearly three years ago, and every single symptom I had has completely resolved. Being symptom free is wonderful, but just as wondrous is the freedom that comes from staying lean without doing hours and hours of exercise each day or being continually hungry.

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