Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Getting started

Too many of us have spent too many years on too many diets with too few lasting results.  Why?  Probably because we were trying to do a one-size-fits-all diet without taking into account our individual body chemistry, individual tastes, individual lifestyles, and so on.

I, like many of you, have struggled with my weight, health, and overall fitness for decades. I've been on low fat diets, low carb diets, low calorie diets, and even the insane grapefruit diet. All of them worked.  For a while.  Eventually, all of them failed.  Personally, I don't think I failed the diets but rather, the diets failed me.

The end results were always the same, though, regardless of who or what was to blame.  The weight came back on--fast--and was even harder to take off the next time around and I felt like hell both on my diets and off.  Being fat and miserable was just something I expected to be forever. Turns out, I was wrong.  After starting and completely my last diet I made some very startling discoveries about myself, about food, and a lot about the science of weight loss, weight control, and most importantly physical well-being and general good health.

In January 2011 my sister told me that she was going on the HCG diet.  I immediately went online and researched it.  Initially, I was frightened for her because it just seemed so extreme and dangerous.  However, after 7 months of research I came to a few conclusions, the first being that it likely was not dangerous and that when a person is morbidly obese, as I was, the risks associated with morbid obesity far outweighed any risks associated with an extremely low calorie diet.  During that 7 months my sister went on to lose an enormous amount of weight.  She felt great.  She had energy to spare, her ability to think and concentrate improved, and she experienced a myriad of other improvements in her health.  I decided to give it a red hot go.

Within the first 2 weeks my hip and knee pain went away.  This was followed by all of my arthritis pain in my other joints and by the end of the first 40 day round, I had lost 28 pounds and had so much energy and sense of well-being, the likes of which I could not recall ever having.  I was able to exercise comfortably and without pain. The irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) from which I had suffered for over 25 years was gone as were my allergy symptoms.

Stabilization was extremely low carb and lasted for about 3 weeks, during which time no symptoms returned.  Then came the first maintenance period in which I was allowed to add starches and sugars.  At first, there was no problem. Then, suddenly, the IBS returned, followed by the allergies and arthritis pain.  My energy decreased and depression started to kick in.

I went back on the HCG and 'lo and behold, everything went back to rights.  I was sorted again and feeling good.  However, I did worry about finishing this round of HCG because I was certain that it was the HCG that was creating all the healing in my body and that once I went off the health problems would return.

Each round went fine until I got to maintenance.  I then began to look at my food diaries and the only thing that seemed to trigger the recurrence of my health problems was when I would add grain back into my diet.  The day I saw that a friend of mine suggested a website that was about the Paleo lifestyle.  That is when I had my light bulb moment.

I decided that I would forego grains and grain products, processed foods (of which I rarely ate to begin with), and legumes.  When I started my lifetime maintenance this way my symptoms did not return and my weight stopped fluctuating so much.

And then it happened.  I wanted bread so badly that I caved in and ate some thinking to myself that a little wouldn't hurt.  That little bit turned into a bender. I couldn't shovel enough wheat into my system fast enough to keep the demons at bay.  I found myself seriously hungry and out of control, and worse, gaining weight. I eventually got a grip but not without a lot of effort on my part.  I swore off the grains again.  This cycle repeated itself a few times.  I couldn't understand what was going on.  Why couldn't I have a piece of bread or a bit of cake without feeling like I was losing control?

I found out why when I read Dr. Davis' book Wheat Belly.  Turns out, wheat is highly addictive.  He stated in his book that it actually crosses the blood-brain barrier and stimulates the opiate receptors--the only know food product to do this. Not even sugar can do that!  I also happened to be taking some courses at the time that confirmed what he said through functional MRI's (fMRI), that showed this phenomenon.  Another course dealt with genetics and evolution (from Duke University) and this professor discussed just how long it takes for the human body to adapt, genetically, to certain foods and substances.  For instance, 10,000 years ago 100% of all humans were lactose intolerant. Today that number is about 20%.

If it took that long for one item that didn't change at all over those 10,000 years why would we expect to be able to eat foods that have had their genetic makeup altered repeatedly over the centuries?  I don't see how it's possible.  When you realize that the grain that we call wheat isn't even the same as the wheat from 30 years ago, you really have to wonder.

Ok.  So, if wheat is harmful to our bodies, and not just for those who suffer from celiac disease, how are we supposed to have the things we have loved for years? What? No bread? No cake? No way, I say!

This led me to start researching other things, such as the genetic makeup of rice, corn, and other grains as well as legumes.  Turns out, besides corn, most of these things are still the same and a good number of people can consume them without any ill effects.  While there are those who would disagree with me, citing all the substances that cause inflammation with these grains and legumes, I would say to them--the one diet fits all way of thinking is wrong, and just because you're pretty certain that paleo man didn't eat them doesn't mean that he didn't or that they are harmful.  Who am I, or anyone else, to say what your genetic code permits or doesn't permit?  No one can say definitively that ALL grains are bad for humans to consume.  There simply isn't enough scientific or even anecdotal evidence to support such claims.  Likewise with legumes.  Not everyone is genetically predisposed to have a bad reaction to them.

So, my journey continued.  I began trying other grains to see what would happen.  Rice. No problems. I can eat rice without feeling the need to just keep eating it.  I can have a small portion once in a while without any recurrence of my symptoms and without it triggering cravings for more. Legumes, except chickpeas without the skin, really give me grief, as does corn and oats.  Peanuts--no problem.

Mostly, I eat a Paleo, or grain free, diet.  However, every once in a while I find that I'd like to have a bit of cake or bread so I have to make some without using wheat, corn, or oats.  I tried the Paleo breads and found them to be disgusting.  Same with the cakes.  Coconut or almond flour with eggs and a boatload of fat does not bread or cake make.  I was so discouraged.  Then, I decided to start playing around with with other grains and mixing starches and grain flours until I found something that worked.  Something that gave me the texture and taste of breads and cakes, yet wouldn't trigger cravings for more. If you take a look at the inside of my book, Greek Without The Gluten, the recipes for two of the flour blends I use are there. Of course, I can't use the corn flour blend, but many people can.

Now, though these flour blends are gluten free, don't be fooled here. They are not low carb, low calorie, or even healthy.  They will spike your insulin faster than wheat flour.  The difference between these flours, though, is that they will not trigger a desire to overeat.  You will be satisfied with a serving and go on with your life without having to battle your addictions all over again.  In this case, if you are not sensitive to the grain being used and are not an insulin dependent diabetic, I just don't see the problem with having an occasional indulgence.

Each of us is individual and our genes have differences that allow or disallow certain things.  It is up to us to find what those things are.  We also must find what fits our lifestyle best--paleo or low grain, gluten free--so that we can live with the choice we make.  After all, if you're going off the wagon and struggling to get back on several times a year, is your choice really a sustainable one?  I don't think so. What I do think is that sustainability is the key to success in the long term--and not just for weight loss--and we must find the balance that works for us.

I want to be able to share what I have learned with all of you.  Transitioning and maintaining this lifestyle is not always easy, but there are ways to ease into it and ways to make it less difficult.  I want to share recipes that embrace my mostly paleo lifestyle as well as what I do for exercise, rest, and relaxation.  When I find interesting studies I would also like to share those with you as well. Thanks for sharing my journey with me.

Until next time.


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