Do you remember the whole “fruits roots and leaves” experiment I did? Well it’s been a couple months and I wanted to follow up and discuss how adopting a plant-based-low-fat-high-carb diet stood up to international travel. My initial results were not without benefit and I intended to proceed with it, but I travel a lot and rushing through airports, jostling around on planes and sitting in cars is a big part of my life. “Drop-testing” a diet is important for me–because it’s one thing for it to work well for me in a relative bubble of sitting at a computer, but for it to truly win me over it has to make my life simpler when it matters.
Stefanie and I were heading out to Spain on the first vacation we have ever taken together–late for every bus and flight–delayed by weather and squeezed into the last remaining seats available. If you’re wondering how I felt about seeing spikes and valleys on my CGM, resulting from not having time and space to pre-bolus or predict when I’d have to sprint while carrying 4 bags, I’ll summarize by saying: decidedly unpsyched. I began to feel like my dietary experiment was like a beautiful car that breaks down if you can’t be constantly maintaining it.
One of the things I’ve noticed about Europe is that there is a decided lack of enthusiasm with regard to dieting or restricting various macronutrients. People smoke if they want to, eat later than they’re supposed to and generally disregard all of the tips and tricks that we are constantly bombarded with–and yet every time I’ve been in Europe, I am amazed by how many old people are still healthy, active and generally unconcerned with what Dr Oz and a host of internet doctors have decreed as the keys to long life and good health. Meals are events there, not molecules. Stefanie and I took a week to visit her father who has a place in Malaga, Spain and thanks to the benefits of her reduced fare air travel we were able enjoy our first vacation for an incredibly diminutive sum. The fact that we were guests there made me a little less excited about walking into one of the many “Chiringuitos” (outdoor grills) that line the Mediterranean coast and order a banana and some low fat yogurt with chia seeds.
It’s just not done there–and the truth is that I love meat. You can understand how that would diminish my enthusiasm for trying to explain in hand gestures and broken Spanish to local grill masters that I just couldn’t partake in their work. These people take a lot of pride in their work and it shows. It’s not like ordering a salad in McDonalds. I suddenly found myself faced with a choice; to cling to my diet despite the fact that it would seem rude and be far from enjoyable or just write myself a permission to shelf the diet for the duration of my vacation. I remember feeling so guilty for choosing the second option. I felt like I had become my diet or it had somehow become an identity that I had adopted. It no longer was serving me–I was serving it, and my departure seemed to be more of a transgression than a decision.
The enjoyment of eating meat again combined with the Spanish culinary flair helped me come to the a peace with the trade off. ‘I will just get back in the swing of things once I am back in the states and deal with the short term hell that will undoubtedly break loose on my blood sugars’ I thought. I was surprised when my insulin dosing stayed consistent and didn’t go back up to my “pre-vegan” status. I was even more surprised when I noticed that I lost an additional 6lbs.
I began to start thinking that perhaps my declaration of “failure” upon the ketogenic diet was due to an imperfect application after all. So I began looking at some of the writing that I could find on the topic and I realized that I had been making some significant errors–namely eating a lot more protein than I needed and not enough fat. I quickly adjusted my fat intake accordingly and in the last few weeks, I have felt a consistently high energy level, my blood sugars are great–and I don’t feel like I’m on a diet because I am generally eating food that I am naturally drawn to.
This blog post isn’t the place to unpack all of the details of my latest dietary shift, but I want to point out a couple things: I am not an expert in any dietary approach. I take a transient survey of the cost/benefit of any approach and then take what I like from it. I am not in a position to say that a low fat or vegan diet is bad or ineffective. I do feel like I learned a lot of important things from the time I was on such a diet because the value of getting micronutrients found in plants is of utmost importance regardless whether you are adapted to burn fat or glucose for fuel.
I also don’t think that there are easy answers in any sort of optimized diet. Our goals have to be constantly examined and reassessed–we will always have to take inventory and be mindful of how our approach is working and what could be improved. I also want to take a second to point out the glaring error that I made in failing to completely research the LCHF diet–instead I just ran with the “Low Carb” part and didn’t do the homework about how I was replacing those carbs. Our diet is a complex part of an even greater and more complex system in which we live. Oversight of details can be significant. In line with that, there are also non-dietary elements that often go unexamined–such as sleep, stress and hydration to name a few. These are outliers that I have been making a greater effort to shore up with (so far) good results.
It’s also important to recognize that a diet isn’t just molecules. Sure, it is on some level, but for most of us, that is not the level on which we live moment to moment. How well a diet integrates into our life matters a lot–and in some cases can add undue stress that works to disrupt our health. I really think that the Europeans are on to something with their making meals actually mean something on a personal level. That’s something I haven’t found in many places in the United States–it’s not just food quality, it’s the food value. Finding the right balance is important, and I guess the upshot of all this is that I found out that there is a lot that I still don’t know. I don’t look at that as a bad thing–in some ways it’s like “leveling up” in a video game. The challenges get greater but it’s exciting because there is that much more to discover.
The challenges of trying to figure out the best way to eat should not dissuade us from embracing the polar shifts in our dietary consciousness because that is how we learn to adapt and grow. In some ways I feel like an ass for doing a 180 with regard to my diet–but in another way I think it’s healthy to be free of the diet-militance that made me feel like I had to join one team or the other and not question authority. I literally felt guilty when we’d sit down to eat and my food would show up. I enjoyed the food and my blood sugars were beautiful. Literally NO up or down arrows on my CGM. Just gentle rolling curves–I felt energetic yet relaxed–but still I felt like I had to defend my choice or answer for some heresy. ‘Is this what I do to other people when I write about diets and nutrition?’ I wondered to myself.
I sure hope I don’t.
I find this stuff really interesting because eating is something that we all have to do–and if there is a way to fine tune that act such that it simplifies everything else in our body, that would seem a worthwhile experiment to undertake. In my coming posts I am going to share a bit more of the specifics of what I have been doing of late on the LCHF diet and how that compares with the pros and cons of the Low Fat High Carb diet that I adopted in the early summer.
If you’re tired of hearing about dietary blathering and you wish I’d just make up my mind already, I can empathize. You don’t have to sit here writing all of this–trust me, I know it’s tedious, but I will be on to new topics soon!
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