Hi my name is Ricky Brown and I’m a Health Coach and Osteopath in Doha with a passion for the health and happiness of ourselves and our planet. I believe we all have a purpose and responsibility to take care of our own wellbeing, the environments we live in and the loved ones who follow in our footsteps. On today’s ‘Be Well Project’, I’m going to talk a little bit about another important pillar of our health- Nutrition. Our understanding of the healing power of food reaches as far back as Ancient Greece when the Greek Physician Hippocrates is thought to have coined the famous quote “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Unfortunately, food has become more of a nemesis to many of us that is robbing us of our health instead of complimenting and protecting it.
The old adage around food is that ‘we are what we eat’ when actually, more precisely, we are what we absorb. We are a product of the raw materials that we actually digest and transform into the essential fuel and building blocks needed for our bodily systems to function. For too long we have under appreciated the impact that food has on every aspect of our physical and mental health. The old ‘calories in, calories out’ theory of weight management is slowly losing its influence, and we are finally beginning to embrace a new narrative around food.
It’s time to give food the respect it deserves, because it is one of the most effective forms of healthcare available to us, and also one of aspects of life that people struggle with the most. Food is not just fuel, it’s an important part of our social lives, religions, family lives, identity, celebrations, pleasure and so much more.
For too long we have been distracted and misled by some well-engineered food myths, that over the years have contributed to a lot of ill health and disease amongst our species. Working as an Osteopath in Doha, I see many patients with symptoms that could be significantly improved by developing a better relationship with their food. Misinformation about things such as dietary fat and the ‘calories in/calories out’ based dietary advice has made us sicker and fatter than ever before.
We’re now beginning to embrace the reality that it’s better to focus more on the quality of foods we eat and when we eat, instead of just calories. Our digestive system is also getting a lot more attention as we begin to understand the vital role that our gut bacteria play in our overall health. We are what we absorb not simply what we eat.
So what are some of the most effective things that we can do with our diet in order to improve the way we look, feel and function?
The best place to start is our processing plant- the digestive system- if you’re suffering with symptoms such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea or stomach pain, a simple elimination diet could do you wonders. Simply take out dairy, gluten, caffeine and refined sugars for 3 weeks and then reintroduce one at a time to assess if any are causing digestive issues.
Intolerances and sensitivities can’t be detected through conventional medical tests and an elimination diet is one of the best holidays your digestive system can have.
If your digestive system is functioning well and you want an effective detox or weight loss, introduce some time restricted feeding or intermittent fasting into your week. I believe and a plethora of research also, that intermittent fasting is one of the most beneficial things that we can do for our health. If you have any eating disorder or conditions such as diabetes, please consult a doctor before embarking upon a fast.
The numerous health benefits of fasting include increased insulin sensitivity, growth hormone release, fat loss, improves brain function, cellular regeneration, reduced inflammation and ageing and the list goes on. All this by simply doing nothing!
If you’ve never fasted, start by compressing the time in which you eat your days food. Begin your experimentation with a feeding window of 8 hrs, which would be a manageable start. For more effective weight management, make your eating window as early in the day as possible. This allows the digestive system to assimilate and rest for 16 hours of the day. Eventually try to work towards a 24 hr fast, as this is the where some of the major benefits such as cellular regeneration and fat burning really start to kick in.
We are designed to fast
A lot of people get frightened by the concept of fasting and think that it is dangerous or unhealthy. From an evolutionary perspective, we are perfectly designed to fast with fat reserves that can last us months before we will actually starve. Only 10 000 years ago we were hunting and gathering for survival and probably experiencing regular periods of calorie restriction between successful hunts and as a result of seasonal food shortages. When we fast we become more efficient at tapping into our fat reserves, so we are feeding on our stored fat, which is ideal for anyone wanting to manage their weight.
When we are feeding it would be advisable to cut back on simple carbs such as cereals, white rice, pasta, bread, pastries, sweets, fizzy drinks etc, and replace with more more complex carbs and fibrous veggies. Remember vegetables are a source of carbohydrate so leafy greens, squash, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, different types of beans courgette or zucchini, peppers etc, are all good alternatives to white rice, pasta and white potatoes.
Increase your intake of healthy fats
Fat has been getting a bad rap for decades and it is now becoming a saviour in the fight against obesity and other metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Dietary fats can have a much smaller impact on insulin levels than carbohydrate and protein, so eating healthy fats such as walnuts, good quality eggs, seeds, avocadoes, flaxseed, extra virgin olive oil and oily fish will not only reduce secretion of the fat storage hormone insulin, they also make us feel fuller for longer, so we may eat less often.
If weight loss is our goal, intermittent fasting is a simple lifestyle habit that will reap numerous health benefits. Some may prefer the calorie restricted approach of diets such as the 5:2 which allows you to eat as normal for 5 days per week and then eat no more than 5-600 calories on the other 2 days. This is another form of calorie restriction that provides some of the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Consuming apple cider vinegar can also help to decrease insulin levels. 1-2 tablespoons per day can help to reduce bodyfat. I would suggest diluting it in a glass of water. When I put clients through a gentle elimination diet, I suggest a morning cocktail of 1-2 tablespoons of acv diluted with water and a pinch of good quality salt such as sea salt. During the elimination diet people tend to lose weight quite rapidly, and at the beginning a lot of that is water weight, due to the reduction in simple carbohydrates. This can also lead to reduced levels of electrolytes, so this cocktail is a helpful for hydration and fat burning.
It’s important to start your day with a meal that doesn’t provoke your insulin levels too much. A high fat meal, with a moderate amount of protein and some fibre as well will keep you satiated long into the day without spiking your insulin levels too much. As an example- 2 eggs with some smoked salmon, steamed spinach and half an avocado is a good start. Try to avoid sugary, processed breakfast cereals as much as possible! A nice bowl of porridge with full fat milk, nuts, berries and a dollop of coconut oil is a good cereal choice.
Don’t snack and the 6 meals a day myth
A lot of people believe that eating little and often is a strategy for weight loss, however every time you eat you are telling the body to store because when you eat you release insulin, which is a storage hormone, so eat less meals and don’t snack. Longer periods of not eating helps the body get back in tune with the body’s true hunger signals and also helps to regulate the amount of food we eat.
So as a recap of some simple steps for a better relationship with food:
Don’t count calories, count nutrients
Ditch refined sugary, processed food and drinks as much as possible
Start your day with a meal that contains lots of healthy fats, and a little protein and fibre
Introduce yourself to prolonged periods of not eating by only eating within an 8 hour window.
Drink plenty of water
That’s all we have time for today so tune in tomorrow when I’ll be talking about another highly important pillar of health- Exercise and Movement.