I read one too many petulant outbursts by nutrition scientists in Canada– and here in the US as well– as they responded to media coverage that a “mere” author was called to testify in front of the Canadian Senate about the role of diet and disease. The slight may have bruised their egos, but there’s more to this story.
Instead of crying foul, nutrition scientists and health professionals need open their eyes and learn to observe. Over twenty five years ago I realized that the high carbohydrate mode wasn’t working for me (and more than a few of my clients). Mostly I felt confused and frustrated that too much of what I had been taught wasn’t working for at least some of the people.
At that time my office door opened to a room filled with weight lifting and cardio equipment at a gym. I could see a sea of mostly women in the aerobics room off to one side. The memory of one hefty young woman haunts me still. She followed all my advice to keep exercising and eat less fat, and she didn’t lose a pound until she was practically starving herself. At 900 calories a day, and totally preoccupied with what she could and couldn’t eat, the scale finally started to budge.
MORE PROTEIN, LESS FAT
In time I came to confront my own challenge with carbohydrates. Despite working through every dark shade of an eating disorder as a younger woman, I finally came to realize that the cravings, binging, and almost instant weight loss with restriction tightly linked with the amount of carbohydrate in my diet. At the time I linked my struggle with food to the influence of hormones like insulin and cortisol.
Back then I tested a higher protein and fat diet on myself with amazing results. I felt blasphemous given universal support for low fat everything, but I felt so bad eating how I was supposed to eat that I willingly crossed the line. Once I gathered enough data to explain and validate my experience, I adjusted my language and recommendations with clients. Today I appreciate an even fuller complexity of factors regulating metabolism, including the role of microbes and gut peptides. I changed the way I work forever.
NUTRITION GUIDELINES THAT PRETEND THERE IS ONE RIGHT WAY TO EAT
Today I often speak with other health professionals, hoping to influence their thinking, but it’s a slog when formal government documents like the US dietary guidelines reflect what research told us years ago, not current thinking. The scientific report of the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committee (DGAC) just now suggests we can eat more than one egg a day since dietary cholesterol is no longer “a nutrient of concern”.
However, no such enlightenment regarding recommendations about saturated fat. Despite significant evidence that naturally occurring saturated fat does not increase risk of disease, the DGAC continues to recommend that the we limit typical sources like butter and cheese, and especially red meat. Curiously there is no discussion of data suggesting that “better meat”–grass fed without all the nasty inputs of industrial farming–could actually benefit our health and the health of our planet.
Enter Nina Teicholz, American author of The Big Fat Surprise. In the tradition of Gary Taubes, Nicolette Hahn Niman, and Michael Pollan (none of whom formally studied nutrition science) Ms. Teicholz slices through scientific dogma and exposes herd mentality at play. Too many clinicians keep repeating the same nutrition sound bites despite evidence that they aren’t true. If I observed problems with the high carbohydrate mantra 25 years ago, why didn’t most other clinicians? Is it too easy to assume clients are non-compliant? Not motivated? Lying?
Public health and medical practitioners continue to recommend high carbohydrate diets for consumers, although now they are called “plant based.” The My Plate graphic depicts a high carbohydrate diet, despite evidence that many people need more protein and fat. Routinely I lose patients when I suggest something other than what their physician recommends.
Too many MD’s choose to not refer to me again, mostly standing on the principles of “evidence based guidelines”, despite the fact that evidence changes all the time. However, I am no longer willing to blindly follow recommended guidelines that don’t meet the needs of individual people. Today I approach each new client as a unique puzzle, figuring out with them what approach to food works for them, and finally enjoying outcomes that reflect my patient’s efforts.
PEOPLE KNOW WHEN THEY FEEL BETTER
Support for evidence-based clinical practice that includes shared decision making between patients and clinicians encourages me. Hopefully doctors will take time to listen to what is working for their patients, both metabolically and energetically. People know when they don’t get sick as often, enjoy better energy and greater stamina, sleep better, and feel more focused and productive.
Despite several papers, countless presentations, and years of blogs, tweets and other messaging, there is still work to do. I’m preparing a new monograph, specifically targeting physicians and other health care professionals. I want to bring them up to date regarding profound shifts in thinking about food that fly in the face of everything they think they know. Contact me if you want a copy for yourself or to share with your physician.