Monday, August 13, 2012

Whinge: "But why does it have to be so extreme?"

So that's what my mum whines every time I try to convince her to try out paleo for a month. And then she follows it up with something about how she really should be cooking more paleo recipes because they are really delicious.
So now I'll attempt to explain why you should be completely 100% strict for a month.

If I just grab some email from a co-worker who is doing the Whole30 with me in August (from an email exchange about whether he was hungry and what he could eat for breakfast before going to work):
"Hi Bastard, 

   Had eggs with spring onions and tomato for breakfast, that was alright, wifey made meatballs, Spanish omelette and lots of cauliflower for dinner, so she really is supportive !  I must admit I had a glass of coke after cycling - probably not allowed ...? 

See you tomorrow"

"Bad co-worker!"

"Hi Bastard,

   Half kidding, did not really feel hungry, but just this sort of feeling that I have not eaten the right stuff, never mind, far too often, I skipped lunch, and that certainly is not healthy !"

"The coke is worse than skipping lunch. And skipping lunch is worse than skipping breakfast.
I'm trying to accomplish several things here.
First of all to convince your body that it is okay to burn fat for energy and make glucose from protein. When carbohydrate intake is high the body turns down the fat metabolism as far as possible to make sure that the carbohydrate is burnt off as efficiently as possible. Moderate to low carbohydrate intake should fix that. The lingering feeling of not having eaten the right stuff is because your body is using all the available fuel - this will change.
I am also trying to change your experience of food. You know how if you are working with beta-mercaptoethanol you don't notice the smell anymore after a bit of time? The same happens with taste only it takes much longer to desensitise the tastebuds (and equally long to resensitise them). You've probably mostly seen this is in real life from how some people want shitloads of salt on their food - while that amount of salt actually makes the food inedible to other people. The idea is that if we resensitise your tastebuds in this regard more things will taste sweet - specifically real food will taste sweeter.
The second thing about your experience of food that I want to change is more nebulous. It's called food reward. Basically your dopamine system fires to reward you for taking in calories. So you get reward for high concentrations of carbohydrates and fat (protein seems more to trigger the "I'm full" response) and for sweet tastes (and salty too I think). Taking drugs is a shortcut to the dopamine system. For all neuro-things the body adjusts based on the input. So if you take lots of drugs the reward system becomes less sensitive and you need more drugs to feel reward - and food becomes less rewarding as well. I want you to eat things with a lower built-in reward for a month so that you receive a greater feeling of satisfaction from real food.
And because of the way LTP (long-term potentiation) and LTD (long-term depression) works then you undo all the not-drinking-coke work you did yesterday when you drink it today.

Does all this make sense? Let me know if there is anything that seems counter-intuitive or just plain wrong.


PS Spanish omelette? Potatoes..? And be careful with the eggs. Not because they are bad for you but because you could get really really sick of them in which case this won't be a success experience for you."

"Potatoes, some of your books say they are ok, but the opinion seems divided?"

"I think only Paleo Comfort Foods are okay with them. I know that they don't work for me (skin issue) and I know that people eat too many of them (back to the too many carbs problem). My suggestion is to use sweet potatoes instead and only for things like after your bike ride."

So while some things could probably improve if you just ate "less bad" there are neurological, immunological, and food sensitivity effects where it simply doesn't work. In addition it makes it a lot harder since you will more easily slip into old habits if you don't make dramatic change.
You might be able to fix the problems with your omega-6 to omega-3 balance by reducing intake of omega-6 foods and you might get your carbohydrate intake down and in the long run stabilise your blood sugar and energy levels but it would be very slow going and a host of other problems with your diet could still fuck you over and you would be upset about all the work you did without getting a big payoff.

Let's use my issues with potatoes as an example. If I eat chips or crisps (American: fries or chips) I get acne after 2-6 days. So there are pimples and more come later and they take time to go away as well so the turnover time till the consequences of my food choice is gone is in the range of several weeks. When I was a teen I definitely never went several weeks without crisps/chips. So I didn't make the connection until a year or two after I had moved away from home. I was too cheap to buy crisps because they weren't healthy but when I lived with my parents they were always there. To be honest though some other things also seems to have set me off (to this day I am grateful that there is Accutane) but nothing as reliable as the chips and crisps (even does today when I'm in my thirties but not as severely - had chips/fries on my ski holidays this year and got my zits). And no - they don't cause acne because people touch their face with grease on their fingers. Now I only discovered this because I went months and months without these things and then (randomly because other people bought them for parties) reintroduced them. And the bloody thing is that I discovered recently that I have the same issue with non-deep fried potatoes but with regard to red bumps on my bum! Evil potatoes.

tl;dr Know how a wound takes time to heal? A wound might not kill you but if you don't stop inflicting them on yourself for a long time they won't all be healed at the same time.

Now with regard to the neurological reasons for why you need to be 100% compliant for at least a month you should read this piece on behavioural psychology:

PS I'll get to why skipping lunch is worse than skipping breakfast some other day.

PPS My co-worker had managed to convince himself that because fruits were allowed, juice must be allowed (even though it figures squarely on the Don't-list), and because there's the same amount of sugar in juice as there is in Coke then Coke must be okay. And when I pressed him more he said that he only had diluted juice. But no matter how much I pressed him he wouldn't answer my question about whether he had diluted Coke.

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