Calories and exercise count, but you have to make a full lifestyle change. Here's what I've learned:
Start in small steps, and if at any time you're not sure of how to manage your diet, work with a dietician (but don't believe when they say grain is good for you--it's not! Read the books by William Cook, MD and David Perlmutter, MD for a start). If you have any medical conditions, be sure to consult with your doctor BEFORE making any lifestyle or dietary changes like those I list below, or you could end up with life-threatening issues! I cannot stress that enough, because your body will change and may not be able to handle some of the transitions as easily as an otherwise healthy person would. This is why I suggest small steps that get progressively harder.
One caveat: the further you go in this process to better health, the more discipline it takes, but the results are worth it...
- Begin drinking lots of water between and before meals. Hydration cannot be stressed enough. You can do this while progressing with the rest. It will also help keep a feeling of fullness to reduce calorie consumption and aid the kidneys in eliminating waste.
- Keep a food journal. I use a small notepad but wish I had started it a month earlier. Write the times, exact ingredients, amounts (best guesses, even noting a "pinch" or "handful" is helpful), when and what medications and supplements were taken, and any reactions in your body (aches, acid reflux, dizziness, fatigue, tingling, etc.) and what times those happened. This will be of tremendous help if you have any problems.
- Get some exercise every day. I find that I feel less stressed and fall asleep easier at night if I get out walking or on the treadmill for 30-60 minutes a day. That's all it takes for cardio. And move throughout the day. Also, add in some resistance training (weights). Muscle burns more fat, so building muscle helps to lose weight. If you have trouble walking or climbing stairs, you can at least lift weights to strengthen you upper body.
- Learn to wind down with meditation or quiet time away from electronic devices. If you have kids as I do, take those precious moments when they've settled down--don't dread tv or computer time as a distraction--or are napping. Relaxation helps as the exercise does to reduce cortisol levels and soothes our body, mind, and spirit.
- Learn to read labels and what each ingredient really is.
- Get the Fooducate app on your phone and start scanning labels. This was recommended to me and I love it. It's free at its basic level, but for a small fee of $1.99/month or $14.99/year, you can customize it to your specific needs.
- Add a good probiotic. I have found Hyperbiotics's line of probiotics (PRO-Women, PRO-Kids Children's Probiotics, PRO-15) to be one of the best for me, but your situation may require something different. I suggest starting out with something low and progressing to a stronger, more complete probiotic over the course of the next few weeks. You don't want a rapid transition (more on this below).
- Cut out all high fructose corn syrup. This makes the rest of the transition easier.
- Begin the day with a cup of hot water with lemon. Be sure to twist the lemon to extract the oil from the zest. This helps to cleanse the liver, provides a feeling of fullness sooner, and supplies many other health benefits.
- Shop in only the fresh foods, meats, and dairy sections, usually the outside of the grocery store. You'll discover a whole new world of food that you probably didn't fully consider before and it's a new adventure! Begin your meals with these foods so you get more of the nutrient dense foods before anything else. And if you don't have any issues with FODMAPS, add in fresh garlic and onion. Fresh garlic adds zest to salads and is a natural anti-microbial, and both of these flavorful bulbs support healthy gut flora as prebiotics. I also love the taste of a little red onion in my salad and sauteed onion in all my cooking. They add lots of flavor, whether white, red, yellow (my favorite for sauteeing), or green.
- Add in healthy fats, like real olive oil (beware: many oils on store shelves are not pure olive oil--research!) like California Olive Ranch (my favorite) and coconut oil and occasionally butter. Don't overdo it, but don't be afraid of them, even in your meats. Fats are satiating and will help to reduce the amount of calories you ingest at each meal and keep you fuller longer.
- Eat protein every day--eggs (yolks especially), chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, etc. These are your main source of the healthy B vitamins that fuel your energy and brain. You only need a small serving to satisfy your daily needs. In fact, I find that 2 eggs every morning is sufficient, but as a meat-lover, I will enjoy a 4 oz. steak, homemade hamburger, or a serving of chicken later in the day. No processed meats! (If you're a vegan/vegetarian, you'll have to find other sources. I'm omnivorous as our ancestors were, so I'll enjoy my meat and all its benefits to my health.) Tip: whole, unprocessed meats are usually cheaper from a butcher than at the supermarket.
- Once you're eating whole foods, remove all grains (and read Wheat Belly by William Cook and Grain Brain and Brain Maker by David Perlmutter if you want to understand my reasoning for this). *This will be a truly difficult transition. Grains are everywhere, especially in processed foods. That means no wheat, rye, barley, spelt, quinoa, rice, etc. Grains feed bad gut bacteria and fungi, reduce our bodies' ability to absorb nutrients, and only make us hungrier than we would be without them (they are addictive). You will go through a withdrawal period where you'll feel worse, but sticking it out is very worthwhile. You may even go through symptoms of candida die-off (very likely) where you feel flu-like symptoms--malaise, headaches, chills, fever, etc. This will be short-lived, but if it persists, jump right to the next step to get it under control. Replace these with nuts and seeds that are dry roasted or fresh (no oil roasted or flavored).* To make this easier, consider grains to be your heroine or cocaine. You'll understand why if you read the books I mentioned. This helped a friend of mine fight the addiction, and she's feeling better than ever after eliminating grains.
- Cut out all starches and sugars--table sugar, honey, artificial sweeteners, and even sweet fruits (most berries, bananas, mangoes, etc.) and starchy foods (like potatoes and peas). Do this until the flu-like symptoms fade. Then add in only a few sugars a day, like a drop or two of honey (such as in tea or yogurt) or fruit, both of which have at least some health benefits to go with the glucose spikes. Once you get past the worst, the cravings will fade, so you won't want to eat them so much, but if you do, keep them in small servings to minimize the insulin spikes. Insulin leads to visceral fat (belly and organs), which produces estrogen, which causes more weight gain, etc. in a vicious cycle. You'll have to learn to get creative with your meals.What foods are you allowed? More than you probably ever considered. You'll find so many options. In my transition, I have learned to try new foods, many of which I've discovered that I really enjoy. For help, check out paleo diets, mediterranean diets, or other similar recipes that exclude grains and refined sugars.
- Now, empty your cupboards of all processed foods. No more preservatives, toxins, sugars, etc.
- Cut out dairy, except yogurt and goat/sheep cheese, which are rich in beneficial bacteria for your gut, calcium for bones and regulating physiological functions, satiating fats, and other nutrients. An occasional small bit of milk, half and half, or cream in coffee or tea is okay, but unfermented cow's milk has no real health benefits and is purely for taste, imho, and should be treated as a treat rather than a staple.
- Treat yourself with an occasional small square of dark chocolate (the higher the percentage of cacao, the better). This has nutrients your body can use, but less than 100% cacao has sweeteners added. Go for the purest you can find--minus additives and preservatives, always eat in small amounts, and treat it as a treat, not a staple.
- Eat PLAIN yogurt with live bacteria cultures every day. If you don't like the taste, add in your favorite flavors with extracts (vanilla and orange will give you the dreamsicle flavor) and a tiny bit of honey or stevia (not table sugar or artificial sweeteners) or fruit. I've discovered that one of my favorite (and most satiating) things is to mix 1/2 cup of plain yogurt with 1 tablespoon of natural Skippy peanut butter (no sugars and no preservatives added, so I keep it in the refrigerator and the oils don't separate). I'm weird that way, but I love peanut butter and this is a great treat in the evening to keep me full and less tempted to snack. I also like yogurt with vanilla and a drop or two of honey, which is just as easy but not nearly as filling, so great as a breakfast treat, but you can add in a little fruit (no more than a handful of fruit to a cup of yogurt--sugar!) I split my yogurt servings to mornings (after my eggs) and as the last thing at night to keep candida under control by boosting good gut flora.
- At this stage, begin fasting between meals. You'll be feeling fuller longer, so eating every 3-4 hours will be an easy stretch. (On a typical workday, I eat at 7:20, 12:30, 5:30, and may have a small mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, such as 2 Tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, 1 Tablespoon of sunflower seeds, or 1/4 cup of mixed nuts, but not all at once. I also enjoy my tea in early morning and/or mid-afternoon and the salt of these dry-roasted seeds and nuts goes well with unsweetened fruit/berry tea.) Your main meals will be larger and more filling and your sugar cravings will be gone, so you won't feel like snacking; but sometimes your body will say it needs something more. Aside from sugar cravings, listen to your body.
- Under the guidance of a medical professional, add in supplements where you may be deficient in nutrients but NEVER high doses (unless recommended and monitored by a health professional). And be sure to adjust and/or remove them day-by-day, as your needs will vary by day. Some vitamins and minerals are water soluble, which means they flush out of the body with lots of water (B1, B2, C, etc.). Others can cause toxicity--B6 (not more than 1-2 mg/day, which can be easily obtained through meats), D (400 mg/day, easily obtained in enriched yogurts and cheeses), magnesium (sunflower and pumpkin seeds are high in this, along with other foods), calcium (contributes to arterial plaques when not absorbed properly), copper, zinc, etc. It's all a careful balancing act, but I live by the motto of less is more, so I don't overdose on any supplements, which can make matters much worse, rather than better.
- While copper must be balanced with zinc, excess copper, as with B6, can fuel bad glut flora like candida.
- Although it is toxic in too high of doses, magnesium is one of those minerals where most of us are deficient and it helps calcium absorption, among its many functions in our bodies.
- Try to obtain your nutrients from foods whenever possible. While seeds and nuts are rich in magnesium and other nutrients, meat is strong in B vitamins, oily fish once a week provides EPA and DHA, and green leafy vegetables are rich in most everything else; you may need a few boosts to get you on a better path if you aren't eating these. I like to cut my magnesium 100 mg tablets in half because for me, it knocks me out to take a full tablet even at low of a dose. Plus, I may eat seeds at some point and not need any more magnesium in the day. I also take a fish oil supplement that I don't plan to continue every day once I feel that I'm back on track with my neurological recovery. And be careful with vitamin D. This helps the body absorb calcium but requires vitamin K to absorb (found in green vegetables).
- If you eat right, you won't have to use many supplements and if you do, you'll find you can begin cutting them out after a period of finding the right dietary balance, some sooner than you might expect; unless you have special nutrient needs due to a medical condition (in which case, you're likely already working with a doctor, so continue to do so). The exception may be vitamin D, which our bodies must make from the sun on our skin, something that living in the north leaves me deficient in most of the year.
Remember that the "Recommended Daily Allowance" is usually based on a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet for an average sized person! You will be eating much less by the time you get through this, and your height and weight at any given time matter. Recalculate your nutrient needs as necessary.
For example, I now eat 1,000-1,200 calories per day and that's plenty. I also am quite small at 5 foot 2 inches, so I don't need as high of nutrient amounts as the government recommendations state to feel healthy, especially since I dropped from 125 at my highest (and getting hard to maintain much less decrease on my old habits) back to 110 presently (three pounds from my pre-first-pregnancy weight thanks to changing my eating habits). My current weight allows me to get by on less nutrients to maintain my health. I used to maintain this weight easily...twenty years ago. I'm now forty years old, nearly forty-one. I didn't consume nearly as many nutrients then as I do now, but as we age, our digestive systems, like the rest of our bodies, become less efficient. Our task is to fuel it. Make every calorie count.
THIS INFORMATION IS NOT COMPLETE AND IS NOT MEANT AS MEDICAL ADVICE! Read the books I suggested for the doctors' information, talk to a nutritionist and/or naturopath (who are more open to these types of health changes), and research. Above all else, coordinate with your medical doctor, especially if you have a medical condition!
I went through a terrible transition of histamine intolerance, which I now attribute to gut dysbiosis (an overgrowth of bad gut flora) and a die-off and toxin release and likely leaky gut, which has since healed, but all my medical tests were "normal"--bloodwork, negative stool testing (tested only for parasites and one bad bacteria), clean colonoscopy and upper endoscopy. Even a dietician was stumped. I made all these transitions (not necessarily in this order, which is why I'm looking back and seeing what I should have done to ease my transition) and I made them myself to get to where I am now--feeling great! I sought medical help but no one listened to me. I will finally get to see a naturopath in a week, but I've had to wait because she is a busy lady in high demand, and I am a new patient to her.
Always get medical help where you can. I'm only providing this as guidance, so that others may not have to suffer as I did. Get ahead of your health while you can!
The results that are possible if you can stick it out:
- WEIGHT LOSS! Part of this is by stabilizing your blood sugars and insulin. Part of it is because you will eliminate chronic inflammation throughout your body. (I lost a pound a day in the first week of changing my diet simply by cutting out grain and it has slowed as I continue, but I am working at getting my pre-pregnancy body back from nearly thirteen years ago--just three pounds left!)
- Clearer thinking
- Expanded creativity
- Memory improvements
- Calmer state of mind
- More energy throughout the day
- Restful sleep (I used to be an insomniac and now sleep great)
- Eliminate depression and anxiety
- Eliminate muscoloskeletal aches
- Lower blood-sugar levels
- Lower blood-pressure (mine was creeping up but has since dropped back to where it was before I ever had kids)
- Eliminate yeast infections/thrush
- Eliminate/reduce acid reflux by stabilizing your digestive system
- Regulate bowel movement
- Reduce/eliminate IBS symptoms, gas/bloating, constipation/diarrhea
- Improve immune system
- Reduce or eliminate your needs for medications **NEVER reduce or eliminate your medications without consulting your doctor**
- Reduce PMS symptoms
- Eliminate acne (something that plagued me my whole life until I made this transition--without makeup, I look fabulous and have the best skin in my life, except around that time of the month.)
- Reduce perimenopausal symptoms
These are just some of the incredible benefits that can come from changing your lifestyle, based on my experiences and what I believe is the easiest way to make that transition when you don't have the push of severe symptoms threatening if you fall off the plan.
Good luck in your own journey to better health!