Carboholics Anonymous - Nutritional Musings of a Dietary Misfit

Editorial note: This blog post was originally published on my personal blog in 2013 and it was accurate at the time of writing. I have since changed a few things again, and those reviews can be found in the series of other blog posts available on this website.

I am not on a diet. I never have been on a diet and I never will go on a diet. I dislike the connotations carried by the word 'diet' these days. Whenever anyone goes on a diet we naturally assume that it is one of these fad diets, whereby one is only allowed to eat grass or gravel, or 5 out of 7 days one must sustain themselves solely on finely ground baby pandas in an effort to lose 50Kg in 5 days. When ever I hear the word 'diet' I tend to put all of my highly prejudiced, sometimes scientifically founded sceptical defenses up and try not to listen. That is why I am not on a diet. Instead, I have been playing with my nutrition and eating habits for the past few years. I think I may have finally cracked it - or at least I have taken a giant leap in the right direction. I am by nature a curious person. I tend to gather a lot of data, then I spend time mulling over it and finally I will experiment on myself. Useless things get discarded very quickly, useful things are retained for further testing. I developed my own studying method in Uni, I have developed my own training programmes for running and now triathlon and finally I have delved more into the world of nutrition. The common denominator in all of this is, that it has to make sense to me, otherwise I will not give it a try. In order for something to 'make sense' one must be able to understand it at a level deeper than the simple 'I read it in 'Mens' Health' or some other 'quality' publication. For something to 'make sense' one must have clear intention and a good plan of action, as well as sufficient background knowledge on the subject matter. Hence, it has taken me a long time to write about nutrition. I have been gathering data, I have been mulling it over, and finally I have been experimenting - for the last 4 years. So here it goes...

A little background: I have forever struggled with my digestion (IBS is like an easy sunday morning for me). It has been a family joke for years, but it has been tough. Don't worry, I will not plunge into any kind of vivid description of my more outlandish symptoms, but let it suffice to say that I have for a very long time felt 'wrong' in terms of what I eat and that this may have been the cause of my woes. It has been a vague, unspecific nagging feeling that I am doing something wrong. I have done exclusions and inclusions, but none of them have really worked. It all kind of culminated with me requiring a GI operation in the autumn of 2012, which sadly didn't really work in the desired manner in the long term. With the operation I also had full workups on bloods and consultations with dietitians etc. but none to any real avail. That was really the last straw that drove me to try and figure it out for myself once and for all. Like I said earlier, I think I may have finally figured it out.

A quick science recap: There are 3 groups of macro nutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates) and lots of micronutriens (minerals and vitamins). All of them are important and the body will not function properly without them all. Some the body is able to make from other nutrients, others it cannot and must therefore get from food. The great debate has for a long time been on the appropriate proportion of each nutrient in ones diet. That much is clear. Other angles into the issue have been thrown by making guesses about the effects of genetics, blood type, and even geographical variations on the digestion of various nutrients. I am not going to go into explaining any of the popular diets or eating plans (not my job). I have studied most of them, I have taken inspiration from many and I have developed a bit of a hybrid that seems to work for me.

I have been gluten free for 4 weeks and I have never felt better. I have also dramatically cut back on my sugar intake and virtually cut out all artificial additives. There. I have also replaced most of my red meat with fish (fish every day) and I tend to have chicken or turkey plus lots of eggs. I don't eat rice or pasta at all really. I have cheese but no other source of dairy, apart from butter at times. Lots of veggie and some fruit (try and go for the low GI stuff). I have very little grain products, all gluten free but sometimes I just cannot resist some GF bread or a GF bisquit. I have found some GF beer with is actually rather pleasant, I am not a huge fan of cider and wine just gives me the worst headache. I eat lots of nuts and seeds and also dark (90%) chocolate. I tend to have bulletproof coffee in the morning to give me a boost for the day. Also, in terms of food quantities, breakfast and lunch tend to be big meals, and dinner I try and keep light. I occasionally have snacks, like GF coconut protein bars after hard training sessions and I only really drink water. So, in plain english, I have cut out the processed crap and replaced a lot of carbs with fats and generally eat a lot more fresh produce.

I occasionally throw in a 24 or 36 hour fast as well. Those I simply use to give the body a jolt and to get it back on track. Again, the physiological and biochemical implications of fasting are wide ranging and well beyond the scope of this article. If you are interested, read up on it.

So what is the result I hear you all shout. Well. For the first time in my life my digestion is regular. I am not suffering with any symptoms of IBS nor do I have any discomfort in my abdomen. I don't look fat anymore (no more bloating). I am putting on muscle. My body shape is changing. I feel more positive. I have more even energy through the day. My athletic performance has improved. I heal and recover quicker. I don't suffer from colds or sniffles. I have not lost any weight - but that was never the goal anyway. I am a steady 75 KG, but I am much more lean and defined than before. For me the trick has actually been to try and not lose weight. As my peak training weeks are in the region of 15 hours per week and my work is pretty active I burn a lot of calories. I decided to try and replace a lot of the empty (nutritionally poor) calories, such as rice, pasta and bread, with foods that ooze good stuff, such as fresh veg, avocados and nuts etc. The change from red meat to fish was mainly due to wanting to reduce inflammatory compounds and to increase the good fish oils. I have also not been using any protein shakes or recovery drinks.

The change has been pretty easy. I think once it makes sense to you that the change is required it will happen readily enough. As long as you are still in love with the old habits you cannot give them up. It's true enough with drugs, cigarettes and alcohol as well as with gluten and sugar. The advertising and social pressure to consume fizzy drinks and to gorge on sugary snacks and bakery products is sometimes overwhelming. One of my pet hates is seeing overweight people in the gym with bottles of lucozade. Supermarkets and restaurants are slowly starting to cater for people like me. I used to be a real carboholic. I could easily go through half a loaf of bread in one sitting and to demolish candy and fizzy drinks for snacks. Anything to keep that buzz going. I suppose for me the realisation of the problem came when I found myself trying to smuggle mars bars into the house and justifying them as post-training glucose replacement. That's when the eyes popped open. Seriously, I was trying to hide my candy bars from my wife and somehow that would mean that I didn't eat them... come on. How pathetic. Yet, us humans are capable of self deception on a real grand scale. It was simply time to man up and kick the bad habits to touch.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not advocating any diet or eating plan nor am I really making any recommendations. What works for me may not be the right thing for you. All I can suggest is that you should read up on nutrition and make up your own 'sensible' eating plan.The fact is, that most people are looking for a magic bullet. Some wonder supplement that will make them lean and muscular, but still allows them to maintain their horrible food addictions. In  other words, people are desperately trying to not take responsibility and they are looking for something to blame when things (and their bodies) go pear shaped. So in other words, time to man up! Time to read that 'basics of nutrition' and to have a look at Scott Jureks 'Eat and Run', Paleo diet, 5-2 diet, low carb high fat diet (Tim Noakes), Blood Type diet (Adamo), GI diet, Grain Brain etc. There are lots of good resources out there, but don't fall into the trap of blindly following a single one - create your own approach from your favorite bits out of all of them. Once you have taken the trouble of learning about nutrition, the decision to cut the crap ceases to have anything to do with will power. It will be more of a 'why didn't I do this years ago?' - thing.

Yours in Health,


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