I’ve been meaning to write this post for three months now, but have put it off not quite knowing what to say and how. I’ve been consciously subtracting a lot of things in my life that have been weighing me down (literally and figuratively). The blog, meanwhile, has taken a back seat. I haven’t checked my blog-related e-mail addresses (all three of them) since March 2010. I will get to them, eventually, but to all those who wrote in, I sincerely apologise.
I do plan to blog regularly again. However, I need to get over the strange feeling I get visiting this site. You board a flight to Sweden. Several hours later, you snap out of a drowsy haze to a cheerful voice on the intercom: “Please fasten your seat belts. We are about to land in Swaziland.”
I’m having trouble reclaiming this alien space as my own.
– noun – contemplation of one’s navel as part of a mystical exercise.
Origin: Greek omphal ( ós ) omphalos + sképsis act of looking
This bout of self-absorbed navel-gazing is part of that endeavour.
Let’s go all the way back to the full moon night when a whole posse of people saw me naked and screaming.
It was the night I was born. Genetic inheritance is a cosmic crapshoot and I must say I did mighty well. I had all ten toes and fingers, and my (Asian) Indian parents generously bequeathed to me their good looks, smarts and disarming modesty. Being South Asian also meant I had a higher genetic disposition to developing insulin resistance, diabetes and chronic heart disease “as a likely consequence of greater abdominal adiposity“. I was destined for a life-long battle with the jiggly bits.
Phase I -
My vegetarian south Indian mom raised me on the standard Indian diet, which was the “healthiest”, anyway. Lots of rice, wheat, lentils some veggies, tons of snacks deep-fried in vegetable oils and generous helpings of sweets on “special occasions.” India’s the land of festivals and if you include birthdays, anniversaries and school holidays, those “special occasions” would amount to about 25% of the year. Hey, not to worry. “Everything in moderation”.
I decided that I liked meat. No problem. Eat what you want as much as you want and focus on your studies. Sports are a distraction.
Food was entertainment and I was an overweight teenager with very low immunity.
In my early twenties, I lost both my parents within six months of each other. Both of them were in “normal” health, leading active lives when they got their first (and only) heart attacks.
Phase II –
I became strict vegan, hit the gym and learnt to cook. Fat was the enemy. I cooked without oil, shunned coconut, nuts, anything with a speck of “fat”. Within six months, I was slim, toned and barely recognisable to those who hadn’t seen me in a while.
I was always hungry, always obsessed with what I’d be eating next. But I was adamant enough to maintain this lifestyle for a decade. No meat, fish, dairy, eggs, caffeine, or anything that would jeopardise what I considered my “optimally herbivorous”, very low-fat diet.
My favourite nutrition quote was from Harvey Diamond:
“You put a baby in a crib with an apple and a rabbit. If it eats the rabbit and plays with the apple, I’ll buy you a new car.”
I noticed gum sensitivity and dental cavities. I attributed it to my increased sugar intake to keep up with my cravings and calorific requirements. As for the recurring joint pains, chronic fatigue and mood swings – well, those were just part of life. Deficiencies, in Vitamins K2, B12, zinc, EPA, DHA? That’s what supplements are for.
Phase III -
I met a nice south Indian guy with a perpetual grin on his face. He’d been a vegetarian all his life and ran marathons “because I like to”. He led a debauched existence teeming with tubs of ice cream, cheese, ghee, full-fat milk, coconut and deep-fried snacks.
I stopped being so anal about being vegan, he agreed to eat more “healthy”. Together we baked hundreds of breads and spent hours divesting recipes of egg yolks and fat in order to create “healthy” alternatives. We started this blog extolling the virtues of whole grains, demonising dietary fat and resolving valiantly to keep the jiggly bits in place.
In December 2009, browsing through National Geographic magazine, I read this article about the Hadza tribe – the last surviving hunter-gatherers in Africa.
“About a thousand Hadza live in their traditional homeland, a broad plain encompassing shallow, salty Lake Eyasi and sheltered by the ramparts of the Great Rift Valley. Some have moved close to villages and taken jobs as farmhands or tour guides. But approximately one-quarter of all Hadza, including those in Onwas’s camp, remain true hunter-gatherers. They have no crops, no livestock, no permanent shelters. They live just south of the same section of the valley in which some of the oldest fossil evidence of early humans has been found. Genetic testing indicates that they may represent one of the primary roots of the human family tree—perhaps more than 100,000 years old.
… The Hadza do not engage in warfare. They’ve never lived densely enough to be seriously threatened by an infectious outbreak. They have no known history of famine; rather, there is evidence of people from a farming group coming to live with them during a time of crop failure. The Hadza diet remains even today more stable and varied than that of most of the world’s citizens.”
Their diet consists of 60% plant matter and 40% meat – all parts of the animal from snout to tail. They especially cherish the fatty parts like the brain.
Traditional Hadza … live almost entirely free of possessions. The things they own—a cooking pot, a water container, an ax—can be wrapped in a blanket and carried over a shoulder. Hadza women gather berries and baobab fruit and dig edible tubers. Men collect honey and hunt. Nighttime baboon stalking is a group affair, conducted only a handful of times each year; typically, hunting is a solo pursuit. They will eat almost anything they can kill, from birds to wildebeest to zebras to buffalo. They dine on warthog and bush pig and hyrax. They love baboon.(Wiki)
No possessions, no ceremonies, no rituals, no sexism, no bullshit.
Gender roles are distinct, but for women there is none of the forced subservience knit into many other cultures. A significant number of Hadza women who marry out of the group soon return, unwilling to accept bullying treatment. Among the Hadza, women are frequently the ones who initiate a breakup—woe to the man who proves himself an incompetent hunter or treats his wife poorly.
No pot bellies. No adherence to industry-sponsored food pyramids. Certainly no “diseases of civilisation” that their “modern” neighbours suffer from, despite the Tanzanian government’s efforts to assimilate them into the mainstream.
Meanwhile, I exercised very hard (martial arts, kettlebells, yoga), was much fitter than the average person, and getting by just fine. Training for a marathon was out of the question because of the pain in my knees and joints. The chronic fatigue was just part of, well, “life” and my anaemia could be fixed with iron supplements.
Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion. ~ Voltaire
I began to dream of fried fish and polished off whole blocks of cheese. My body intensely craved fat and meat. When I ordered salmon at a restaurant and relished it, it was my Harvey Diamond moment. He’s the guy who crafted the rabbit and apple quote. Later, he had this to say:
“I was vegetarian for over a quarter of a century, but hey, things change. I’ve always told my readers that if they crave something for a long time, it must be something the body wants or needs, so have it and see how you feel. One day out of the clear blue sky, after not having meat for twenty-five years, I started to crave a charbroiled steak the way a lion craves a wildebeest. I couldn’t get it out of my head no matter how much I tried to ignore the craving or convince myself that it was some kind of aberrant desire. So finally I decided to eat the steak, throw it up and move on. The only thing was, I enjoyed it, and I felt great.” ~ in Fit for Life Not Fat for Life.
That sparked my interest in epigenetics and nutrigenomics – how nutrients in food affect gene expression. It led me to this essay by Dr. Arthur De Vany on evolutionary fitness. I read what these bloggers, researchers and medical experts had to say.
Genes are turned on and off by regulatory genes, and regulatory genes are controlled mainly by nutrients. ….there is no drug anywhere that can regulate genetic expression better or more powerfully than diet. ~ Nora T. Gedgaudas, Primal Body Primal Mind
WHAT I LEARNT
DIETARY FAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU FAT. INSULIN SPIKES DO.
No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office. ~ George Bernard Shaw
Your body metabolises glucose through insulin. Insulin converts blood sugar to glycogen. The body has a limited capacity for glycogen storage and excess glycogen is shunted to the cells as fat. When insulin is chronically high and insulin resistance sets in, the body metabolises glucose. Meanwhile, the fats in the bloodstream convert to free radicals. Insulin resistance eventually leads to diabetes, and causes, among other things, high blood pressure, osteoperosis, and increases the risk of heart disease. It also leads to cellular proliferation, which aids the spread of cancer. (Link)
Keeping insulin levels stable through stable blood sugar levels is the key to optimal health.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU DON’T EAT.
- Get off the carb-insulin seesaw. Eliminate foods that spike blood sugar and are not very nutrient-dense – like sugar and grains (that includes whole grains).
- Eliminate foods that interfere with your metabolism. Leptin resistance is the precursor to insulin resistance. Fructose (in sugar, agave nectar and high-fructose corn syrup) and agglutinin (in wheat) disrupt the ability of the leptin hormone to communicate to the hypothalamus that you are full.
- Eliminate foods that affect your immune response by causing inflammation and oxidative stress. These include polyunsaturated fats (refined vegetable oils), and common allergens like corn, soy, peanuts, gluten (in wheat, barley, rye, etc.) and casein (in dairy).
MUSCLE IS MEDICINE.
- Excercise is not optional. It is a necessary part of optimal health. Opt for spurts of high-intensity exercise rather than hours on a treadmill or elliptical machine. Being skinny is not an indicator of good health. Muscle mass is.
A year ago, I got rid of all polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
Several months ago, I went sugar-free. Still, getting to my 17% body fat target was a struggle – unless I went on the Eat to Live vegan “detox” plan. The minute I’d get off it and introduce gluten back into my diet, I’d find a little muffin top growing around my waist.
I’d read about “wheat belly“.
I call it the “Hot Toast Syndrome”. The only thing I’d crave after going off the detox diet was bread. My linea alba – that line running down your middle that gets lost as it navigates the pouch of abdominal adipose tissue – would reappear as soon as I eliminated bread from my diet.
Removing gluten made me feel so good, that I removed all grains from my diet. A month ago Jai read “The New Evolution Diet” by Arthur De Vany and decided to go grain-free as well.
Reducing gluten does not help. You need to eliminate it in order to eliminate the cravings and blood glucose spikes. I just remembered that we signed up to be part of the “Gluten-free January” initiative.
Guess what? We haven’t been consciously avoiding gluten. We just haven’t had it in a while, not even by mistake when we eat out. We were serious wheat addicts. Now, it doesn’t even occur to us to eat it. Out of sight, out of mind. Out of bloodstream, out of craving potential. Once you have stayed away from it for a couple of months, you can try eating it again as a special treat. I did, once in December, and felt so lethargic and rotten the next day, that I haven’t even wanted to try it again.
It’s not hard to eat well. It’s just easier to eat junk. In the past, I would have chalked that sensation of having to drag myself out of bed and feeling wiped out to “normal” fatigue, but now I know that
Fine is not better. Tolerated is not optimal. ~ Dr. Kurt Harris
Cutting out wheat and grains made my joint pains disappear. Think about it. More than a decade of knee and joint pain gone in a week. As Dr. Mike Davis attests, grains, especially wheat, cause cartilage destruction through glycation and inflammation.
Gum sensitivity? Gone. (Dental decay is apparently common in long-time vegans.) Besides, I no longer suffer from “foggy brain”.
A good percentage of the population is sensitive to gluten and suffers needlessly because “I don’t have celiac disease and can’t live without bread.”
As Dr. De Vany explains:
“You are not what you eat…..you are what your metabolism does with what you eat.”
SO WHAT THE HECK DO I EAT?
Most of the time:
Vegetables and fruits – 50% raw, 50% cooked.
A lot of whole eggs – at least two a day.
Some animal protein – non-denatured whey protein, wild-caught fish, free range organic poultry and wild game such as bison, boar and elk. Occasionally, grass-fed lamb.
Fermented full-fat dairy like yogurt and aged cheese.
Fats, saturated and monounsaturated – coconut oil, ghee, pastured butter, olive oil, avocadoes, nuts.
Herbs and Spices
Brown Rice cooked after soaking/fermenting
Lentils cooked after soaking/fermenting
10% of the time, I allow myself to “cheat” – but I really don’t feel the need to.
Where do I get my carbs from?
Veggies and fruit, plus tubers (yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, potatoes) and starchy veggies (pumpkin, plantains, carrots, peas).
Is it necessary to eat meat?
I find it more convenient to eat animal protein. Jai is a lacto-ovo-vegetarian and manages perfectly fine without fish or meat. He eats a lot of eggs and some full-fat dairy and whey protein.
My daily exercise regimen.
Half an hour of yoga, plus an hour of kettlebells or taekwondo.
How’s this new lifestyle affecting my physical well-being?
I took that pic (the first one) on Jan 1, 2011. I will take one every few months just to compare. Besides, lab test numbers don’t lie.
If you’re a regular reader, yes, you’ve landed in a place you didn’t intend to go to. If you’ve recently stumbled upon this blog and are interested in our new lifestyle and its outcomes, hope you find our experiments useful. Either way, welcome and hope you enjoy your stay.
Disclaimer: THIS IS OUR THING. You must discover your own truth.