And get your life into high gear
“Beyond calories, fat, protein, and micronutrients, we now understand that food is a powerful epigenetic modulator — meaning it can change our DNA for better or worse.” — Dr. David Perlmutter, Grain Brain
I used to live for dough. Anything made of dough was the object of my desires and the highlight of my days.
My “dough baptism” happened during my 4 years in Italy: I would start the day with something fatty spread on a mushy piece of brown bread; then, I’d get a croissant on my way to school; I’d get a focaccia sandwich at lunch and I would finish the day with gnocchi in cheese and tomato sauce.
Back then I made very little connections between the food I ingested and my mental well-being. I thought I was okay as long as I didn’t eat at McDonald's. Little did I know, I lived on an insulin roller-coaster. My young adult metabolism was able to handle it for a while without too many side effects. Yet, over the years, the consequences compounded. My anxiety began to rise. I would get tired a couple of hours after every meal; which led me to consume more caffeine; which made me more anxious. I began to have digestion issues. Colds, coughs and sore throats would manifest more often and last longer. My acne got worse. My dwindling energy made me more passive in social interactions, which increased my isolation. The quality of my life was plummeting. Something had to change.
In 2015, my mother shared an audio-book with me : Grain Brain by Dr. Perlmutter. I had nothing better to do on my way to meet her at the airport so I pressed “play”. Unbeknownst to me, this would be the start of my journey to improve my life by using food as preventive medicine. As I listened, I became amazed at how little I had examined my diet in my 21 years of life. In his book, Dr. Perlmutter unmasks many “silent killers” we consume every day : glucose, gluten, high fructose corn syrup, wheat, etc. His words, facts and studies got me enlightened but also perplexed. How could I live without all of that yummy stuff in my life? I knew I couldn’t get rid of everything at once. So, I settled on trying one week without gluten (not an easy goal in Italy).
On my way to school, I would get my espresso lungo and stare at the pastries display like my cat stares at birds through a window. For lunch, I prepared gluten-free pasta. In the evening, I boiled potatoes. In the end, I got through the week without breaking. On the 8th day, I still didn’t feel any significant change! So, I indulged in a croissant at my favorite cafe.
And then it happened.
My stomach shivered as if it to say : “What the hell dude!?” I felt the bloating immediately. For the first time, I understood my body was telling me what it wasn’t made to digest.
Thus began my gastronomic adventure. Over the next couple of years, I would eliminate one food at a time from my diet and observe how my body reacted. Moreover, I would go on to eat up many books, articles, documentaries and podcasts on the subject. Ultimately, my research and trials led me to adopt a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat, moderate-protein diet. As I am writing this, I can confirm that I have never felt better. My anxiety is minimal, my energy is constant, my immune system is ready to fire and my state of mind is almost always positive.
Nowadays, whenever I see a croissant, it just looks like cardboard to me.
There is no universally perfect diet. Yet, all medical evidence agrees that refined carbohydrates are unhealthy. Since they are a refined version of the stimuli found in nature, they are also addictive. They are counted on to boost one’s mood in the moment. They are consumed out of habit not out of necessity. Here is a bit of theory and practice to remove them from your life completely:
The Glycemic Index
The classification of a carbohydrate as “good” or “bad” is not mere subjective opinion. It can be measured scientifically with the glycemic index. The higher that measurement, the easier it is for your body to convert that food into glucose. High glycemic foods (70 or higher) make your insulin skyrocket. Your blood sugar gets knocked out of homeostasis. Continuous disturbances in blood sugar levels lead to an almost endless list of diseases including : diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, joint pain, anxiety, depression and so much more you can read on WebMD. Not to mention that the energy derived from such meals is very short-lived. Hence, they might be useful for a pro-athlete before intense physical effort, but that’s most likely not your case. High GI foods include: white and whole wheat bread, wheat flake biscuits, naan, rice, potatoes, pasta, cornflakes, pastries, industrial fruit juice, sodas, candy, etc.
On the other hand, a glycemic index of less than 55 is considered good. The sugars contained in low glycemic foods are often intertwined with fiber. Thus, their release into the blood stream is slow and steady. They do not shock your system with excess sugar. Some foods have no carbohydrates whatsoever like : meat, fish and eggs. Other low GI foods include: legumes, broccoli, leafy greens, carrots, apples, avocados, nuts, etc.
Even though gluten is not a carbohydrate but rather a blanket for many different proteins found in common grains, abstaining from it is considered a healthy move. As the counter wave to the gluten-free movement likes to point out : “Gluten isn’t bad for everybody”. Yes, not everybody is celiac, gluten-sensitive, affected by irritable-bowel syndrome or allergic to wheat. Curiously though, all of these conditions are on the rise. A decent explanation is the strong correlation between celiac incidence and the discharge of glyphosate (toxic chemical pesticide) on wheat in the U.S.
Despite the “chewiness” gluten adds to food, the human body does not need it in the slightest. Whether you are sensitive to gluten or not, eliminating it from your diet also eliminates most “bad carbs” indirectly. Yet, the label “gluten-free” does not mean “healthy”. Almost all processed gluten-free foods contain sugars, hydrogenated vegetable oils, additives, preservatives, etc. When you go gluten-free, go unprocessed-gluten-free.
Here are 8 strategic moves for a definite bye-bye to bad carbs:
- Read, listen and watch as much information as possible about the downsides of bad carbs. Saturate your brain with the facts about their side-effects. Eventually, a scary list will unroll in your mind every time you will be tempted by a yummy roll of dough.
- Do not keep any refined carbs in your home. Since willpower comes and goes, adapt your immediate environment to your goal. It is always easier to want a cookie but not eat it because there isn’t one, than to resist eating the one right there in your cupboard.
Important: anyone who wants to be healthy should NOT have table sugar at home.
- Do not add sugar anywhere. If you are adding sugar you are either disturbing the natural good taste or masking the natural bad taste of something. Taste your coffee when it’s black. If it’s disgusting, it’s probably not your kind of roast. Find a brand that tastes good by itself. Change your coffee making method. Once you remove sugar, you become an explorer of natural tastes.
- Exchange your usual desserts for raw fruit. You will still feel that sweet taste, yet you won’t have as big an insulin spike thanks to their fiber content.
- Remove industrial fruit juices and sodas from your diet. They contain alarming amounts of sugar! Try making healthy smoothies at home using leafy green vegetables and raw fruits.
- Observe your mind when you crave bad carbs. Does the craving arise out of habit? Replace it by a better habit like eating an apple, 5 minutes of deep breathing or 50 jumping jacks. Does it arise out of anxiety? Switch to healthy ways of managing your anxiety like meditation, sports, cold showers and better sleep.
- Fast! Once you realize you can live for 24 hours on water only, you feel a sense of control. You understand your well-being and your survival do not depend on a three-meal-a-day-carbs-fest. (If you have any serious health condition, consult a physician before).
- Do not beat yourself up for not succeeding immediately. Don’t get me wrong, you should want to succeed as soon as possible. Yet, if you happen to break in the beginning, criticizing yourself endlessly for it will only make you more anxious. There is no need to go cold turkey immediately. Just lower the dose. Every ounce of refined carbs you haven’t consumed is a success.
Remember: changing your diet is changing your life. What you eat influences how you think and how you live. Cutting bad carbs is the springboard to figuring out what diet is best for you. It’s the beginning of your exploration. Do not follow anyone’s advice (including mine) blindly; let your body tell you how to be.