I came down sick over the weekend. It was fairly obviously something I’d eaten, but that wasn’t so easy to track down. Two lovely ladies, out of the goodness of their hearts, had offered to cook for me, giving me two days off of meal responsibilities. What a blessing!! Everything was delicious, but my stomach was not happy and I wasn’t willing to insult it further. So I took advantage of almost my entire family having other places to be and extended that vacation two more days. I got better. I pondered the nature of disease and recovery, and noted that I had no sign of bacteria or virus, and no medications were involved in healing. As is so often the case, it was all food that made the difference.
Fasting has become a hot topic as the global obesity rates continue to rise and impact chronic disease rates. The assumption is that, if people are overweight, then they must be eating too much. Complete fasting, or at least limiting food intake to a shorter window of time each day, is seen as the long-lost key to perfect health. I wish it were that simple. If there were a magic bullet of health, a fountain of youth we just had to drink from, this wouldn’t be a worldwide issue.
According to Dr. Jason Fung, the de facto expert on fasting, many chronic diseases can be reversed by stopping eating. Giving our body a chance to process what we’ve taken in each day allows us to better utilize the next day’s portions. Cycling food and rest, which promotes assimilation, is the biggest secret to health. I fully agree.
But there’s a simple point I want to make. Most modern diseases are caused by nutritional deficiencies – malnutrition. Not enough good quality food. Merely cutting back what you eat without changing what you eat isn’t going to solve the problem of poor health.
Many years ago (over 100, as I see it), food was made from whole ingredients: ground grains, fresh butter and milk, grass fed meats and locally grown vegetables. Processing was initially instituted to remove molds on grains, which made for a safer product. As processing improved and became more widespread, glaring deficiency diseases appeared. The government decided to replace the lost nutrients in flour, and Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B9, along with iron and sometimes calcium, were added back in. But let’s look at what really happened. A grain of wheat, when refined, has the outer 2/3 removed. This includes all the fiber and B vitamins, about 17 nutrients in all. All that’s left is the starch and most (not all) of the original protein. Then the denuded grain is “enriched” with five, maybe six, synthetic replicas of what was taken out. That’s hardly what most people think enrichment means. And, as nutrition expert Sally Fallon explains, digesting enriched flour requires more B vitamins from your body than it gave you. That’s not how eating is supposed to work.
According to some estimates, refined white flour in bread, pasta and cookies makes up about 1/5 of the American diet. Think about that a second: if 20% of what I eat depletes my body of more nutrients than it gives, then ceasing to eat those foods may cut the depletion, but I’m still hungry. I’m still not getting what I need. More to the point: if a good proportion of the diet does nothing more than promote malnutrition, then cutting back isn’t solving the problem. There’s still not enough nutrition to produce health.
Fasting, in any form, is a good rest from a basically whole diet. But most of us grew up on the standard American junk food diet, which we’ve already seen doesn’t sustain us well. A better solution than trying to cut out the bad stuff (a losing proposition, in my mind) is switching to whole foods. Freshly prepared ingredients from the farmer’s market provide more nutrients and fill you up faster, for longer. You may actually eat less because non-processed food contains all the necessary fiber, vitamins and cofactors required to synthesize them. Your body is satisfied because it has what it needs and doesn’t have to waste resources on detoxifying chemistry experiments disguised as dinner.
Know that this doesn’t happen immediately. If you’ve ever had a plate of brown rice after growing up on Minute rice, you know what I’m talking about. The flavors are different. You may have to mix the two for a couple weeks to start adjusting. (My poor mother was not happy after I proudly served her whole grain everything for a weekend. It tasted good, but later – !!! Lessons learned.) We’re all works in progress, and fast food is a fact of life. Just do the best you can with the meal in front of you – add more veggies and opt for real foods over processed as much as possible. Don’t sweat the poor choices and celebrate the good ones, especially as they add up. Don’t judge your progress by a particular meal, but how the meals add up. What does your diet over the entire week look like? Are there more leafy greens and water, or french toast and soda?
Turning our diet around is the key to health. I’m not arguing that you move to Pennsylvania and buy a plow and a Morgan. Whole foods are still obtainable in your grocery store – you just have to stay out of the middle aisles. Learn to cook, if you don’t know how. Cooking videos on YouTube are a great way to learn and be inspired to try new foods.
Have questions about how to turn your diet around? Comment below and I’ll do my best to help you tailor your diet to your needs.