Food: Medicine or Weapon? It's Complicated

Food: Medicine OR Weapon? *it’s complicated*

The subject of food and food choices is one that continues to fascinate.  There are whole TV channels dedicated to food. Culture and food are so closely intertwined and explorations into both have been the basis of some of the most interesting documentaries ever made; think Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Parts Unknown. We need food to fuel our bodies and keep us alive. But food is more than a means to an end. What we eat, why we eat it and the traditions around these choices bring people together, help us to get to know each other, differentiate us and define us.

I have been on the keto diet for over 14 months now. I wanted to lose weight, and I knew that from past experience, the best way for me to lose weight was to drop carbs from my diet. Whenever I went low-carb, the pounds came off AND I felt more “aligned” within myself. I wasn’t sure why or how, but I knew that I was in a better place overall when I eschewed carbs. I started chronicling my own journey on Instagram. I decided to commit to this low-carb way of eating, but in order to make it sustainable, I knew it had to satisfy two conditions:

  1. I must never be hungry
  2. My food had to be delicious and satisfying.

I also figured that going public would be a great way to hold myself accountable.

My Own Food Choices: Keto

So I dropped the rice and the bread and the pasta and the potatoes and the flour and the sugar… and the magic started happening. The weight started coming off and my head got clearer and clearer as the weeks passed. I grew more adventurous in the kitchen too. Remember my promise to myself. I wasn’t about a life of torture at the hands of dry grilled chicken breast and drier salads. Ugh. I discovered how to make cheesy, creamy low-carb veggie casseroles. I discovered the joys of fat-head dough pizza and bread. I even started to bake and make low-carb desserts, and I was never ever a baker before! And the questions started coming… “What are you doing to lose weight?” “So how come you’re eating that and losing weight?” “If you’re not eating bread, what do you eat?”

I knew by this time, that food as a topic was very hot on social media platforms. I had been sharing pics of my own food for ages. Now not everyone is interested in what people eat, but for every one of those people, there are ten more who really are interested in seeing what people eat and how they make it! I got so much positive feedback about my cooking and menus and I loved interacting with people about their own food choices and seeing what they ate.

I eat like this an lose weight: keto dishes
I eat like this and lose weight

Going Public with my Keto Journey

So my food pics on Instagram became something bigger. My daughter encouraged me to blog about my journey. I had been blogging for years, writing about anything that interested or perplexed me and on interesting people and experiences. She insisted that people want to know about weight loss and food. I was hesitant. After all, weight gain and loss and body size, certainly in this part of the world, is such a big deal and covered and underpinned with so much judgement! Was I setting myself up for public ridicule if I went public with my journey that somehow may not end up at my desired destination of complete and sustained weight-loss transformation? Also, I was a low-carb dieter! There has never been a more vilified and misunderstood way of eating in my experience! “NO FRUITS? GASP!”  “ALL THAT MEAT? WHAT ABOUT CHOLESTEROL?” “HIGH FAT THOUGH?” I wasn’t sure that I wanted to or needed to justify my eating choices to anyone. I got encouragement from other quarters, and then inhaled deeply and decided to commit: I decided to blog about my keto journey and to explain as best I could, the science behind my choices and why they worked for me.

Over the past weeks I’ve blogged about why I started the keto diet, what I eat on this diet and how it has transformed my body and my life. I tackled questions about the keto diet, how the keto diet impacts overall wellness and told stories of diabetes and high blood pressure reversed courtesy of this way of life. I’ve spoken about keto being a possible response to PCOS, a condition negatively impacting women and their fertility all over the globe.

The response has been overwhelming. So many people have quietly in-boxed me or reached out with questions, with frustrations about their own weight and attempts to lose some. Other low-carbers have emerged from the shadows with their own success stories, perhaps emboldened by my own move to take my journey public.

Weight loss before and after on the keto diet
Weight loss before and after on the keto diet

Keto bucks our traditional learning

But at the same time, there are those who have slipped me articles or references about dangers of the keto diet and who have warned me about “balanced” eating and so on. I am SURE that those who have put up the caution sign to me have done so out of concern and not at all out of malice or any evil motives. I am positive about that.

Here’s the thing: I understand their concern and hesitance. We’ve been schooled about nutrition in  a particular way: food groups, what different foods provide, the need for balance and moderation. When I kill an entire food group, that group that we’ve been taught “provides energy”, and when I say that I no longer eat fruit (something natural and delicious and straight from God’s trees) I can see how I come over as a fanatic on her way to nutritional hell. And how dare I preach so heretical a message,  seeking converts to the dark side. Surely Kelly must realize that what she’s doing is not sustainable, that it’s inherently unhealthy and that in her quest for a quick fix, she’s abandoning the civilized, more learned route of moderation and balance. That, my friends, is a judgement on the way I choose to eat. And we are all guilty at some time or another, of passing judgement, silent and otherwise on people’s food choices! Admit it 🙂

For every study shared about meat being the devil, I can share two more that knock that study down and show otherwise. There are biases on both sides of the divide, faulty sampling, sponsored research and so on and so forth. Knowledge is increasing daily, and there is increasing information that is calling our traditional learning into question. I take a very simple approach: I triangulate what I read with my own experience and the experiences of others. If something is not working, I try something else. If it is working, I try to understand why and how. 

Keto is not a Universal Prescription

As I have shared my own eating habits and thinking on weight loss and nutrition, I have been very careful not to present my way of life as a universal prescription. I am fully aware that every single body is different. Some people get cancer, some don’t. Some people have a greater tendency to be fat, some eat a house or two and never gain a pound. How could I say that low-carb eating is how we must all eat? God made fruit. It means that it is not inherently a bad thing. I have been very careful to relate my own decisions and story as just that: MY experience. If your story parallels mine and you find something that could apply to you, then awesome! I’m sure I am not the only one whose body uses carbohydrates inefficiently. I am not a doctor or a nutritionist, but I have lived in my own body for fifty years now and I can read and interrogate and understand.

For ME, I have found low-carb eating to be the answer to the issues that have beset me all my life.It wasn’t that I lacked willpower in my quest to lose weight via the “balanced meal, all things in moderation” rule. My personal biology betrayed and crippled me when I tried this approach! When I consume carbs, my body floods with insulin trying to deal with the sugar now in my blood. It has to secrete more and more because my body doesn’t process the sugar efficiently are regular insulin levels. Increased insulin flooding my body results in more weight gain, more inflammation and an inability to ever feel full. I have to find a way to prevent my blood sugar from going up in order to prevent insulin secretion. That’s what eating low-carb does. I effectively shut down my insulin. Now I’ve removed the need for will-power. My body now feels full, hormones are in balance and I can lose weight without stress. It. Works. For. Me. And I understand and accept that not everyone needs this answer to their situation.

Vegetarian or Keto?
Vegetarian or Keto?

Food as a Weapon

I have always thought that vegans are some of the most intolerant and fanatical of niche dieters. I had a friend on FaceBook that I blocked after a while. I consider myself pretty open minded and curious about everything, yet I ended up blocking my friend. I was cool at first with her sharing her food pics and benefits to her, of her eating choices. It was when she started to decry meat eaters and label them as cruel and on and on that it became a bit much for me. I decided enough.

I have a vegan family member. My experience with her challenges my opening statement though. Listen to this: do you know that this wonderful woman has liked my food pics on Facebook and Twitter? Do you know that every time I share a pic of my weight loss transformation she celebrates with me? Do you know that not even once has she commented on the amount of animal products I consume? Do you know that she retweets some of my blog posts? Do you know that every single time she sees me she embraces me and tells me how wonderful I look? The last time we were together we were having lunch. She was concerned, genuinely concerned, that there were enough keto options for me. Her plate was beans and salads but she wanted to ensure that I had the meat I typically ate. I have been touched, inspired and impressed. She could easily have used our different food choices as a weapon to divide and even hurt. I am challenged to be exactly like her even as I stick to my own food choices. I must confess, that there are times when I fall short of the standard she has set though, and I do judge.

I remember going on a field trip with a wonderful group of strangers one Saturday to St. Thomas, the eastern end of our beautiful island of Jamaica. We were looking at relics of slavery in the parish and our guides were learned people who made the stops interesting and enlightening. There was one particular woman on the trip that I found very interesting. She had a wealth of knowledge about Jamaica’s natural history and shared it so easily and make it so interesting. She appeared to be in her mid to late 50’s. She was heavy set and moved with great difficulty, with the aid of a cane, opting to remain in the tour bus at certain stops. She shared that her knees were totally shot. It was a hot day out in the field. I watched that woman drink no less than three sodas over the course of the day while complaining about her lack of mobility and the pain in her knees.

I guzzled my water and ate my nuts and judged the hell out of her for her food choices. I sat in righteousness in my ever shrinking body and tsked tsked in my mind: “Doesn’t she see that she’s adding to her weight with all that sugar and putting more pressure on her knees that are already giving way? Doesn’t she realize that all that sugar is triggering inflammation which is the reason for her pain? She’s not serious about her health at all. She loves being immobile and being in pain!”  I was using food as a weapon to divide, if only in my own mind.

I of all people should have known better. We are all creatures of habit and we do things without knowing the full implications of our actions. Plus who am I to ascribe motive to anyone?  It is too easy to feel self-righteous and to sit in a place of judgement when we feel as if we have the answer that we think and assume that others need.

Food as Medicine

Let Food be thy Medicine
Let Food be thy Medicine

There’s a doctor on twitter that I follow. He’s based in the USA and is an advocate of low-carb eating for people struggling with weight and type 2 diabetes. He attended an obesity conference this past week and near the close of the conference he shared a picture that really brought home these thoughts I’d been having on food choices, demonizing some people’s choices and sitting in judgement of how they choose to live their lives relative to ours. He took a selfie with two other doctors attending the conference. One doctor had only veggies in his plate at lunch. He was a vegetarian. The other doctor had a little of everything in his own plate. He was from the “all things in moderation” school. And my Twitter doc friend had only meat in his plate, keto style. He tweeted this though:

“Three worlds collide. All of us shared & listened to each other’s different approaches to helping patients.” 

He understood that one size does not fit all, that food and food choices ought not to be a weapon to wound and divide. He went on to make the following observation as well though:

“None of us had ANY processed food None of us had ANY added fats None of us had ANY added sugar.”   

There are so many ailments that have become all too commonplace in our modern world that can be traced back to what we eat. As the food processing industry ramped up their “good for you” offerings screaming claims like “added vitamins” and “low fat” people got fatter and fatter and diseases like type 2 diabetes increased. How come? Scientists are now linking a number of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure and cancer and dementia and advocating more and more for prevention via lifestyle changes. Consumers are starting to demand healthier alternatives as they log on to the reality that food can and should be our medicine. Too many have been happy to take a pill or injection to deal with a condition only to realize that they’ve been trapped in a spiral where they need increasingly higher dosages to get the same effect and even more pills to manage the side effects of the initial prescription. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, keto, low-carb or from the all things in moderation school, there are some basic tenets that I think we can all agree on in our journey to wellness:

  • Sugar is addictive and serves no nutritional purpose
  • Whole foods are better than processed food
  • Fresh is best

Specific maladies can benefit from specific food choices and we have the power to research in our quest to manage our own health.

  • Let’s not sit in judgement of other people’s food choices
  • Let’s not allow food to be weapon to divide and wound
  • Let’s unleash the healing power of the food we eat by consuming foods that address our specific issues. What we eat impacts inflammation, weight gain, metabolism, hormonal balance and our immune system response. Challenge your traditional learning in your quest to find what works for you.
Weight loss before and after on keto
My Own Journey: Weight loss before and after on keto

If you are interested in the keto diet for yourself, please subscribe to my blog.

Disclaimer:

I am not a medical doctor nor am I a certified nutritionist and make no claims to the contrary. Each individual’s dietary needs and restrictions are unique to the individual. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health. The information on this website is written and produced for informational purposes only. This website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Content should not be considered a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. The reader assumes full responsibility for consulting a qualified health professional regarding health conditions or concerns, and before starting a new diet or health program. 

 

 

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