Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Adam vs. Katy: Cognitive Dissonance Over My Diet

I've always found it interesting that humans don't innately know what we're supposed to be eating. Other animals seem to know if they're predators or herbivores, they go out and find food that nourishes them. And unless we're the ones providing their food, animals don't tend to have weight problems and dietary diseases.

This concept struck me when I moved into my first apartment during my junior year of college. After two years of dorm food, I was excited to be cooking for myself, and wanted to eat more healthfully. As I set about making that first grocery list, I was suddenly bewildered. I realized that had no idea what I ought to be eating.

Ever since, I have gone through periods of dietary exploration. I tried being a vegetarian for 4 years, a "flexitarian" for two of those. I've gone through times of cutting out all dairy, then all soy. I've gone on oatmeal kicks and yogurt kicks, eating the same meal for breakfast every day for months. I ate only organic food for a few months, and to this day avoid partially-hydrogenated anything. I have not owned a microwave since college, because I've been told that it's bad for you.

I just want to know what to eat to be healthy. And as with many things, the more I learn, the more confusing it gets.

Since last summer, I've been on-and-off following the guidance of Dr. Katy Wallace, a naturopath who focuses on healing through food. She emphasizes proper food combining, cleansing, and eating a whole-food diet. As regular readers of this blog know, I did a six-week "Body Tune-Up" cleanse with her this winter.

It was an intense, but positive experience. By the end of the program I was feeling good, had pretty stabilized energy, and I had lost 10 pounds and cleared up some skin problems. But I did have some misgivings about maintaining the kind of diet Katy teaches. It's a good diet, but not the easiest for someone who likes to eat out and throw dinner parties and the like.

Katy recommends a low-caloric intake diet, consisting primarily of fruits and veggies. She says most Americans eat way too much protein, and that your daily protein intake only needs to be about 5-10% of your daily calories. So, when you're on a low calorie diet, you don't need to be eating a lot of meat. Beans and even the protein found in veggies and whole grains is usually enough. Which is fine. Except as I said, I like to eat out, and I do enjoy a few alcoholic beverages with some frequency. So the whole low-calorie diet thing goes out the window.

What I haven't told you since the end of the cleans is that when I went on vacation, it all went to hell. After 6 weeks of being so strict with myself, I ate whatever I wanted, as much as I wanted, the whole week. I completely binged. I had a lot of stomachaches and didn't feel so hot, but damn those cookies and pastas and drinks tasted good.

For the month since I got back, I've been at my pre-cleanse weight again and wallowing in self-disgust over it. After losing all that weight, being back at what used to be normal for me feels way worse. I've tried to get back to eating the way Katy would recommend, but I'll be good during the week and binge on the weekend. I've been working out more, but my body hasn't budged.

I put the new pants I bought during the cleanse away in a box on top of my closet. And then I and emailed Adam Gilbert of My Body Tutor. I need someone to help me stay on track, and that's what he does best.

I've talked with Adam twice, and started his program yesterday. I'm a little nervous though, because Adam's eating guidelines are sometimes in alignment with Katy's, and sometimes are very different.

They're similar in that they both encourage eating whole foods, avoiding refined carbs and sugar, and eating plenty of veggies. And they both teach their diets as lifestyle changes, rather than short-term weight loss programs. But as far as I can tell, that's where the similarities end.

Adam is big on protein. He wants me eating protein with every meal. His aim is to get my metabolism working so that it's constantly burning fat. That sounds pretty good to me.

However, I've been following and believing in the proper food combining that Katy preaches. The biggest part of this is not combining grains and protein at a meal. If I'm eating protein at every meal, that's going to be hard to avoid. (There are other food combining rules that will get broken by eating this way too, but that's the big one.)

Katy also encourages variety - not eating the same kind of grain or protein more than once every 5 days, so that your system can completely clear it out before it's introduced again. If I'm eating protein at every meal, that's a lot of different kinds of protein I need to keep on hand. This concern is exacerbated by the fact that Katy strongly recommends against tofu, (too processed,) tuna, (high mercury and they're being fished out of existence,) and the regular intake of dairy (congests the digestive system,) - all protein sources that Adam recommends.

So I'm disconcerted; I really don't know which is the better or healthier way to eat. They're different theories in their entirety.

The rationalization my brain has come up with is that maybe there's no one best way - you eat differently to achieve different goals. Katy's program is focused on cleansing and healing, while Adam's emphasizes upping the metabolism. Both say they can help with weight loss, but they come at it from different directions. I haven't been hungry much on Katy's plan, so maybe it's because the low-calorie, low-protein diet has slowed my metabolism way down. But maybe a slower metabolism is better in some ways, because then the body isn't working as hard just to absorb nutrients. Then again, maybe it is better for it to be faster and burn through more calories. I don't really know.

I'm not sure how to resolve this dissonance. How do you figure out what the best way to eat is? Is Western Medicine and science right? What about the science behind Naturopathy? Or is it just a matter of experimenting and seeing what works best for you?

For the time being, that's what I'm going to do. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

If Katy and/or Adam read this and care to comment, your feedback would be great!


Reverend AC said...

Who knows? I went to my good ol' western medicine doc today for my annual exam and it turns out I've gained 12 lbs in the last 12 months. So that's not good. I was right there with you drinking and eating french fries on Sunday night (did you actually have any of those?) So perhaps we can just cut these snacks out and we're good to go. Or maybe we need more regular exercise instead of some intense stuff here and there. Or maybe it's food combining, or protein. Maybe everyone's body is primed a little differently so everyone's diet is really up to them to explore and figure out for themselves.

Who knows? The only one I've every believed is this: Don't eat crap, consume all things in moderation, and get regular exercise.

I fail at all of those categories, so I'm not trying to be preachy. It's just that I've read up on lots of diets and most of what I hear is pseudoscience. And actual science isn't that better. I don't think I've ever read a nutrition study that I've found convincing; either it was funded by an invested interest like the Soy Council or the Beef Council. The human body's metabolism and individual reactions to food, stress, the environment, and all the rest is so complicated that it's hard to know which Jenga piece to pull out and still have a solid structure.

My hope? Try to listen to your body. Eventually it'll sort you out. Unfortunately the body has two voices. The loud one says "Beer and Cookies!" and the quiet one says "we could use some greens and grains now, and sometime soon some protein." I need to lost some weight, so let's see if I can listed to the right one...

Adam Gilbert said...


Great post and I completely understand where you are coming from!

As much as I believe my lifestyle (diet) is a way to turn your body into a fat burning machine, I believe in it so much because it's insanely simple.

Simplicity to me, is where it's at.

Personally, I don't want to mix and match different foods, change up my meals on a daily basis (I'm not a chef), worry about usually healthy foods (like tuna, or tofu) to a a point where it makes me go crazy.

Instead, I believe (and know) that if you follow a diet with lean proteins and good complex carbs and indulge in your 'favorite' foods in moderation...consistently, not only is that extremely realistic, easy to follow and highly sustainable but it's also the only way to get (and keep) results.

It comes down to consistency. If you can't stay consistent with one way or the other, you'll never succeed.

And as my clients tell me, the lifestyle I follow is very easy to stick with.

Lastly, it's easy to go crazy by worrying about all of the tactics and foods, and soups and drinks and exercises out there.

Instead focus on consistency.

And good things will happen. And you'll be a lot happier.

Meal by meal. Workout by workout. Day by day.

That's the only way!


Your Ill-fitting Overcoat said...

I wish I had an answer for this, but I don't at all. I've given up, at least for awhile, on a strict/structured anything with regard to eating. It's too outside--->in for me and makes it hard for me to listen to my body. You've touched on this in previous posts, I think, but often when I'm eating unhealthily my body is telling me that it's unhealthy and I'm just ignoring it. Other times, my body actually legitimately wants some fat or sodium or carbs and I think it's OK.

Over the past year or two, I've started having a positive body image for the first time in my life. I have down days for sure and times when my jeans don't fit after three too many cupcakes and I'm mad at myself, but generally I feel OK. I walk a lot and I eat a lot of greens. I eat too much sugar and fat sometimes (ok, a lot of times) and that's why I have curvier hips than Hollywood thinks is ideal. But I feel OK about that, too. If I was spending all of my energy obsessing over cupcakes and stomach crunch regimens, I'd probably be lousier at other things to make up for it.

I think I lost my train of thought here, but I was trying to say is that I think you look gorgeous every time I see you, but if your body is saying that you need some healthier food, I'm glad that you're learning how to listen.

Thank you again for chronicling this journey for us!

Jessie said...

Hey Nicole!

I'm not familiar with the kind of work that Katy does, so I don't really understand the point of "food pairing"...unless you're pairing it with wine or beer. ;)

That said, I think that different things work for different people. You need to take into consideration what your body likes (my body loves protein - I don't lose weight unless I'm doing like 50-60g of protein a day, no lie) and what's most effective. You also need to balance that with what's easiest to maintain for you.

This is supposed to be a lifestyle, right? What makes more sense, trying to maintain a lifestyle that, while effective when you're rigid about it, having an occasional cocktail, or throwing (and enjoying) a dinner party without stomachaches and self-loathing? Or trying to maintain a lifestyle that is effective, but also lets you have a beer and some fries at the Village Bar the first Monday of every week (in season) without hating yourself in the morning?

I guess the point I'm trying to make is, it's not going to do you any good if you can't keep it up. A person can lose 100 lbs, but it doesn't mean anything if they gain it all back again because they used a method that they can't sustain over the long term.

That's one of the reasons that I decided to work with Adam. Aside from the fact that he will be my accountability partner, which I desperately need, the food choices he recommends totally line up with previous efforts I have made that were:

A) easy to implement with some reasonable effort (ie: grocery shopping regularly, packing lunches and planning meals) and

B) successful, but eventually failed because I didn't remain consistent with my efforts.

That's just my take on it. :)

Jessie said...

I just realized that one of my paragraphs was complete butchered and made no sense. Let me try again:

"What makes more sense, trying to maintain a lifestyle that, while effective when you're rigid about it, does allow for an occasional cocktail, or throwing (and enjoying) a dinner party without stomachaches and self-loathing? Or trying to maintain a lifestyle that is effective, but also lets you have a beer and some fries at the Village Bar the first Monday of every week (in season) without hating yourself in the morning?"