Ever since my book, Glow15, became a New York Times bestseller I have had the opportunity to connect with so many readers about their experiences with aging, stubborn weight, cognitive decline, mood issues, deteriorating skin, rising blood sugars, chronic disease, you name it.
It’s truly an honor to have this platform and if you’re reading this and have already provided me your ear, I want to publicly thank you. I don’t take my responsibility lightly and I understand how important it is to you that I provide clarity and practical tips. So today I want to discuss a topic that may perhaps be a little confusing.
People are starting to talk about good fats and the topic of autophagy is also starting to gain more ground in health circles everywhere (a great thing!). So I want to make sure my community has all the right information on what’s essential versus what’s not.
SHOULD YOU BE EATING A PALEO, VEGAN, VEGETARIAN, KETOGENIC OR FASTING MIMICKING DIET?
I want you to become fat-adapted.
Association is not causation
If you are just getting your feet wet in what all of this means let’s start with the basics. Most of us in the Western world eat the diet our government recommends, which is to have 4 to 6 servings of carbohydrates daily. This is based on research from 1958 that’s outdated and even more important, not accurate.
A scientist named Ancel Keys produced a study called the Seven Countries Study. It examined the connection between diet and heart disease in several countries around the world. Keys concluded that the countries that had the highest fat intake also had the highest rates of heart disease.
But this conclusion is merely an association and not causation. There are many things that are seemingly connected, but without knowing the entire story we couldn’t assume that one caused the other. Take for example a rainy day and umbrellas. If you were a Martian from outer space you might look at humans on a rainy day and think that the rain caused umbrellas to form. But a rainy day doesn’t create umbrellas out of thin air any more than wishing for your house to get cleaned by itself will magically happen! The truth is, there is an association between rain and umbrellas and nothing more.
The United States Of Carbohydrates
The problem with the Ancel Keys study is that it was observational and not inclusive of all the information actually available. It left out valuable data about countries that consumed a lot of fat but did not have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease as well as countries where fat consumption was low and yet heart disease was very high. When specific parts of data are used to formulate a conclusion, this is known as cherry picking and is exactly what happened with the Seven Countries Study, unfortunately.
The plot thickens because this study had a huge impact on our country and the health of Americans was significantly changed because of it.
In January 1977, Senator George McGovern and his Senate committee (known as the McGovern committee) were tasked with providing a solution for the rising rate of heart disease in our country and issued the Dietary Goals For The United States in order to reverse the epidemic of heart disease as well as increasing cases of cancers, strokes, obesity, and diabetes occurring in the country. The guidelines aren’t too different than what we have now so you’re probably familiar with them:
Eat less fat and cholesterol.
Eat less refined and processed sugars.
Eat more complex carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, and grains.
The USDA weaved these guidelines into the fabric of our collective diet and slowly but steadily we all adopted a low fat, higher carb diet. Suddenly mainstays in our human diet for generations such as butter, wild red meat, and beautiful plant-based fats like virgin olive oil and avocado were to be restricted or better yet, avoided. While the science underlying these guidelines wasn’t accurate, the message was surely persuasive! How many of you remember eating SnackWells cookies? I sure do. In fact, I recall eating way too many most likely because without the fat they couldn’t satisfy me. It didn’t matter how many I ate – it never quite felt like I had enough; I always wanted more!
The ironic thing about the low-fat craze is that the less fat we all ate the hungrier, fatter and sicker we all became. Even more interesting is that the obesity epidemic gained a lot of momentum at this time and not too far afterward, the type 2 diabetes epidemic followed and is still here today. Not so coincidental right?
What I ask of you in Glow15 is not to avoid carbohydrates and swing to the other extreme of only eating fat. In Glow15 I ask you to eat a lot of healthy fats, what I call the “good” fats (coconut, avocado, tea seed oil, olive oil, quality dairy and animal fats, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and butter etc.) and I suggest you eat them every meal, every day.
With carbohydrates, I recommend you avoid the junky ones that do not serve a purpose in the diet and actually cause harm (refined flours, bread, pastries, pasta, cereals, juice, candy, sweeteners etc.). But I do believe that the right kinds of carbohydrates have value and you should enjoy them in moderation. Consuming carbs that contain starch (sweet potato, squash, beets, parsnips, legumes) as well as whole grains (gluten-free tend to be better choices for most, especially if you’re concerned with inflammation) and lower glycemic fruit (berries, apples, pomegranates etc.) might be best to enjoy your evening meal. Not only are the hormones insulin and cortisol better able to handle the carbs later in the day, but the ability for carbohydrates to relax us and promote better sleep is a welcomed plus.
There are many reasons why healthy carbohydrates are important and in Glow15 I celebrate my favorite plant foods I want you to eat more of. For example, plant-based healthy carbohydrates include a variety of nutrients — polyphenols, sphingolipids, omega-3s, sulforaphane, vitamins C, D, E, and K, spermidine, saponins, and probiotics — to help your cells clean up and repair themselves. If you haven’t read Glow15 I would love for you to grab a copy and learn more about the specific foods that you can eat to make food your medicine on a daily basis.
BECOME FAT-ADAPTED IF YOU WANT METABOLIC FLEXIBILITY
On Glow15, you’ll first become fat-adapted on your way to becoming metabolically flexible. Recall that becoming fat-adapted is really the end goal for all types of diet programs trying to help you rework your metabolism. The issue with other programs is that sometimes you are encouraged to just eat a low carb diet. And while a low carb diet will certainly help you drop weight if you have the weight to lose, it’s not an ideal means to an end and certainly not the end goal itself. Actually, the same thing can be true with a ketogenic diet as well. Both of these dietary programs are wonderful tools to use in attaining your best health, but I want you to think of them as just that. They are stepping-stones to the ultimate goal, which is to increase what my friend Mark Sisson calls, metabolic flexibility.
Metabolic flexibility means your body’s insulin sensitivity is functioning properly, which allows you to eat various foods without major consequence. It also means that should you not eat for several hours you won’t feel “hangry’ (angry and hungry), lightheaded, grouchy or experience other symptoms of extreme discomfort. To have metabolic flexibility means that depending on whether you’re eating fats or carbs, you will be able to metabolize them normally and without uncomfortable or unhealthy side effects (for example, erratic spikes and lows in blood sugar). If you have ever eaten a carb and felt like you’ve already gained 10 pounds with even just a couple bites, you know what I mean. Or if you’ve ever gone out to dinner or had no control over your food and you ate a bunch of carbs and felt groggy or hung over the next day, you also know what I mean!
Food shouldn’t hurt. And having the necessary hormones, enzymes and microbiome in place can ensure it doesn’t. Over time, and with a commitment to a healthy diet, your metabolic flexibility will strengthen, and so will your entire health — including the aforementioned digestive hormones that play an integral role in your whole health.
Being free to enjoy some healthy carbs in the right portion (and maybe even some unhealthy ones as an occasional treat) without feeling like you need to cancel the day because you’re sick and bloated probably sounds too good to be true. When is the last time you felt free to eat what you like (all in the realm of real, whole foods of course) without food causing harm?
The secret behind this type of liberalized diet I’m describing (which must sound like a fantasy but I assure you it’s not — it’s completely attainable for you to achieve!) is to focus not on calories but on your hormonal response to food. Centering your thoughts on calories is not going to help you achieve freedom from food and all the health risks associated with a poor diet. Instead, focus on hormones, namely, insulin.
The moment you shift your thinking away from wondering about how many calories your meal contains and instead focus more on how your diet impacts your insulin is your great “aha!” moment.
“SUGAR” BURNER VERSUS “FAT” BURNER
To improve insulin sensitivity and gain metabolic flexibility involves shifting to someone called a “fat” burner. A fat burner is just a fancy way of saying you’re going to teach your body how to burn fat for energy instead of relying heavily on glucose and carbs. It’s not an overnight process and you need to mentally commit to dietary change for the long haul. Once you’ve made the mental paradigm shift, then finding the motivation to make the changes is so easy and exciting. In Glow15 I provide a complete diet and lifestyle plan to guide you through this process in a way that’s compassionate to each of our varying dietary nuances (some of us are “keto,” others might be vegan, but we are all welcome and able to achieve the end goal on Glow15!)
My three-step process to becoming metabolically flexible looks like this:
- Increase the good fats with every meal
- Eat fat first, carbs last. And, slowly limit the amount of carbs you eat.
- Focus on eating moderate (not high) protein on High days. Spoiler alert! You likely are currently eating more protein than you actually need! (To find the right amount of protein for your body please see chapter 4 in Glow15).
With my personal experience enduring sugar addiction along with the vast number of interviews with so many of the brilliant experts in the field, I now understand the science behind sugar’s hold on us. It has nothing to do with your moral willpower or being less motivated than anyone else. One of the things I dislike hearing the most is that people are lazy. I don’t believe laziness or lack of motivation is the issue but really, a lack of understanding and guidance implementing the right dietary goals. The truth is, there is a real and powerful effect that glucose has on our physiology. Being addicted to glucose for energy isn’t a fault in personality but simply an inefficient way to provide the body fuel.
Research scientists are explaining that eating a carb-centric diet is not the normal preference for the human body. When we eat a Western SAD (Standard American Diet) that’s 60% carbohydrates, it’s not abnormal to need to eat every 2 to 3 hours. Going longer than that might feel awful — mood swings, energy dips, unrelenting fatigue, headaches, foggy thinking, decreased athletic performance, poor sleep, etc.
How the experts explained it to me is when you are not fat-adapted you’ll have strong cravings for all food, and especially carbohydrates, throughout the day. If you’ve ever wondered if you think about food too much there’s a good chance you do! When you have strong cravings for sugar or your diet is centered on carbs this means you are what some people refer to as a “sugar” burner.
A sugar-burner relies on glucose for energy. When you rely on glucose for energy, your body can’t easily beta oxidize fat (fancy way of saying using your own body fat for energy). So what happens? You wind up storing more fat. Plus, you can’t use the fat in your diet for fuel either — and more of it winds up on your body than as valuable fuel.
AM I THERE YET?
As you go through the Glow15 program you’ll notice some subtle and not so subtle shifts in your relationship to food, your body, energy, sleep, mood, cravings, muscle composition, skin, mental cognition, and so many other changes that will amaze you. You’re going to feel reconnected to yourself, have more hope for your health, and more faith in your ability to eat your way to better health too!
Some great ways to know that you are becoming more fat-adapted and closer to having metabolic flexibility are:
- You can go 4 to 6 hours without eating or being fixated on your next meal
- Decreased or no cravings for sugar
- You register hungry as a gentle awareness in your body as opposed to being “hangry”
- You can exercise without pre-gaming with carbs (Tune in to chapter 6 of Glow15 to learn about my favorite exercise strategies!)
- Better sleep (You can sleep through the night and don’t wake up between 2 to 4 hungry or wide awake.)
- Increased mental clarity and acuity
- Improved and stable moods
- Clear, glowing skin and bright eyes
I know this sounds dreamy. It’s been my reality the last couple of years to make everyone who has a dream of living better, living more vibrantly and with more freedom to realize that dream. I took all the guesswork out and poured my heart and mind into working with many experts and scientists to create the ultimate fat-burner program to get you results. Everything’s there and all you have to do is harness the right dedication and commitment to yourself, and you can do it!