It's been a while since I've written a blog post - we've been a tad recipe obsessed lately. Can you blame us though? Food is AWESOME.
Today we'll be touching on a topic that I have wanted to write about for some time: how to determine if your diet is effective for you in the long term.
This is a really relevant discussion, since in this society, we are constantly bombarded with information to support various dietary approaches. It can get confusing at times, and we all need a way of weeding through it all. Of course, I always encourage you to study the science behind each approach, however unless you have a background in holistic health and biochemistry, you will find it overwhelming and will soon discover that the science is not in itself a determining factor. In the book It Starts with Food, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig will tell you that more likely than not you will be able to find research to support any approach, and I could not agree more - this is why it is important to temper scientific knowledge with personal experience and assessments.
In the end, you need to determine what is right for YOU.
One of the great benefits to what I am about to share with you is that once you have assessed and settled on a diet that resonates with you and your goals, you will also have the tools to refine and tweak your dietary components according to your needs, and over time, to any physiological changes that may occur with changing demands (ie increased stress or an injury).
LET'S DEFINE DIET
Before we jump into it, let's define that word - for the purposes of this post, we will be using diet to mean the kinds of food that an individual habitually eats, as well as the lifestyle to some extent, rather than "dieting" in terms of restriction.
To this end, a specific dietary approach would signify a preference to certain foods or methods of cooking/eating based on certain principles.
OPTIMAL HEALTH - THE LONG TERM VIEW
Ideally, we should be working towards optimal health for ourselves and our families. What about considerations like self esteemem, weight loss, and feeling sexy naked? Of course they're important! Optimal health is not just physiological, it is psychological and spiritual as well. So work on what gets you started, keep a nourishing and loving perspective, don't punish yourself, and be confident in yourself that you will achieve what you set your mind to.
WHAT ABOUT SHORT TERM GOALS?
Don't get me wrong - short term goals have great value. But not on their own - they are useful and necessary as stepping stones to the "long term you" - the person you see when you close your eyes. They're like checkpoints and rewards on the journey! So, this means that short term goals that are detrimental to health (ie starving yourself) are just stumbling blocks. Chuck 'em, and eat something for heaven's sake.
IS YOUR DIET WORKING FOR YOU?
So let's get down to it. You're about to start a new diet, and want to know that you have made the right choice for your body. What to do?
*Note: if you are already following a certain approach, just take your measures now, and compare to future data, as well as any information you may have from the past.
Ideally, prior to starting on a new path, you would do your research, get prepared, and set yourself up for success. With relation to today's topic, this means taking the time to do your assessments pre, during, and post (optional if you remain on the diet).
Usually tracking for a week prior to creating a big change will give you accurate values and information to move forward with, and then during the first few weeks - month you will want your assessments to be regular. Get yourself a notebook, or do it virtually, but just make sure you get a record started. Finally, after making any necessary tweaks based on that info, in future you would need to get back to assessing if any major life change occurs that could affect your physiological function (this could be a positive change like pregnancy, or something else like increased stress or an acute injury).
It's important that you track a few quantitative AND qualitative measures to ensure accuracy.
I will bold the measures in each category I feel are most relevant. For the quantitative, ensure you use body temp + pulse rate among your records, as weight/etc is not necessarily a good representation of metabolic function on its own.
1. Energy level (rate 1-10)
2. Mood (if in a relationship, talk to your partner and get them to help you track)
2. Sleep quality
3. Libido level (rate 1-10)
4. Recurrence of any symptoms that are chronic (ie digestive upset, stool consistency, constipation, UTIs, PMS symptoms, menopausal symptoms, colds, etc)
5. Muscle definition/other visible changes; "how you look and feel"
1. Body weight
2. Body fat percentage (if using a common bioimpedence scale, ensure you are aware of your hydration levels)
3. Body measurements (inches)
4. Skin clarity (take pre-post photos)
5. Full blood panel (track this with your healthcare professional)
6. Basal body temperature (Morning + afternoon - at least an hour away from a meal; be consistent with either measuring extremities or oral)
7. Pulse rate (Morning + afternoon - at least an hour away from a meal; be as consistent as you can with times)
8. Nerve and muscle reaction times and relaxation rates (thyroid specific; applicable if you are a movement practitioner or work with one)
Quick note on the importance of body temp and pulse rate measurements: these are generally a good indication of your basal metabolic rate - which we want to be "youthful". Both give insight on energy production and stress (which will usually depress your metabolic rate). Pretty much what you are looking for is a higher temperature and pulse, which will indicate increased ability to consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide. Keep in mind that some variations may occur with altitude.
As you can imagine, if you are under stress, experience shock, have a low metabolism, or even eat something that causes a stress reaction in your body, your pulse rate and body temp will be affected (a decrease). This makes body temp + pulse rate two of the best and easiest ways of assessing if specific foods are affecting your metabolism positively/negatively.
An exception to this typical decrease in body temp and pulse rate is shortly following ingestion of a food that you are allergic or sensitive to - in this case you could see an increase in both for the next few hours, however it is likely that the measures would show a marked decrease the following morning (barring a prolonged allergic reaction).
So leave the prejudices at the door, and listen to what your body has to tell you. You'll be pleasantly surprised!
Note: If you are concerned about your overall adrenaline production due to hypothyroidism or high stress, you can also take pulse rate before and after eating.
SO WHAT AM I LOOKING FOR?
When tracking all your chosen measurements, you are generally looking for the following:
- improvement in your qualitative measures (ie. better sleep, higher energy)
- improved libido!
- decrease or increase in body weight/body fat percentage/body measurements depending on your goals
- improvement or no negative change in your blood work (consult a healthcare professional)
- increase in basal metabolic rate = increase in body temp and pulse rate overall if you are eating well and managing stress effectively.
- decrease in basal metabolic rate = decrease in body temp and pulse rate if you ate foods that caused undue physiological stress the night before or if you are experiencing added environmental stress.
Adjust your diet accordingly, and use the changes to determine what works best for you.
MY DIET RATES WELL - BUT I STILL HAVE HEALTH CONCERNS
Nutrition is definitely not the be all and end all. Sometimes we need further support. I definitely encourage you to follow up with your conventional healthcare practitioners, as well as exploring naturopathic, homeopathic, herbal, and energetic routes (supervised by a licensed practitioner for safety).
... I wish you all healthy eating, and I hope this post was helpful!
Let me know if you have any questions or if there is something that you would like me to expand on. I will always do my best.
Note: Please remember that I am not a certified nutritionist (yet - almost!) or ND/MD and am not qualified to give medical or nutrition advice outside of my own knowledge base. Please use what I post as information, not professional advice, and always speak with your heathcare professionals when making dietary changes.