Thursday, 12 June 2014

n=1 Experimentation

n=1 Experimentation

Claire - June 12, 2014 

In science, we talk about evidence-based research and often the studies involving the most number of subjects “n”, get the greatest kudos. But it’s not always that easy! As an individual, we need to determine what works for us and sometimes we don’t fit the “norm”. In every study, there are always the ‘outliers’, the one’s who just don’t fit the mould (and effectively get discarded from the study). Perhaps you are an outlier? Perhaps more like the ‘norm’? But you’ll never know if you don’t give something a go! Health, diet and wellbeing is one of the biggest minefields in this regard. We are not machines, robots or computers – we are far more complex than those things. You have to become your own greatest and most important experiment.

I think one of the biggest misunderstandings about health and wellbeing is the idea that there is one perfect way to eat that will cure all that ails you and put you into the “superhuman” health category. It is an idea that is often touted by raw foodists, paleo gurus, juice fasters, diet experts and weight loss companies. The selling of the next miracle diet is worth billions of dollars in Australia alone and yet as a nation, we are continuing to get unhealthier and fatter every year. So why is it that every one of these lifestyles and diets have poster children that they hold up as proof to being the shining light in our obesity epidemic, yet all are so different?

There is no “one size fits all” diet. There is no ultimate way to eat that trumps all the rest. We are more than what we eat. We can talk up macronutrient content, OCRAA scores, inflammatory index, calorie count and countless other ways to quantify the value of food, but it is almost all based speculative and often dubious science. That is not to say that all food advice is wrong, but the fact is it only gives us some of the picture. The human being is an incredibly complex creature and no two of us are the same. Why we are so different is more than what foods pass our lips.

The guts of the problem.

One of the reasons we respond differently to different foods is that we are not a single organism, but a complex ecosystem and the number of cells that are “us” is only about 10% of that ecosystem. The rest are bacteria and fungus as well as some viruses (which aren’t even cells). These inhabit our skin, mouth, GI tract and genitals and in most cases are imperative to our healthy existence.
The make up of this flora can be vastly different even among super-healthy people. Actually, we see much less variance of “flora” among the seriously unhealthy sectors of our community. It’s a delicate balance. Even high levels one single “healthy” strain will cause health issues, as will very low numbers of “bad” bacteria (E.coli is a perfect example – we actually need some E.coli in our bowels to be healthy). Each strain has different nutrition needs and alters the absorption of different nutrients form our food and into our bodies. As all of us tend to have gut populations as unique as our finger prints and as such our nutritional requirements vary wildly.

You are what you … believe.

The fact that there is such a thing as the placebo effect shows you how powerful our brains are when it comes to altering our body chemistry. This works not only for medications, but for diet, lifestyle, ethical and even spiritual choices. A good example of this is prescribing a full paleo or Western A. Price-type diet to an ethical vegetarian, someone who vehemently believes in animal rights and their right to live is as valid as ours. Even though chemically it might be the perfect diet for them and their gut flora, they would not get any healthier but rather, probably get sicker as a result. The stress hormones released every time they sat down to a meal would be sky high. This can alter both absorption into the blood stream and the way the cells themselves use the nutrients in the food and not in a good way. If you don’t believe that you are doing good to yourself with your diet, you probably aren’t.

How you eat and with whom can mean more that what you eat.

Do you sit down with the family of a night time, share a meal and discuss your day? Or do you plant yourself in front of the TV or computer with a bowl and a fork and tune out? Like our belief systems, what we are doing while we are eating has an effect on how we use that food. When eating is a pleasant bonding experience we produce amazing feel good hormones, like oxytocin and seretonin. These aid in the process of using the nutrients to build and repair rather than just being stored as excess fat. It even directs stores of ready-energy to be made in structural muscles rather than around our vital organs as life-endangering fat. Eating the most nutrient dense meal in the world while playing World of Warcraft or watching the news on TV maybe more detrimental to your health than eating takeaway with a couple of your best friends down at the park while you chat and laugh.

 Tips for trying a new way of eating:

There are a number of other factors that can influence how well your chosen way of eating works for you. The best way to find out what your body needs and responds to is to experiment with yourself. (n=1)

1.  Look at various lifestyle plans, read the philosophy/biochemistry behind them, ask yourself if any concepts sit congruently with your beliefs.
2.  Ask yourself if your beliefs around food, diet and eating are truly serving you.
3.  Be aware that not all initial symptoms are a sign of it being “not for you”, but could be a part of the healing process. (reducing Candia growth, for example, can leave you feeling like you have gastro for a few days as those little yeasty buggers die off!)
4.  Give your body time to adapt, very few people feel amazing straight away, it can take days, weeks and even months in some cases for changes to begin.
5.  Don’t be dogmatic, feel free to mix things up a bit, there is no diet that you need to stick to by the letter.
6.  Remember it is not always about what you eat, be mindful of how you feel and what you are doing when you eat.
7.  Finally, whichever eating plan you chose, make sure it is one high in actual food, not something that has been created in a lab.

Have fun experimenting.

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