Finding Some Middle Ground Amidst Extremes in Health and Wellness.
It seems there is one after another trend or “health finding” that is all the wellness community can buzz about every few months. It is confusing for us health practitioners, let alone the lay people! Facebook and social media are buzzing with this new superfood, that collagen protein or bone broth, this cleanse, or that fat burning supplement or workout. Many people seeking health, especially through holistic pathways, grab onto these trends, supplements, workouts and diets. What we don’t often realize is many are misleading, extreme and further throw the body out of balance. Can some of these holistic health trends make you feel better? Absolutely, primarily because you are creating change with awareness and sometimes accountability. Are many of these trends superfluous, or unnecessary for good health? Absolutely, mainly because they can be taxing to the wallet, body and time. The question is, do we need the extremes, or is there a more reasonable, middle ground way to reach health and longevity?
The things I look for in health findings, products along with nutrition and fitness regimes are: what do the credible research sources say about it? Are findings well substantiated? How sustainable and reasonable is it to implement in lifestyle? What are the cost/ risk/ benefits to body and health? Can better health be attained without it? My general rule is that extremes do not work long term because, 1) they throw the body further out of balance vs. bringing back to balance, and 2) they are not realistic to maintain and can create stress and guilt if it is pushed on a person just seeking improved health. Extreme diets, supplementation and treatments can help specific, highly vulnerable populations, but are unnecessary, in my mind, for the general population.
Here are some extreme trends and research derived thoughts about them.
1) Gluten Free, Grain Free or Paleo diets.
The problem with this trend is people are often eliminating whole grains that are known to be beneficial to the body, brain and health with fiber, B vitamins, zinc, protein and magnesium. A recent research article by Harvard looked at the effects of a Gluten Free diet on cardiovascular health to non-celiac disease people. The recommendation from this is that people who DO NOT have celiac disease should not observe a strict Gluten Free diet. I feel the effects of bread, pasta and processed wheat on my body. I avoid these foods for the most part, but make sure I eat plenty of whole grains, sprouted grain bread, quinoa, oats, brown rice, millet, spelt and even occasional Faro and barley, both contain gluten. I soak these for 10-30 minutes before cooking and buy non GMO grain. I am a proponent of as much variety as possible in diet to keep diet balanced, appealing and enjoyable. My suggestion is to avoid processed wheat and grain products and stick to as close to earth as possible. “If it came from a plant, EAT it. If it was made in a plant, DON’T eat it!” – Micheal Pollen
2) Bone broth, collagen protein or probiotic supplements for better gut micro biome
The research is pretty conclusive that the healthy flora or bacteria in our gut are key factors in mental and physical health. We get our first healthy bacteria as newborns as we move through the birth canal, then through breast milk. Unfortunately, children born via c- section (like mine), or infants not ever breast fed, are low on healthy micro biome. Have no fear, research has shown that we can boost and improve our micro biome in our gut with high fiber, earth exposed foods like vegetables, grains and fruits. Letting your kids get dirty, play in the dirt outside and easing off the hand sanitizer obsession can help as well. Research supports plant based proteins having a more positive affect on good gut bacteria than animal based foods. So, do you need to sip bone broth daily to improve your gut health? Research says… NO. Eat lots of pre and probiotic foods like carrots, jeruselum artichoke, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kefir, as well as plenty of fiber rich foods. Research supports bone broth, or broth made using whole chicken, bones and all, along with vegetables added can have overall health benefits, and is often used for overall health if ill in Chinese Medicine. So… don’t stress, eat your veggies, maybe make smoothies with Kefir, avoid antibiotics as much as possible (if you must take them, take a good probiotic and eat fermented foods like Kefir and yogurt), and get outside, get dirty!
3) Cleanses, Fasting and Ketogenic diet.
Doing cleanses has become a trendy thing, usually done when someone feels off, or out of control with their eating or drinking. I offer spring and fall Mindful Eating Reset Cleanses to reset the body, clear out toxins and get back to clean eating. The key, for me, is eating real, whole food and removing sugar, wheat, alcohol etc. from diet for set amount of time. Juice cleanses, or severely restricted food cleanses will often create rebound binging and cravings for carbohydrates and quick energy. Your body does not like starving or feeling deprived! It gets stressed. The NIH (National Institute on Health) cautions these juice and bowel cleanses, especially if using supplements. Fasting, or intermittent fasting, which means cutting daily calorie consumption down by 25% 1-2 days a week, has been shown in recent findings from the CALERIE (Comprehensive assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) study to promote health, improve effects of aging, improve cardiovascular health and diabetes. The Ketogenic diet, which is low carb, low-moderate protein and high fat diet has also been shown to help with some neurological disorders, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and even diabetes. This is a tough diet to follow, can lead to diarrhea and can be taxing on the liver and gallbladder. I have tried it and have suggested modified ketogenic diets for people with cognitive challenges, diabetes and pre- Alzheimer’s, as they are slightly less intense, easier to follow and not as harsh on the body ‘elimination’ system to start. This is an extreme diet, not for everyone! Working with a qualified, certified health practitioner is highly recommended if trying any of these.
4) Tabata, HIIT workouts, CrossFit and High mileage running.
I am a firm believer in exercise for health and wellbeing. I have always played sports, run, biked, swam and played hard. Unfortunately, as I get older, my body feels the effects of hard play and drive, sometimes ignoring the body’s whispers and signals that it doesn’t feel good or is too much. In past blogs, I have touched on over-use exercise and exercise anorexia… compulsive, driving need to workout hard daily to keep weight off. I offer Tabata and High Intensity Interval (HIIT) training classes as I believe them to be the greatest total body, fat burning, cardio stimulating workout in an efficient block of 20-30 minutes. What I have learned through research and experience is too much HIIT (more than 2-3 days/week regularly) can overtax the body and create stress in the joints. The same can be said for CrossFit and high mileage cardio. If you are young, upper teens to 30’s, you may be able to handle intense workouts daily. Your body may pay later though. What we need to think about is WHY are we working out hard? Is it to prove something, chase the fountain of youth, or be thin and look ripped? Or, are we wanting to maintain functional fitness, be strong, agile, maintain weight or lose some weight, be heart healthy and mentally healthy? If the later is true, especially age 40+, listen to your body. Alternate HIIT and steady cardio and maybe add in some yoga for stretch and body- breath connection.
5) Pill popping… chemical medication or food based supplement.
In a recent interview about health and wellness, I was asked what I though people outside of America may see when looking at our society regarding health. My response was they would see a society of extremes, with some confused, lost and frustrated people in the middle. These extremes were the unhealthy, gluttonous and unaccountable chronic medical patients who are on a plethora of medications on one end of the spectrum. On the other end are the natural health seekers who are often anxious and often fear driven, eat very restricted diets, exercise a lot, follow extreme holistic health trends and pop a plethora of ‘natural’ supplements, or whole food supplements, superfood capsules or smoothies, and cleanse regularly… either with fasts, colonics, or juicing. I believe true health and lasting health practices lie somewhere in the middle. Pills of both the chemical/ medication form and the whole food based nutrition capsules such as Juice Plus, Standard Process and Medi Herb can help to bring the body back in balance. My goal in treating myself or others is to help the body heal from stressors, come back into balance while educating about what the body needs to stay in balance. The pills I support are not over the counter synthetic supplements the body does not know what to do with, but food based, well researched, bioavailable and sustainable nutrition support, or short term medication used carefully planned, with a concentrated approach vs. symptom management. Once the body is back in balance, good, clean whole foods, mindful living, exercise and connection to self and others will, ideally, maintain the homeostasis and better health and wellbeing.
We are all intuitive being that, once we truly connect to ourselves, our bodies, minds and spirits as well as why we do what we do, we will find what we need, maybe who we need support from in order to find realistic, sustainable and balanced health. There is no need for extremes for the average person. Find your middle ground.