The Skinny Daily Post™

Short, daily essays on weight loss and fitness
from a really average woman who lost 100 lbs.
and works every day to keep it off.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2003  

Pyramid Wars, Oy!

So you think you've seen professional dissonance in your career, in your industry, arena, field of study? Unless you're a nutritionist, baby, you ain't seen nothing.

Now I'm not a nutritionist, but I follow a bunch of nutritionists and nutritionally educated physicians. I've pored over the American Dietetic association's offerings, and those of other organizations and institutions whose job is to educate folks who are obese or have diabetes or need to get fit or all three. I've read enough to know that if you put all of these people in a room together, they would probably kill each other.

Many are supported and muffled by big food. Many have personal agendas. Many are seeking out a particular grail -- pushing off old age, finding the key to weight loss, looking for a solution to the epidemic that diabetes has become.

So they approach things from different angles, armed with partial answers, and conflicting test results. Nutritional science is in its early stages. Of course they disagree.

But they do tend to agree on one thing: The food pyramid currently being taught in American schools, just isn't right. It does not model the ideal human diet.

What they can't agree on, what they may never agree on, is a new model, at least not in the lifetimes of the people reading this post.

That is, babies, we are on our own.

Now I harp on this often and loudly, but I do believe that each of us has a metabolic code that is really quite individual. I wouldn't believe it so strongly if I didn't have a family of vastly different eaters, and if I hadn't experimented with my own diet to find what works to fuel my system best at different times. I wouldn't believe it so strongly if I didn't see my friends' freshly minted babies reacting so strongly in favor of and against such very different foods.

We have food sensitivities.

We have wildly different metabolic rates.

We have very different hormonal reactions to what we eat, breathe, encounter, and do.

Pyramids and food plans, percentages and schemes tried and tested by diet doctors and nutritionists serve a terrific purpose. They provide a model. Models help us learn things we didn't know before. They are useful as guidelines, but not every plan works for everybody. Or works for everybody at every stage of fitness or life. So, most often, we each must find what works best for us.

I happen to have a really slow metabolism. I am insulin resistant. If I eat the recommended percentages/proportions of carbs/fats/protein in the current food pyramid, I have to keep my calorie load down under 1100 calories a day to keep from gaining weight. And I suffer terribly from hunger pangs and cravings. (And yes, I work out hard several times a week and have quite low body fat for a girl.) I get to eat 300-500 more calories, feel lots better, and have no cravings at all if I maintain my lower-than-recommended carbs, higher than recommended protein, higher than recommended (non-saturated!) fat percentages.

My percentages and calorie limit and exercise needs look a lot different from my son-in-law's. They wouldn't work at all for a friend of mine who has no trouble at all with her blood sugar. Other people I know who are thinner than I am, flabbier, and work out less can consume many more calories per day without gaining weight. One friend of mine bloats terribly if she even thinks about wheat. Another is out of sorts for hours when she eats dairy. I can count on three days of recovery if I eat chocolate. Other people I know wouldn't get through their day without it.

Did you know there are nutritionists out there who wouldn't include chocolate in the food pyramid at all? No kidding.

So. Use models to learn new concepts. Models are the basis of human learning. But know when to throw the model out and map your own way. Take notes. Draw pictures. Read, read, read. This is why it's important to record what you eat. Writing it down gives you power. Reading gives you more power.

You are you. Let the experts maul one another in badly lit basement conference rooms. Until they come out of their caves with a new plan, go forth and learn, experiment, and monitor your own body. You'll soon know it well enough.

The best tools, once again, for this kind of self discovery? HealtheTech's BalanceLog is still my hands-down favorite. It allows you to set your own percentages and has a terrific food database for planning your own diet. The PDA version makes the most sense to me, because it stays with you, wherever you're eating. It's a very small cost for such great gain in knowledge.

Lots of friends use FitDay, for free, online. If you've got the bandwidth and the patience, go for it.

Please do follow these interesting links, especially to review Walter Willett's new food model.


Walter Willett's New Model
Food models around the world
Got headphones? Take the time: Talk of the Nation Science Friday, with our friends Marion Nestle and Walter Willett
Scientific American article, January 2003

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posted by Julie |
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