My personal nutrition journey
Back 2 years ago, before becoming a Health Coach, I read Christine Cronau’s book The Fat Revolution. Having believed up until that point that fat was essentially the worst thing for your body (read: it made you fat), this book really did revolutionise my world. I started eating lots of butter, coconut oil, meat fat, and switched to high-fat dairy. I had never eaten margarine, but I took all the canola oil out of my pantry and fried in lard instead. This is called the Low Carb High Fat diet, and trains your body to use fat for fuel instead of glucose (carbohydrates are simply long-chain glucose molecules).
I believe I had been fat-starving my body for years. Our brain needs a lot of fat to run, and research is suggesting that brain diseases such as Alzheimers may be, in part, a result of eating low-fat diets for so long. My nails and hair grew stronger, because they are the last in the body to receive nutrients, and fat carries a lot of goodness. Although I felt healthier, I wasn’t losing weight on this diet, so looked for something that was a little more.... extreme.
I tried ketosis...
I came across about the ketogenic diet through Maria Emmerich, who recommends cutting almost all carbohydrates from your diet (the allowance is around 20grams a day). I lost weight but it was so so hard to stick to this way of eating. I was consuming hardly any veggies, my meals consisted mainly of meat and fat, avocados and coconut oil. I lost my will to eat (very strange for me!) because everything I ate was over 50% pure fat and sometimes it made me feel sick to think about an omelette fried in coconut oil, drizzled with more coconut oil, washed down with a coffee blended with coconut oil and butter.
Then comfort food...
After trying the ketogenic diet and deciding I couldn't stick to it anymore, I started eating a LOT of carbohydrates, mainly because they had been off limits and the “baddies” of the ketogenic diet. This lasted for around 9 months - I was also going through some personal challenges so I used food as a crutch, and what is more comforting than carbohydrates, bad fat and sugar combined? Enter fries, croissants, pies... The irony is that eating food like that made me feel good for 30 seconds, but as soon as it was in my stomach I felt lethargic, sleepy and unenthusiastic about life.
Meanwhile I was reading articles about how by eating meat, you are eating all the emotions and suffering of that animal (if they were factory farmed, or slaughtered inhumanely, etc). It made me feel sick to my stomach, but I couldn’t really imagine a life without meat. I had tried a vegan diet for a few weeks a couple of years ago, and my main complaint was that I was constantly hungry. I would eat a massive bunch of salad leaves and 20 minutes later would be ravenous.
A few months ago I stumbled upon the Alkalinity diet via Maria Browning, who I knew of through Zumba training and met personally with her emotional fitness programme, Happy Beyond Fit. I had seen her results and was intrigued, plus I was really ready for a cleanse after eating unconsciously for many months.
What is the Alkalinity diet?
The basic premise is that we are born at a pH of 7.4, which is slightly alkaline (ph7 is neutral. Lower is more acidic, higher is more alkaline). We consume acid-forming foods and beverages like coca cola, beer, wine, coffee, processed grains, dairy and meat, and our body becomes more acidic. The theory says this is where a lot of disease is formed, from an acidic body. So to get back to an alkaline balance, we need to eat alkalinising foods and drink alkaline water.
I bought a water alkalinising jug, and love the texture and taste of the water that it produces. I based my diet on veges, both raw and cooked, alkaline fruits, and nuts, plus some quinoa. I cut out coffee which was my main vice - I’m not a huge alcohol drinker so that wasn’t a problem.
On the first day I had a massive headache - I think it was coffee withdrawals combined with all those scones coming back to bite me! After a big day at work I curled up on the couch in a cold sweat and fell asleep. From there on out I started feeling better. With my knowledge of healthy fat I made sure I included enough to keep me satisfied in the form of avocado and some coconut, plus olive oil. The best part was meal prep - I just cooked up a big batch of veggies at night and saved some for my lunch the next day. That cut my costs of eating out and made mornings very fast - I had a smoothie for breakfast, just fruits and veggies, and then a veggie salad for lunch and dinner.
This is what I noticed from ten days of this experiment:
Full disclosure: I also ate Lindt 85% cocoa dark chocolate. And I had a couple of almond milk coffees (homemade almond milk made with alkaline water). I included these two acidic foods because I like them so much, and cutting them out completely would’ve made this way of eating unsustainable.
I did lose weight, because my pants fit looser, but I don’t weigh myself so I couldn’t tell you how much. Also, weight is no longer my measure of health - nowadays i measure health in how much energy I feel, how my skin looks, and how easily tired I get.
On the tenth day I went out with some work colleagues and ate at a really beautiful restaurant. I had fish (which is more alkaline than other meat), a corn fritter and fresh tomato salsa, and a couple of bites of the brownie they served for dessert. I immediately felt nauseous, sleepy and headachy.
The part I most love about cleanses or detoxes is that once you get “clean”, your body’s signals about what is good for you are extremely clear. There was ice cream and crème fraîche served with the brownie but I had absolutely no desire to touch it - I actually felt sick at the thought of it. I had suspected that dairy didn’t agree with me for a while, but in that moment it became crystal clear that I don’t need dairy at all.
I came to this conclusion: If you want to lose weight, if that is your primary goal, almost any diet will work. Whether you go ketogenic, vegan, high protein, whatever, you are usually clearing nutrient-poor foods out, which will help your body release extra weight easily.
But if you want to be healthy (which is my primary goal), I wouldn’t recommend cutting out one macronutrient (of which there are 3: protein, carbohydrates and fat) completely. Your body will start craving whatever you don’t give it, and will nearly always result in a binge, or a “falling off the wagon”. I eat way more carbohydrates than I used to (I thought that bananas, mangoes, sweet potatoes were the enemy) and feel much better than when I was eating a lot of fat and losing a lot of weight.
Also, it comes down to self love - I approached the alkalinity diet as an experiment, not a regimen. When I had a coffee or some chocolate, I didn’t berate myself or feel like a failure, I just reminded myself I’m aiming for progress, not perfection.
When you approach your health with an inquisitive mind, rather than a dictator-like list of "good" and "bad" foods, you allow your body to tell YOU how to eat.
Also: what works for me may not work for you. Some people handle dairy better than others, some people feel great when they eat lots of red meat. I think the future of health care is not a blanket policy, but encouraging each individual to experiment to find their own bespoke way of eating that is healthful, energy-giving, and happiness inducing.
Attached is an alkaline-acid food chart if you feel like experimenting yourself :)
I'd love to read in the comments what foods make you feel best!