17 Azamat 165 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: Chameleon, “Close Your Eyes and Listen”
I’ve written a lot in recent years about weight issues. I have often taken a strong stand against prevailing attitudes about weight. My views have often been against the grain. I’ve spoken out against the over-hyped “war on obesity,” and how people often judge overweight people as merely lacking in self-discipline. I’ve suggested that doctors, dietitians and (especially) diet peddlers often don’t fully understand what causes people to gain and lose wieght. I’ve said that while there is such a thing as being unhealthily overweight, the threshold at which it becomes unhealthy is higher than what many doctors and the mainstream media think it is.
I wrote a lot about this from personal experience. A number of years ago, I started gaining significant amounts of weight. I couldn’t understand why. Even a girlfriend who I was living with at the time said that my weight gain didn’t make any sense to her.
Then one day, I noticed that I felt worse after eating wheat. I was beginning to suspect that I was developing an allergy to it, so I cut it out of my diet. Not only did I feel better, but, to my amazement, I began to lose lots of weight. I lost 30 pounds in three months and people began to ask me what my secret was.
I was a vegetarian at the time, so I substituted corn, rice and other grains for wheat. Over time, though, I began to grow sensitive to these things as well. As a result, my weight loss began to reverse itself, and I ended up gaining more weight than before. It was easy enough to avoid wheat, but avoiding other grains proved to be very difficult. Over the ensuing years, I tried many times to avoid various grains, but would end up giving up.
At one point I was convinced that a regular exercise regimen would make all the difference. So I got a membership at Bally’s Health Club at the beginning of 2001. I did 60-90 minute workouts three times a week, alternating between cardio and resistance exercises. By the end of 2001, I realized that I’d gained twenty more pounds. Clearly there were other issues besides exercise that needed to be addressed.
In 2002, a friend of mine introduced me to what he referred to as the “only diet book that ever made sense.” The Metabolic Typing Diet by William Wolcott and Trish Fahey starts from the premise that everyone has different dietary needs, and as such, no one single eating regimen is right for everybody. This is common sense to most people, but this notion seems to have been lost on the mainstream media and the diet peddlers. In reading the book, it became clear that a high-protein, low-carbohydrate regimen would work best for my body type. But just as I was starting to do just that, a series of changes in my life hit all at once, as I ended up up losing my job, leaving my old career behind, and moving from Chicago to Madison and into a co-op house.
All the food that my co-op house purchases is vegetarian. Meat is allowed, but has to be purchased on ones own and isn’t served at meals. Invariably, wheat and grains were hard to avoid at these vegetarian meals. Also, I still wasn’t clear as to what I should avoid and what I shouldn’t.
At one point, I tried to request substitutes for certain grains and was met with resistance. One housemate put her face just inches from mine and said, “What the hell is going on here? Weight loss? Why don’t you just exercise more?” A number of housemates moved out that year, and those who moved in were less judgmental and more receptive to helping. But I still had a hard time finding an eating regimen that would work for me.
Last year, while I was surfing online, I came across a book called Going Against the Grain by Melissa Diane Smith. I had a strong positive feeling about this book and decided to order it. It gives scientific explanations for why grains can be harmful for people. It offered little quizzes to measure one’s sensitivity to grains and whether one should try a wheat-free, gluten-free, or grain-free diet. My tests indicated that I would likely do best with the grain-free diet. The book offered the most practical suggestions I had yet encountered as to how to implement such a diet.
I decided to start “going against the grain” on January 12th, the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. My mother died of ovarian cancer, but she struggled almost her entire life with weight issues, and her body type and mine were remarkably similar in many ways.
A month or two before I started the regimen, I almost returned a belt I’d just bought because it felt a bit too tight. Five months later, I’ve stopped wearing the belt because it no longer fits me. It’s too loose. I have lost over five inches from my waist—approximately one inch per month. Jeans that fit comfortably late last year now fall to the ground whenever I remove my belt–even if I don’t unbutton them. I haven’t been on a scale since February, so I don’t know how much I weigh, but the waist sizes are probably more significant anyway. More fundamentally, I have more energy. I feel five years younger than I did at the beginning of the year.
I know that in some corners of the fat acceptance movement, dieting is considered unacceptable. Certainly a lot of diets don’t work and many are downright harmful. In many people, excessive calorie restriction can wreck a body’s metabolism, and there are other diets that deprive people of needed nutrition.
I don’t see this as a diet, however. I see it as merely avoiding foods that are, in essence, poisonous to me. I will have to probably avoid grains for the rest of my life, unless my body needs change or I gain even deeper understandings about my body’s chemistry. There is something to be said for trying to understand what one’s body needs. Everyone’s needs are different. I was lucky in that it was relatively easy for me to identify the foods that were causing me problems. Furthermore, I don’t really feel like I’m making a sacrifice. I still indulge in more chocolate and potatoes than I perhaps should.
Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future performance. I still have a lot more weight I need to lose before returning to something approaching my normal weight. And a true measure of an eating plan is whether one can keep the pounds off for one, two, or five years. But I’m pleased with what I’ve been able to do so far.
My purpose in posting this is not to brag. What I really want to do is encourage people to pay attention to how they feel after eating certain foods, because that could give you the key to figuring out key health issues. It might be difficult to find the key to what your body needs and doesn’t need. I’ve tried for a dozen years, and it’s too early to say if I’ve succeeded or not, but I’ve certainly had more success this way than any other way. Just listen to your body instead of the mass media and diet peddlers. Your body knows more than they do.