I’m pretty excited about Robb Wolf’s new book, Wired to Eat, and have just released a podcast where he and I chat about lentils, blood sugar, and “why” (I’ll get to that later in the post, or you can listen to the show). Before I talk more about the book, I thought I’d give you a little context on why I’m such a huge advocate of it… (and if you’re not interested in my story, skip down to “The Basic Gist of the Book”)
I’ve always had blood sugar control issues. I think it goes back to being an undiagnosed Celiac as a kid, and constantly being hungry. I mean, I was starving ALL THE TIME. I could have eaten a full Thanksgiving dinner at any point during the day, and then some. I was really underweight as a kid, but always had a little belly. I also had a host of other issues like low muscle tone, hyper mobile joints, reading and attention problems, and had such low blood pressure that I’d sometimes randomly pass out.
My small town, egocentric pediatrician declared I had lactose intolerance, and so he told my mother to give me diluted soy formula instead of milk. My daily meals looked something like this: Frosted Flakes with soy milk and orange juice plus banana for breakfast, canned chicken noodle soup for lunch, and Hamburger Helper for dinner. Rarely did we have fresh vegetables or a “from scratch” meal. My mom worked, and thought that homemaking was not for “modern women,” so my kitchen was stocked with Hungry Man dinners (you know, the ones in the tin foil) and Ritz crackers, “cheese spread” and the occasional bag of frozen string beans.
During my 20’s, I went nearly vegetarian in college. I loved my deep fried tofu, lentils, and deep bowls of soba noodles. I never fully made it to completely plant-based, purely because my body craved meat so badly. My digestion was a wreck. It wasn’t until I was 26 that I found out I had Celiac disease. However, I didn’t actually trade my crappy diet in for a better one. I went from wheat toast, beer and pasta to gluten free toast, cookies, pizzas and lots of lentils. I did see an improvement in my digestion, but my blood sugar was still on a roller coaster. I was starving all the time still. I packed my purse, car, and office cubicle with gluten free granola bars and crackers. If I went more than 2 hours between eating, I’d start sweating and get tunnel vision. I was never overweight, but did have a little more belly fat than I wanted. My doctors would test my blood sugar and tell me I was fine, even though I knew something was really wrong.
When I was pregnant with my son (now age 13), I failed the screening for gestational diabetes. Instead of taking the “level 2” test, which included a fast and drinking obscene amounts of sugar, I asked instead to just go on the low carb diet and promised to test my blood sugar regularly. The dietitian told me to have no more than 30g of carbs at a meal. At the time, this was ridiculously hard to follow, but the thought of a 15lb baby was enough to motivate me to stick to it. (Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes tend to be much larger, and I was scared enough about labor as it was!) My husband on the other hand, can eat all the gluten and carbs he wants, maintains a super low blood sugar all the time, and always has six-pack abs. Some people are just born lucky. But he was super supportive and helped me count the carbs and cook. I think the idea of a huge baby also scared him!
Just the reduction down to less than 100g of carbs a day was enlightening, and really changed my energy levels. I didn’t gain too much weight during the pregnancy and my son was a healthy 8lbs, 6oz. Better yet, I felt so much better eating low carb that I continued to follow the diet and test my blood sugar for a full year after he was born. The poor guy has no baby book, because documenting each meal and blood sugar was all the recording I could handle. Oh well.
About a year after his birth, I was pregnant with my second child. My carb intake creeped up to about 150g per day. At about the same time, I had learned about the Weston A. Price Foundation. In case you’re not familiar with WAPF, they’re all about eating full fat foods, like butter and lard. At first, I thought it was nuts. How could butter be okay? Didn’t it cause heart disease? After doing some reading and attending a couple of “real food” conferences, I decided to give it a try. I passed the gestational diabetes screener with this pregnancy and was sold on eating a more nutrient-dense diet, complete with saturated fats like butter.
A few years passed and I found myself running a farmstand, fielding questions from customers like, “Why do you sell coconut oil and lard, I thought saturated fat was bad for you?” I really couldn’t answer them in a way that I was comfortable. “Because saturated fat is healthy, and has all the hydrogen bonds… er, um…” That’s about as far as I could go. All I knew was that it worked for me, and people had been eating these foods for a really long time without skyrocketing rates of diabetes and heart disease. So, I decided to attend the Nutritional Therapy Association’s practitioner program, hoping to find the answers. At the end of the program, I had to write a book report, so I picked the new hot release, The Paleo Solution, by Robb Wolf.
The book changed my life. It made perfect sense to me. The results: I could go from breakfast to lunch without a snack. I could even skip lunch and… I was OK! I’m not a super huge fan of sweet potatoes, so looking back, I actually went very low carb/ketogenic for my 30-day transformation. It worked wonders for me, and I wanted to help as many people as I could.
Fast forward to today, seven years later… I’m now a registered dietitian (longer story on how I did that here) with a busy clinical practice, plus I’m a writer and public speaker. I’ve helped so many people reset their metabolism, AND heal their guts with a paleo-type diet. I don’t always demand they do a 30-day reset from the get go – some people need baby steps, but the end goal for nearly all my clients is a 30-day paleo-type reset. After 30 days, we slowly reintroduce foods and see how it makes them feel.
I now have a whole new tool after reading Wired to Eat, Robb’s new book. It takes The Paleo Solution a step further. Instead of basing food choices on how you feel, you can collect actual data on yourself to see how different carbs work with your particular body. It can be easy to identify hypoglycemia, but not as easy to feel when you have high blood sugar. You may feel sleepy or foggy headed after a carb overload, but not everyone will notice it, and it’s easy to WANT a particular food so badly that you ignore how it makes you feel. For folks like me who are pretty carb sensitive, Robb’s systematic approach to carb testing is exactly what needs to be done. It’s also a fantastic tool for my clients because numbers don’t lie.
Here’s the basic gist of the book:
Our modern food environment is filled with junk that we really shouldn’t be eating. Many people are metabolically broken from highly processed foods. Because these foods (or food-like products) are hyper-palatable, it’s difficult to follow the “Everything in Moderation” advice that dominates the nutrition industry. On top of all of this, we’re not sleeping enough, not moving enough, and we lack community. What we really need to do is reject processed foods, reset our bodies, test foods, and find out what type and level of carbs works.
What I learned about myself was fascinating. Apparently, sweet potatoes are great for me. I registered an 81 two hours after eating one. (That’s good!) One cup of mashed red potatoes resulted in a bs reading of 113, but two slices of gluten free bread was a little higher, at 121 two hours later. A relatively small serving of polenta gave me a reading of 134, but my husband had the same serving PLUS a large bowl of ice cream and he was 81. Yeah, that made me a little mad. The guy can skip meals because he hardly gets hungry or he can eat huge amounts of carbs and always feels fine.
However a huge shocker was the one cup of French lentils (about 20g of net carbs) that gave me a blood sugar reading of 140! (That’s high!) I shared this with Robb (we talked about this more on my podcast). Even though Robb and I are similar in our genetics, carb tolerance and food sensitivities, lentils work great for his guts and his blood sugar, and apparently I need to avoid them. Good to know!
Different carbs spike people differently. In fact, this interesting paper tested folks on all sorts of carbs. Some spiked high with a banana but not a cookie, others had the opposite effect.
Here’s a short, well done video describing the study.
Now, since we all can’t have our biome analyzed and a personalized diet generated for us at this time, we can do the next best thing. Test ourselves. By beginning with the 30-day reset as prescribed in Wired to Eat, you’ll get yourself to a pretty healthy baseline, through a nutrient-dense diet. You’ll then systematically test yourself against different carbs during the 7-day Carb Test to see how you do. If bananas result in a soaring blood sugar, then you can make the decision to either cut them out completely, or reserve them for post workouts.
In my clinical practice, I’ve now been showing my clients how to test their own blood sugar. It’s not that scary! Once you’ve done it, you realize that it’s really no big deal. What you’ll learn is invaluable. Pick up a simple, inexpensive monitor like this one, and you’ll need the corresponding lancets and test strips (test strips are specific to the monitor, so make sure you get the right ones – they’ll show up in Amazon’s “frequently bought together”.) If you bought the one I linked to, here’s a tutorial video on how to use it. In Wired to Eat, Robb outlines exactly why and how you should be testing, and gives appropriate ranges so you can know whether or not you’re good to go with a particular carb choice. Ideal blood sugar range should be 95 – 115 two hours post meal. This means mashed potatoes are a go for me, but maybe not for you.
A word of warning – I have one current client who is testing herself and it’s been bumming her out. Carbs aren’t really working for her and she’s pretty upset about it. She works out a lot, eats really well, but it’s pretty clear that carbs aren’t her friend. She feels like she’s failing. I had to let her know that this isn’t her “fault” and instead to see it as a blessing. Having this knowledge means that she can avoid certain foods and maintain a healthy life. If she had no idea how the carbs were working in her body, then she could be headed for disaster. Believe me, there are people dealing with way worse situations than not being able to eat some polenta or oatmeal. So, if you discover that you too are not able to handle some of your favorite foods, be thankful that you have this warning instead of feeling sorry for yourself.
What’s Your Why?
Now, what you do with all of this information is up to you. I’ve had nutrition clients decide they’re never going to eat ___ food again, because it’s just not worth it. Others simply rebound back to their old ways of eating. What I’ve noticed about the folks that stick with it: they have a “why”- a reason not to die early of a condition that could be within their control if they simply eat the right foods. To me, it’s just not worth it to feel horrible, to have the shakes between meals, and long term, I want to see my kids have kids. I also feel like I have a lot to say and not much more time to say it. I have a strong “why”. Food isn’t my friend. It’s not my comfort. I don’t dive into a pizza or cake because I’ve had a bad day… I know this is outside the scope of a simple blog post, and probably deserves it’s own book, but seriously, ask yourself what’s the reason you have for long term health. In the beginning, you may need to remind yourself every day of your “why,” and consider whether cookies are more important to you than your “why”. But in time, eating well and taking care of yourself will just become a habit.
Here’s a great testimonial from a nutrition client of mine who effectively reversed his type 2 diabetes by following the method described in Robb’s book. He succeeded because he saw results (data), felt better, and because he has a great “why”.
So, go out and get the book, do your homework, find out which foods work for you, and stick with it. If you need help, I’m available to coach you through it. And if you find yourself slipping up, ask yourself what your “why” is.