Updated: Jan 11, 2020
Often, people who think they are on the healthiest possible diet are still suffering from severe symptoms.
Their diet initially gave some symptom relief but after a time, they started to feel worse, so they feel that they are implementing it wrong or not being strict enough.
Some of this is a function of clever marketing by health companies who are very convincing in giving you a simple solution for your symptoms.
However, there is also another element to this - patients usually have an acute understanding of their body and a keen intuition as to the cause of their symptoms.
Most likely, they are right, and their diet is crucial to their health - but there are a few areas where they are inadvertently sabotaging themselves.
Consequences of a Strict Diet
Let's take a strict diet like paleo or keto (high protein, high fat, very low carbohydrate) which claims to heal autoimmune disease, adrenal fatigue, and insulin resistance (among others).
In the short term, the person can feel great - their symptoms are subsiding, their energy is returning, and they feel like themselves again.
The conclusion they come to is that the diet must be healing them. After about six weeks they start feeling worse, and symptoms begin returning.
They assume that their adherence to their diet is the problem since it was the ‘cure’ just a few weeks ago. They redouble their efforts. And they continue to get worse.
I see this happen very often. Diets - like other interventions - do not just do ‘one thing’ in the body.
You are drastically shifting the nutrients you are getting when you eliminate large amounts of foods, and you cannot always foresee what complications those deficiencies can have in the long term.
When adhering to a diet like paleo or keto - you are consuming high amounts of some foods (like fats and proteins) and eliminating other foods (large amounts of veggies and sometimes almost all fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds).
Genes and Nutrition
That patient described above may not genetically process proteins or fats very well. The source of fuel that they can utilize best may be carbohydrates. The genetic component to diet and nutrition can be one of many reasons why some people thrive with some diets and not with others.
Cutting out or reducing carbohydrates to a very low level can result in an initially great feeling for our example patient. This is from the surges of adrenaline being released to keep your blood sugar stable; essentially you are living off of adrenaline.
For some, their adrenaline 'stores' are low already. After a few weeks, this low level of carbohydrates can cause a patient to 'crash,' to develop blood sugar regulation issues and to feel much worse than before.
When you cut out carbohydrates you also usually cut out a significant amount of soluble fiber. Fiber is not only vital for proper digestion; it plays a crucial role in blood sugar regulation, supports metabolic function, strengthens gut flora, and lays the foundation for detoxification in the body.
Unfortunately, many people continue to redouble their efforts to restrict carbohydrates regardless of what their body is telling them.
How Your Diet Makes You Feel
Your diet causes thousands of cascading reactions within your body, just because you feel good initially does not necessarily mean that your diet is sustainable over an extended period.
This why you must assess your health status and goals continually to determine what your body needs. If your 'perfect diet' causes you to feel nauseous, have headaches, or does not give you enough energy to get through your day - it's not the diet for you.
"I've Started A Healthy Diet - And I Feel Sick!"
If a person eating junk food and high amounts of processed sugar and caffeine were to suddenly shift to a whole foods/plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats - that person can initially feel horrible.
Just because you have an adverse reaction does not mean that your diet is not suitable for you. It simply means that there is more going on, you could be detoxing or getting used to utilizing different kinds of fuel for energy.
The same goes for any diet; paleo or keto are not ‘bad’ diets necessarily - in fact, when replacing a typical American diet it is incredibly healthy for many people.
I argue against the universal application of ‘one diet for all,’ we are all so different in the way we process and utilize food, our optimal diet should take into account our genes, our nutritional needs, and how much we move.
The most important component of your diet is the one most often ignored - how it makes you feel. If you are on a diet and after weeks or months your symptoms have returned, or you still feel awful every time you eat, then something needs to be changed!
Health Is More Than Just A Good Diet
It is important to note that not just your diet, but your lifestyle, genetic history, medical condition, and health status must all be taken into account when optimizing your health.
While your diet is an essential tool - it is not everything.
Putting all of your eggs in the 'this diet will cure everything' basket is tempting to do but for many, it will yield unsatisfactory results because there is more going on than what an optimal diet can address.
Take persistent digestive problems or an autoimmune condition, for example, a personalized diet will lay an excellent foundation for healing but in many cases, an underlying imbalance - an infection, toxin accumulation, or hormonal imbalance - must be adequately addressed for healing to occur.
It is why many people initially feel great with a condition-specific diet - while it may get rid of symptoms, it does not allow you to venture off that diet. To get rid of symptoms for good you must address the underlying cause of your symptoms or condition.
Personalizing Your Diet
No diet suits everyone’s needs. Your seemingly ‘healthy diet’ may not be the best nutrition regimen for you.
If you are not experiencing the health benefits you were expecting, it may be time for you look into other factors hindering your recovery.
Many times, embracing pragmatism is what is needed to achieve your optimal health.
If you would like to speak to me to ask questions about functional medicine, diet or how I can help you, please schedule a Free 15 Minute Consultation or call or text my office at 913-728-5291.
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