Thursday, January 2, 2014

How Lifestyle Affects Your Diet

Every now and then I have a thought that isn't super easy to describe, simply because it's not black and white: just because a diet is a good diet doesn't mean that it's the only healthy diet, and just because it worked for you doesn't mean it will work for everyone.

I've mentioned this before but it was only in passing, so I'll mention it again: I'm a big fan and proponent of the Weston A. Price/Nourishing Traditions dietary guidelines (you can look at them here), but I don't necessarily think they're perfect for everyone. I think the premise behind them (traditional, whole, real foods) is a good one for everybody to follow, and in a perfect world where health wasn't compromised for a million reasons and in a million ways, the WAP guidelines would probably be a great choice for most people. But the world isn't perfect, and health problems are myriad and varied, and in the end it really is the case that everybody has to find what works best for their own body.

So today I just wanted to address a series of factors that should be taken into account when trying to figure out your diet. (And by diet, I mean your food lifestyle, not a temporary weight loss experiment.) The thing is, that we get our dietary and nutritional information from sound bytes, commercials, and advertisements, and those sources are just not enough information to build an entire foodstyle on! Worse than that, most of what we learn is given to us from sources hoping to make money by selling us on their information, and that's hardly a trustworthy source. It's a problem!

Of course, most of us don't have the time- and probably not the inclination- to do the research ourselves. It's a big job, I'm not arguing that in the least, although I hope that bit by bit maybe the posts on this blog will help bring you enough information to help you make your decisions without reading miles of print. So as you slowly piece together what works for you, take the following factors into account:

Your Activity Level
Every now and then I actually see this referenced in relation to diet, but typically all I see about exercise is that we need to do more. That's probably true for the vast majority of America, but there's more to it. There's an entire spectrum of activity to look at when assessing your own situation, not just two categories. I think most of us would do better with more exercise, but I've also learned in a big way that there is a surprising amount of difference in how you feel when you're absolutely sedentary and when you just keep moving all day. And by moving all day, I don't mean on a walk, or at the gym, or hiking. I mean just going about your day without sitting down, but with no particular activity level. It's really shocking what a difference this makes, just keeping your blood moving. And you'll be happy to know that if you're a normal mom who does that kind of activity every day, if you get your quality of diet into line, you really shouldn't have too much of a problem with the weight issue. I'm constantly amazed at how steady my weight stays since I've added saturated fats (primarily butter) into the mix, no matter how my activity levels vary. And they're not super active, just for the record; my favorite hobby is books. You do the math.

But the point here is that if you're a typical person, you'll fall somewhere between the two extremes of "sedentary" and "addicted to the gym". And what that means, is that there's no specific calorie count to go by, and no specific diet that is right for everyone; you'll need to find this balance for yourself based on your own lifestyle. And do yourself a favor; don't count calories. It will make your life too complicated and frustrating to stick with, and it's too difficult to know what's actually a good number to aim for.

Your Location
This is one that drives me crazy. Remember the Mediterranean Diet craze? This one always comes to mind because it's specifically from a region that is different than most of America, and yet we insist on thinking they must have it all figured out, because lean meat! And olive oil!

Think about this. Not everybody lives in Freezingville like Kara and I do, but most of America lives in a climate that is less than tropical, which is where the Mediterranean Diet comes from. You know what happens in the Mediterranean? Sunshine. And heat. Their bodies don't need to burn calories to stay warm; they actively require a lighter diet to keep them cooler. But you know what life is like in Montana? It's cold. Like, twenty below zero cold. And you know what kind of food that requires? Fat, to keep warm. (Fat burns as straight energy/heat.) And protein, to support all that sidewalk snow shoveling.

Your Job
This is kind of a no brainer, but if you sit in an office all day in a climate controlled building, you might need more exercise and less food than someone out working on a roof or climbing electric poles for a living. This also ties a little bit into your Location, because if you never experience inclement weather due to living 24/7 in temperate buildings, then the Mediterranean diet might actually be a good foundational food philosophy for you to work from.

Your Genetic/Inherited Health Issues
Health issues can definitely be genetic, but the other half of that equation is that a lot of "genetic" health issues are no more than inherited lifestyles. If you eat the same way your parents ate, then you'll probably have similar issues which might look genetic (nature) rather than just lifestyle (nurture). At any rate, everybody's body has different weaknesses and issues to work with, and so that has to be taken into account as you fit together the pieces of your dietary philosophy.

Putting it All Together
Although this doesn't provide you with a meal plan of any sort, it might give you a bit of a starting point to think about for what goes into figuring out a successful food lifestyle. In a way it makes it sound more complicated, to have to incorporate all these factors, but I view it more as the first step to re-instating our common sense about food. It's really amazing how completely we've been trained to leave something so fundamental to "the experts", but with some practice we can get back to knowing what's best for us. This post is a good one to read if you'd like to learn a little bit more about what the foundation of a healthy diet looks like. In the end, I don't think one needs to follow any specific popular diet, but there are some basic tenets that are crucial for any dietary plan to address, and unfortunately a lot of diet books focus more on calorie counting or low-fat products and they completely ignore the factor of food quality. And make no mistake, that is not a small factor!

What this means is that we have to re-learn how to think about food, and unlearn all we've been taught, because for most of us, it just isn't working. How long do we flagellate ourselves for our food failures before we step back and think-- maybe we're not doing it wrong. Maybe what they've taught us to do just doesn't work! It's kind of a revolutionary thought to have about food.

I'd be very interested in knowing what each of you has discovered that works for you that doesn't fit into any specific dietary guidelines...please post in comments!

This post is part of the Simple SaturdayOld Fashioned FridayFarm BlogCatch A GlimpseHomeAcreBarn Hop, Thank Your Body, and Unprocessed Fridays blog hops.


  1. I've got this odd mix of tropical Mayan ancestry (and the propensity for diabetes) from my Mexican father, and a Northern European ancestry (and the propensity for cancer and autoimmune disease) from my English/Irish/Scotch mother. I find a paleo inspired, low carb, traditional European (with some Mexican influences - like chocolate and occasional beans or corn) works best for me. (Not that I'm always good at following that way of eating, but at least I've figured it out now!) . . . Chicken, beef, eggs, some cheese and yogurt, berries, leafy greens, fish and shellfish make up the majority of my diet. Sometimes I'll have citrus, squash, root veggies, chocolate, corn, black beans and nightshades like chiles and tomato. And, now I'm hungry . . . LOL!

    1. Food is just an endless experiment, isn't it? My Type A personality really resents that because I don't enjoy challenges, I just like things to be perfect NOW! But I'm slowly starting to accept the reality of things...sounds like you've got a lot figure out. :-)

  2. This is certainly food for thought - sorry about the pun. Thank you for sharing this at the HomeAcre Hop; I hope you'll join us again this Thursday.
    Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead

  3. Since you are very interested in diet, you might be interested in knowing a little something extra about diet and genetics. What you eat can affect your grandchildren...even if you never met them. Diet can affect the epigenome (the layer above the genome), and the epigenome is what controls which genes are expressed and which are not expressed. The epigenome is affected by methyl tags and acetyl tags, and it is the where nature meets nurture. Methyl tags wrap genes tightly around genes which prevents the information contained within from getting out - effectively turning a gene off. Diet can also affect acetyl tags, which loosen DNA from its hold on histones and makes the information contained in genes more accessible. The really interesting part of this is that you can pass epigenetic tags on to your children and grandchildren. So, an oversimplified example would be if Grandma Betty had a penchant for fried chicken and all that fried food changed her epigenome, which turned on a gene for a certain kind of cancer. Those changes are heritable. So, Grandma Betty's grandchildren might inherit a active gene thanks to Grandma's daily consumption of KFC. While most epigenetic tags are removed during the first few days of life in the womb, many are not, so your kids might inherit your good or bad epigenome, as well as you genes. Stress affects the epigenome in big ways, too. If grandparents stressed over a famine, then even their grandchildren died younger even if they didn't experience the same stress. And, yes, of course, men pass this along as well. Long story short - you are what you eat...and you are what your grandmother ate. Good choices in diet and lifestyle affect your children's health and their genetics. Hope that was interesting and not just a rambling comment :)

    1. Ha, no, not rambling! I've been intrigued by epi-genetics as well, although I haven't come across much in the way of books on it...too new yet, I suppose. Although I'm sure there's lots in the journals you guys read. And obviously it's a pretty in depth subject to even attempt to do justice to in a blog post. :-)