Happy New Year!
How time flies!! My first post was published on 28th Jan last year. I did manage to publish 13 really long fundas last year which, to be honest, I never thought I would manage when I started. However, I feel I could have written more. I mean, I have some 20 –odd drafts in the pipeline so my conversion rate from draft-to-final could have been better.
I know reading lengthy- sciencey posts is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the subject I am dealing with requires this and it also helps me document all the information in detail. Maybe in future it makes sense to pick out snippets from previous posts, without going into details, and re-post as a refresher guide.
When I started, I thought I was convinced about a few things which, in my view, regulate the basic functionalities of our body, our metabolism, our usage of food to produce energy (which is the basis of our survival). Even then, I wanted to see if, after one year and reading a zillion more findings and research documents, my line of thinking would alter. On the contrary, more and more findings point to the same direction. The food we eat, the environment we live in and our lifestyle determine how our body adapts to keep us healthy, alive and breathing.
Personally, I had an amazing year. I haven’t popped a pill in the last 16 months (zilch!), the seasonal bugs didn’t bother me, I was in extreme temperatures – played golf in 46 deg Celsius and scraped ice in -10 deg. My body seems to adjust easily to it. I am not too concerned when my colleague is sniffing and coughing away because I believe my immune system will deal with it. I have more energy to do things than I ever had since, probably, my 20’s.
It’s been more than a year now since we have been buying all our groceries from the local farmers market on Saturday mornings, which means eating mostly seasonal stuff. The kids love to accompany me to the market. They get their fare share of freebies from the farmers – a carrot here, an orange there. This winter, food was (and still is) mostly root vegetables, lot of stews, fair amount of meat and eggs, and good dollops of ghee to go with the Indian stuff. Lots of olive oil with other stuff. We cooked like crazy and our 18 month old kitchen looks well used already. Very rarely did we end up buying food stuff from supermarkets.
Among the few hardcore followers that I have, all are totally ‘begeistert’ with the results. That makes this all worth the effort. Even if it changes one person’s life for the better, it is absolutely worth it.
I talked about a few things last year:
- Importance of ancestral diets – not
generalcommercialized versions of ancestral diets like Paleo or Caveman or any other popular version, but YOUR ancestral diet. The diet which your grandparents, your great-grandparents, your ‘gharana’ has been eating for generations. The food that talks to your genes. You are genetically adapted for that food. There is no universal ‘one size fits all’ solution. That’s why I strongly believe that raging about chia seeds or quinoa in India is nothing more than a party conversation. The Aztecs had their local ingredients and we have ours.The foodstuffs our ancestors consumed were highly adapted to the specific regions they lived in and each local society learned over hundreds of generations which plants and animals were associated with providing vitality for or bringing sickness to the clan.
- Trashing the ‘conventional wisdom’ – What experts call ‘conventional wisdom’ today should more appropriately be called ‘current dogma’. Conventional wisdom was always what our grandmothers told us when we were growing up. ‘Current dogma’ is what is being promoted by the industry as ‘healthy food’. ‘Current dogma’ focuses on calories and ‘blame-the-victim’. If you are fat, you either eat too much or are a lazy sloth (nothing could be further from the truth).
- Pill-pushing pharma and the medical community – the system is designed to make money for those in-charge of your health at your expenses using fear-mongering. If you think Pharma cares about your health, you shouldn’t be out in the real world. Find a cocoon to dive into. The graphic below will give you some sense of what is going on.
- In the kitchen series, I spoke about fantastic fats and the myths of breakfast.
- Recall from the ‘Life is Energy’series that we’re thinking about the human body as a hybrid car. It’s not a perfect comparison, but it’s suiting us fairly well so far. We did a little bit of math and determined that, gram for gram, molecule for molecule, fats seem like a more efficient fuel than carbohydrates. We talked about how the body “runs on” different types of fuel, and we went right to the gas tank, to see what kind of fuel the body stores the most of—that is, which fuel the gas tank seems to prefer to hold in reserve. Here again, it seems like fat rules. (Remember the chart that showed the human body doesn’t keep a lot of carbohydrate on hand, but it’ll tuck away fat endlessly). We have seen that some types of cells can’t use fats for fuel? And that some don’t do so well on glucose? This is why, regardless of what type of food is coming in, the body is fueled by multiple kinds of fuel at all times. We have seen that some activities use predominantly glucose some fat.
Now let’s move on to the real deal.
Unlocking the fat stores:
How would it be if your hybrid car has 50 liters of petrol in the back seat and the tank is empty. You would be running on electric power only and that would not be too long lasting or powerful, would it? Your car has fuel, but it’s in the back seat!! What good is that when you are driving? What is the point in having your fuel source locked away where you can’t use it. We have seen that we have huge fuel source in our adipose tissues, but most of us are not able to use it. Most of us rely on the quick, short-haul, not-so efficient source of fuel from carbs, the fuel we need to top-up every now and then. (That’s snacking and eating every 2 hours!!)
Fueling the human body is not a binary system: one or zero; yes or no; on or off; fats or carbs. Like any good integrated system of systems, the human body has multiple redundancies, checks and balances, and fail safes, all designed to prevent single points of failure. These backups and overlaps ensure that pretty much regardless of what we put down our throat, our bodies can get the fuel they need. (For the most part, that is, and in the short term. This is not true for the longer term. Eventually, deficiencies will appear if we’re not sufficiently nourished). This is exactly why, in the long term, when we compromise on the food and the lifestyle, most of us evolve from being fat-torching skinny bundles of endless energy in our childhood years to this sugar-burning fatigued, fat storing, lazy lumps by the time we reach our 40’s.
Why does our body switch so drastically from being a cool fat burning machine to this mean fat storing blob?
The human body is rarely absolute about anything. There are metabolic and biochemical pathways, and for the most part, where one pathway predominates, another is limited. (Not shut off entirely, just limited.) Where one thing is stimulated, another is inhibited. (Usually because of scary things like enzymes, many of which counterbalance each other in stunningly orchestrated biochemical dances that no ballroom dance choreographer could ever hope to dream up. The body isn’t wasteful. It has redundancies and overlaps, but these are intended to protect us. To keep us alive. They’re there for a reason. Beyond that, the body isn’t going to waste energy simultaneously running processes that are antagonistic to each other. (For example: when you’re breaking down stored glycogen in order to release glucose into your bloodstream, you’re not also making glycogen for the purpose of storing glucose. That would be stupid,right? Same thing with fat: if your body is actively storing fat, it’s not simultaneously burning a whole lot of it.). That would be counter-productive, right? Like keeping the garden tap on and mopping up the water at the same time.
Even though our fuel usage system is not binary (either one or the other), and we use both glucose ( i.e carbs, sugar) and fats as fuel for energy, something controls and regulates which fuel we use predominantly. Something flips the switch for us over time, making us start storing fat more. It hits us suddenly when we struggle to get into our favourite pair of jeans.
From the ‘bindass'(carefree) days of our 20’s to this ‘beer belly, constant hunger yet no energy state’ of our 40’s, what happened? What flipped the switch?
IT IS OUR HORMONES!!!
Hormones control every single activity in our bodies and that includes our lipid (or fat) metabolism.
When doctors or nutritionists see someone with gigantism or acromegaly, is their first thought, “Clearly, that person just needs to grow less and shrink more”? No. Obviously not. Because it is clear—like, crystal clear, beyond-the-shadow-of-a-doubt, that these conditions result from hormonal irregularities.
People with gigantism or acromegaly aren’t abnormally tall or large because they want to be, or because they somehow willed themselves to be. They are at the mercy of hormones. Like I said, to anyone with half a brain, this is obvious. No one questions this. No one blames these individuals for needing custom-made clothing or other accommodations. No one says, “Well, if they had just not grown so much…if only they hadn’t let themselves get so tall, they wouldn’t be in this situation.” “They’d be fine if they were just less tall and more short.” No one says idiotic things like this because people understand that this is not within someone’s control.
So why, then, when it comes to the outward, rather than upward, expansion of the human body, does it all of a sudden become about willpower, discipline, and “calories?” Why is not more widely recognized that the horizontal growth of the body results from hormonal irregularities just as the vertical expansion does?
Why do so few people in the specialist community get this?
We know that certain medications are known to cause weight gain. Prednisone, for example, which is a synthetic steroid/synthetic cortisol. Why does it cause weight gain? It has no calories. If weight gain is the result of eating more calories than are expended, why does a pill with no calories cause weight gain? Why does natural cortisol cause weight gain?
Why should high cortisol cause weight gain? Cortisol has no calories. Why does chronic sleep debt contribute to weight gain? Insufficient sleep has no calories. Talk to someone whose thyroid is on the fritz and can’t lose weight no matter how hard they exercise and how tightly they manage their diet. Why should this be? Low thyroid hormones have no calories. What all of these things have in common is they change the hormonal balance of the body.
Hormones are powerful enough regulators of metabolic pathways that we can say, overall, you can be a “sugar burner” or a “fat burner.” Entire textbooks, books for laypeople, doctoral dissertations, magazine articles, and about a hundred gazillion blog posts have been written about what determines which one someone is.
I repeat: Hormones control every single activity in our bodies and that includes our lipid (or fat) metabolism.
Understanding the action of food we eat, our lifestyle and our environment on our hormones is the key to understanding why we are the way we are and what we can do to change for the better.
The hormonal interplay coming up next…..