A Box of Real Food

What to do next when your body still has a strong tendency to store significant amounts of belly fat? This question was put to me twice this week on behalf of two different people. Both eat a nourishing diet rich in whole foods. One runs marathons. And yet…

I don’t have a definite answer for my friends. I do have a suggestion but, first, let’s talk about food, real food.

In my imagination, there is a box. It’s a huge box, and on the outside, in big, bold letters in black permanent marker, it says REAL FOOD. Inside that box you can find nuts, seeds, grains, eggs from birds and fish (caviar), meats of all kinds, every type of poultry, fish of all varieties, dairy products from every animal on Earth, the huge range of fruits and vegetables, including olives and avocados, beans (legumes, pulses), herbs and spices. And that’s about it.

Everything inside that box is food, and everything outside that box is not. Like maltodextrin, sugar, artificial sweeteners, “vegetable” oil, Crisco, froot rollups, hot pockets and cotton seeds.

Some people look through that box of real food, and then decide to try a diet consisting ONLY of vegetables, beans, fruits and whole grains. They discover that they feel fantastic when they eat this way and decide to stick with it. Other people decide to eat a diet consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry and fish. Still others decide they will eat only items that can be eaten raw, in their uncooked state. Some people decide to eat only those animal-based products that can be gotten without slaughtering the animal; we call these people ovolactovegetarians because they add eggs and milk to a diet that would otherwise be considered vegan. Some people add fish to this diet (pescatarians), but not meat or poultry. 

Some people would eat dairy, except that it upsets their tummy or their skin so they avoid it; and some of these individuals discover that they can tolerate goat milk just fine, but not cow milk. Some people have unusual — seemingly random — allergies, like to horseradish or caviar or oranges. Other people get an upset stomach when they eat beef or lamb, but they can enjoy poultry without incident. Some people are allergic to eggs, and others to pineapple. Or all nuts, or just peanuts. Some get a headache when they drink wine or eat broccoli, and some cannot abide the texture of carrots. Some people cannot tolerate the specific grains that contain gluten, and others get sick no matter which grains they eat. There are those who choose not to eat beef, pork, shellfish, eggplant, onions, or garlic, some for cultural or religious reasons. And I would be remiss if I did not mention those folks who are game to try anything and everything. All these people are not theoretical, by the way; I could name each and every one of the individuals who have told me about these experiences. I myself once ate some “bad” chocolate, after which I swore off it for many years. Lucky for me it wasn’t a permanent situation.

In other words, it’s highly personal.

Some of my professional colleagues swear by the Paleo diet. Others are strong proponents of a vegan diet. They each believe the other is dead wrong. The way I think about, recalling that box of REAL FOOD I mentioned above, there is room here for everyone. I suspect that my Paleo colleagues’ metabolisms work best when they are eating the way they have discovered for nourishing themselves, and that, likewise, my vegan colleagues’ metabolisms thrive with the diet they choose to eat. They have all done the hardest thing of all, which is to figure out what works best for them.

So, getting back to my friends whose bodies tend to store large amounts of belly fat, they may want to see what happens if they cut all the dairy from their diet. Just for two weeks — because IF this turns out to be the solution their pants will fit better and they will know they are on the right track. And if that doesn’t work, or if they’ve already done that, it would be reasonable to stop eating ALL grains (including rice, corn, wheat, and so on) for two weeks, and see if that provides the solution. 

Despite how this looks, I am not a fan of reducing your dietary options unless you’ve already tried everything else. So I recommend not discontinuing yogurt, but rather switching to a different type (like coconut milk yogurt, for example) if yogurt is an important part of your diet. It’s just for two weeks, after all. And if you discover that you don’t care for coconut milk you could try almond milk or soy milk yogurt.

If you’ve decided to try avoiding grain you can still eat some white potatoes, purple potatoes, sweet potatoes. Organic, please. You could try baking with chickpea flour or almond meal. There are more options now than ever before. If two weeks go by and you’re still not sure if it’s helping, keep it going for one more week. After that you should have a general sense of whether you’re on the right track.

Remember that there is a box. It contains all the food on this planet. However you choose to nourish yourself, I strongly recommend that you sharply limit manufactured calories. I consider sugar and white flour to be not food but, rather, entertainment. Mark Hyman calls sugar a recreational drug. The less you eat of that stuff, the better.

As Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” I would say that if you’re still hungry, load up your plate with more vegetables, especially greens. And see how that works.

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