All blog posts from Dr. Allott are provided for educational and informational purposes only. As Dr. Allott is also a licensed medical practitioner, we must make it clear that nothing on the blog is intended to constitute medical advice, consultation, recommendation, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are concerned about your health, please seek appropriate care in your area.


Is this the Diet for Me? Is it for you?

Intention

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There is a lot of information on the internet and from our friends and family about new diets to try. There are systems such as weight watchers, Nutrisystem, and 30/10. There are diets that tend to be based on values: vegetarian, vegan, and paleo. There are also styles of diet, like the Mediterranean Diet and DASH; and there are diets based on convenience. Then we also factor in things like culture, economics, family traditions, personal preferences, personal health history, time in life, gender, exercise pattern and age. How do we know what is “right” for us?

So from the start, we can say that every diet is personal to the individual. What works for us when we’re 20 years old may not work for us when we have kids, a different job, or a change in where we live. “Diet” is not a box we stay in for life, it’s a dynamic choice that we make every day.

I want to start a discussion on how to know if your diet is working for you and if you make a change in your diet, how (and when) do you know that it’s a going to work for you.

One step that people often miss is considering their intention for your diet. It seems so obvious, but we actually use our diet for lots of things: to nourish our ourselves, for entertainment, to connect to family and friends, to drug ourselves in to a sugar coma, to manage our emotions, to celebrate. If we change our diet, we may be trying to change our intention about what our diet will do for us.

I believe the main goal of any diet, 80% of the time, should be nourishment, and to provide long-term and short-term health and mental clarity. Then, 20% is for celebration and connection. It’s natural to use food to manage our emotions - it works so well - but we should be working to diversify our options to self soothe.

What does it mean to have a diet that nourishes our bodies? It’s important to protect our power supply. This means that we need to meet our basic nutritional needs: Are we getting enough amino acid/protein, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and – importantly - is there diversity in what we’re eating?

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When we make changes to our diets, we should have a sense of how the nutrient content might also be changing, and how the body will respond to that change. Our bodies work hard to maintain homeostasis. If we cut our calories, the body’s natural response is to slow the metabolic rate. This is why quick weight loss diets fail: cutting significantly back on calories signals that there is famine (which means we need to hold on to our fat stores), and it also exposes our brains to stress hormones which makes us anxious, irritable or not present to our daily lives, particularly if we have a history of trauma.

Social Interactions

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Eating food together is an ancient way of interacting. Depending on our jobs, families, and economics, we have more or less ability to be in control of what we eat. When we are changing our diets, we need to consider the impact our new diet will have on our ability to engage in social events. We also need to understand and be prepared to advocate for our dietary needs. Another way of thinking about this is how we can be responsible for our own choices, so that other don’t have to guess at what we need. We also need to have clear plans in place to handle holidays and special events, so that we can still enjoy the social aspects without having our diets derailed.

Personal History

In my clinical office, I often work with individuals who have significant trauma histories in their childhoods. An amazing study on the impact of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) shows that individuals who have had a number of traumatic events in childhood are at risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. These disease risks can be lowered by our diet choices in adulthood. It’s helpful for individuals with trauma histories to have clear intentions for their diets. Restrictive diets rarely work, because the restrictions often get tangled up with feelings of being deprived. Instead, changing to a diet where they notice that they feel better (in their bodies and minds), and occasionally testing if a new routine is helpful, seems to be more effective because part of recovering from trauma is choice. Being forced - even by one’s own self - is just another trauma.

Shallow end, Deep end

Some people wade into pools from the shallow end and some just jump into the deep end. Generally, if you are going to jump all in to a radical diet change it is worth having some outside support, or a way of reflecting back an accurate picture of how the change in diet is affecting you.

What skills do you need to change your diet? How do you know if it’s working for you, and when should you check back in with yourself to be sure that it continues to meet your intentions? What if your needs or intentions change?

This will be the focus of September's Connectors Group webinar - register now to join the conversation.

Not Hungry in the Morning?

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You or someone you know may not be eating breakfast. "I’m just not hungry." Or you have breakfast when you get to work – 2 hours later. Just to be clear, breakfast is the meal that breaks the sleep fast, and your body expects to receive food within one hour of waking. 

Why would someone not be hungry in the morning? It’s not because you ate a big meal in the evening. I know when I have my Thanksgiving meal at noon; I am hungry again before bed. 

So why don’t you feel hungry when you wake up? If your glucose (brain fuel) level dropped too low while you were sleeping, your liver would have already received the signal to deliver a cocktail of hormones that tells the body to make fuel for the brain – and part of the cocktail is adrenaline. When adrenaline is in the system, we tend not to feel hungry. Historically, adrenaline signaled that someone or something was trying to hurt us and we should run; running and eating are not tightly wired together. 

Clinically, the short-term consequences of skipping breakfast happen about 8 hours later. You might be fatigued, and your lizard brain takes charge. This increases the likelihood that you will overeat, have more alcohol before or at dinner than planned, and have passive evenings.

What are the long-term consequences of skipping breakfast?  When we skip breakfast, we set up a cascade of stress hormones that are working to maintain our fuel supply. The most recent studies suggest that not eating breakfast causes:

  • increased calorie intake during the day,
  • Increased stress/inflammatory hormones, such as cortisol and insulin,
  • increased weight gain and adipose tissue/body fat,
  • increased cholesterol and blood pressure, and 
  • increased cardiovascular disease.

What to do about the fact that you just don’t feel hungry? Typically, a quarter cup of fruit juice or some other quick-acting sugar, such as a teaspoon of honey, will get your body to send the hunger signal within 20 minutes. Then, you can have breakfast. For the people who are not eating because they are jumping out of bed to go to work, try putting a protein shake in the refrigerator the night before so you can grab it on your way out in the morning. If you do this for about a week, you might find that your hunger signal kicks in more easily in the mornings. 

Do you skip breakfast? Try the experiment of starting your day with food that has protein (14-20 grams) + carbs + fiber + fat. This Shortcuts post has some ideas for breakfast. Observe the following changes:

  • less anxiety, irritation, and agitation in the mornings
  • more energy and mental clarity in the day
  • less overdoing intake of sugar, alcohol, or snacking 8 hours after waking
  • better sleep 
  • increased ability to participate in after-work activities that are important to you. 

Tell us about your experience on the Dynamic Paths Facebook page or add a comment to our blog. 

Shortcuts to a Quick Breakfast

  • Ready-to-drink protein shake (Odwalla Protein Shake or Orgain protein shake) with an apple
  • Protein bar: Cliff, Zing, Stinger, or high-protein Kind bars
  • High protein Greek yogurt (Fage, Chobani) with walnuts, almonds or cashews and raisins, an apple or 1/2 a banana
  • Apple, carrot and/or celery with 4 Tbsp of nut or seed butter (almond, cashew, or tahini)
  • Whole eggs: 1-2 scrambled/boiled/fried with a handful of veggies and toast or sweet potato
  • Breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, veggie sausage or refried beans, a handful of veggies, and cheese
  • Make own protein shake with whey or rice protein powder, dark berries, chocolate powder, coconut milk and water
  •  My favorite –  Dinner!

Share your favorite breakfast ideas by commenting below!

Food of the Month: Blueberries

"Eat fresh non-sprayed dark berries, such as blueberries."

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Traditional medicine (medicine older than the last 100 years) says dark berries, such as blueberries, are good for lots of conditions: vision, prevention of varicose veins, improvement of memory, slow the progression of heart disease, diabetes, and prevention of urinary tract infections, to name a few.

When I started naturopathic medical school, more than 20 years ago, the pushback to traditional medical statements about one fruit helping so much was How can one small fruit do so much? My response was the same as for any medication: It’s what’s in it.  Why would a pill be more powerful than what our body has consumed for thousands of years? 

Now we know a lot more about blueberries and if you search Pubmed, you’ll see that they are starting to be treated as a medicine. Blueberries are full of compounds that help with inflammation, help with glucose control, prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter that helps us see colors and objects in our imagination), prevent cancer... the list continues. The World's Healthiest Foods website has a great description of the science if you are interested..

Many people are talking to me about memory; blueberries and other dark berries have been my go-to medicine to help.  A quick look through Pubmed found an article about a study where the treatment group got blueberry juice 2 weeks before receiving general anesthesia and the control group did not. It was found the group who drank the blueberry juice had better attention and memory after receiving general anesthesia than the control group.

Ok good to remember for our next planned surgery, but there are other places where chemicals affect our brain. Blueberries help protect us in any place where we are exposed to volatile chemicals: panting a house, being in a home with chemical air fresheners, working on machinery, being in an area with forest fires… If you can smell it and it’s annoying to you, you can try some yummy blueberries. And there a good treat to improve your memory in general.

My favorite ways of eating blueberries:

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By themselves: First, make sure they are organic or non-sprayed. The pesticides are not helpful because these are some of the chemicals you are trying to avoid. Second, wash with cold water. Third, pick them up and place in your mouth. Yum!

In yogurt: Mix together plain, full-fat greek yogurt, almond extract and vanilla extract to taste, pecans, blueberries.

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In any salad!

It’s also interesting to notice if blueberries count as a carbohydrate for you. It is ok if it doesn’t, you have to consider your whole health and where you are on the spectrum of need for sweet taste. But can it be enough carbs for a salad or the yogurt? For me, some days they are and some days they are not.

Food of the Month: Artichokes

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When I am talking to people who say they dislike veggies, I always ask are there a few that they like. If they can’t think of any, I start naming veggies that they might like. 

I usually start with artichokes. Most people, but not all, like artichokes. Usually, the expense comes up. “Well, they are over $4 per can at the market.” Yes, and at Trader Joe's, artichokes canned in water are less than $3 per can and they will not rot in a week. How many veggies have gone to waste by not eating them in time? Fresh is better, of course. But we are looking to do a little better than what we we're currently doing and trying to create sustainable behavior.

Plus they are super healthy for you. I like them in terms of helping with energy and mental clarity for a number of reasons:

First, they are high in antioxidants such as Vitamin C and A.

Next, they are great for our liver in that they help the liver produce bile. Bile helps our us absorb fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. Bile also helps kill bacteria that is on our food and neutralize the acid from our stomach so that it does not injure our small intestine.

Lastly, and back to food and mood, artichokes are high in fiber. Fiber is one of the mechanisms that help with glucose control. However, there seem to be other mechanisms at work because they're more effective at this than can be accounted for by the amount of fiber. Probably because it supports the liver.

The take-home message is to put canned artichokes in the kitchen cabinet for when you are in a rush and won't otherwise get your veggies in.

Here's a study about artichokes for further reading.

Eat to Support Sleep

This month we are discussing how to improve sleep. Eating protein before bed can help with nightmares, night terrors and night waking.

But what kind of protein and how much?

If we look at the Optimizing Brains Chart (page 2), we see that 3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards) of any kind of meat or fish is about 20 grams of protein, which is roughly what a person can absorb and muscle can use in an hour.

For sleep we may not need that much. I suggest starting with 2 ounces (not quite a deck of cards), or 10-12 grams of meat or fish protein. I usually just have people have meat without anything else.  For vegetarian sources, 2 tablespoons of nut butter, or ½ cup of quinoa or cottage cheese often does the trick.

Food of the Month: Dark Berries

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Dark Berries: Raspberries, Blueberries, Cherries, Blackberries

This month’s theme it about how to help your brain recover more quickly from stress. One of my favorite foods to add to a client’s diet is dark berries. I am not going to get all geeky about the names of the chemicals that help your brain. You can look those up if you need them. What I am going to highlight is some of the great things they do for you when you consume them consistently.

Clinically, clients report better memories and a clearer ability to see in their minds. For example, the color of your car is ______? You can see your car even if the car is not actually in the room that you’re in, right? Eating berries helps the brain visualize concepts colors, and thoughts. Additionally, studies show that dark berries also:

  • improve memory and the connections of nerves in the brain
  • help prevent some cancers and cardiovascular disease
  • are high in fiber, without a lot of carbs
  • are high in antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and protect cells from oxidative stress damage.

I’m often asked if it’s important to eat only organic berries. Organic assures that they have not been sprayed with pesticides, but some farms are not certified organic but don’t spray. It’s the residual pesticides that you want to avoid, so ask your grocers and if you can’t get non-sprayed berries, be sure to rinse them well before eating.

How much to eat? Fresh or frozen, 1 cup a day is not too much. Dried berries and juices are denser so limiting these forms to ¼ to ½ cup per day is a good rule of thumb. These serving sizes are about 15 to 20 grams of carbs. If you are trying to stabilize your glucose and prevent hypoglycemia, pairing the berries with 1/4 cup of nuts or ½ cup of Greek-style yogurt is a good idea. This will give you a carb to protein ration of 2-3 to 1. 

5-Step Eating Plan for Loving the Holidays

 

We are entering one of the seasons characteristically rich with gatherings, celebrations, gift giving and receiving, seeing old and new friends, good cheer, deadlines and stress.  That’s a great deal for any of us to handle, much less handle well.

Hopefully, a few fairly simple tips will ease the way for your greater enjoyment of this holiday season. It is certainly my intent to do away with the added pounds as well as the torture and guilt that frequently accompany unanticipated holiday eating.

Try following these tips and you’ll love the holidays even more than expected:

1. Take a few minutes to plan with your calendar of the scheduled holiday events in hand.  Mark those days with a star, where you anticipate higher than usual calorie eating. (We’ll call these Holly-days.)  Star your calendar. After every Holly-day, have 3 high protein, good nutrition days.

2. No matter how busy these days may get, make sure you get 7-8 hours of sleep daily. Four days of sleep deprivation will increase sugar cravings.

3. Walk at least 10 minutes a day, preferably in the mornings. Walk perhaps a few more minutes on the mornings you are anticipating the possibility of binge eating.

4. Throughout the holidays, focus on eating high-protein foods, not carbohydrates.

5. Post two full days of healthy and satisfying meals (2 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 2 dinner meals) in a prominent spot in your kitchen or on the refrigerator. Purchase the necessary ingredients so they are at your fingertips.

When life alters your plan, and it will, pick yourself up and move on, still loving the holidays. “Start overs” are allowed.