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Thoughts On Diet and Health

Diet and Health – A Journey

diet and health

The diet and health bookshelf, part 1

What Am I Going to Tell You?

I’m going to tell you that what you put in your mouth is of paramount importance.  You can make remarkable, and swift, improvements to your health and fitness.  Even at what you might now consider to be “later stages of life.” You are in control.  You can do it.  In fact, you alone can do it.  No one can do it for you, and you cannot “do it” for anyone else.  With that having been said, strap on, we’re going for a ride.

A Brief History

I could go back further, but with brevity in mind, I’ll start at high school.  I wrestled in high school, 115 lbs in the 9th grade, moved up in weight to the 138lb class and finally the 155lb class as a senior.  I played my senior year of football at 165lb.  At 18 I wasn’t fully grown.  I embarked on a misadventure to South Dakota State University for a year, and then recognizing on some level the error of my ways, I enlisted in the Navy in 1978.  I was a Hospital Corpsman in the Navy, aka a medic, and was stationed at Camp Pendleton.  Now among other things, the Marines are fitness fanatics, and the food and facilities available were superb for the day.  I took full advantage.  I left the enlisted ranks for the United States Naval Academy pretty well “jacked” in the current vernacular, at 195lb, with not much body fat.  My freshman year at the USNA, aka the Boat School, I attempted to make weight for the 150lb football team; I didn’t make it, but got into the 160’s, and I have never again achieved the physical state I was in when I entered the Academy.  Shipboard, on the USS Clifton Sprague, I went physically downhill for 4 to 5 years; little outside time, virtually no exercise, long hours, plenty of stress, and eating junk, oftentimes out of vending machines. I ballooned to 213lbs, a lot of that fat.  Now we are in the late 80’s, and I’ve spent most of the rest of my life to date experimenting with various diets, trying to find the secret to effortless weight and body composition maintenance.

Various and Sundry Diets

diet and health

The diet and health bookshelf, part 2

Even going back to high school I was experimenting, but I got more serious after I left the Sprague for post graduate school in Monterrey CA, and ultimately finished out my Navy career in San Diego at the end of 1994.  San Diego in particular is an outdoor sports Mecca, and every weekend there were various runs, bikes, biathlons and triathlons to choose from; my fitness vehicle of choice was triathlons.  Let it be said, I was never very good, but that wasn’t the goal; fitness was the goal.  It was during this period that I experimented for a year with vegetarianism.  It didn’t work for me for a few reasons: 1) I was the chief cook in the family, with two young children and a wife, and none of them were vegetarian, 2) I’m not a great cook, so my meals were simple and not very tasty as a rule, and primarily 3), I couldn’t build muscle.  I put it down to a lack of protein in my diet, but that was just guesswork at the time.  My weight went down to an all-time adult low of 173lb, right at 10% body fat.

Probably the closest I got to a diet that worked for me before now, was the Zone Diet, by Barry Sears.  Macro-nutrient ratios were 40/30/30 carbs/protein/fat.  I didn’t try the Atkins Diet, he was being little short of pilloried at the time, but had I, I probably would have been close to my diet today, and a helluvalot earlier.

A Catalyzing Diet and Health Event

Fast forward to 2014.  But first, let me rewind the tape just a bit.  In the intervening years I always had a bunch of home fitness equipment around me; stationary bikes, weights, cross country skiing machines, strength machines of various types, etc.  And so I used those, and with enough protein I was able to fairly easily maintain muscle mass; I’m thankful for that genetic gift.  But, I was by no measure “lean,” my body fat was usually north of 15%, and probably closer to 20-25% most of the time.  I was borderline “overweight” by Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a crude measure, not taking into account muscle mass.  Then, starting in about 2003, I began drinking pretty heavily; ultimately the drinking became too problematic to be longer tolerated, and I quit for good in December of 2016.  This was an attempt, subconciously I suppose, at complete self-destruction; fortunately I failed.  Yes, I’m the picture in the dictionary next to “slow learner.”  As of today I’m sober for 1.56 years, 18.8 months, 572 days, or 13,712 hours, take your pick; but who’s counting?  Actually I haven’t counted for quite awhile, I just looked that up on an iPhone app I use for the purpose.  And, the “catalyzing diet and health event” you ask.

Hashimoto’s Disease Diagnosis

In mid-2014 I went in for an annual physical.  You know when the Doc uses his/her fingers or thumbs to feel around your throat?  Yup, that’s the check I’m talking about, and the Doc felt what he thought to be a “nodule” on the left side of my thyroid.  He referred me on to a radiologist for an ultra-sound, sure enough, there is in fact a nodule.  From there I was sent to an Ear, Nose and Throat Doc for a “fine needle biopsy.”  In this 21st century procedure, the Doc shows up with a handful of syringes, 4 in my case, and jabs each of them repeatedly into the nodule, in an effort to collect enough cells for analysis.  Evidently he got enough.  Outcome: You don’t have thyroid cancer, but you do have Hashimoto’s, which increases the chance of thyroid cancer by 3X.  Not good.  Life-altering information. (As an aside, Hashimoto’s was the first autoimmune disease discovered, by a Japanese doctor working in Germany in 1912.)

Enter the Diet and Health Cure

Let me first summarize for you the dogma of conventional medicine as it relates to Hashimoto’s:

  1. There is no known cause
  2. There is no known cure
  3. We will give you no dietary or other interventions to pursue, and we will check again the size of the nodule in 6 months
  4. Upon checking at 6 months, if the nodule has grown (which it will undoubtedly do, because we have done nothing differently), we will remove the affected thyroid tissue surgically
  5. We will put you on thyroid hormone replacement pharmaceuticals, for life
  6. Thank you very much for lining our pockets (no, that’s not true, they don’t actually thank you)

At this point, and I can’t really explain why, except perhaps that Geri and I were already convinced that we could manage our own health, and we were actively engaged in managing our own health.  So instead of simply lining up like a sheep for the slaughter, we dove into the research.  In four days, just four, not only had we established that Hashimoto’s was an autoimmune disease, but we were fully committed to, and indeed eating, according to the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP).  In less than 2 years, the antibodies indicative of Hashimoto’s  (TPOAb and TgAb in the image below) were back within the normal range, and 4 years after diagnosis they are still there; all with diet alone.  Hippocrates had it right, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine by thy food.”  We, and many others, have put the lie to the dogma of the conventional, “standard of care,” medical establishment.

diet and health, Hasimoto's

Thyroid Panel blood test results from Hashimoto’s diagnosis in July 2014 to March 2018

Diet and Health Journey Continues

What prompted me to finally make this post, was some recent interactions I’ve had with vegans, and with humans who have gone fully carnivorous (talk about your politically incorrect diet!)  I suppose vegans and carnivores are at the far ends of the human diet spectrum.  And this morning, as a result of these interactions, some implications of the Paleo AIP “Avoid” list struck me.

diet and health, Paleo AIP

Paleo AIP Avoid list, © 2013 Mickey Trescott, autoimmune-paleo.com

Basically, the Avoid list is a list of foods commonly associated with the development of autoimmune diseases; this is the list of foods that Geri and I avoided after my diagnosis.  What struck me this morning, is that with the exception of “Eggs” and “Dairy,” they are all plant foods. There is not a single “meat” on the list.  More on this epiphany later in this post.  Avoiding these foods results in one incarnation of an “elimination diet.”  I can’t recommend too strongly “trying on” the Paleo AIP, which also has as a component, an “Include” list.  The results for me were nothing short of profound.  Many thanks to Mickey Trescott for the Avoid and Include lists, which made the improvements not just possible, but simple (which is not to say “easy”) to implement.

Many have autoimmune diseases; you might be one. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, 50 million Americans have at least one autoimmune condition. You are not alone.

Diet and Health: What Works for Me?

Geri and I stuck religiously to the Paleo AIP for 90 days, then we started to reintroduce foods to see what turned up.  First thing that turned up; when you consume a food after 90 days of abstinence from that food, and it does not work for you, you will know it almost immediately.  For me, the symptoms associated with a food I should not eat can include: Almost instant-onset congestion, eczema around my eyes (another autoimmune condition), inflammation of my joints, first noticeable in my hands (this can be rheumatoid arthritis, aka RA, another autoimmune disease), weight gain (not associated with too much food in general, but rather with systemic inflammation), abdominal bloating, and I suppose a few more that I’ve thankfully forgotten.  Let’s just say, you will know, if you are paying attention.

So after reintroducing some foods, while still managing my Hashimoto’s very successfully, the following foods are currently on my personal “Avoid” list: Grains and Legumes, all of them, and Alcohol.  On my “Severely Limit” list: Dairy, specifically butter and soft cheeses, and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; these things are hell on your gut).  And deserving of special mention, Antibiotics; again, hell on your gut.  I don’t intended to ever use antibiotics again if it can possibly be avoided, unless the Docs are cutting me open, making an end-run around my immune system, for some reason.  It’s informative to realize also, that antibiotics are used prophylactically to fatten cattle more quickly. ‘Nuf said.

Diet and Health: My Personal Future

diet and health

Feeling and looking better than since my early 20’s; so far so good, more road to travel, no “workouts” required

I think I’ve recently described myself as a Paleo-AIP Ketogenic Omnivorous Locavore.  Which is to say, the foods I am avoiding or severely limiting will likely stay on those lists until I die.  To do otherwise is to invite poor quality of life, and an unnecessarily short life.  Ketogenic means I’m eating what for most would be an extremely high fat and low carb diet, therefore my body is usually producing ketones for energy.  I eat plants and animals, as it’s my belief humans were intended to do; we are omnivorous by design.  And finally, we have made huge strides in sourcing our plant and animal foods locally, from farmers we know and have stood face-to-face with; the quality of our foods is much higher than it was even three years ago.  As Mark Sisson, an exemplar of what’s possible in this space, so eloquently puts it, “Live long, drop dead.”  That’s my goal.  For more on where I’ve been, and key influences along the path, see also my blog post “Paleo f(x) 2017 #pfx17 Recap – 4 Recommendations for Radically Improving Health.” I won’t repost here, for the sake of brevity, the many influential others I speak of in that post.

Diet and Health: My Personal Next Steps

I am now on Day 6 of what for me will be a 60 day experiment with a fully carnivorous diet.  For resources relating to “trying on” the carnivorous diet, check out meatheals.com.  I also follow Dr. Shawn Baker on Instagram, @shawnbaker1967, and he has influenced me to give the carnivore diet a “go.” As mentioned previously, the bulk of the “Avoid” list for the AIP is plant foods, so I will be consuming no plant foods on this diet.  There are exceptions to being fully-carnivorous allowed in the first 30 days; I can consume dairy, which will be small quantities of butter in my case, eggs and coffee.  In the second 30 days I will only be eating meat (that includes but is not limited to pork, beef, poultry and fish) and drinking water.  This is the elimination diet to beat all, from my point of view.  I’m guessing that there are still plant foods in my diet that while not catastrophic to my health, are preventing me from achieving optimal health.  We’ll know soon enough, as I begin to reintroduce some plant foods in September, and we see what turns up.

So, What Have I Told You About Diet and Health?

Hopefully I have successfully communicated that radically positive improvements in your health are possible.  At virtually any stage of life.  Hopefully, the personal testimony I have related, has given you a view of what might be possible in your own life.  It goes beyond diet too; put diet at the forefront of your efforts, and I have no doubt that you will see from that path all of the other modern-day negative influences on your health.  Take them on one-by-one, as you see fit.

All the best, I’m yours sincerely,

John

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4 replies
  1. Peter
    Peter says:

    Very interesting read John. Thanks so much for sharing and explaining as you shared. As you know we are vegetarians and along with the reasons we have previously discussed we have recently added environmental sustainability as it seems to be more and more clear that meat production is one of the more serious causes of deforestation, greenhouse has emissions and pollution. Do you have any thoughts on how a carnivore diet might be sustainable if it were widely adopted? I also wonder if you have read anything about ‘lab grown meat’ and what your thoughts are if you have. Cheers! Keep on Blogging! https://green.harvard.edu/news/red-meat-and-environment

    Reply
    • John Newell
      John Newell says:

      Read the article. There is frankly nothing sustainable about conventional meat production, and the same goes for conventionally grown vegetable and fruit products. That should not be news to anyone. And anyone who thinks that 7 billion can eat a vegetarian diet, sustainably, without animals, and lots of them, in the ecosystem, is simply mistaken. No I won’t be eating fake meat, either. Gee whiz. As for the carnivore diet, for me it will be a two month elimination diet. It’s already been proven that I cannot eat any grains, any, or legumes, and keep my Hashimoto’s in remission. I also can’t keep my blood sugar in check eating a boatload of carbs, which would be required to replace the animal protein and fats I consume. I do plan to ramp up food production from the property, adding squirrels and fish to the deer and turkey we have enjoyed. I’ll also take advantage of any fruits and vegetable matter that is available. What I won’t do is allow someone else’s ethics to drive me to write diet checks that my body can’t cash. All We strive to do is live more and more sustainably ourselves, consistent with continuously improving our health; what others do or don’t do in that regard is their business.
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting Peter!

      Reply
  2. Don Mejdrich
    Don Mejdrich says:

    John,

    I, too, have embarked on my own “ketogenic journey” as recently I had become disgusted at how much my girth had increased when I thought I was doing the right things to keep myself in shape (exercise, watching how many calories I was consuming). I never seemed to get anywhere, and somehow I landed on ketogenics. I have been eating pretty much nothing but protein and fats for almost a month now, and the change in how I feel, my energy, focus, etc. has been dramatic. The more I read about keto the more I realize what’s been missing in my quest to stay healthy and in shape for my adult life. Quitting drinking has been a definite plus as well – something about keto increases the effect of alcohol (both in how little it takes to be “overserved” as well as the magnitude & intensity of hangovers) – so much so that it is just not worth it to drink.

    Interesting that I decided to “check in” on your Primal Woods website today and found this article. Seems like you’re doing well – say hello to Geri for me!

    Reply
    • John Newell
      John Newell says:

      Really happy to hear that Don, and to hear from you! Our health journey has been in overdrive for 4+ years now. Keto has been remarkable effective for me, in combination with some other dietary protocols, the Paleo Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP) in particular. I will send you by email, “My Story,” which I wrote as part of the Primal Health Coaching course I’m taking. I post about the course on Instagram, primal_woods, and on our Facebook page, fairly frequently. I’m in week 8 of the 19 week course. I quit drinking, too; Dec 12 will be 2 years. I will say “hi” to Geri! Thanks again, John

      Reply

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