Food is Information
I say this all the time. I think some people think of it more as a meme, but it’s really a statement of fact. Food is so much more than calories. Or macronutrients. Food is information. It tells your body what to do.
The information food gives us isn’t just immediate. For some foods, there is immediate input. Meat and eggs, once they reach the small intestine, do a great job telling the brain that nourishment has arrived and to stop eating. Other bulky, fibrous foods (like beans and vegetables) tell us that our stomach capacity is filling up and tell the brain to stop eating. Sadly, foods like popcorn and chips don’t really tell us anything immediate about fullness – which is why we can keep eating them over and over again (and why we typically stop eating them out of boredom or embarrassment and not fullness).
However, more important than immediate information is the long-term information that food provides us. In addition to providing us with energy and nourishment, the food we eat also feeds our gut microbiome (the trillions of little bugs that line our digestive tract). These microscopic creatures then produce a whole boatload of hormones and neurotransmitters – which talk to our brains and body parts. Hormones and neurotransmitters are the key players in the way we think and feel. The diversity and amounts of neurotransmitters are heavily influenced by the type of creatures we are growing in our guts. Not surprisingly, the diversity of our microbiome is largely determined by what we eat. So what we eat determines what creatures we grow and what creatures we grow heavily influences the way we think and feel.
For many people, altering the gut microbiome is a game-changer in the way they think and feel. There has been lots written about this in the medical literature. Granted, most of it is really boring to read, but the data is there. When we improve our gut microbiome, we typically get healthier – both physically and mentally.
We almost always recommend that our patients take a probiotic supplement during active weight loss. However, taking a little pill full of bacteria isn’t the solution to the gut microbiome problem and it isn’t the magic solution to excess weight. It can be helpful to repopulate the GI tract with the right kinds of bugs, but it’s only going to go so far if the quality of the diet doesn’t change. Just like you can’t out-exercise a poor diet, you can’t out-supplement a poor diet.
When you eat a diet composed of mostly processed foods (yes, even the keto-processed foods or sugar-free processed foods with low net carbohydrates), you populate the gut with a whole different group of organisms than when you eat a diet composed of mostly whole foods (like meat, beans and vegetables). It’s just the way it is.
And here’s the other thing. When you start shifting what you eat, your brain starts to shift as well. There are immediate consequences – when you eat sugar or processed carbohydrates at night after dinner, you typically wake up the next morning hungry – with strong cravings for sugar or processed carbohydrates. It’s pretty predictable.
However, the brain can be reset. It typically lags a few days behind the body, but it comes along for the ride. When you stop eating sugars and simple carbohydrates, the body usually throws a fit for about 4 days – and it can be quite rough. After those 4 days, there is a shift. The cravings, the “needing” for these sugars and processed carbohydrates takes a nosedive. You don’t stop liking them, but the power they have over your brain and body starts to weaken. The longer you do it, the more momentum you develop. And momentum is a beautiful thing – much more reliable than motivation.
We talked about momentum in this blog a couple of weeks ago. Go back and read it if you missed it the first go-round. Momentum is the key when it comes to change. For most people, avoiding those sugars and processed carbohydrates for two weeks is a huge first step. It may seem like it now, but two weeks isn’t that long. It’s 1/24 of a year. We wait two weeks for things all the time.
The second step is recognizing that when these foods come back into the diet, they need to come in periodically and not regularly. Consistent intake is going to shift the gut microbiome right back where it was before – and the “needing” or the cravings are going to be right back where they were before you started.
Consistency over intensity. Wins every time.
If you need me, you know where to find me
Courtney Younglove, M.D.