I joined a group of women for a “30 days to feeling fit” adventure from about mid-January to mid-February. I picked this time of year since we’re all reeling from our holiday eating and since our bodies have a tendency to pack on the fat and crave comfort food during this cold winter season. We created a Facebook group, provided daily hints, tips and health info, and hoped for the best! So, how did it go? As with most things in life, I think most of us got out of it what we focused on and what we put into it. I followed the plan very strictly as did a few others. Some of the group learned a lot via the daily information, but followed more loosely. They are happy as well. I’m sure you know that I’m about to say that any little things we do in terms of healthier alternatives and small changes, can over time make a big difference.
What did we do?
- We removed gluten from our diet for 30 days. I confess to cheating a couple of times on this, but I probably made it about 28 days – which is great. And I did feel better. Gluten is an interesting topic, as I’m sure you are aware. Gluten is protein found in grains (which actually was not found in grains hundreds of years ago, but due to our modern processing is entirely different now). This is the substance that makes baked goods stay together due to its “sticky” properties and consistency. Unfortunately, some estimates say that about 50% of the population has trouble breaking down gluten in our intestines. That means that our bodies will recognize the gluten as a foreign body or toxin instead. Our bodies may attack our own intestinal walls trying to fight the gluten (indigestion, bloating) or tire out the immune system by continuing to fight, and leave us open to clogged sinuses and further complications. This does not happen to everyone, but the 30 days theory is to remove it from the diet for that amount of time and then reintroduce and see what happens. Which way did we feel better? For me, digestion and general good “gut” feeling was better without gluten. I’m working on that….
- We also removed dairy, soy, and as much sugar as possible for 30 days. These are a group of allergenic and/or addictive foods, and again the idea was to remove them, see how we feel, and then reintroduce them one at a time and see what makes a difference. I did not have difficulty with dairy (significant factor in skin breakouts, can cause head stuffiness and extra congestion), or with soy (studies are being done to confirm the link between soy and our bodies’ inability to regulate hormone levels), but sugar is an issue for me. Refined sugar has been stripped of all nutritional value and gets stored in the liver until the liver is at capacity. After that, it returns to our bloodstreams as fatty acids and those are stored in the hips, thighs – all those areas you don’t like! If you have a sweet tooth like I do, try to find unrefined sugars like cane sugar, which does at least contain a few minerals for the body. (Here is a recent blog post on sugar vs. fat.)
- Related to sugar is the glycemic index (the measure of how a certain food affects blood sugar levels). Did you know that many scientists are convinced that there is a link between high blood sugar levels and inflammation on a cellular level in our bodies? That inflammation is being studied for a link to many, many diseases we face today. So, we tried to eat as many “low glycemic” foods as possible. We actually feel more full after meals like this and we also release less sugar into the blood stream. All those winter favorites – bread, pasta, white rice, comfort food – are high on the glycemic scale and we often feel hungry again right after we eat. Fruits are also potentially high on the scale, but we learned that eating berries and green apples is ok.
- We used protein shakes to replace one or two meals a day and we were careful about snacking on low glycemic foods, vegetables, almonds and other healthy options.
There were certainly more pieces to this plan, and I’d be happy to share more if you’d like to ask below. I lost a few pounds during the 30 days, but the biggest benefit for me was understanding what my body can process well and what it can’t. Everything we put into our bodies matters and creates chemical reactions that are either healthy or harmful. I encourage all of us to do what we can to lean closer to the healthy end of that scale!