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Carb Hangover

I recently went to a dinner party hosted by some friends from my daughters’ school.

As someone who leads what could arguably be called an “alternative” lifestyle I wondered what exceptions I might need to make to my diet for the evening.

Neville is an excellent chef. I’ve eaten his food many times before and greatly enjoyed it.

However, for the last year I have been following a very low carb diet. In fact my sole source of carbohydrates for the last four months have been vegetables. While my diet is not strictly Paleo it is sympathetic with this new/old way of eating.

For those of you not familiar, the Paleo Diet takes the assumption that there are very few real changes between the physiology of 21st Century humans and our Paleolithic ancestors. Therefore, it is argued that the ideal human diet, one that promotes optimal health and vitality, is the diet our early ancestors ate.

The whole concept takes the idea that in our natural state we instinctively knew what was best for us. This concept is by no means new. Various texts, from Genesis and the Garden of Eden, to Lao-tsu and the Tao Te Jing, to the writings of the Romanticists, tell of a time when humans “knew” how to live. Harmonious existence was a natural part of our existence. Knowledge took us away from this harmony and allowed our “clever” minds to distract us with technology and the age old costs of advancement.

The early humans were pre-agricultural. We have no clear record of what they ate and so can only guess intelligently. Early humans were hunters and gatherers, so it is assumed that their diets consisted of meat and fish, seasonal fruits, nuts and above ground vegetables. In essence that means no bread, rice, pasta, refined sugar, or potatoes.

The Paleo diet has been called a revival of Atkins. It is also know as the “Caveman Diet.”

I have always said that optimal health was of primary importance. I cannot, however, deny that looking better has not been a part of my own motivations for diet and exercise. Sure, as a trainer and health authority it is important that my physical form reflect health and as I’ve said before, healthy is naturally beautiful. But it should not go un-noted that I am not above my own vanity.

All of my life I have struggled with body fat and the negative self image that goes along with it. Fear of being fat has been a significant motivational stick throughout my own training. Often I have gotten in my own way, through over training, poor stress management and an improper diet.

Starting in January I started making significant progress. I switched over to Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb diet and pounds started melting off. I lost twenty pounds in two months. It was then that I fully grasped the significance of diet in fat loss. You cannot out exercise a bad diet.

Tim’s diet involves absolutely no sugars or starches and promotes eating meats, healthy fats, vegetables and legumes. After a few months I became tired of eggs and beans for breakfast and started making smoothies with whole milk. The pounds began to creep back on. After I had gained back ten pounds I realized something was wrong.

Around mid summer, I dropped my milk consumption. I started making my breakfast smoothies with a sugar free coconut milk. I began working toward switching my metabolism from a carbohydrate or glucose burning system to a fat burning system. That means outside of vegetables I removed all dietary carbs and increased my fat intake. Body fat began to melt away again.

So what does all this have to do with my dinner party?

Neville is from New Zealand. He frequently serves a traditional dish of meat and vegetable filled pies. They taste quite delicious. In addition, one of the few lessons my momma did manage to teach me was that as a guest you eat whatever is put in front of you.

I figured one cheat meal in four months was no great crime. I ate several muffin sized pies and even ate desert. Neville serves, amongst many other things, ANZAC biscuits. ANZAC stands for Australian/New Zealand Army Corp and the biscuits (we call them cookies) were a recipe sent to the troops. They last forever and consist of golden syrup (cane syrup), coconut and oats. They are absolutely delicious.

So my total consumption of grains for the evening consisted of four or five pies, two cookies and four, maybe five, New Zealand beers. It’s here that I should note that I divulge from the Paleo crowd as I feel that grains are excellent when drunk. I make it a habit to drink a single glass of rye whiskey after dinner most week nights and will drink a few beers over the weekend. Guinness Foreign Extra is my personal favorite, just in case you’re coming over.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Neville’s. The food was excellent as was the company. I left feeling good and quite happy.

The next morning, not so much. I first woke around 4:30 am nauseous and uncomfortable. I was never out right sick, but it took a dose of homeopathic Dyspepsia for my stomach and some Ibuprofen for my headache before I could get back to sleep.

The next day I had the most curious hangover. While I wouldn’t call myself a heavy drinker I am not unfamiliar with the alcohol hangover. This was a different animal entirely. I just felt “off” all day. Mentally I was pre-occupied with my digestive system and it was not until dinner time that I felt right again. Working in the garden and delivering firewood did much to restore my spirits.

I can only view this as a “carb hangover.”

It is viewed in some circles that most of us have unwittingly a wheat allergy. We don’t know it because wheat is so insidious in our modern diets. A quick perusal of the aisles in your grocery store will reveal that wheat gluten finds itself in near 0% of the ingredient lists found there.

Our bodies have a unique habit. Any message your body sends back to the brain that becomes chronic enough gets relegated to background noise and ignored. Essentially what happens is that noise, pain, nausea, or any of a host of sensations, when they become constant enough just get shut off in your consciousness. The sensations are still there but the signals interfere with what the brain considers more pertinent information. It says, “Yeah, yeah I know you hurt. You’ve been hurting for weeks. Hey, does that chicken smell bad?”

What I’m saying is that wheat made me feel bad all along. I just couldn’t tell it because I’d eaten it all my life. Once I fully got it out of my system and then reintroduced it I was able to feel the way it made me feel all over again.

You may be the same way. Or, you may not.

The only way to know for sure is to take a break. Pay attention to your diet and eliminate all sources of wheat for thirty days. Then slowly reintroduce it and see what happens.

Finding your own ideal diet is a highly personal process. You are unique and only through an honest dialog with yourself will you find those foods you respond best to. There are a ton of different styles of eating and some of them make a good template or platform from which you can begin your dialog, but only you can know which foods suit you best.

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