“One person’s medicine is another person’s poison.”
Soy. Dairy. Gluten. Meat.
Raw. Cooked. Fermented. Preserved.
High carbs. Low carbs. High protein. Low Protein.
Everyone’s got an opinion these days about what you should eat, where you should buy your food, and what’s best for your health. Here’s the big question – do you know what works best for you?
When I eat gluten, it feels like someone has dropped a brick in my stomach and forgotten about it for a few days. Yet I know people who eat wheat bread and pasta like their life depends on it and their digestion is just fine.
I can eat fatty foods like butter, whole fat yogurt and coconut milk without putting on a single pound, and I feel great. I know people who get a head full of phlegm, experience major digestive upset, and seem to gain weight by just looking at the dairy section in the grocery store.
How do you explain that?
There is no one-size-fits-all diet.
Most dietary theories claim that their way of eating is the best and only way to lose weight, have more energy, love the planet, cure diseases, be sexy, attract a man, or whatever claims are in fashion at the time. Sound familiar?
Chances are you’ve tried a few diets, or know plenty of people who have. How many got the results they were looking for? How long until they “fell off the wagon” and went back to old ways of eating? Why is it so hard to stay on a diet?
The major reason why fad diets don’t work is that they don’t take into consideration what you need as a unique, biological being. What works for you won’t necessarily work for me, and vise versa.
The question is not what foods you should eat according to someone else’s theory, but what foods work best for your body in practice. How does this work?
We are biologically individual. Unique. Different.
Your bio-individuality is a combination of numerous, ever-changing factors. They can affect and influence what foods will nourish us and what foods will create problems.
You probably recognize that you need slightly different things to thrive than your partner, parents, friends, children, and coworkers. Why?
You have unique food and lifestyle needs and preferences. The foods that enable you to thrive might completely throw me out of balance, create or aggravate my health conditions, tank my energy or generally make me feel horrible.
Understanding your bio-individuality can change your life.
Let’s explore some of the factors that influence bio-individuality.
1. Ancestry + Genetic Background
We live in a highly globalized world where you can buy almost any kind of food at any time of the year. Most of us have lost touch with or forgotten the traditional foods of our ancestors.
Our bodies haven’t forgotten.
150 years ago, the foods that were traditionally eaten in small mountain villages in Switzerland were pretty different than the foods eaten by small coastal villages in Mali. Why do we care?
Take dairy as an example. Many people of African decent are lactose-intolerant, which makes sense given that traditional African communities did not consume dairy on a regular basis.
However, if your ancestors were from Scandinavia, where dairy was consumed regularly for generations, chances are that you are more likely to be able to harmoniously digest and assimilate dairy products.
Does ancestry alone determine what foods work for you?
There are many other factors that can influence your bio-individuality.
2. Blood Type
The four blood types (O, A, B and AB) have evolved over thousands of years and can provide insight into what foods work best for you.
Certain blood types have a tendency to do better with meat, while others tend to thrive on a plant-based diet. Some tend to process dairy more easily, while others struggle.
These differences are based on chemical reactions that happen between your blood and the food you eat. Certain food-blood type combos can cause cells to clump together, leading to health problems, food sensitivities and sometime even food allergies.
Some metabolic types convert calories to energy very quickly, while other types store the extra calories. Those with fast metabolisms might do better with more complex carbs, proteins and longer-lasting energy sources to feed their “digestive fire” (think of a camp fire, and logs vs. paper to fed it), while those with slower metabolisms might gain weight quickly from eating these same types of food.
You can find out your metabolic type by answering simple questionnaires online or with a basic medical test. Keep in mind that your metabolic type changes with age and stress levels.
Babies, growing teens, adults and elders naturally have different food, health and lifestyle needs. The foods that work well for a baby who is just starting to wean off of mother’s milk might not give a ravenous teenage boy or a busy working mom what they need to thrive.
Teenagers appear to have hollow legs that fill up with food before their stomachs are satisfied, but that’s another story all together.
5. Physical Activity Level
Movement requires energy to fuel your muscles and cardiovascular system. More movement = More energy. Some highly active people do best with high-protein foods while other active people thrive mainly on complex carbs, fruits and veggies.
6. Ayurvedic Dosha
In Ayruveda, a traditional system of medicine from India, there are 3 dosha (or constitutions): Vata, Pitta and Kapha. For each dosha, there are certain foods and lifestyle habits that help harmonize them and others that throw them out of balance.
Some doshas need calming & grounding foods, some do better with raw & cooling foods, and others need warming & stimulating foods to come into balance. The energetics of food can help bring your body into greater harmony, or create more chaos.
7. Season + Time of Year
Your body is always seeking balance, and its needs change with the seasons. In the heat of summer, your body often craves cooling foods. In winter, grounding and warming foods tend to give your body what it needs.
Not sure what foods are in season? Head to your local farmer’s market or check the signs at your grocery store to see where your produce is coming from. Eating locally grown produce is the easiest way to eat with the seasons.
8. Current Health Conditions + Issues
What you eat affects your health. Similarly, your current state of health can affect what you eat and what your body can handle. You can support your body and speed up the healing process by changing your diet, and minimizing foods that make your symptoms worse.
For example, if you suffer from an inflammatory condition such as arthritis, heart disease, or IBS, you may have noticed that there are certain foods that make your conditions worse.
Common inflammatory foods include: sugar, gluten (barley, rye, oats, wheat, spelt) and the Nightshade family (tomato, potato, eggplant, bell pepper, hot pepper). These foods may be too much for your body to handle when its already inflamed. Listen to your body. It knows best.
If you think you can’t work at a job you love, or succeed in school, or make a tasty meal to impress your date, chances are that you won’t! You can convince yourself of almost anything if you repeat it to yourself enough.
Our thoughts are powerful. They are the lenses through which we experience the world. They affect how our body processes food and assimilates nutrients. My own health journey is a prime example of the power of our thoughts and how it can affect your relationship with food.
10. Lifestyle choices
The choices you make – from what you put in your body to how you live your life to the environment you live in – have an impact on the foods that make your body happy.
If you live a fast paced life on the go, you might need specific foods to give you the high-octane energy required to keep up with your schedule. If your work requires lots of thinking and brainpower, your body might need more foods that increase memory, brain function and support the nervous system.
11. Stress Levels
We have all experienced stress manifesting in our physical bodies. No need to ask your massage therapist to confirm that one! Just as stress can manifest in your muscles, it also can manifest in your stomach and digestive system, affect your digestion.
Stress has been shown to contribute to things like indigestion, fat and nutrient malabsorption, gas and bloating, weakened digestive juices and adrenal fatigue.
At the end of the day, these are simply different tools for helping you figure out what to put in your body. Only you know exactly what your body needs, not your doctor, naturopath, or best friend. But what if that internal voice isn’t crystal clear yet. How exactly do you come into this state of “knowing” what’s best for you?
It’s a matter of re-discovering your unique food and lifestyle needs through self-awareness, experimentation, observation, and re-learning the language of your body.
Do your own experiments and see how these theories apply to your reality, your body, your constitution, your blood type, and your metabolism. Use your discoveries to create a deeper understanding of what your body and mind need to be happy, healthy and thriving.
Understanding your bio-individuality is the key to sustainable, long-lasting health and wellbeing.
Start your journey with these tips for discovering your optimal breakfast.