Functional Health Coach Fran McElwaine shares how to unlock the secrets of your unique biology so it works for you, and not against you because when it comes to nutrition and health, the one-size-fits-all approach will not serve you well.
We hear so much about keto diets, low-carb diets, low-fat diets, intermittent fasting but what is the real secret behind feeling well and happy and looking the best we can?
The secret is YOU!
The fact is that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to wellness. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for anyone else.
Cutting Back Carbs
Some people really thrive on a zero carb diet, for others it just makes them ill. The only thing that does seem to work for everyone when it comes to carbs is cutting out hyper-processed carbs, like white bread, pasta, baked goods etc. which tend to make us all gain weight, simply because they are very pro-inflammatory.
The trick is to stop searching for a silver-bullet that exists outside of you, and instead, look inwards, get forensic and tune in to your unique body to understand exactly what works best for you. If you have a struggle losing weight, take the whole carb thing in stages. First cut back on processed carbs (in fact everyone should do that anyway), then starchy carbs like bananas and root vegetables, and then grains to find the point where you start to lose weight. When you hit that sweet spot, you have learned something that is unique to you, and will serve you well for life!
The same goes for things like gluten and dairy. For some, either or both these things are toxic, for others, they have no issues at all. The difficult thing with these though, is that often the problems they cause are silent. Undiagnosed food sensitivities, especially to foods we eat every day like gluten and dairy, can be insidious and the effects build over time. In the presence of an un-diagnosed food sensitivity there is, in fact, a long silent scream from the immune system BEFORE it is expressed as any noticeable or obvious symptoms like digestive issues or, heaven forbid, a chronic, lifestyle-related disease. During that long silent scream you may be experiencing depression, belly fat, brain fog, fatigue, poor sleep, poor skin, dandruff or any one of a number of unpleasant symptoms that seem to have nothing to do with what is going on in your gut, but which are, in fact, caused by something as simple as your morning croissant.
Again, the secret is You. Your reaction to every food you eat is unique to you. To find out if you have a problem with a particular food, remove it completely (and I mean completely – no ifs, buts or a teeny bit won’t matter) for at least two weeks. On the fifteenth day, eat a lot of that food for breakfast lunch and dinner and then avoid it again for the next few days. Take note of how you feel over the next three to four days (sometimes it can take that long for any symptoms to appear). If you feel any fatigue (especially that mid-afternoon slump), mood swings, itchy skin, breakouts, headaches, joint pain, digestive distress of any kind (including bloating, cramping, diarrhea or constipation), then the chances are you have a sensitivity to that food.
If that is the case, the best advice is to engage with a professional who can give you the information, support and accountability you will need to help you avoid the food safely and who can also help you to heal any ensuing gut issues at the same time.
Fat: Are you Jack Spratt or his wife?
And then, there’s fat! For years we have been told to eat low fat and avoid saturated fat at all costs, and what a disaster that has been! Whilst it is true that not all fat is equal (more on that later), it is also true that we do need fat in our lives. The cell membranes of every single cell in our bodies are made of fat, our brain is mostly fat, our nerve cells are mostly fat, our hormones are built from cholesterol. If we don’t have enough fat, we become ill – our mitochondria start to mal-function and we lose energy, our brains start to mal-function and we suffer brain-fog and depression, our nerves start to mal-function and we experience random aches and pains. But how much fat is good? The answer, is that it is different for each person, and different for the same person in different conditions. What you need in winter is different from what you need in the summer. What you need if you’re are studying for exams, or running a marathon, is different from what you need when you’re lying on the beach.
The only universal truth is that industrialised fats are not good for us because they are very pro-inflammatory. Everyone should avoid chemically produced seed oils and margarines and fast or convenience foods that are cooked in these oils.
On the other hand, the fats that have been around for centuries – cold-pressed oils, butter, grass-fed animal fat, coconut oil, olive oil and the fats from oily fish, nuts and seeds are all good for us because they lower inflammation and provide the essential fatty acids (called ‘essential’ because that’s what they are!) that we need to survive.
How much fat you need in your diet is individual to you, and again, in the absence of functional testing, it is a question of trial and error to work out the perfect balance for each individual. Discovering your own Nutritional Blueprint For most of us, it is very difficult to work all these things out because it is not always easy to map cause and effect, not only because there are so many variables at play, but also because there is normally a bit of a time lag. Without professional support, we do need to be pretty committed and dedicated. It does require paying attention and often keeping a food and mood journal can be extremely helpful in distinguishing the wood from the trees. By keeping a daily journal that records exactly what they have been eating and how they are feeling, both physically and emotionally, you will be able to understand more about all the issues in play for you. This only needs to be done for about a week, but it really provides useful insight into exactly what is going on, and what is helping you thrive, and what is your personal Kryptonite.
There are ways to fast-track this process by conducting certain functional tests. If I had my way, everyone would have a stool test and a Food Sensitivity Test. The knowledge that they provide is empowering and life-enhancing and for some, it can be life-saving.
But what if it’s a bit more serious?
For an increasing number of us, the issue with diet is not just about feeling a bit grotty, or not, it is about our ability to function at all. For anyone with an auto-immune disease, not matter how severe, understanding the issues at play and the unique relationship that your body has with food is fundamental. All auto-immune diseases have three root causes – genetics, an environmental trigger … and a leaky gut caused either by an un-diagnosed food sensitivity, heavy metal toxicity or by a pathogen (which takes us back to the importance of Functional Testing). We cannot control our genes but we can control whether or not they are expressed by doing as much as we can to control the environmental triggers that we are exposed to, many of them coming from the food that we eat. It all comes down to making the best daily choices for our unique bodies. The secret to what those choices should be, lies within YOU, and not within anyone else, or any doctoral study.
So next time you read those stories about turmeric, or dark chocolate, or whatever it is, remember … the secret to your health, is already known to your body. All you need to do is pay attention so you can unlock it.
About the expert
As a Functional Health & Lifestyle Coach, Fran McElwaine’s expertise lies in reversing chronic disease through targeted diet and lifestyle choices, unique to her clients’ situation, in order to reduce inflammation, boost immunity and balance hormones. Her works sits at that sweet spot where Functional Medicine and Life Coaching meet. This means she can help clients pull together all the threads that make them who they are. In addition to conducting appropriate testing to devise their unique Nutritional Blueprint, Fran works with the client to create powerful strategies for total health and wellness that are tailored to their unique situation. Importantly, her work with the client will de-bunk the negative internal narrative that can sabotage their best efforts. Fran breaks through blocks and limiting beliefs and uses food as medicine to turn back the clock so that her clients can experience true wellness. For more information on Fran McElwaine and her work, please visit www.franmac.co.uk