Are we food robots? No. What is one (wo)man’s meat can be another man’s poison. We have differences in our genes, which have a profound effect on the way diet influences our individual bodies. Genes have on-off switches too, so we also have individual differences in how we express these genetic factors.
Lifestyle factors play an enormous role in gene expression. Some genes in our bodies will switch on and become active in response to something else going on in our lives and in our bodies.
How we live, what we put on our skin, what sort of environment we expose our bodies too, our medications and our social habits, all have the potential to play a role. We know that lifestyle factors have a huge influential role on gene expression. The context of our diet is at the heart of everything. So the latest dietary idea that you might hear about may or not work for you because we are all different and we are all living our lives in different ways. It is important to remember that one dietary change we might make needs to be taken into account with all the other dietary and environmental health choices, which we are making. The food context.
So patients often ask me about a certain dietary idea they have read about. They want to know if it is right for them. Research is working towards health practitioners being able to offer tests to investigate and identify individual differences in order to tailor help and advice. That’s fascinating but we are still are a long way off having these tests being totally reliable and freely available.
We don’t always need to wait for these tests to become more widely used. More often than not, it can be really helpful to work with someone who is able to offer help and advice and be a health detective alongside you. Sometimes we need trial and error like elimination diets, to see what works.
Listening to your body and finding out what works for you. Find what makes you feel good. So much is written about the latest diets and when you read about them it might seem like a good idea to jump straight in and try it out for yourself. As part of my training to become a nutritional therapist, we had to put ourselves into groups and do some investigation on certain popular diets. We undertook them for a few weeks and monitored how it made us feel.
Some of us also monitored our blood to look at changes in blood glucose and blood cholesterol for example. We then discussed the findings together and presented them to the rest of our class. What I learned is that some people felt great on some diets, while some others felt miserable and drained on the same regime. Diet X might do wonders for a celebrity or your friend may swear by it, but is it really right for you? What else is going on in your body? How well are you coping with stress right now, how much sleep are you getting, what is the pattern of your eating like?
Food is wrapped up with health beliefs and emotions. Food is cultural, significant and often a lifestyle choice. Eat what makes you feel good rather than what you think you should. After all, you have the insider knowledge, your gut feeling. No more robot diets.