National news programs, both morning and night, love to talk about obesity in America. Obesity affects us all in some way: either we will know someone who is obese or we will be/are obese. I will flat out admit this: according to my BMI, I am obese (30.6). It’s not something I am proud of and getting on the scale at the doctor’s office is a blow to my ego. But I’ve accepted that while I hate the numbers, there is some truth to the matter: I need to make some changes to my lifestyle to move that number between 18.5-24.9 and be considered medically healthy.
By shifting my BMI into the non-obese range means that I could be adding years to my life. While I can’t guarantee those additional years will be good years due to the MS, I can make sure the good ones are filled with quality due to good physical and mental health.
The main culprit in the obesity epidemic in America is high-fat foods, specifically deep fried foods. As mentioned in my last post, it’s very hard to walk into any restaurant and not find multiple fried foods on the menu. The Western Diet is large portions, high-calories, high-fat, and high-sugar. I am being reductive, but anecdotally it is easy to see how pervasive the high-fat diet culture is in media and day-to-day life.
Making the necessary changes in my diet tend to be rather hard for me. There are several things I’ve said to myself when I have chosen unhealthy options over the healthy ones: it’s affordable, it’s fast and easy, it’s portable, and I deserve this. On the Internet I have read multiple times how much cheaper it is to eat fast and fried food versus the healthier options. Having gone through a starvation via poverty period myself in adulthood, I can agree: it is cheaper to eat higher calorie meals that helped sustain me for the entire day.
Let’s be honest, the healthier options do take more work: either to prepare or to mentally prepare yourself for being “good” and not indulging on the more sinful delectable.
Being healthy in America is doable, but it’s hard when there is so much temptation out there. And once you’ve had a taste of that golden goodness, it’s hard to not want to go back again and again.
I’ve previously blogged about how foods affect our microbiomes. Today’s post is going to expand upon that concept by focusing on one type of food that affects our gut bacteria: high-fat foods and how that might affect weight, emotional health, and physical health.
We’ve heard this before: the Western diet is saturated with bad fats that make us sick in a variety of ways. Obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease are some of the issues caused by diets high in the unhealthy fats. I am not going to spend this post criticizing the Western Diet, but rather observing some aspects of it that might be contributing to my personal health issues and concerns.
As someone who is obese, I have to figure out why I am that way. Until I started making these diet and lifestyle changes, I’ve had a rather inconsistent diet. Sweets when I feel like it, fried foods whenever I had a chance, and healthy foods whenever I felt guilty or in the mood for it.
Dieting attempts were stymied by rationalizing after some exercise and lack of ingredient awareness. By having an inconsistent diet like this, or feeble attempts at a healthier eating habits, I opened myself up to dealing with obesity, depression, and my high cholesterol in addition to managing my MS.
By maintaining my high-fat diet, I increased my chances of feeding a bacteria in my gut that lead to weight gain. High-fat diets lead to low-grade inflammation of the gut which contributes to weight gain. And MS could also be called the “inflammation disease” since that’s what each flare-up is: some form of inflammation.
This leads me to believe that if I maintain a diet high in trans-, poly-, and saturated fats, I am living in a constant state of inflammation and possibly making myself more susceptible to a flare-up. By removing fried foods, it’s the first step in healing my body and at the very least, minimizing a flare-up. Once I start taking medication again, I am going to help increase its effectiveness by no longer forcing it to manage a hidden inflammation.
While I am not sure what bacteria I currently have in my gut, there are studies out there that point to the Western gut being less diverse than societies that eat more variety and less processed foods. The implication being, promoting gut diversity will help boost my metabolism and my ability to lose more weight. Fermenting foods, such as Kombucha and probiotics, will be my friend as I try to diversify and heal my gut colonies. Removing foods that hinder specific colony growth would slow weight-loss down and make it easier for the weight to creep back on once I stopped my diet.
I anticipate that the farther I get away from deep-fried and high-fat foods, the more weight I will lose. It may be like the sugar: it’s going to take a while for that to happen, but when it does, it will be done in a safe and healthy way. Being aware of the type of fat I intake will be extremely important if I really want to focus on weight loss.
The brain feeds on fats. But more specifically, good fats. If I am eating coconut oil, avocado, olive oils, and walnuts – I am providing good fuel for my overall brain health. I technically have a form of brain damage due to the MS lesions and by consuming good fats, I can help increase my chances of repairing current brain issues. In that same study I just linked, consuming bad fats can minimize brain repair. If consuming good fats helps maintain brain health, this may be another avenue where I can minimize the impact of flare-ups by giving my body a fighting chance.
Additionally, by focusing on good fats, I can help moderate my moods and mood swings. I have a situation that is like chicken and the egg: I have depression but I am not sure if it’s because I am depressed that I have MS or if my MS makes me depressed. I’ve been dealing with depression longer than I had my diagnosis, but chances are the depression was stemming from the MS and I didn’t even know it. This tends to be the case for a lot of people pre-diagnosis: a particular symptom bugged them for years but had no context for what it was doing.
By changing the type of fat consumption, I have a chance to also work on modifying my depression. This is not meant to replace antidepressants if I need them, but like with my MS medication, give my body a break so the medication can do what it needs to to help me out. The inflammation mentioned above that affects my weight is the same inflammation that affects my depression.
It really boils down to this: the less bad fat I consume, the lower my bad cholesterol will be because I am not piling onto a current problem. This lowers my chances of various heart diseases. ‘Nuff said.
Moving away from a diet rich in bad fats will do me a lot of good. It isn’t going to be easy because despite calls for creating healthier options, the unhealthy options remain in our culture. And that’s fine – no one should be expected to conform to my needs when it comes to my personal life choices.
This isn’t to say I can’t have fried-foods again, but as someone with MS, I need to be more cautious with my intake than the average person. It’s rather enlightening to learn this sort of stuff, I hadn’t expected see a connection between my issues with inflammation and a high-fat diet. Now that I am aware of the possibility (the studies are still rather new), I can make better informed decisions regarding my health.
One thing to note is that how everybody reacts to their eating habits is different from another person who eats just like them. Metabolisms are different and how we process everything is going to be different, so everyone’s time frames might be different. As I have been working through my lifestyle shift, I’ve learned to be patient with myself.
Disclaimer I am not a medical professional and none of these statements have been review by one either. Please use common sense and your best judgement when reviewing these posts for personal information. Please contact me if you have any questions/comments.
Note: Image credit goes to J. Reed – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0