Every single client I have seen this week has come to me already following a diet. Most of these ‘diets’ have resulted out of piecing together several different systems or facts they have been told in the past. Moreover, every single person has been struggling with their ‘diet’ (though I imagine you’d expect this, as they were consulting with me).
I have spent my week explaining to these clients what they were doing by being on these diets, why they were told that was a good idea, what the effects were from their choices, and why their diets were working.
Yes, I said ‘working’.
Because the truth is that every diet that the clients were following was working, i.e. it was doing what the diet is supposed to do or is engineered to do. The difficulty was that it was making my clients anywhere from vaguely uncomfortable and unhappy – to utterly miserable and even housebound.
Every single one of them approached me saying they were eating ‘clean’ (or ‘as clean as possible’) and every single one of them said they were doing the best they could to ‘stick to it’.
I’ve been really upset by this this week – because all that was being brought towards me were very intelligent, devoted people who were following diligently what they had been promised (or they’d researched online) would make them ‘better’. And instead of feeling healthy and thriving, I was speaking to people who felt demolished, who felt like failures, who felt that they were doing something wrong and that they just had to get ‘cleaner’, eat better, be more perfect and they’d be fine. One client even said to me, “I don’t want to have an eating disorder, but I know that something was wrong and so I just knew that food was the problem.”
If they hadn’t had issues with food already, every single one of these clients had certainly developed issues now.
The internet is a wonderful thing. I am sure that for every hour of formal training I received I have also spent almost double that in personal studies: podcasts, research, YouTube, PubMed – it’s very easy to play Dr Google. I don’t genuinely think that people self-diagnose too much anymore, we all know how stupid that is, right? But what we do do is read someone’s opinion (often only opinion) and feel like that could be a route to our wellbeing.
Nowhere is this more true than in the world of nutrition. A ‘this works’ testimonial, backed up by a brief explanation and we can often be sold. Moreover, many of the therapeutic diets out there genuinely do work – as I said above. If you look to good internet sources, every single diet that is promoted will have proper clinical benefit and genuinely ‘work’.
For a certain subset of patients.
And that is the problem with every single client I saw this week – and some of those I already know I’ve got booked in for next week. They had no idea what the diet they were doing was actually changing in their body – and they were not the right subset.
Typically they had eliminated certain things and found that they couldn’t possibly reintroduce them. Typically they had dieted down to very few foods and some were then bingeing nightly on everything they ‘knew (they) shouldn’t eat’. Their diets had become a catalogue of shoulds and shouldn’ts. And their lives had become more painful, more symptomatic, with their digestive systems struggling more. One had even contacted her original professional who had said, “Well you’re obviously not trying hard enough – this diet is foolproof, it’s your lifestyle that’s ruining it.”
I was shocked – and I hope you are too. These are not words you should ever hear out of a nutritional professional’s mouth.
Where Does This Leave Me?
This whole experience has actually inspired me to create a series of e-books. I myself went through the traumatic journey of doing the best I could to stick to a diet or diets – and all of them failed, or I failed – or something happened so I felt I would try my hardest and then something would go off kilter and I’d fall of the wagon spectacularly. This was part of my journey to become qualified in nutrition and Functional Medicine.
Over the last decade I have studied (and personally tried) all of these diets and become ruthlessly realistic about the personalisation that’s required to be able to develop a diet that suits every individual. Eternal tweaks and variations are sometimes the only way to become and stay healthy. And certainly, the ideal would be for everyone to have a consultation with a nutritionist and they’d actually be helped to find their diet – but instead, I am hearing more and more that nutritionists have just championed their favourite ‘diet’ (often the one that fixed them) to their patients and then not taken responsibility or followed up when things haven’t helped. My ‘ruthless realism’ didn’t take me down the road of championing one diet – instead I really just wanted the science of what each did. As a qualified nutritionist it’s then my job to work out whether that effect is a ‘match’ for my clients.
I think the missing piece in dietary education in the modern, internet-heavy, quick-fix society is information about what each diet is designed to do. By this, I mean specifically – the metabolic, biochemical and microbiome shifts that are part and parcel of going through these diets. I want to fill that gap – laying out all of the information so that people can understand the ‘what’ AND the ‘why’ behind certain dietary interventions, and in so doing be able to make the decision as to whether those actual diets are right for them. I also want to explain what happens when people come off certain diets, the issues that happen in the reintroduction phases etc. and describe some typical signs and signals that a certain diet is not working for you (which will be similar across all diets).
I was so inspired that I am already 12 pages into my book on ketogenic diets (this was the most common dietary style of my clients this week) – and this will be the largest e-book I produce. This is such a ‘hot topic’ at the moment that, as I’ve written in the book, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s the panacea for everything. The truth is, it’s not – but it is helpful for many conditions. I have dug into the science and the practical, anecdotal evidence and plan to produce a comprehensive, scientific but understandable, resource that can help you make a decision as to whether it’s the right choice for you.
My aim with all of this is to help people understand that food and dietary intake are part, though not all, of the story around being healthy. I aim to enable people to take decisions which are founded in knowledge rather than fear and desperation. I also want to dispel the growing myth that the only way to be well is to construct a diet based on avoidance and restriction – and that the pain experienced when you eat ‘off-plan’ is proof positive that you have failed and you just need to restrict further or limit even more.
When each book is completed, I will post a link to them on this site, and send an email to those following this blog. Please do sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page to be kept up to date with the progress of these – and the updates on all the other news from my clinic and the Functional Medicine and Nutrition worlds.
And if you, like my clients this week, feel like you’re doing everything right and it’s still not working – I’d encourage you to seek the support of a qualified professional who can help you through the understanding of your body and your reactions, explaining to you the details of what’s happening and walk you through the steps you need to take to develop your confidence in your ability to ‘do food again’ (as one of my clients so aptly said to me this week).