There is much that is flawed about the dietetics formal education program* – and I’ll admit it gladly. As with any science, nutrition and healing are constantly being updated and debated – too quickly for our education system to catch up. That being said, it doesn’t mean that every instagram food influencer on a raw/vegan, gluten free lifestyle is the diet of choice – neither is eat-your-heart-out-from fats paleo. Health should not be a trend, and it most definitely should not be an instagram one.
During my pregnancy, not too long ago, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GDM) – this is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and, most commonly, ends the moment of delivery. I don’t have any of the typical risk factors (read: age above 35, obesity, rapid pregnancy weight gain, or family history), and I should know – because this is exactly my line of work (diabetes education in particular). Though not a particularly dangerous pregnancy disease (if well controlled), it forever puts me in the “at risk- prediabetic” category. It’s one thing to decide to lead a low carb lifestyle, or vegetarian, or paleo or whichever – with the background knowledge that it is a choice – and an entirely different one to be forced into it. I’ve been a healthy person for a long time – and I mean healthy in a broad , no-need-to-alienate-society kind of way. So in general, I avoid all types of processed cheese to the best of my ability, enjoy home cooked meals with all its trial and error. I’m the choose – grilled over breaded, with lemon oil dressing on my extra avocado, no corn, salad lunch – in a nutshell.
Needless to say, being forced to get pricked 4 times a day, and monitor, to the dot, my carb intake was not my favorite activity – and that kind of limitation, ironically, opens your eyes to the luxuries of life. For my own baby shower, I opted out of eating cake. For my husband’s big 3-0, I had to walk (read: wobble) for an hour and half to make sure the three bites of chocolate fondant got burned off and this was 3 weeks before my due date. I carry this reminder with me till now, so I am able to enjoy and control my lifestyle today.
After delivery, and at my 2 months follow up, my sugar levels are back to normal – but like I mentioned, I am forever “pre-diabetic” with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes anywhere within the 5-15 years post delivery. At 4 months postpartum, after an intensive elimination diet – my son was diagnosed with a dairy, egg and soy allergy. Since I am exclusively breastfeeding, this means I must eliminate all traces of dairy, eggs and soy or else I risk causing permanent inflammation to my son’s gut. Without blinking, I went on this quasi-vegan diet – one that I am maintaining still and will continue to do so till he is completely weaned off. To put things into better perspective, this diet means that eating ANYTHING slightly contaminated results in bloody stools for my son. Would you like to guess how much of restaurant meals are actually contaminated? Almost all bread baskets contain milk, Chinese food is a no-go, Italian is all cheese, most grilled items are actually lined with a little butter – trust me, my little body detector lets me know every time I decide to venture out with a “vegan” meal.
This is all quite personal, and maybe it doesn’t make sense why I’m linking this to my rant on new diet trends – but I am tired of seeing people follow diets they don’t understand and may not actually be the best option for their body. Plus, if you want to go vegan, you must understand that this means limiting eating out to places that cater for allergies – not just ordering a salad sans cheese. Paleo has been applauded by many – especially those with auto-immune diseases- but if you are going paleo by just saturating your body with poor quality meats and simply replacing white sugar with coconut sugar, then maybe you should take a step back. The idea of a lifestyle is incorporating a sustainable nutritional regimen that enhances your wellbeing – and the best person to decide that is your body. Not a highly filtered image, nor a popularized show, or someone else’s success story. Speaking humbly but from personal and professional experience, don’t waste your time on diets that don’t suit you, or that hinder/limit your well-being – life is too short to spend it eating someone’s else’s favorite meal.
I always end my diabetes education session by reminding patients- “you are your own doctor, only you can track how your body reacts to different foods. The physician you visit is merely a supervisor who will diagnose based on what YOU tell him – so, ultimately, your perception is what matters”. A simple example, I noticed during my GDM that rice would raise my blood sugar much more than bread would (controlling for carb count), so I steered off rice and that worked for me. Elimination diet is what finally helped me diagnose my baby’s allergy -without the need for intrusive blood tests. This kind of self testing can work miracles for pinpointing intolerances or allergies or even just those “off-feelings” that you can’t quite explain. If you feel lethargic after consuming dairy products, work on eliminating that for a few weeks and noting any changes. Get in contact with experts that understand that no single diet works for every body – and it shouldn’t. We share common basics that should always lead us to wholesome, high quality, minimally processed foods – but the combinations need not be the same for everyone. Compare your body to a personal restaurant, wouldn’t you want the menu to be ultimate best?
*tho I am a very proud graduate of the AUB nutrition and dietetics program
**just a side note: this is not directed at those who choose limited diets for ethical reasons.