Welcome to July! Our theme this month is “slowing down.” Let’s not rush through the summer, but instead, enjoy it. Now on to today’s topic, which really has nothing to do with summer or moving slowly, exactly. But I suppose I noticed all this because I wasn’t rushing through life, so maybe it counts?
I have to just warn you up front: I’m not a doctor and this post is not research-based. This is not meant to answer your health questions or to serve as “the answer.” It’s just my very interesting personal observations about health that I’ve been wanting to share with you. My thoughts, my opinions, nothing else. Just so you know.
I’ve been watching my own health carefully lately, especially as I’ve been recovering from the birth of my fourth child, almost four months ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long!). I’ve also been watching his health as I’ve made changes to what I’ve been doing. It’s been fascinating to watch, and I wanted to share it with you, in case you have observed some of the same things or if you might notice any once you are specifically paying attention. If not, that’s okay. Remember, it’s just about my experiences.
Limited Calorie and Fat Diets, or More of Everything?
The majority of the country still believes that if you want to lose weight, that you need to eat less and move more. You know, the whole “diet and exercise” thing. They count and limit calories, they limit carbs or fat (or both), they go gluten free (and not because they have an allergy), and they take to heart “calories in vs. calories out” and try to make science out of losing weight.
In my opinion, this is total nonsense.
We only have to look around to see it isn’t that simple. If it were, half the country wouldn’t be overweight and struggling. People would be able to visit dieticians or doctors and figure out how many calories they ought to be consuming per day and how much exercise they ought to do, they would do it, and they would lose weight. Only, there are thousands of people who do exactly that and find that they aren’t losing weight. Even if they try for weeks or months and never “cheat.” Clearly there are confounding factors.
It has to do with metabolism, hormones, and more. When our metabolism or hormones are out of balance, our bodies shed or gain weight to compensate. We may find it impossible to lose weight or impossible to keep it on. Neither problem is “better” than the other, by the way, it’s just that weighing too much is more common and we have deemed weighing less as “better,” aesthetically. (But your weight does not make you a better or worse person.)
I believe we need more. More of everything. I believe we were meant to eat more and move more. Two (main) things drop your metabolism: not enough exercise/getting your heart rate up, and not eating enough. When we don’t eat enough, our bodies digest more slowly and they hold onto more. They store any extra as fat, because they are anticipating not getting enough later in the day or the next day, too. Metabolism slows down. And when we don’t exercise, well — more slowing down.
When Nathan reached about three months, I had not lost any significant postpartum weight. Oh, I shed 15 – 20 lbs. in the first week or so, bringing me within 10 lbs. of my pre- pregnancy weight, but then I didn’t lose anything else.
Not consciously, I got busy and I didn’t cook enough and I skipped meals. My weight began to creep back up slowly. I began to feel very tired all the time, and all I wanted to do was sleep. Once I was finally awake, I didn’t have the energy to go out or do anything with my kids. My throat always hurt slightly, like I was about to get a cold, but I couldn’t shake it off. I dragged.
I continued to nurse Nathan on demand, and he continued to seem satisfied and sleep normally, but he began to poop less. A lot less. First it was everyday. Then every few days. Then every week. At the point where I was eating the least, he went 15 days, and didn’t even seem uncomfortable! But I knew this was not normal. I just could not initially pinpoint why. Then a mama local to me mentioned she had started juicing and suddenly her baby (same age as Nathan) was pooping multiple times a day!
Conversation ensued and I figured that the large amount of extra nutrients she was getting might have something to do with it. I realized that my undereating was not only affecting me, but also him — even though lack of pooping was the only symptom, and that symptom is frequently considered “normal” for exclusively breastfed babies (I don’t believe it is at all).
Then I made a concentrated effort to eat more, and to do so earlier in the day and more regularly throughout the day. My energy rebounded. I began to sleep a bit less, and move a lot more. I wanted to move. I had energy to burn! My slight sore throat (finally) disappeared.
And Nathan? He began to poop more often again, from 15 days down to 5, then 2 – 3, and usually more than once in the same day that he did go. His nursing frequency did not change during any of this experience. He did not seem more or less satisfied depending on what I was eating or not eating. But his digestion obviously changed. I noted his poop seemed much thinner, too, more like ‘typical’ breastfed baby poo instead of thicker (because it didn’t take as long to make it through his system and didn’t get all the water pulled out). After a week or so, the “seediness” returned as well. Greater frequency, seediness, less thick are all signs of healthy bowels.
I wonder what I am doing to his body when I undereat. It obviously affects him, since he is exclusively breastfed. I’m lucky enough not to lose my supply or have it drop much — some women would — but it clearly changed. Would it possibly set him up to have a slower metabolism later? I don’t know. Maybe.
I definitely believe that I need to eat more, a lot more, to keep up my energy and to keep him normal. And yes, I tried drinking more water, probiotics, fiber, magnesium, etc. and these had no impact. It was the quantity of food alone.
My solution was to make a big pot of soup — my favorite is a creamy broccoli-baked potato soup — and keep it in the fridge. If I had nothing else, I could quickly get a bowl of that. Made with chicken stock, raw milk, cheese, butter, veggies, and other nourishing foods, it was a very good option and a fairly frugal one too.
Watch the Kids
In my opinion, one of the most important things we can do is watch the kids. How do exclusively breastfed babies behave? What is optimal for them? When they start solids, what is optimal then?
Breastfed babies seem to get continuous low levels of most nutrients, combined with lots of water, lots of fat, moderate carbs, and relatively low protein. This seems to be ideal for them. As they get older, their requirements change some, but I think we would do well to imitate that diet to some extent. Lots of fat, not too many carbs or too much protein (but more than babies since we adults are building muscles more than babies are).
Another important observation is how kids behave about food and exercise. They eat a lot, in my experience. They are constantly hungry. They want to eat a snack every thirty minutes and eat their meals too. They eat crazy amounts for their size.
But then, kids move a lot, too. Mine literally are physical and busy all day long most days. They are running, climbing, jumping, digging. Even when I know they are sleepy, they never run out of energy. I have made them run up and down the hall just so they would stop climbing on things or going crazy when they could break something. They said “I’m getting more energy!” After several minutes they would stop, crash, lie down for a couple of minutes. Then they would pop up and repeat, seeming to have just as much energy as ever.
I believe it is supposed to be that way. We are supposed to eat a lot and move a lot. The reason we don’t have their energy isn’t (mostly) because we aren’t kids anymore. It’s because we restrict our diets to certain types of foods, certain caloric intakes, etc. We are under-nourished, so the energy we bring in must be expended on the tasks of daily living. When was the last time you felt so bursting with energy that you wanted to run around? Like, really wanted to, almost felt twitchy about being still or moving slowly? I’d venture to guess not too many adults feel that, possibly ever.
I’ve felt that.
It’s not something relegated to kids, because they are kids. It is because kids don’t worry about looking fat or “proper” diet. They eat when they are hungry, they eat healthy options if they are offered, and they move a lot to burn off energy. The eat a lot –> move a lot cycle keeps metabolism high and keeps the body efficient, and allows for weight loss.
I will let you know if that works out for me, but based on my experience thus far, I believe it will. I know it works for my kids — none of them are even the slightest bit overweight!
Gut Health and Metabolism
I also think that this is so critical because if you are not eating enough, your metabolism slows down, digestion takes longer, and food has more of a chance to putrefy in your gut. Regardless of what you have eaten (good/not good), it can then feed the bad bacteria. It can contribute to candida. It can wreak havoc on your gut health. Food sitting in your gut too long is a very bad thing.
Some doctors have said that food should make it all the way through your system in approximately 20 – 24 hours. Others have said you must have a daily bowel movement, or multiple times a day, or it doesn’t matter as long as it’s a certain amount. (I think that all is going to depend on the individual, truthfully, but not going for a few days regularly is not good.)
There is also the fact that we just don’t eat enough fermented foods. We need more probiotic foods to begin with. And we need a daily dose, because most are washed right out, helping us only temporarily (a few types do help colonize and we need more of those). These probiotics help to pull the nutrients out of food so that we can make the most of what we’ve eaten. They help our bowels to be regular. They boost our immune system. All of this is interrelated. (Breastmilk contains over 700 different strains of probiotics, by the way, and the composition and amount can change if mom is supplemented with probiotics. That’s not a guess, there’s research to support that.)
If you don’t eat enough and you don’t get enough probiotics, you are undernourishing yourself. You are not getting the vitamins and minerals that you need. You’re chronically deficient, but not severely enough to be diagnosed with anything. This leads to all sorts of problems that most doctors don’t recognize or diagnose because it’s all “subclinical.” Not really bad enough to be a problem, but clearly bad enough to make you overweight and lack energy and feel poorly.
Eat More Food
The bottom line? We need more. More food, more motion, more probiotics. More. We need to do more to keep our bodies running efficiently and our metabolism faster. We’re not meant to be sedentary and to eat small meals.