Wired to Eat
One Size Does Not Fit All
If I have learned anything over the years, it’s that we all tend to benefit from general guidelines, but our individual needs may be profoundly different than those of our neighbor. This can create a bias that makes us think what worked for us or someone we know will work for everyone. So although we’d like to keep things as simple as possible, when we gear things for an individual’s needs, things can get complex in a hurry.
Understanding how and why we need to change our eating and lifestyle to be healthy or lose weight can be relatively easy in practice (“Hey, buddy, just do this!”), but if folks need convincing, if they need to understand the whys and the details, well, that takes some work. So which is better: simplicity or complexity? Well, it depends. Both approaches have pitfalls. An overly simplistic view of the Paleo diet led to a mindless process of asking, “Is this food Paleo?” versus the more appropriate question, “Is this food a good option for me?” On the other hand, if the details on how the diet works starts to look like Advanced Chemistry, a typical reader would rather roll around naked in broken glass. I will aim to strike a balance between the two extremes, giving you sufficient information in a simple way so you understand how these choices will help you live a healthier life.
There is a (likely) fictional account of the famous artist and inventor Michelangelo that describes how he produced his masterwork sculpture David. He was asked what his process was for creating such detailed and lifelike work, and he responded with something to the effect of, “I cut away everything that did not look like David.” Sculptors, woodworkers, engineers, and artisans of all types use a variety of tools and strategies to produce their work. The tools used in the beginning are for the “rough work,” while other tools are used to produce the refined, finished product. As powerful as the Paleo diet or Ancestral Health perspective is, in this book, that strategy is used as a “rough” tool. Ultimately, I will help you find your own customized eating plan that will help you achieve your goals.
Recent research has shed light on the need to go beyond doctrine in order to find what works for us individually. In Wired to Eat, I will show you how to use this information to create your own effective, customized eating plan that can change your life and your health. How’s this possible? In recent studies, hundreds of people were fed a variety of foods and their individual blood glucose responses were tracked over time. To everyone’s surprise, there was not a one-size-fits-all “best diet,” but rather massive variation, from person to person and in the types of foods each individual reacted favorably or negatively to. This is groundbreaking because it indicates some foods create a healthy response in some people while creating a negative response in others. It shows that we can find the foods that work with our physiology instead of against it. We have never had an opportunity like this, as our previous efforts, although well intentioned, have lacked the precision we now have with this new approach to eating called Personalized Nutrition. Personalized Nutrition, in practical terms, means that you will be able to test specific foods in order to determine which work for your weight loss and health journey. Personalized Nutrition allows us to use big-picture concepts like the Paleo diet to get going in a good direction, but then we can “map” exactly which foods are best (or worst) for us. You’ll discover that there may be “bad” foods you’ve been avoiding for years, like rice or potatoes, that your body can actually tolerate. On the flip side, you may also discover that there are “healthy” foods you’ve been eating that are causing more harm than good on your weight loss and health journey.
Personalized Nutrition for Personal Success
With Wired to Eat, I attempt to reach people with two key concepts: one, an understanding of the genetic and environmental factors, such as sleep, stress, hyperpalatable foods, and community, that make it easy for us to overeat; and two, the powerful tool of Personalized Nutrition. Understanding how we are wired to eat will remove the morality and guilt often associated with attempting dietary changes. This is a plan that allows you to refine all the food rules you’ve been taught while discovering what works best for you. The program laid out in these pages will help you rewire your brain and appetite, allowing you to better control your blood sugar, and determine the foods that are right for your health and weight loss. Using the science of epigenetics, we will understand that our genes are not our destiny.
By altering our sleep, food, exercise, and social connections, we will shift all the factors governing our metabolism in a way that makes success easy. Additionally, we will lean heavily on the latest behavior change insights, which support the idea that we are not all the same. Some people will find success by abstaining from certain trigger foods. Others will be able to moderate their intake of (rather than avoid completely) certain foods. After reading this book, and doing a little self-experimentation, you will know which strategy will work best for you. Once appetite and blood sugar are in check, you will find it easier to lose weight and prevent or reverse a number of health problems, ranging from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
How will we do all this? Glad you asked. In Phase One, we will determine what your primary needs and goals are (who are you and where you want to go), and from this we will use a simple but powerful 30-Day Reset (a much more detailed program than appeared in my first book) to rewire your appetite and get you moving in the right direction. With it, you will discover if you are insulin resistant (or not), and based on this finding, we will adjust your carb intake to reflect your relative metabolic health. I have teased people in the past for believing they are “unique snowflakes,” but the joke has been on me in that regard. We are all unique—we are all outliers to some degree. To address the nearly infinite variety of individuals, I have developed Phase Two, a unique 7-Day Carb Test plan based on the latest science concerning Personalized Nutrition. Using easy-to-understand subjective measures, like how you feel after a meal, as well as a blood glucose monitor that will set you back $5 to $20, we can precisely determine what amounts and types of carbohydrates and other foods allow you to keep your blood sugar within healthy ranges. This information is critical if you’re going to create the health and weight loss plan that is most effective for you. It is truly groundbreaking, and a critical feature of Wired to Eat, because it’s key to understanding how to normalize your appetite, reduce inflammation, lose weight, and get healthy.
Let’s take a look at what I hope to accomplish in the book and give you a sense of where we are going and how the program will change the way you eat and live for the better.
The Path to Permanent Weight Loss
Millions of people start a diet each year, but the vast majority fail to achieve the results they desire. Why is that? Is it a moral failing on our part, or is there more to the story than a “weak will”? Instead of moralizing eating, perhaps we should consider that we live in a world that is ill suited to our genetics, that our food, sleep, movement, and social connections (the Four Pillars of Health, as I call them) have changed in ways that our bodies find difficult to adapt to. If we understand how our world has changed, how our genetics are wired for a different world, we can free ourselves of the shame and misplaced morality associated with the inherent difficulties of change. We can finally stop blaming ourselves for our inability to lose weight and get healthy. We’ll start the book with an understanding of why your weight-loss challenges are not your fault and help you understand how and why the plan in the book will change your life.
Humans are the most adaptable organism on the planet, but our food and environment have changed so rapidly that we are now ill equipped to deal with the modern world. Our genetic tendency to overeat is the root cause of everything from diabetes to neurodegenerative disease. You’ll learn about these concepts as well as our tendency to indulge in nearly limitless flavor and palate options. We now eat like professionals. And yes, that’s as bad as it sounds.
Before we get to the program and the how-to, I’ll help you understand the importance of digestion. It is far more significant to your health than simply understanding how many calories we eat. We will learn that, yes, calories do matter, but so do the amounts and types of food we eat, as the different macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) have very different effects on our hormones, which dramatically alter our sense of satiety and fullness.
You will learn that thousands of scientific studies suggest that many of the degenerative diseases we face—from diabetes to obesity to autoimmunity—are tied to a breakdown in our digestive process, specifically in the gut. We will learn how refined carbohydrates alter our gut in ways that predispose us to insulin resistance and a host of conditions, ranging from heart disease to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. We will also learn how certain foods (such as those containing gluten) may be involved in the development of autoimmune disease and systemic inflammation. Armed with this information we now have a tool to take the general principles of the Ancestral Health approach and create a program customized to your individual needs.
The Paleo diet is more misunderstood than an Goth kid living in Arkansas. As such, we will consider the common misconceptions around the Paleo diet and do something totally wacky: look at the scientific evidence. The Paleo diet approach is a powerful tool, but it is merely a starting place. Human evolution did not stop in the Paleolithic era, and although many conditions may greatly benefit from this basic approach, we can now customize our eating and lifestyle in a way that optimizes weight loss, health, and enjoyment.
Once you’ve learned why it’s hard to avoid the temptations of modern processed food, it’ll be time to start doing. With my 30-Day Reset, you’ll figure out what your goals are and what eating plan is right for you. Central to this story, we will discover if you are insulin resistant and, if so, to what degree. This information will help us determine which path you take as the insulin resistant individual and it will have you eating on the lower-carb end of the spectrum (possibly exploring the use of nutritional ketosis and fasting), at least until you reset your system by losing weight and reversing your insulin resistance. We will look at the strategies of prepping your home and outside life to stay on track and make lasting progress.
We’ll then move on to the 7-Day Carb Test plan, which will change your life by helping you determine the foods that are right for your body and for your weight loss. Modern technology like wearable blood glucose monitors allow us to discover which foods and what amounts produce the blood glucose response that is best for us. We will look at some of your commonly consumed carb sources and map how you respond to them. This information is critical if you're going to create the health and weight loss plan that is most effective for you. It is truly groundbreaking feature of Wired to Eat, because it’s key to understanding how to normalize your appetite, reduce inflammation, lose weight, and get healthy.
And no eating plan is complete without a quick word on cheating. In my twenty years of working with people, I have seen how they undermine their success with regard to food and lifestyle changes. Perhaps the most injurious is the misguided notion of “cheating” on our eating. We don’t “cheat” on our food. We do not need a “healthy relationship” with our food. We simply need to understand that there are consequences to our food choices. The mind-set surrounding the “cheating” mentality is almost a guarantee of failure and puts the focus in the wrong place, when the real problem is most likely a lack of love and connection. Now is the opportunity to change our minds and our lives.
Beyond the eating plan, which is crucial for ultimate well-being and health, we also need to rebalance the other three important pillars in our lives: sleep, community, and movement. Our food choices are important, but chow is only part of the story when we consider our health and our waistline. We will first look at sleep and photoperiod, as inadequate sleep and altered circadian rhythm dramatically influence our metabolism and food choices. We will then look at exercise (movement) from an ancestral perspective and understand that the most important activity we can do is the one we love and will stick with. In looking at stress, we will learn that there are important things we can do to minimize stress, but ironically, it may be far more important to change our perception of stress than to try to become a monk on a mountaintop. Finally, we will look at the forgotten feature of health and happiness: community. Humans are social beings, and without adequate social connection our health and longevity can be as negatively impacted as if we had a pack-a-day smoking habit.
The Wired to Eat program will make change as simple and effective as possible. You will find easy-to-fix meals that will help you succeed on your weight-loss and health journey. All have been developed by Charles and Julie Mayfield, authors of the bestselling Paleo Comfort Foods books. These are delicious, time-efficient meals that will make it easy to maximize your weight loss and stick with the program over the long haul.
For some of you, the basic plan I’ve outlined may not be enough, so I’ve also provided a chapter on the ketogenic diet and fasting that might be the answer for your needs, particularly if you are type 2 diabetic or suffering from (or at high risk for) neurodegenerative disease. Ketogenic diets have been used for nearly a hundred years to treat conditions such as epilepsy, while fasting may have been used for several thousand years to remedy a host of ailments. Fasting and ketosis offer profound options for conditions ranging from obesity to neurodegenerative disease, yet most of the medical community considers them to be dangerous, despite the fact research demonstrates them to be both safer and more efficacious than most of the conventional therapies. You will learn if you are appropriate for fasting or ketosis, how to do it, and what to monitor to know if this is indeed the right tool for your needs.