No question: I have made some huge nutritional blunders over the past 25 years since I began to become seriously involved in nutritional issues. My mistakes, however, have provided powerful feedback on how to get diet right, how to get diet wrong. The impact of diet is profound.
Among the huge mistakes I’ve made:
1) Reducing total and saturated fat, eating vegetarian—It made me hungry, never satisfied, and, along with mistake #2, made me a type 2 diabetic with fasting blood sugars of 160+ mg/dl, triglycerides as high as 390 mg/dl, a HDL of 27 mg/dl, oodles of small LDL particles, and high blood pressure.
2) Eating lots of “healthy whole grains”—This, of course, contributed to always being hungry, type 2 diabetes, and the above metabolic distortions. It also gave me irritable bowel syndrome, eczematous skin rashes, irritability, fatigue, and weight gain.
3) Believing that exercise was somehow an antidote for dietary mistakes—It is not. Yes, exercise is part of an overall health program as it reduces insulin resistance, helps control blood pressure, contributes to well-being, maintains flexibility, and protects us from dementia. But it cannot undo the effects of diet that can easily overwhelm benefits provided by exercise.
4) Neglect the power of prebiotic fibers—Sure, it helps to take a probiotic and consume lactate-fermented foods. But you must nourish bowel flora with their preferred food: prebiotic fibers. This is one of the big problems for people who follow a ketogenic diet: It is devoid of prebiotic fibers and likely accounts for the constipation, long-term metabolic deterioration despite upfront improvements, kidney stones, osteoporosis, diverticular disease, and increased risk for colon cancer. No prebiotics = marked reduction in microbial species diversity. Species diversity is a crucial factor in maintaining health.
5) Believing that health efforts can end at diet—Diet is powerful, there’s no doubt about it. But optimal health cannot end at diet. Let’s take reversing insulin resistance, for example, the process that leads to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, increased risk for dementia, heart disease, and cancer. Diet by itself makes a major contribution to reversing insulin resistance, but it may not be enough. Address factors such as vitamin D deficiency, magnesium deficiency, iodine deficiency/hypothyroidism, abnormal postprandial (after-meal) lipoprotein responses, and dysbiosis and you further undo insulin resistance and obtain a broad and powerful panel of further health benefits. This is why diet trends only take you so far: They are not complete solutions to health, weight loss, and maintaining youthfulness. (This is why the Wheat Belly Total Health and Undoctored programs include additional strategies to address the deficiencies of modern life.)
We’ve all made diet and health mistakes. But we should learn from our mistakes. Having learned from mine, I now have no type 2 diabetes, have a HbA1c of 4.8%, fasting blood glucose in the 80s, triglycerides of 47 mg/dl, HDL 94 mg/dl, eat no grains or sugary foods, exercise for fun, include liberal quantities of prebiotic fibers, and address all the common deficiencies of modern life.
Oddly, however, we do this on our own because sources of “official” health and dietary advice don’t seem to learn from their mistakes and cling to ideas that were long ago disproven, such as the advice to limit fat and saturated fat, “move more and eat less,” and “everything in moderation,” awful and ineffective advice for anyone.