“When I say metabolism I mean body temperature. This is a far better indicator of, pound for pound, what kind of hormonal state the body is in. The REAL definition of metabolism if the sum total of all hormonal and metabolic processes within the body – not just calorie burn or oxygen consumption.” Matt Stone
However, some of you lovely readers have queried why I might align with Matt’s recommendation to include “junk food” in your metabolic tool kit, and have pointed out that this seems at odds with my general nutrition philosophy. Jen asks, via facebook, “What do you think of Matt Stone’s recommendations to eat basically everything, including flours, etc? Would you view it as a short term recovery thing to be left behind once the metabolism is healed?” and another few readers asked “Doesn’t Matt recommend a refined/junk food diet?” I even got a couple of emails telling me off for supporting such a thing.
Firstly, I don’t actually think Matt recommends a “junk food diet” – but read the book yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Secondly, it depends what you consider to be “junk food” – I mean, the vast majority of glorified “health foods” I might well place in the “junk” category, and vice versa.
Here’s my stance:
Basing your food choices upon degree of refinement is potentially as misleading as basing them on caloric density or on-paper nutrition (as opposed to how a food really behaves in the human body). Particularly in a low-metabolic state, when digestion may be compromised, white rice, white flour, refined sugar are potentially better choices for certain individuals than their unrefined counterparts, and may even be used therapeutically. In some cases, the refined version of a food might even be considered more useful across the board, regardless of metabolic and digestive capacity. An example to me would be whole grains, which I generally think are more trouble than they’re worth if they’re making up a large proportion of your diet, whilst white rice, white flour, etc, are fairly benign. Trust me, you’re not going to keel over and die from ingesting a bit of white flour – perhaps it's time to get over the whole foods bias.
If you’re trying to warm up frigid body temperatures and recover from any kind of restrictive dieting (be it low-fat, or low-carb or low-calorie) or over-exercise, then “junk/refined food” with its low water content, easily assimilated combination of carbohydrates and salt, might just be your ticket (yes I said that). The nutrients that will most effectively increase thermogenesis, get you warm and toasty, restrain the stress response and increase metabolism are exactly those S’s that Matt suggests: Salt, Sugar, Starch and potentially also Saturated fat as an “honourable mention”. Things like cheesy pastries, pancakes and ice cream deliver these nutrients quite nicely. You might just find that you recover good metabolic efficiency more quickly without relying entirely on natural sugars (fruits), unrefined starches (potatoes and other root veg) and plain sea salt... plus make some excellent psychological and emotional headway during the process (remember we're talking about diet recovery, which extends far beyond physical healing). This is extremely individual and depends on what’s going on in your body, not anyone else’s.
Is it a short-term strategy? Perhaps… and it depends. Should you be including refined foods as part of your diet long-term?
The thing is, there’s a lot of un-learning to be done when it comes to nutrition. If you become an expert on the topic you’re at risk of winding up backed into a corner, reeling with anxiety and suspect of every food that crosses your path. Really (and Matt points this out), there’s no food or nutrient that can’t be argued both for and against (and if you think there is then you haven’t studied that food/nutrient hard enough – but please just don’t).
Don’t let a “perfect diet” get in the way of achieving good health.
Mentally, and even physically, eating a “perfect diet” (whether that even exists!) is probably not conducive to good health. The best diet in the world is not healthy if it’s causing you undue stress trying to follow it. And stress in any form is the enemy of optimising metabolism and health.
For example, the stress caused by constantly worrying about obscure details like whether your beef is 100% grass-finished probably makes more of a physiological difference to your body than the exact nutrient profile of that piece of beef. If you’ve declared something off-limits like pastries or ice cream or lollies, I guarantee you’ll become overly obsessed with avoiding that food and want it even more (actually, I’m not saying these examples are necessarily the “junk foods” they’re made out to be). If you can’t attend a social dinner without panic about macronutrient ratios or fear of unwittingly consuming “refined foods” then this kind of stress is affecting your heath, certainly more so than just going with the flow and eating pretty much whatever is put in front of you (true allergies and intolerances excluded, of course) knowing that in the scheme of things one meal doesn’t matter a great deal.
Especially for anyone with a slightly disordered relationship with food (and let’s face it, most of us with an avid interest in health and nutrition suffer from some kind of food anxiety or past history of being overly-obsessed with food, crash dieting, calorie/fat/carbohydrate restriction, food rules or unhealthy black and white thinking about nutrition, even if none of these things ever manifested into what could be classified as a full-blown eating disorder), the obsessive quest for nutritional nirvana is wholly not conducive to actually achieving excellent mind and body health.
Surely in “healing your metabolism” a long-term goal would be to eat well and enjoy the freedom to pretty much each what you like and trust that your body can handle it: be it large quantities of food and calories, normal portions of starch or sugar with good glucose clearance, or ingesting those foods and nutrients that used to give you digestive grief or bowel symptoms or make you break out, without worrying? I’m not saying to throw all your dietary cares or learning out the window – I obviously recommend the conscious avoidance of concentrated sources of polyunsaturated fats such as margarine, corn oil, sunflower oil, flaxseed… and so on, making sure you get adequate quality carbohydrates, animal protein, salt… – but what’s a bit of white flour and refined sugar in the context of an overall pretty adequate diet? I really see these foods only posing a problem if they’re misplacing lots of other nutrient-dense foods in your diet, like fruits, root vegetables, whole eggs, quality dairy, seafood, red meat, and so on.
On that note, I'm still reminiscing about breakfast this morning, which consisted of some thoroughly enjoyed French croissants (not a rarity, I might add) and I was heartily satisfied and toasty warm until lunchtime. Flaky French pastries (butter + flour + salt… with some lovely melty cheese and jam) for me are a perfectly, deliciously, excellent part of a healthful diet, one that supports both physical wellness and emotional sanity. Relax a little and enjoy.
Fire through questions for next Monday’s post to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them to me on the Facebook page. Thanks!
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Kate is a certified Clinical Nutritionist and offers one-on-one coaching for clients in Sydney Australia, and internationally via Skype or email. Visit the nutrition services page to find out more about private coaching, and be sure to subscribe via email and follow the Nutrition by Nature Facebook page for blog updates, articles, nutrition tips, recipes and special offers.