A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was listening to Robb’s new book (thank you, Audible!) Generally, I don’t like to ‘read’ books this way, but his book sounded a lot like an extended version of his podcast. Even though it was not read by him, Robb’s personality definitely came through and I believe one of his best attributes is that he explains some really technical info in terms that everyone can understand. Not only did I finish his audio book in record time, but while listening to it, my attention did not wander! (Minor miracle!)
I’m not going to go into chapter and verse here, but I will give you a quick overview. In 2011, Robb published his first book The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet and it was a resounding success. Paleo was already being discussed by the weight loss/ fitness community and most people fell into one of two camps: either they thought it was another goofy fad diet or they were firm believers. Most people today still fall into those two camps, but the Firm Believer camp is growing fairly steadily, mainly because more and more health professionals (including doctors and nutritionists) are finding that even if they don’t buy the complete ‘Paleo premise,’ the fact that the lifestyle emphasizes whole unprocessed foods, healthy movement and quality sleep is enough to merit a hearty endorsement.
In Wired to Eat: Turn Off Cravings, Rewire Your Appetite to Lose Weight and Discover the Foods That Work for You (really really long title, dude!), Robb is taking the Paleo diet and individualizing it for you. He’s developing the idea of Personalized Nutrition by first laying a strong foundation of healthy eating, movement, sleep and community and then taking it one step further by helping you find what foods are better for you and which foods you should be avoiding.
One of the things I like best about Robb (and I think it’s a big factor in his success helping people eat healthier and be more active) is that he has no illusions about the weight loss/ fitness community and industry. He tells you a few times in the first few chapters that this is basically a ‘diet book’ and the fact that we are reading it at all instead of “killing it with fire!” is a small miracle on its own. Robb understands that most of his readers are going to be looking for a quick fix and that many won’t make lasting changes unless the program isn’t complicated and they see some positive results fairly quickly.
Robb begins with his 30 day Reset, which is essentially a Paleo diet plan. He admits he chose Paleo because it’s a whole food diet, emphasizing what he calls the four pillars of good health: nutrition, sleep, movement and community. By focusing on eating whole unprocessed foods, we give our bodies the best materials we can to repair and refuel itself. By getting enough quality sleep (and those two adjectives are important!), we give our minds and bodies the time it needs to repair and refresh themselves. By getting enough healthy movement, we keep our body in good working order, which is also good for the mind, and by maintaining positive healthy relationships, we also keep our bodies, minds and spirits healthy and vibrant.
Robb gives us a little background on our basic human wiring. Humans evolved to move. As a species we walked on an average more than five miles a day, pretty much consuming everything edible that crossed our path and we rose and slept with the sun in an extended family unit or tribe. This paradigm served us pretty well until the last hundred years or so. Even after the agricultural revolution, we were still doing okay until the invention of cheap electric light, industrial foods and antibiotics. We began eating highly processed but nutritionally barren foods, using broad spectrum antibiotics which wiped out our healthy intestinal bacteria (which allowed us to eat the nutrient rich foods) and started sleeping less and less and becoming more and more cut off from society. As a result, over the last century, we’ve become steadily more unhealthy, increasingly obese and much less active, and- a much more frightening statistic- the rates of digestive and autoimmune diseases have skyrocketed. Under the current functional medicine point of view, most of our rampant health issues stem from the lack of good nutrition, lack of activity, lack of sleep, and growing social isolation.
Most of Robb’s book focuses on getting us through the 30 Day Reset, in which we stop eating the Standard American Diet of processed foods and high glycemic load carbs. We start moving more, getting more sleep and building or maintaining our social connections. He essentially talks the reader through why these things are important to our success not only as a species but as an individual. He also has some quick easy meal planning tips for those who are intimidated by the idea of cooking most of their own food as well as some tips for what happens when the reader goes out to eat. A lot of them are pretty common sense to me, but I grew up in front of a stove, cooking for my family. When I got older, I elected not to cook (with amazingly disastrous results, BTW!) When I mention cooking to others, I am frankly shocked by how little most people know about cooking and how resistant they are to the idea. Many of them think making dinner involves hours of meal prep and slaving away over the hot stove. They also think meal planning takes hours of complex menu convolutions. Robb gives a few ingredients and menu variations with those few basic ingredients that only take about 30 minutes to prepare. Most of them sounded really good too!
He also goes through some healthy advice on movement, community and sleep. He outlines ideas on getting more quality sleep and its benefits. Some of these sounded a little ‘out-there’ to me, but I’m pretty atypical in this arena. What works best for me and some of my friends is a sleep/ relaxation app, a warm cozy blanket and my pets. Robb emphasizes the benefits of sleep and how it not only restores our brains and bodies, but it also helps us recover from the stress of the day. We are not a society that values relaxation and stress management any more than we value sleep and this shows in our lack of good health. Even though we live in a high tech, food-rich society, we are generally more unhealthy than our grandparents because, although food is plentiful, it has fewer nutrients than the food our grandparents ate, and thanks to our modern lifestyle, we isolate ourselves in front of our devices for hours on end, without moving or sleeping. None of this behavior is healthy.
As far as movement goes, his advice is pretty basic: choose an activity you enjoy and do it as much as possible. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it. As a coach and a gym owner, he gives some background on endurance and your mitochondria, but the bottom line is even if you choose the healthiest activity there is, if you don’t do it, it doesn’t matter. I really like water aerobics and while it may not be the healthiest activity, it’s one that I do as often as I can because I like it and I like hanging with my friends in the class. That makes it a successful workout regimen for me.
Community is also something that is overlooked by our high tech high stress society. In the past, we lived and worked in communities with strong social ties. Being isolated increases stress and depression, among other things, while shortening our lives. Social isolation ranks with cigarette smoking when it comes to shortened life span. Humans are social creatures so maintaining and developing social ties are important to our stress relief, mental and physical health. Again, I am atypical in this regard, in that I am happily single and living with others actually increases my stress. Let me clarify that: living with other humans increases my stress and irritation. I have a strong social human network with whom I interact nearly every day, but at the end of the day, I go home to my furry family. Although I am the only human in my household, I certainly do not think of myself as ‘living alone.’
After laying a pretty solid foundation for healthy living in his 30 day Reset, Robb goes the extra step and tells us how to customize our eating plans through the 7 day Carb Test. By the time you’ve gone through the 30 day Reset, you’ll have noticed that most of the carbs in the menus are low carb, unprocessed and/ or fiber rich. It is Paleo after all, so there’s not a lot of things like pasta, breads, rice, white potatoes, wheat, corn or other grains on there. The 7 day Carb Test is where he explains how we can get some of those back in our diet. The 30 day Reset is to help you establish a healthy baseline and healthy habits. It gets you off the crazy carb roller coaster and other unhealthy habits and once you’ve done that (and probably lost a few pounds, are feeling more rested and focused), he shows you how to figure out what foods work better for you than others. He suggests getting a glucose monitor to test your blood sugar. What most people don’t realize about blood sugar is that cravings, hunger, headaches, low energy and weight gain, not to mention diabetes and other diseases are related to your blood sugar, which is pretty much dictated by what you eat. If you want to ride the blood sugar roller coaster, start with bagels and juice for breakfast, a sandwich and chips for lunch, a grande mocha in the afternoon, pasta marinara for dinner and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. Even if you add in some extra protein, that menu will have most of us going up and down with mood, energy and hunger all day, with the accompanying weight gain. But not all carbs are bad for everyone, and that’s what Robb’s 7 day Carb Test helps you figure out. He outlines a program to let you test yourself on some of the carbs you like and want to add back and then you can determine if you are too sensitive to them. Even if you aren’t really sensitive to them, some foods may just make you feel worse or better than others.
While the 7 day Carb Test isn’t complicated, there are a few caveats: if you have never tested your blood sugar, it means sticking your finger to draw a bit of blood. Most glucose monitors will run you about $10-20 and you need to check to see if they include batteries and the lancing device and the actual lancets. Some of them don’t and the lancing device and lancets will run about another $10 or so. The device is reloadable: it’s the lancets that you need to change out each time and a box of those is fairly cheap. Most lancing devices have a little dial at the tip: this controls how deeply the lancet sticks you to make you bleed. Start with the most shallow number and do NOT lancet the tip/ pad of your finger! Too many nerve endings and it will hurt like an SOB! Stick the side of your finger tip and stick a different finger each time. What is NOT cheap are the test strips. Most reliable test strips will cost about a dollar a strip and they are usually sold in boxes of 50 or 100 (you may be able to get a box of 25 depending on the brand). Should you opt to do the 7 day Carb Test, you MUST make sure that the test strips you get are compatible with your monitor. Even if you get an off-brand that says it’s compatible with XYZ brand monitors, there is usually some discrepancy, like plus/ minus 10 points. Depending on how much you want to invest in your carb tolerance and your diet, the 7 day Carb Test may be worth it for you. If you have pre-diabetes, D2, or another weight loss condition, your doctor might be able to give you a prescription for the monitor and the strips, etc but you will need to discuss it with him/ her and see if your insurance will cover it. Personally, I’ve stuck my fingers too many times to be interested in doing it again. I know what carbs I like and what works better for me, or at least is worth the ride on the roller coaster.
If you are interested in Robb’s book or anything else about Robb, his website is Robbwolf.com. (The book is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble if you want to skip his site.) At his website, you can find info on his other book (The Paleo Solution), his podcast and a host of other resources. Robb’s a real pro and I’m not kidding when I say he is a fitness and nutrition guru. [Obligatory disclaimer: I have absolutely no affiliation with him. I just think he’s a great resource for anyone interested in eating better and getting healthier.] I hope you enjoy his book as much as I do and feel free to let me know what you think!