Most of us spend our lives equating health and fitness with physical condition – ever striving for less fat, more muscle, more definition, stronger, higher, tighter, smoother, leaner. So much so that to the general populace, ‘health and fitness’ have become almost entirely synonymous with physical composition.
Our experience – indeed, the driving force behind Power Kitchen – is that true good health and prime physical composition do not always go hand in hand. In fact, some of the most dyed-in-the-wool body comp nutrition ‘facts’ and ‘best practices’ are, for some if not most, detrimental to general long term health in spite of the good results they may seem to yield in terms of body composition.
Our Power Kitchen story started with Tom, back in the early 2000s when he was a competing pro MMA fighter. Back then the closest you could get to healthy fast food was a Subway. Of course whole grain bread was still considered a de-facto healthy choice. We dreamed of opening a ‘healthy fast food chain’ where you could get not only sandwiches, but a box of wholewheat pasta or rice and grilled chicken breast – the staple dinner of the ‘fight camp’ diet plan. But at the time we had neither the time nor the knowledge to make this dream a reality.
In the meantime, Tom followed the well trodden diet tropes of the time and ate very low-fat, high-protein, high-carb to fuel his high-impact training. Oatmeal and skim milk for breakfast. Whole grain bread/pasta and chicken breast for dinner. Rice, chicken breast and broccoli for tea. Plenty of apple juice, coffee, and flapjacks to drink/snack on. Tons of whey protein.
And Tom looked great. Look at any picture of him from during his fight career and he looks in peak physical condition. But on the inside, we later discovered it was a different story…
With a genetic predisposition to autoimmunity and a childhood history of autoimmune disease for which he had to be hospitalised (Henoch-Schönlein purpura), along with chronic IBS symptoms throughout his late teens/early twenties, functional medicine dieticians of today would have seen the red flags and steered Tom well clear of such a high-carb, grain-heavy diet, which lacked so entirely in good fats, amino balance, micronutrient range, and gut-healing foods.
Back in 2012, Dr Alexandro Fasani published his groundbreaking research into autoimmunity, and the essential link between genetics, environmental triggers and leaky gut syndrome, all of which need to be present in order for autoimmunity to manifest. The most crucial insight from this study is that without one of the three factors, autoimmunity is unlikely to manifest – therefore if you’re able to heal a leaky gut, then you dramatically reduce your chances of developing an autoimmune condition, even if you’re genetically predisposed or exposed to environmental triggers such as stress or allergens.
Tom had clearly always had a chronic case of leaky gut syndrome, and the foods he was eating were both exacerbating the condition, and preventing his body from healing. Whole wheat grains were irritating his gut, and the zonulin they contained actively breaking down the tight junctions in his intestines, causing bacteria and allergens to leak into his bloodstream, creating an inflammatory response. An overload of starchy carbs was indigestible by his own digestive system, but created the perfect food to help the ‘bad’ bacteria in his intestinal microbiota thrive, creating a gut dysbiosis and further increasing levels of inflammation. Hardly any omega 3 oils, yet high levels of omega 6 from hydrogenated vegetable/seed oil further exacerbated inflammation levels. A lack of variety in plant-based food affected his diversity of micronutrients, and slowly but surely depleted essential vitamin and mineral levels. A surfeit of only muscle meat created an overload of methionine and tryptophan, which over time disrupts the body’s ability to absorb B vitamins and trace minerals, and can lead to production of excess homocysteine, an inflammatory protein linked to risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke. The lack of good fats in Tom’s diet not only contributed to his chronic systemic inflammation, but likely contributed to depleted levels of all of the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), and detrimentally affected his overall immunity by starving T-cells of their energy source.
So Tom’s diet was by no means the best for his personal physiology, and before long the effects of his leaky gut, gut
dysbiosis, and the resulting systemic inflammation became apparent:
*Tendency to get injured easily, and recover poorly
*IBS symptoms – often very severe
*Constant cough/inflamed tonsils
*Proclivity to skin rashes and fungal infections
*Degenerative disc disease
*Constant tiredness and fatigue after eating
*Bloating and water retention
Eventually, in 2014, Tom suffered a patella tendon tear, and surgery was closely followed by sepsis, pneumonia and cellulitis, all requiring heavy antibiotic use. This chain of intrusive environmental factors triggered a particularly severe autoimmune response, which saw Tom struggle with a range of new and worsened autoimmune conditions, including:
*Flare-up of degenerative disc disease
*Flare-up of IBS
It was our research into ways of healing Tom’s various conditions which lead us to the relatively new field of functional medicine – the practice of seeking and addressing root causes of illness rather than just treating the symptoms. We soon discovered that the root of so many diseases, certainly autoimmune diseases, is poor diet and poor habits concerning practices of eating and physical exercise.
There are a variety of different diet protocols developed to heal leaky gut/dysbiosis and provide superior nourishment for true health – from Autoimmune Paleo to FODMAPS with many others in between. What they tend to have in common is the exclusion of pro inflammatory foods such as refined carbohydrates, heavily processed foods, and gluten grains, and the inclusion of nutrient-dense, healing foods including probiotics, fermented foods, whole foods, variety of plant foods, and broths. While we would never suggest a ‘one size fits all’ approach to diet, we would certainly recommend experimenting with healing diets if you suspect that you would benefit from a more holistic approach to achieving prime physical composition without compromising your long-term health.
Using healing diet protocols, along with appropriate exercise and mindfulness techniques, Tom has overcome the vast majority of his autoimmune issues, and is managing those which remain without the need for intrusive surgeries or drugs. In future articles, we will focus on specific autoimmune/hormonal issues and the approaches to diet which particularly helped with the symptoms of each.
Stella Blackledge, Dip BNC RegNutr