I read Dr. Terry Wahls' book, Minding My Mitochondria in November of last year. This is the book about how Dr. Wahls, a research and primary care physician, changed her approach to medicine reversing her own symptoms from Multiple Sclerosis. She stopped taking pills and started feeding her body to optimize the up-take of nutrients healing herself by healing her mitochondria. She went from a tilt recline wheelchair to riding a bike in under a year.
Mitochondria are the power houses of our cells. If they don't function properly, our bodies will not function properly. The Wahls Diet aims to increase our micro and macro nutrients and prescribes a way to eat them that allows the body, specifically the brain, to get everything it needs to be its healthiest.
This is what you should eat on Wahls diet in a nutshell:
This is what you shouldn't eat:
Dr. Wahls advocates eating fresh, organic, local meats and vegetables in large quantities. The Wahls Protocol also includes reducing toxic load, exercising the body and brain.
Phase 1 = Eating 9 cups of non-starchy vegetables and berries each day (greens, sulfur, color).
Phase 2 = Going gluten free, dairy free and soy free to reduce the risk of food allergies.
Phase 3 = Going Paleo by reducing/eliminating grains, legumes and potatoes.
Phase 4 = Getting evaluated for potential food allergies, toxic load issues and more personalized nutritional needs by a practitioner of functional medicine. The Institute for Functional Medicine can help you find a provider in your area.
Right after reading her book, I started adding more veggies, especially leafy greens to my family's meals. In January, I decided to follow her diet as best I could for one month. I wound up doing phase one and two completely, I tried to follow phase 3 as much as a could, but I didn't fully understand what was required. And the book was vague in some areas and gave conflicting advice in other places.
I didn't find this four phased approach until my month was over. I spent a lot of January figuring out exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I filled in the gaps from Minding My Mitochondria by reading online and watching several videos of Dr. Wahls on YouTube. Hopefully my posts will help clarify for others interested in trying this out.
The Wahls Foundation has said that the release of Dr. Wahls' next book will be in Summer 2014 and hopefully that will present a clearer path.
Minding My Mitochondria made me aware of how diet affects health. Before I had been very aware of how portions control, fats, proteins and carbohydrates contribute to a "balanced diet". As someone who has struggled with weight gain and as a pregnant gal who had gestational diabetes these are things I consider every day. However, no doctor or diet had ever laid out how the quality, processing and trace nutrients in food are equally as important.
Most weight loss strategies focus on severely restricting calories without addressing the starvation [of nutrients] that is co-occurring with the obesity. Although severe restriction of calories can lead to weight loss, it is very difficult to keep the weight off. - Dr. Wahls' Blog
The Wahls diet is a more complete approach. It's also a more complicated approach. Many people get lost. It's hard to keep all your ducks in a row. On forums and around the internet I have seen folks having problems with losing too much weight or ironing out if coffee, wine or honey fit into the Wahls Diet; finding some of the odder dietary requirements like seaweed and grass fed organ meat can be tricky.
Part of these difficulties are because Dr. Wahls continues to do research and so her approach is evolving. There are also inconsistencies in the book. Most notable is that the Wahl's diet is grain-free and dairy-free yet some of the recipes included are gluten-free not grain-free. It sends mixed signals.
The Wahls Diet does require a drastic change from how most Americans eat. It takes time to learn how to prepare and eat food differently. And cheese, cheese is hard to give up.
As I have discovered recipes and ways to incorporate the Wahls Diet into my life I have been recording them on this blog. You can find all of them on my Wahls Paleo Diet Recipes and Ideas - Pinterest Board.
I developed a spreadsheet to help me check off the requirements each day. I found the one in the back of Minding My Mitochondria was for different requirements then her current recommendations. Plus the one in book is four pages long and rather bulky. If you'd like to give it a try, I've shared it on GoogleDocs. You can cut and paste it into your own files and customize however suits you.
It's now March and I have had time to ruminate on my month of eating the Wahls way. It was hard work and honestly I didn't feel any different. I'm a healthy person so this is preventative for me and my young family. I've been steadily shifting how we eat over the last couple years.
We eat very well. We already had stopped eating processed foods and found a local source of high quality meat. The big changes for us were eating more of certain vegetables, going gluten and dairy free.
I did lose a couple pounds in the beginning, but once I found recipes I liked, I actually gained a couple pounds. Calories still count!
I had a couple mornings were I felt nauseous I didn't understand. Shouldn't I be feeling better, more energetic? Turns out a cup of high quality gun powder green tea in the morning was the cause. The tannins on an empty stomach made me feel sick. The cheaper green teas from brands like Tazo, Stash or Yogi are easier for me to drink. Ironically, they probably have fewer antioxidants which is why we should drink green tea in the first place.
I continue to eat lots of vegetables. Most days I even manage to make sure me and my family get enough from every category. The one cup of blue/black vegetables or fruit are the most difficult. I plan on growing blue potatoes, blueberries and beets this year to make it easier.
It wasn't too hard to go gluten-free but much more difficult to go grain-free. I have started to experiment with soaking, sprouting and souring grains and legumes to make them more digestible to keep them in our diet. Something more in the line of Nourishing Traditions or the Weston A. Price Foundation. It is perhaps not the best solution or the Wahls way, but it is better than what we were eating before.
Have you run across this new thought that if we do eat grains they should be the milled white variety? The argument being that fiber from bran has lots of phyto nutrients that block the uptake of vitamins and minerals. We should get our fiber instead from whole fruits and vegetables. The Healthy Home Economist recommends eating white Basmati rice because it is more nutritious than plain white rice. There is a whole new post worth of information to sort through on that topic!
In the end, I learned a lot. I enjoyed the challenge. I do believe my family will eat better because of Dr. Wahls. Will we follow every single recommendation? No, but we will keep it in mind. I plan on buying her next book. I will be an active student.
I will continue to share recipes and ideas that work with the Wahls Diet here on my blog. You can find more about the Wahls Diet here:
I'd love to hear about your experiences or thoughts. Please share in the comments!