Archive for the ‘Diet’ Category

Trim Healthy Mama: Practical Details

Dear Reader,

I posted recently on the theology behind the Trim Healthy Mama diet; now I want to talk about more practical details.

How Easy is it to Get Started?

For me, there are parts of this diet that are not hard to implement because I already had so many of the products they recommend on hand. With one child off gluten, dairy, and soy and another with type 1 diabetes, I already had in my pantry: almond meal, Dreamfields low carb pasta, almond milk, coconut oil, coconut flour, low carb tortillas, xantham gum, (GF) rolled oats, and probably more things I am forgetting.

Even with all these things, however, I still found I had to consider whether to buy some of the other foods and ingredients they recommend or use in their recipes. Some are easy to get, like egg whites in a carton for their low-fat (E) recipes. Some require special ordering, like gluccomanan powder which is essential to make their puddings.

Now they do say you can do the diet without any special ingredients. And the theory behind it (don’t eat fat and carbs together) is pretty simple so I can see that would be true. But at the same time, their suggested meals and their recipes require a lot of these things. So I think that if you are trying to just pick up the book and go, it is tough to do so without buying all this special stuff. Personally, I have looked at a number of recipes in the book which sounded delicious only to say “well, I don’t have that ingredient so I guess that’s a no-go for now.”

The Recipes and Restricted Diets

I have tried a couple of the recipes, some with success (basic cheesecake; yum!), some without (cookie bowl oatmeal; just a gelatinous mush with still hard oats for me). As others have said in reviews I read, I wish they would just give the recipes in a normal format. They give them in a narrative style, adding heir own comments and tweaks which are nice to read but it would help if they just started with the recipe and then added those things later. My own feeling having certain food restrictions in the family is that it is easy to do this diet gluten-free, but it is hard to do it dairy-free. A lot of their recipes involve dairy. I am also off chocolate because it gives me headaches, and I find it very hard to do it chocolate free too. All their desserts and treats, and even some breakfast, which sound really yummy contain chocolate. When I leave out the chocolate, everything ends up peanut butter flavored. And I like peanut butter but I don’t need everything to be that way. (Now back when I could eat chocolate, I would have been happy to have everything I ate taste like it, but those days are gone for me.) Soy-free, by the way, is super easy because THM is anti-soy.

So for me at this point, I would say the implementation of this diet has been a little hard. I had a house guest for a whole which made it tough to go out, buy special things, and think about organizing my meals differently. And I realized that a lot of our favorite dishes are not THM friendly, meaning they include things like brown sugar and potatoes or they combine carbs and fat. And though I have read reviews which say the contrary, I did not think the book was very helpful in telling me how to tweak recipes I already use.

What Can’t I Eat?

Another claim THM makes is that it is about what you eat when, but does not eliminate foods. This is not really true. Here are some of the things that are, if not totally eliminated, at least minimized or discouraged:

1. Some oils– they use butter, olive oil, and coconut oil, all of which I already had so that’s not too big  a deal to me. But no vegetable oil, canola oil, etc.

2. No white or wheat breads (or cakes or cookies, etc). They do allow sourdough bread and rye bread as these are low on the glycemic index. They also allow sprouted grain breads like Ezekiel bread.

3. No blood-sugar raising sweeteners. This includes refined sugars but also honey and agave nectar and maple syrup. They allow stevia, xylitol, and truvia.

4. No potatoes. This is huge around here. Potatoes have been a staple of our gluten-free diet. And I know sometimes I can substitute sweet potatoes which I don’t mind, but the kids will only stand for so much of that.

5. No corn. Not too big a problem but we did eat tortilla chips, corn bread and taco shells.

6. No bananas. This is fine with me as they give me headaches any way. But others seem to be quite put out by this one. Other tropical fruits like watermelon and mango are also limited.

Do I have to limit calories or count things?

Which brings me to another point. These tropical fruits are limited because they are high on the glycemic index, meaning they raise blood sugar fast. As a  parent of a child with type 1 diabetes, carbs, blood sugar and the like are not new territory for me. But the whole philosophy behind this diet is that blood sugar should be kept as stable as possible and I wonder if this is really necessary for those who do not have diabetes and are not at particular risk for it. Some variation in blood sugar is natural.

I wonder also how they are figuring the effect of certain carbs on blood sugar. For instance, carrots are banned from their S (fat) meals. This is no doubt because they have a high glycemic index, meaning they raise blood sugar fast. But because one must eat so many of them to raise blood sugar, they actually have a low glycemic load which is a more accurate measure of how they will affect blood sugar. Combining foods also affects glycemic load. I suspect they know this and that this is behind their assertion that protein should accompany all meals. Both protein and fat slow down the absorption of carbs and therefore the rise in blood sugar. So even a really fast acting food like watermelon, if my daughter eats it after a fatty meal like pizza, will not cause her blood sugar quickly. A child with type 1 is like a little test tube for experimenting with these things. We can see how bad foods are for all of us by how they affect her body which has no insulin response of its own left. And fatty foods, any restaurant foods really, will still be with her up to 8 hours later. So I am a little wary that one could say they are doing the THM diet but end up eating a lot of fatty foods that are stressing out the body’s insulin responses quite a bit.

Which brings me to what I think is my last point, that this diet is not just “eat this way and you can eat as much as you like.” It is mean tot not keep you hungry which is good, but it is not a license to indulge either. They say that if your weight loss is stalled you need to do things like look and make sure you are not overeating on things like nuts which while healthy are also fatty and high calorie. So while they are not having you count calories, it is not like you get off scott-free and never have to worry about them either. On carbs they are even stricter. Again they wouldn’t have you count, but an E meal which is the most carb-laden kind is not supposed to top 45 grams of carbs. That is a cup of regular pasta or two pieces of bread. There are some in-between kinds of meal like an S-helper (a basically fatty meal but with a bit extra carbs) which is supposed to contain no more than 15 grams of carbs.

All in all, I guess I am a little wary of the philosophy behind all this. It seems strange that we must be taught how to do something as basic as eat. Yet, I also know that Americans seem to be failing at it so I suppose we do. basically, where I come down is, I am not entirely convinced, but I would like to see if it works.


Trim Healthy Mama and the Bible

Dear Reader,

Until recently I had been keeping to a (very) modified paleo diet, essentially a  low grain diet. And it had initially been doing what I wanted it to, which is not so much weight loss as relieving other symptoms. But I was never convinced by the premise of the paleo life-style which is basically that we should do things as our cavemen ancestors did. While I am rather agnostic on the topic of evolution, I imagine the reasoning behind this diet doesn’t sit well with a lot of Christians.

So I was intrigued to run across the book Trim Healthy Mama which is by two sisters and Christians and claims to have much more of a biblical basis. There is a lot I could say about the diet overall, but I want to stick in this post to its biblical basis and how the book uses Scripture.

I did not get the impression that the book’s authors, Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett, are saying this is the only, biblical way to eat though they do clearly reject some other approaches as not adhering to biblical principles. The basic argument of this book is that to be as healthy as possible (and, yes, to lose weight if necessary) one should not eat fat and carbs together. Their position rests on scientific studies which show how the body uses different sources of fuel. But it also rests on at least one theological plank: the belief that no foods given us by God should be entirely excluded from our diet. Thus, they reject paleo with its lack of all grains, legumes, etc. They also reject vegetarianism and diets like Atkins which eliminate all carbs. Their approach is about when and how to eat the different groups but they are very clear that no one group should be entirely excluded from the diet.

I like this presupposition. I do think it is biblical. The verse that comes to mind for me is “Let no man call unclean what God has declared clean” (I am paraphrasing off the top of my head here as I can’t immediately find the reference). I will admit that while eliminating gluten, it has always seemed very odd to me that we should get rid of a food (bread) which has been such a staple in the Bible and even bears a large theological significance (Jesus being the bread of life; the bread representing His body in communion). Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that my one daughter gets bad eczema from gluten (among other things) or that it seems to make me mildly sick. But it is still nice to feel that such essential foods are in some measure redeemed.

In terms of the diet’s theological basis, this one principle seems to be the main guiding idea. But the authors also refer to other biblical passages at times to bolster their position. And it is when they get to these that I tend to get frustrated. They spend quite a while discussing the meal Abraham fed to his angelic visitors in Genesis 18. They make much of the fact that he seems to have fed them only one small cake of bread each but much meat. And it does seem like that is what they were given, but one must ask is this a prescriptive or a descriptive passage? Sometimes God is telling us what to do, either directly (“Thou shalt . . .”) or indirectly; these are prescriptive passages.But sometimes the Bible is just telling what people did. There are certainly many things biblical characters, even basically good ones, do that we are not supposed to emulate. So one must ask, are we supposed to copy Abraham in how he fed his visitors? I don’t think so. Basically, Serene and Pearl seem to have substituted for the paleo question “How would the cavemen have done it?” their own new question “How would the patriarchs have done it?” Though to be fair, while they do seem to focus on Abraham a lot, I don’t think they limit their reasoning to him or even to the Old Testament. It is more like “How would Bible people have done it?”

And I am just not convinced that this is a legitimate question. I do believe the Bible is the only infallible rule for faith and life. But it is not our only guide nor does it tell us everything about everything. Just as I don’t believe the Bible tells us all the answers about how to educate our kids, I also don’t believe it tells us how and what to eat. I like the book’s use of the general principle of not eliminating food groups unnecessarily, and also enjoying the foods God has given us, but I think the authors push their argument too far when they look for specifics.

And they do not do so consistently. The use the example of Abraham when it suits their purpose (“Look, we aren’t supposed to eat too much bread at once and need lots of protein!”), but they reject other passages which do not suit their needs. For example, honey is mentioned frequently in the Bible and is clearly viewed as wonderful delicacy, but the Trim Healthy Mama diet rejects the use of honey and uses only sweeteners like Stevia and Xylitol. Their argument in this case is that because our lifestyles have changed and we are so much more sedentary we no longer need or should use such calorie-packed foods. But could we not make similar arguments about Abraham’s meal? Why not say his visitors were going no a journey and therefore needed more protein but we who have cars to take us everywhere no longer do? Their application of biblical passages is inconsistent and seems to be used only to serve their purposes and back up decisions they have already made (“protein good, bread limited, honey never”).

Furthermore, while one sister, Serene, is more of a food purist, the book itself advocates a lot of foods which simply did not exist in Bible times, like low carb pita bread and the sweeteners mentioned above. Nor do they take into account that the Bible itself spans thousands of years and includes many different kinds of people. Abraham was pretty wealthy; presumably most Israelites ate far less meat.

Before closing, I just want to add that there is one chapter in this book on . . . . ahem . . . marital relations . . . which uses another very sketchy bit of exegesis which I don’t buy at all. If you are a mature married person, you can read it for yourself and see what I mean.

So my conclusion on Trim Healthy Mama is that I do agree in principle with their basic theological premises, but I do not like how they use the Bible beyond that. Nor do I think it is necessary to their argument. I would say this diet is based far more upon scientific studies and what they have found works in their own lives, and that is fine. I think they would be better off if they stuck to that and did not try to incorporate more Bible in their dietary advice.

Another time, perhaps, I will discuss the diet itself.


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