Beyond the Kitchen: Why Diet Isn’t Everything

By: Dr. Deedra Mason

You have probably heard it all!  Calories in…calories out…exercise more…..Keto…block-fasting…timed interval eating, low carb, and high protein vs. can’t go wrong with fiber and protein at every meal.  Where do sound dietetic advice start and fad diets end?

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence showing diet does have a positive impact on more than just a trim middle.  In fact, diet is your first line of approach to keeping blood sugar levels in an optimal range, supporting both muscle mass and bone mass retention as you age, and crucial for keeping both mental and physical endurance! So why do doctors, experts, and even the American Diabetes Association agree that diet is not wholly beneficial by itself?  Research points to sleep, the gut, fitness and brain aging.  With recent information, we not only know more about each factor, but we know that each has an intimate interplay with your food choices.

If you are like me, you have a handful of “gurus” you follow – gurus with a message that resonates with you resonates with how you see yourself succeeding in your health endeavors. Well here is another one for you.  Say it with me: “I CAN DO THAT!”


This is where I want you to start.

I am not your guru and, still, I am going to ask you take my “advice”. Take it with a tablespoon of fat and throw out that sugar. Start talking to yourself.  Your self-talk can be your best ally or your biggest foe.


How you eat matters.  How you feel about what your eating matters.  How you talk to yourself matters.


If you are trying to embark on a healthy lifestyle, you are bound to lose steam, get resentful of others and even struggle with the idea of “throwing in the towel”.  It’s all par for the course and you should expect it.  You can also expect that you will get through it with your own supportive self-talk.  The first step towards better health is to learn to speak in positive terms and dismiss the “I can’t do” the “I won’t be able to” or the “What’s the point?” and only speak “I CAN DO THIS!” “I WILL DO THIS!” “IT WILL ALL MAKE SENSE!”


Try downloading a smartphone app for self-affirmation or motivation.  Some of the best “self-talk” can happen when you do not say a word.  If you are the silent type, look at smartphone apps that offer meditative breathing so you starting to incorporate meditative breathing into mindful eating.


What About Sleep?

Speaking as “not your guru” I will tell you a healthy night sleep is the change that many people need to support their weight loss goals. Sleep and diet go hand in hand. The focus is to bring an abundance of foods into your diet that maintain lean muscle mass, hormones for energy and help with the production of neurotransmitters to keep your brain sharp, your stress minimal and your sleep sound.  (Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that help transmit messages from one area of the brain to another.)


Serotonin, a prominent neurotransmitter found in the gut, can be generated via healthy food choices like sweet potatoes, apples, garbanzo beans, nut butter, and eggs.  Serotonin can encourage healthy overall metabolism and have a significant benefit in the reduction of food cravings and improvement in restful sleep.  Sufficient amounts of serotonin via the right food sources, and with the help of Vitamin C, Magnesium and Niacin, can transform this neurotransmitter into melatonin. Melatonin is a potent brain antioxidant that not only helps one achieve restorative sleep and reduces oxidative stress but also aids in healthy brain aging and cognitive function.


Everyone regardless of body composition or health can benefit from nutrients found in avocados, dark green leafy veggies, and proteins found in walnuts, fish, and eggs. These nutrients ensure you can mobilize fat for energy, utilize proteins for better sleep and make Serotonin for emotional balance.


I have heard good things about gut bugs, is this important for my weight and my health? 

For quite some time now gurus and researchers alike have been exclaiming the benefits of symbiotics’ (symbiotics’ are both pro and pre-biotics).  Symbiotics’ have been shown to play a role in both healthy weight by selectively increasing the colony forming units of a phyla of gut bug called Bacteroidetes. They outcompete another bug phyla called the Firmicutes.  The flabby Firmicutes! In fact, recent study out of the University of Colorado supported the finding that a diet rich in both pre and pro-biotics’ can improve sleep, psychological well-being and achieve a healthy weight as a result. One reason this particular study stands out in an already supportive field of research is pre- and probiotics taken together showed a benefit in non-REM sleep and REM sleep after a significant stress event. In fact, the study supported a finding that pre-biotics altered gut biome sufficiently enough to offer a research study into pre and probiotics for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (*)


Diet alone will not offset years of bad behavior. However, it is a darn good start that will have you headed in the right direction. If paid attention to early enough, it can become a strong pillar in that which we call medicine.

As your non-guru, I cannot stress enough the critical importance in achieving a healthy lifestyle for everyone and that lifestyle has everything to do with you and your unique factors of health, mindfulness and commitment to steps both big and small. It may be all the “medicine” you need for a healthy brain, body, and spirit.




* Summarized from Prebiotics may help to cope with stress; February 13, 2017 in Neuroscience