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To improve your diet, personalize it

Published April 19. 2014 09:00AM

I guess there's a bit of genius in all of us. The big questions are "Where's it hiding?" and "How to pull it out of you?"

It's August of 1985, I'm 24, and teaching a course on the fundamentals of health and fitness to school teachers. During the last day's question-and-answer session, a woman said that a friend and she went on the same diet and both followed it precisely. The friend lost a significant amount of weight, yet she didn't.

Her question: "What caused such a difference?"

I distinctly remember that unsettling in-over-your-head feeling immediately settling in. In truth, I had never expected to get this job. At that time, I had only a B.A. in English and one published magazine article on health and fitness. I had only applied to teach this course because a colleague had encouraged me to do so.

Now I was being asked a question that could make a nutritionist with 20 years of experience uncomfortable.

But gloriously, wondrously, some part of me that I didn't know existed took over. I had one of those weird dual-body experiences. Part of me was answering, yet another part of me--unsure of what was about to be said--was listening.

And the part that was listening was digging the answer.

I told the class that we were in the infancy of nutritional science, that far more about protein, carbohydrates, fats, and how they were digested and processed and used by the body was unknown than known, but that I envisioned a breakthrough in the not-to-distant future when generalities about diet--like those found in the Grapefruit diet that was popular at the time--would no longer be the norm. That we would discover that in the same way that no two people have the same fingerprints, we would realize that no two people process nutrients in the same way.

Soon afterwards, I began experimenting with what I had said, found it to have merit, and started writing about my findings. I named my idea The Snowflake Theory of Nutrition.

A few years later, I read an article by John Parrillo that expressed similar thoughts on the matter. Parrillo found through extensive nutritional work with elite-level bodybuilders, endurance athletes, and run-of-the-mill health club members, that--contrary to popular nutritional belief--not all calories were equal.

The body was more likely to store dietary fat and simple carbs as fat. The body needed to work harder to digest protein and complex carbs. In a sense, some of those calories were "free" calories because in the digestive process they went to "waste."

Parrillo's theory, called Nutrient Partitioning, was not readily embraced by the mainstream, yet those under his tutelage kept meeting with success. Later, laboratory research validated Parrillo's theory and the theory gained acceptance without Parrillo getting much credit.

In fact, that theory has now been expanded to include other uniquely individual elements and is being seen as a way to reduce not only obesity, but also some of the diseases that result from it. Because of this, the European Union has decided to fund research to explore this concept.

Called the Food4Me project, researchers are analyzing blood samples and food logs of volunteers, considering their genetic profiles, and then are creating individual diets for them.

While it's too early in the process to determine success or failure of the project, the researchers are encountering a significant problem to all of this.

People lie.

I guess it's human nature, but even though the volunteers want help, they also don't want to look bad. So some are reporting--or at least that's the fear--that they're eating broccoli with their meal when they're really eating French fries.

Misinformation like that will seriously skew results.

So why am I sharing with you problematic research that is being done before results are known? Because you don't need to know the results in order to recognize the legitimacy of the concept.Obviously, there needs to be a very strong general consensus that personalized dietary advice is the best dietary advice. If not, why would a group as diverse as the European Union allocate money to fund it?

And even after the results show that this is indeed the best way to create a diet, waiting for that information isn't any benefit to you because your diet wasn't analyzed in the study.

So if you're really serious about getting your weight under control, buy a dietary scale, a notebook, and a book like Bowes and Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used (or find the same information on the Internet). Every day, enter into the notebook what you eat, how much, and how many calories those foods contain.

In a few weeks, you'll uncover the approximate number of how many calories you need to remain at your given weight--and then the real experimentation begins. For if The Snowflake Theory of Nutrition and Nutrient Partitioning are really true, you'll find that the same number of calories of different foods will not always affect your body in the same way.

That, my friends, is what the EU-funded research will eventually announce. Believe me. I just had another one of those weird duel-body experiences.

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