My name is Caitlin, I’m 25, and I’ll be finishing my doctorate in Nutritional Sciences in May 2013.  My research focuses are in obesity, cardiometabolic function (i.e. glucose, insulin, cholesterol, and other metabolic hormones that influence cardiovascular health), and how these factors impact vascular health/disease, specifically.  As a nutritional scientist I love food, I love the study of how food interacts with our bodies to promote health or cause disease. What I don’t like are diet patterns that are not rooted in science and are only meant for short-term adherence.  What I dislike more than that is how the media portrays diets and food.  Every diet you hear about is some kind of miracle cure or a quick fix, and I think we all need to consider these diets with a grain of salt and really take the time to understand what each of them means.

The purpose of “2013, With A Grain of Salt” is to test many of these diets on myself.  I’ll be following 12 different diet patterns, each for a month.  I’ve chosen each of these diet styles due to their popularity in the media or because there is some kind of scientific evidence supporting them.  I won’t be trying to lose weight on any of these plans, and every diet style that I’ve chosen has some type of claim regarding long term feasibility.  I obviously won’t be following any of these diets long term, though I think I’ll gain some insight on what the long term issues may be.  (Side note: you may have noticed that I keep saying “diet pattern/style” instead of “diet.”  I don’t like the term “diet” because most people associate diets with weight loss and diets seem to conjure up visions of something temporary. Instead, I think of a diet as different patterns/styles of eating: heart healthy, vegetarian, low fat, Western, Mediterranean, and so forth.)

My reasons for embarking on this year-long journey are multifaceted:

  • What initially got me interested in this idea is that I read a lot of articles of dietary interventions, and I have conducted and plan to conduct  diet interventions in the future.  However, I can’t relate to what participants are experiencing.  I’ve been able to get through life maintaining a healthy weight by 1) good genes, 2) an appetite for healthy foods (mostly),  3) an ability to control portion sizes without really thinking about it, and 4) a love of exercise.  Many of the diet patterns I’ll be trying are common dietary interventions, either for weight loss/maintenance and/or prevention of chronic disease.  I can speak to the physiological basis of these diets, but I think that, by trying these diets myself, I’ll be able to empathize with participants and understand the barriers to maintaining these diets.
  • When someone finds out that I study nutrition, I get a lot of off-the-wall questions, and I dread most of them (a colleague of mine calls this an occupational hazard of being a nutritional scientist).  I chalk up most of the crazy questions and diets out there to just a bunch of wacko’s looking to make a quick buck, but I really only know the basics behind these diets.  This experiment will force me to familiarize myself with the rationale and scientific literature (or lack thereof) behind some of these diet styles, which will be good for me and anyone who talks to me about them.
  • I really like to cook, and while I cook a variety of cultural cuisines, I find that I use a lot of the same ingredients and techniques.  I’m hoping that I’ll learn about lots of new ingredients and techniques this year, which will enhance my culinary prowess.
  • Like I said, my will power sucks. I’d like to work on that, and the only way I know how to do that is to have something to which I am held accountable, hence the blog.

The logistics:

  • I’ll be following each diet style for one month minus 3-4 days.  This 3-4 day “washout period” will allow me to recalibrate back to my normal diet and will reduce the odds of one diet influencing my perception of the subsequent diet.  It will also reduce psychological burnout on my part.  This is a common and necessary technique employed in diet interventions.
  • At the beginning of each month, I’ll measure my weight, BMI, and blood pressure in order to have some objective outcomes.
  • I’ll calculate the cost of each diet for each month.
  • I’ll keep track of my sleep patterns, mood, etc.
  • I’ll provide some recipes and my overall reaction to each diet pattern as I do it.
  • I’ll analyze my diet for one day that seems representative of the month and provide a nutrient intake analysis.

There are obviously flaws in this design, and my results will be biased because I’m performing all the measures on myself.  But this is a fun experiment, and it’s not funded by the National Institutes of Health, so I can do whatever I want 🙂 I hope you enjoy reading and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two — I know I will.  Please don’t hesitate to ask me questions or suggest ideas of something I should be testing!

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15 responses »

  1. I love what you’ve said on so many levels Caitlin — especially about the word “diet”. I agree that most folks think of it in relation to weight loss (and people go off “diets” so it is temporary). I like that you said style or pattern. Looking forward to your monthly one-day analyzing of each one as well as your reaction (and your body’s reaction) to them all. Thanks for sharing!

  2. My food cost Oct – Jan is about $25 per month, using whole plant food diet and green drink, similar to Fat Sick and Nearly Dead. Whole wheat bread, which I bake in wood furnace is my favorite. Potatoes, rice, lentils, and beans follow bread as my favorites.

      • Yep and i’ll definitely share your blog with other students. I plan to do some research on raw vegan and paleo diets at some point, so your blog is just great for that 😀

  3. Sounds like a fun project…especially the opportunity to cook a lot of variety! My brother-in-law (post heart attack) turned me on to a total plant based diet. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. http://www.heartattackproof.com. You might consider adding a blood cholesterol at the end of each month as a further objective measure. Finger stick tests at a pharmacy are relatively inexpensive. Enjoy!

  4. Oops sorry here is the rest of the message:

    The dude will try many of the same diets you did with the goal of tracking his gut bacteria shifts (with the goal of figuring out, of course, which diet/eating pattern is more or less optimal. Thought you might enjoy it 😉

  5. Wow, just came across this page… reading a ton in the short time that I have. I have struggled with bulimia for quite sometime in my college years and then even after getting “better” my brain was so messed up and I totally could relate to what you said during the FMD post about being sad and having food issues… this is my life.

    Tips for anyone who needs to lose weight but has major food issues that go along with it? Also, have you ever tried the 5:2 diet? I missed that on here if you did.

    • Hi Brenda,
      Thanks so much for reading through my blog! I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’m sorry to hear about your struggles with bulimia. Unfortunately, I don’t have any personal or professional experience with eating disorders, but I do have a close friend who does work in the field and has taught me a lot. The most important tip I can give is for you to try mindful eating. If you’re strict (and honest) with yourself with the approach, I think you’ll see benefit over time. Here is the link for my review of mindful eating: https://2013withagrainofsalt.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/when-walking-walk-when-eating-eat-a-lesson-in-mindful-eating/ If you’re interested, I’d be happy to send you some resources for mindful eating. It was by far the best experience that I had all year.
      I didn’t do the 5:2 diet because I don’t agree with the approach and because I was trying to maintain my weight throughout the year. I knew I would lose weight (if I was able to stick to it), which I wasn’t trying to do. I think few people could maintain the 5:2 diet long term, and that’s what we should all be doing in our approach for getting to and maintaining a healthy weight: having an eating style that can be maintained long term. Most people wouldn’t be able to do severe caloric restriction for two days a week because of how terrible they would feel on those days (I know I couldn’t do it), and I think it fosters an unhealthy relationship with food. I think there are much better ways to achieve a healthy weight and be healthy overall through food.

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