I met a guy at an Olympics-watching party who'd recently lost a lot of weight. I was seeing him for the first time, so I didn't know he used to be double his size, but his pals were amazed, impressed, crazy jealous.
I cornered him, shamelessly curious about his story. "How'd you lose all that weight? Weight Watchers? Stomach staples? An exotic worm?"
"I quit smoking." Yep. That's what he said. And this guy is a university dean, an academic with a highly functioning brain.
When he quit smoking, he said, his metabolism turned completely around, and he began to lose weight without any effort at all. No dieting, no suffering, the pounds just melted away.
But wait! Isn't quitting smoking supposed to make you gain weight? Yes, that's true, too. Some people who quit smoking will gain weight, and others will lose weight, and if you're eager to get to the punch line, here it is:
Everybody is different. You are uniquely you. Your body is an expression of your biochemistry, your genetics, your beliefs. What works for someone else may or may not work for you. (Though we do know that smoking tobacco cigarettes isn't good for anyone.)
That's why it doesn't make sense for you to ask around to see how much vitamin C, D, E, or calcium or iron your friends are taking. Their levels, their imbalances and their needs are not yours.
When people write or ask me if they should be taking a particular vitamin or supplement, I tell them I'm sorry, I can't answer that. Well, I can, but it would be wrong.
For one, I'm not a certified nutritionist. But more importantly, your unique biochemistry determines the most authentic answer.
Good nutrition is not a cookie-cutter business. To know what your body is lacking, you need to get the necessary blood tests and urine analyses done. Then you can see where you stand on all sorts of important measures: your levels of phosphorus, uric acid, magnesium; your lipid profile (including cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL and LDL); your homocysteine level; your B12, iron and more.
Once you know your numbers, you'll be able to sit down with a well-trained nutritionist, and together, discover what's too high, what's too low, and what you can do about it. Using food first, and supplements second, you can map out a smart strategy that's tailor-made for you. No money wasted on vitamins, minerals and supplements you don't personally need.
Sounds sweet, doesn't it? The hard part — and this is a true and unnecessary failing of our health care system — is finding that nutritionist. And why doesn't insurance pay for it? That's crazy.
A while back, I wrote glowingly about the one I found — Dr. Carmen Fusco, a research scientist and clinical nutritionist in New York City. When she was an associate professor of nutrition at New York Medical College, Fusco taught medical students how to read blood tests for health and wellness, not just disease.
I heard from many Dear Readers who love the idea of a Carmen-esque nutritionist on their medical team, but couldn't find one in their hometowns.
Please keep looking. They are out there — available in person, by phone and increasingly, online. One place to begin your search is an integrative medical practice in your area that blends the best of Western and Eastern medicine.
And remember this: Most MDs know beans about nutrition. Zippo. It's not part of their regular medical training in any meaningful way. That's changing, slowly, slowly, but you're alive now.
If your doctor doesn't know his B12 from his bee pollen, supplement your health team with someone who does. You need to do your own research. But I can assure you that when you find her, you'll be happy.
Just as I'm happy to learn, from Fusco, that I should be eating about six organic, free-range eggs a week, with lots of shiitake mushrooms and turmeric; and the under-the-tongue vitamin B12 is getting my level back to where it needs to be; I should continue to add organic walnuts and cinnamon to my gluten-free oatmeal in the morning; and I need to boost my capillary strength by munching on the white pith of oranges and grapefruits.
But that's just me.
EXPRESS-O! EAT THIS UP
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." — Hippocrates