To some extent, everyone knows what you need to do to lose weight: diet and exercise. But when it comes to which diet to choose, and what precisely to eat, opinions are much more divided. Should you go vegan or paleo? Should you count calories or macros? Are carbs your friends or are they the enemy? Should you eat fish because it helps you sleep or avoid it because of the mercury?Does drinking a glass of red wine actually help you drop a few pounds? What, exactly, is “good fat”?
As someone who wants to have a perfect BMI but tends to gain weight very easily, I’ve always kept abreast of diet trends. I did Weight-Watchers in high school, back when you actually had to lug a heavy book around to figure out how many points a slice of watermelon was (kids today, with their apps, don’t know how good they have it). I went vegetarian in my hippy university years, as a result of which I didn’t have my period for 6 months. I’ve tried Atkins and keto and clean eating and pretty much everything in the book, and found that diets that others swore by just made me feel hungry or sick.
Furthermore, I found that my weight gain moved in mysterious ways. I could go to Russia (where I’m from originally) and wolf down everything in my grandmother’s country house and slim down without even trying. At the same time, I could go to the Deep South in America and only eat salads and still gain 10 pounds. What gives?
I decided that I no longer believed in the idea of a “one-size-fits-all” diet. After all, we have different genes that play a major role in our health, surely that means they also affect how we metabolize food? Was this why my mother, who is anemic, claims she gets dizzy spells without red meat? Is it why Italians seem to be able to eat all the pasta they want while maintaining a fabulous physique? Does it all just come down to genes?
If so, then getting a genetic test to figure out precisely what I did and didn’t metabolize would be the key to attaining my wellness goals. So read on to discover what I learned—and how it changed my life and physique. And if you’re looking to drop weight yourself, know these 10 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds Fast.
What Is a DNA Test for Nutrition?
I first heard about doing a genetic test for nutrition from a friend of mine. There are a lot of companies in this emerging field, the most popular ones being DNAFit and Nutrigenomix. For $300 and up, these companies will send you a DNA kit with a q-tip, which you use to swap the inside of your cheek for saliva, and send that back to the lab for testing. The company then analyzes these results, and reports back with a comprehensive analysis on how your body breaks down certain foods, so that you can craft a personalized eating plan. And to learn more about how your genes dictate your life, here are The Personality Traits That Will Extend Your Life.
The Benefit of a Nutritionist
One of the problems with our approach to diet is that we think of it only through the prism of weight loss, as opposed to overall health. What you eat affects everything: your skin, hair, energy levels, sleep quality, and so forth. If there’s one thing that any healthy eating documentary teaches you, it’s that changing your diet in a minor way can get rid of seemingly incurable illnesses, mysterious aches and pains, and can even abate anxiety and depression (not to mention help you live longer).
Testing your DNA to create a diet tailored specifically to you has become more popular in recent years, but, like anything new, the science on it is still shaky. From what I could tell by reading personal testimonies of the at-home kits, their results weren’t very specific either. As such, I decided to skip the straight-to-consumer kit and go with the more expensive version: getting a nutritionist recommended by a friend, who suggested the test not because she wanted to lose weight, but because figuring out what she needed to cut out of her diet absolved her of the yeast infections with which she’d been plagued for years.
So I visited Marina Rozenshtein, a NYC-based nutritionist at ImmuPrint Medical, who came very highly recommended, and had an impressive roster of high-profile clients. She gave me her own explanation of the benefit of getting a nutritionist.
“The test is for IgG concentration of specific antibodies and it requires specific and in depth knowledge for proper/useful interpretation.Which in turn, allows for an appropriate programmer to be generated for each individual client.” she said. “Raw laboratory data that is possible to obtain through and nutritionist or a doctor, is not useful without interpretation. It is particularly difficult to find a lab which provides consistent/reproducible data. Without accurate results, the interpretation is skewed and therefore useless.”
All I had to do was prick my finger and press it down on a few circles drawn on a small piece of paper to let them absorb the blood. She took care of the rest. I paid her $800, which included the consultation, the lab fee for the data, and the personalized eating plan she would give me once she analyzed the results.
In addition, I could text and call her for advice any time for the next year, for no additional fee. This really came in handy in the coming weeks as I had to recalibrate what I considered healthy. For example, I sent her a photo of the ingredients in a bunch of vegan sausages I was convinced were healthy, and she opened my eyes to the fact that they were not because they were packed with sugar and other ingredients that made them addictive (“Eat real food,” she wrote back). She even asked me to send her photos of my, erm, waste, to see if I managed to change my gut flora. I settled for an evocative description. And for more great tips, check out these 50 Genius Weight-Loss Motivation Tricks.
The Personalized Eating Plan
Apparently, my body didn’t really like caffeine or chocolate, which immediately explained why I feel nauseated after more than one cup of coffee and have a disconcerting lack of feelings about chocolate cake. I wasn’t great with dairy either, which made sense because I didn’t like it that much anyway.
The big “reveal” was that I was basically intolerant to yeast. Now, initially, I found that result a bit anti-climactic. When I think of “yeast” I think of bread, and I’ve long known that baked goods or baguettes make my stomach feel like a bag of jagged rocks, and have as such avoided them.
But it turns out (and this is where it helps to have a professional), yeast is present in a lot of things. Most notably, anything fermented contains yeast, including vinegar and soy sauce, and, yep, alcohol. Furthermore, sugar feeds yeast, which totally explains why drinking a sweet cocktail or eating a cupcake with a glass of wine never fails to make me feel sick.
To purge my body of the yeast it had accumulated over the years, she set me on a strict anti-yeast cleanse, or what’s officially called an “anti-candida diet.”
The Russian Peasant Diet
Doing a yeast-cleanse didn’t just involve avoiding yeast, like alcohol and grains. It also meant cutting out food that feeds yeast, like sugar, which meant no fruit (a revelation to me, who had grown up with the conviction that fruit is always healthy). It also meant no dairy or starchy food, like potatoes, tomatoes, beets and carrots (again, carrots?! My mind was blown).
Then she gave me a list of things that I should eat. I was happy to find that my body was my friend in that a lot of it was food I already really liked: kale, chickpeas, turmeric, curry powder, garlic, red pepper chili, ginger, seafood, red meat, zucchini, tahini, and non-starchy vegetables.
In what I thought was an interesting turn, a lot of the stuff that she told me to eat–sauerkraut, dill pickles, goat milk, buckwheat, and, “forest berries” (redcurrant, wild sea buckthorn)–were things that I ate in the Russian countryside, aka the things that my ancestors had eaten for centuries. As a result, I jokingly began to refer to it as the “Russian Peasant Diet.”
Guess that whole genetics theory panned out.
In order to reduce my excess stomach acid, which can cause a variety of health problems, I also had to cut out caffeine. Now, I would be lying if I said I managed to 100% adhere to this extremely limited diet, but the good news is that, I didn’t have to. And if you’re looking for tips to boost your willpower, don’t miss the 40 Best Ways to Keep New Habits.
By exercising regularly, and overhauling my diet in a big way to eat food that was uniquely beneficial to me, I saw major results just a few weeks in. I not only lost 10 pounds, but I lost it in the right places. I realized that a lot of what I thought was “belly fat” was just intense bloating from eating food that inflamed my tummy. My skin looked great and I had way more energy. Everyone who saw me told me I “glowed.” And a lot of minor bodily issues that had always plagued me–irregular periods, itchy skin, intermittent nausea–disappeared.
I also got really into cooking, in part because the vinegar ban meant I had to make all of my own salad dressing. Some of my current specialties are: kale and chickpeas in a homemade tahini dressing, vegetable Thai curry, and zoodles with homemade, vegan kale pesto. I also found out it’s pretty easy to make your own sauerkraut, and going at the shredded cabbage with a mallet to get it to ferment in its own juices is a great way to release your rage.
Even though I fall off of the wagon sometimes (especially when I go to Italy), I now know exactly what food to avoid and what to embrace to help me achieve my best body and feel great. And that’s a real game-changer.
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