Phoebe talks Biochemical Individuality – why are we all different shapes and sizes?
Don’t follow the crowd – you’re unique!
Biochemically speaking, of course…
More specifically, as far as scientific terminology is concerned, you’re quite probably
part of the 95% – this means that the traits and values you possess are the traits and values
found in 95% of the population. These traits and values refer to anything from personality or
behaviour to the way your body is shaped, to immune function, allergies, metabolism, and
internal chemistry. ‘The 95%’ is a classification used in science and medicine to ascertain if
you are considered ‘normal’, and thus whether the standard set of rules apply to you. Those
possessing a different set of values are considered ‘deviant of normal’ and require
another set of rules.
If we look more closely at the maths, however, this very generalising concept doesn’t
quite add up. There are trillions of different factors that can be measured within the body,
and whilst 95% of the population may be normal within the parameters for one factor
if you cross reference with another only 0.9% of the population would be considered
‘normal’ in respect to them both.
So, all those years of trying to fit in at school and there you have it: science says that
normal just doesn’t exist. Yes, you are a human and humans are built the same: you are
made from skin on flesh and bones, your skeleton is made up from collagen, calcium and
other minerals, your digestive juices have the same chemical composition, and therefore
break down / interact with the chemicals in food the same way as another. The list goes
on, nonetheless as a human you possess a huge array of attributes that are potentially
measurable (and yet still a huge array of attributes that potentially aren’t measurable). If
all these attributes are considered together, rather than as isolated factors, no
individual falls perfectly within the 95%.
We apply the 95% to diet and exercise in the sense that most guidelines and concepts
(unless stated otherwise) are designed to suit all human metabolic specificities, and not
necessarily your own unique metabolic specificities.
The Paleo Diet
Many modern day methods of eating have good, well resourced scientific foundations.
Let’s use Paleo for an example as it is one of the most fervently sworn-by methods of
eating currently on the scene. Just ask anyone who does Crossfit! The idea behind Paleo
is that if cavemen couldn’t eat it then you should put it back in the fridge and quietly walk
away. That any foods that fall outside their guidelines are unsuitable for human digestion,
and that everyone would function better if eating as per the food items prescribed. This
includes large quantities of fats and fatty animal proteins in addition to greens, eggs, fish;
root vegetables, and excludes processed foods, sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, potatoes,
and many oils. Whilst it does make various inaccurate scientific claims for its basis, what
Paleo promotes are healthy eating habits that will have a positive impact on any normal
functioning human who had previously engaged in less healthy eating beforehand.
Consuming unprocessed foods, lowering excessive intake of sugars and sodium,
increasing intake of healthy fats from nuts and seeds are all great starting points for
improving your health. Paleo’s high fat intake is particularly beneficial for those whose
body type effectively metabolises fat for energy, and so respond well to moderated
intake of carbohydrates. It therefore seems obvious to assume that this method of
eating would be less advantageous to those whose body types metabolise carbs for
energy more effectively than fats. There are those of us with mild calcium deficiencies
that can inhibit absorption of Vitamin D, or those of us intolerance to proteins found
in nuts. There are a large number of individuals with enzyme deficiencies that cause
fat malabsorption, and the majority of us will be notably impacted by prolonged
excess uric acid as a byproduct digesting large quantities of meat; uric acid has
been proven to have an emerging role in human disease.
So, in a nutshell, what Paleo doesn’t (and couldn’t possibly) account for are the
tremendously varied metabolic specificities of every individual.
By blindly following the guidelines you will not be compensating for your own
unique imbalances. Where initially most healthy eating programs will yield some
form of results (anywhere from moderate to astounding) you may find over time
that these begin to slow rather than pick up. You may find you no longer have as
much energy as you did at the start of your new health regime, that your cardio
performance is gassing out early and old injuries have once again become
Perhaps your weight loss has plateaued or possibly you have begun
storing fat. Maybe your skin, hair and nails aren’t as strong as they should be, or
you’re getting sick more often. This is not what you want having so painfully
dedicated yourself to a specific set of restrictive guidelines that guaranteed
results, but exactly what you get if these guidelines were not specifically
designed for you.
The key to success lies in learning about your body: your metabolism, your
biochemistry, your food tolerances, and your own personality and preferences
considered. It helps if you already have some pre-existing background knowledge
in the form of blood work, but either way, step 1 is to research: read and discover
dietary concepts that both are founded on genuine research data and that appeal to
your tastes and lifestyle. Step 2: don’t follow them! Instead try out different aspects
of them, noting how your body responds and then making changes to anything that
doesn’t make you feel good, or anything that your body adapts around/doesn’t work
long term. When and where results dissipate look for variations to your diet that
explore different balances of nutrient intake – try new foods, new portioning, new
cooking methods; variety is also key!
There is a saying which I love, pun only slightly intended, which is…
‘Eat the chicken and spit out the bones.’
It means simply: take what is useful to you and discard what is not.
Check out Phoebe’s…