Food as Fuel: The Right Way to Approach Diet – Part 1

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD


How using food as fuel can be healthyMore and more, the mainstream medical community is catching onto the importance of diet in disease prevention and therapy. We need to use food as fuel. Although there is still a long way to go, and most medical training involves very little exposure to nutritional science, the studies being conducted around the world nowadays are pointing back to one of the greatest cornerstones of health, which was already understood by the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates:

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Using food as fuel and as medicine can be one of the best decisions you make for yourself and for your loved ones. Instead of over-medicating, or giving up on health and vitality altogether, you can slowly get into the habit of eating right, and teach this life-changing habit to your family and friends as well.

Diet is one of the most important components of adrenal fatigue recovery and the balancing of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. Without eating a healthy and nutritious diet at the right time and frequency, your adrenal glands will have a much harder time getting back their strength after having become dysregulated from chronic stress.

Not only that, but the fact is that eating a bad diet, such as the Standard American Diet, for a long period of time is actually a form of chronic stress on the body. It creates leaks in the intestinal lining, which then cause a state of inflammation in the gut, which can then spread to other areas of the body. This is a big stressor on your body, and so the NEM has to respond accordingly, and the adrenal glands are the part of the NEM.

The adrenal glands secrete the anti-stress hormone, cortisol, as well as other hormones, to try and neutralize the inflammation and to suppress the immune system that is now attacking all the unwanted substances coming into the bloodstream from the leaks in the gut.

At some point, the adrenal glands dysregulate, and their cortisol output drops. This is when you start to experience the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), such as fatigue, weight issues, sleep problems, mood disturbances, lowered immunity, food and drug sensitivities, hair loss, brain fog, low libido, infertility, PMS, and heart palpitations, among others.

And when the adrenal glands are exhausted, the rest of the NEM is affected as well. Other than its hormonal circuit, of which the adrenal glands are part, the metabolic, cardionomic, neuroaffect, inflammation, and detoxification circuits also begin to weaken as they try to compensate for the loss of cortisol.

But just as bad diets can create this chaos, healthy diets can reverse it. The adrenal fatigue diet is one of the best, and although nutrition is most useful when tailored to each individual’s condition and needs, there are some principles of using food as fuel that you can work with in order to start making some changes right now, whether you have AFS or not.

But the first step toward a healthy diet is to bust some old, yet enduring myths that have many people eating the wrong things.

Food as Fuel Nutrition Myths to Ditch Once and for All

Myth #1 – The Cure-all Fad Diet

There is no magic bullet when it comes to nutrition. Every few years, a new diet trend becomes all the rage and its proponents claim that it has supernatural abilities to cure obesity, chronic disease, improve brain function, and maybe even save the world.

Unfortunately, there are downsides to every fad, and it can sometimes take effort to undo the damage that these trends have done to people’s health and motivation to eat well.

If you think of food as fuel, then you’ll know that although there are some types of fuel that are cleaner and more efficient than others, it is not as clear-cut as that in many cases. Some diets that work well in the short-term for certain goals end up harming you in the long run, some diets are more expensive than others, and some diets are just so restrictive that no one can keep them up for long without a serious relapse.

So, before you cut out a macronutrient completely – whether it be carbs, fats, or protein, please know that your body needs all three in certain ratios, and they all work together to provide you with the energy and building blocks you need to function. In the long run, any diet that attempts to cut one of these out has a very high risk of failure, and its consequences to your health are not usually good.

Carbs, fats, and protein on their own are not bad; their sources and ratios are what matter. Aim to eat balanced meals and ditch the extremes.

Myth #2 – You Should Diet Until You Reach Your Goal

Food as fuel mythsThe word “diet” can be a little misleading, as many of us associate it with a period of restricted eating until a certain goal is reached without thinking of what lies beyond that point. Say you take up a diet in order to lose weight, and then you reach your ideal weight. Do you now go back to the way you were eating before, or do you stick with these difficult restrictions? Which sounds more odious to you?

A diet is a lifetime affair. It’s not a temporary project, it is a lifestyle that you lean into and adopt for good. That’s why you shouldn’t follow a fad, or go into extremes, as they are not sustainable long-term, and once your willpower runs out you’ll be back to your unhealthy old habits with a vengeance.

Using food as fuel means making small, daily changes until your eating habits themselves change. Until clean and healthy food is second nature and your palate has been reprogrammed to always guide you in the healthy direction.

Myth #3 – You Should Cut Out All Gluten, Dairy, Meat, Sugar, Etc.

While there are many people with gluten and lactose intolerance, and while meat and sugar shouldn’t constitute the bulk of your food intake, they are not necessarily always bad for you.

If you suddenly cut everything out without knowing which foods you are actually sensitive to, you might end up losing motivation and giving up. Or worse yet, you might rely on highly processed alternatives for some of your old favorites that end up being less nutritious than their originals.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check for food sensitivities, as eating foods you are sensitive to on a regular basis can create leaks in the gut and a state of dysbiosis (imbalance) in your gut’s microbiome.

What you can do is try an elimination diet for a while and figure out which foods really are your enemy, and cut those out. How it works is that you first eliminate all the foods that you suspect you are sensitive to, then reintroduce each one back into your diet, waiting at least four days before moving onto the next one.

During those four or more days, you monitor your physical, mental, and emotional state for any negative reactions. The foods that affect you negatively are those you are sensitive to and should avoid. You can get tested for food allergies as well, if you want to double check.

Myth #4 – You Need to Eat Kale, Miso, Walnuts, Etc., With Every Meal

Food as fuel and the myths around the ideaThis is the opposite of the “cut everything out” obsession, yet just as restrictive. While there are some foods out there we can call superfoods, you are under no obligation to stuff yourself with them every single day.

First of all, it’s not very pleasing to your taste buds, and secondly, it’s not even that good for your health. Even a powerhouse like kale isn’t enough to meet all your nutritional needs, so you should try to work on getting a variety of different fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and even animal proteins each day.

To use food as fuel efficiently, you want to ensure the engine is running smoothly. This engine, your gut and your gut’s microbiome, thrives on a range of different sources of nutrition. So, eat the rainbow, but without overcomplicating things, because the most important aspect in eating right and using food as fuel in the best way is following these five principles, which we’ll discuss now.

Read Part 2

© Copyright 2019 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

With so many fad diets coming in and out of style, it can be confusing to know what works. In this article, we’ll list some of the biggest myths of healthy eating and lay out the universal principles of using food as fuel so you know where to start.


Food as fuel