Someone recently advised me that ‘there is no such thing as a healthy food, just a healthy diet,’ and I very much consider the Mayr way of eating to reflect that wisdom – the below outline good eating habits that will contribute to good health without ruling out food groups, or eating in an unmanageable way.
Before going any further, I’m going to preface this post with the biggest, fattest and most strident caveat I’ve ever issued: every tip below is the advice of doctors based on sound research, and while it seems to work enormously well for me (and for hubs who’s boasting a washboard stomach without having reduced his calorie intake in the slightest), I’m not a nutritionist, and no diet works for one and all. Consider these nudges, ideas, a sort of basic set of rules to bear in mind (and break when cake is presented, naturally), and of course consult your doctor before making any changes if you think you should – apply common sense, basically //
Chew / This rule is very much a case of it being as much about how you do it as what you do, and masticating thoroughly is right at the core of the Mayr’s mission – they advise guests do it thirty times per mouthful for the duration of their stay to become acquainted with the sensation of having effectively liquidised food before swallowing. Doing so is hugely important to maximising the scope to absorb nutrition from food – when chewing, food is manually broken up and enzymes coat the surface area, effectively starting the digestive process in your mouth.
An ancillary benefit of chewing properly is that your gut has enough time to start communicating with your brain, helping you to make good decisions about food (try chewing a Mars bar 30 times – the chances of your wanting to swallow it post are slim to none), and allowing it enough time to release the appropriate number of enterocytes – the cells on the intestinal lining that help to grab nutrition from food. To give you an idea of how highly the Mayr value chewing, my doctor said in his reckoning that you could get more vitamin C from a piece of white bread chewed properly than from a litre of orange juice guzzled speedily.
If you’re used to wolfing down food, I’d suggest trying this when you have more time at the weekend to start chewing – it takes discipline and concentration to master it and I still sometimes find myself counting the chews. By the way, the Mayr think you need to chew soup, too. Seriously.
… And Ditch Smoothies / Logic prevails here – whizzing so many nutrition-dense foods into a mush and swallowing it without chewing is a bit counterproductive; without the chewing bit, the first stage of digestion is bypassed and a lot of the goodness goes to waste. The Mayr docs told me to chew smoothies if I had no option but to have one, but basically to eschew them in favour for the far less trendy humble meal.
… And ‘Superfoods’ Are Out / Far better to focus on eating seasonal, organic foods than bothering with this idea of a ‘superfood’ (the Mayr team never used this word, but I’m going to call bulls*** on the whole superfood thing based on their handling of the subject). Also, relying on eating something ‘super’ at one meal tends to give a sense of false security that, say, a ‘superfood breakfast’ followed a lunch consisting entirely of Oreos is acceptable. It isn’t.
Insulin is King / The Mayr, remarkably, don’t wage war on bread, but they do take out refined sugars and anything that’ll encourage insulin spikes too often. The idea is to keep your body ticking over slowly but surely, so they suggested learning how to combine fats with carbs and proteins to obtain dietary balance at every meal. Some tricks I learned out there to help with ‘modern’ living (i.e. when you’re at a restaurant): always have nuts with a glass of wine, bread coupled with oil is best, and start every meal with something bitter like artichoke or rocket (excepting dinner – see below) to aid digestion.
Don’t Drink With Meals / This was a revelation and I’ve stuck to it pretty firmly – it makes a huge difference if you suffer from indigestion, as I am prone. In short, fluid (even water) swallowed with a meal inhibits digestion as it dilutes the stomach acid. This is especially the case when eating protein as denaturation relies on stomach acid, and if the process doesn’t happen properly you can kiss goodbye to all the goodness from that steak. The Mayr suggest no fluid for half an hour pre and post-prandially to give your stomach the best shot at breaking a meal down.
‘Supply The Body With As Much As It Is Able To Metabolise Regularly’ / Too much food = poor digestion, which will lead to fermentation where sugar and alcohol are produced, feeding unhealthy gut flora and leading to inflammation. At the Mayr, they set you up eating small meals (see my vlogs here for examples) thrice daily at four hour intervals.
Fast aka No Snacks / The four hour interval thing is crucial in order to allow your body to handle its food load and insulin levels. Since eating this way, I’ve found I’m hungry for about the hour before eating but not between, and that my energy levels are balanced. Sticking roughly to that timeframe also allows for a long fast between supper and breakfast in which the body goes about essential reparative work (when it’s focussing on digestion, the body can’t repair itself according to the boffs at the Mayr).
Don’t Eat When Stressed / One of the hardest rules, but the Mayr are emphatic on this one – when in fight or flight, your stomach can only extract scant nutrition from food or, in their words: ‘when we eat while physically, mentally or emotionally overtired, we will not be able to convert even the best foods properly.’ I’ve found a pretty mental way to reduce stress if I’m about to eat – 10 star jumps. Sounds odd, but doing them releases tension (N.B. Some restaurants find this one odd – choose your spot wisely).
No Raw After Four / Not only a neat rhyme, but also an important rule if you suffer from indigestion or bad breath – raw stuff takes far longer to break down and lying down (aka taking gravity out the equation) doesn’t help matters. At the Mayr, it’s all broth and boiled stuff after 4pm, though in London I’ve just dodged salads and stuck to veggies as a side order to adhere to this one.
The Poo Rule / The fascination with poo has pretty solid reasoning behind it – while normal parameters by the medical profession are considered to be between three times a day to three times a week, the Mayr want you to produce at least one stool every 24 hours, claiming that everything from digestion to mood is compromised when ‘elimination’ (their terminology) is happening less frequently. If you struggle, they suggest focussing on the above to make the system as happy as possible, and drinking plenty of water.