Feeding a total mixed ration is a great way to reduce feed sorting and help ensure that each bite is a nearly perfect balance of the nutrients our cows need to be healthy and productive. However, we've learned that if we feed all cows the same ration, some will lose weight and others will get fat.
The same thing is true with people. If we all consumed the same daily ration, some of us would shed pounds, while others would gain weight.
The concept of everyone eating the same thing seems absurd, but on a basic level that's what our federal government recommends. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating a combination of the same foods daily: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products and limited amounts of added sugar and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).
There's room for quite a bit of variation within each food group, but the framework is the same.
But those recommendations don't work for everyone. I know from personal experience.
A little over a year ago, I'd had enough of the upward creep of the number on the scale and the size of my jeans. I decided it was time to do something about it. A friend convinced me that I really didn't need to increase my activity level, so I started by changing my diet. (I later added 15 minutes of exercise most days.)
I made one major change: no more grains. The explanation of how I arrived at that decision is too long to include here, but I will say that it required a major mental adjustment. I grew up in the era of the Food Guide Pyramid - and spent years promoting it as a dairy princess - so the idea of lopping off one whole food group seemed criminal.
But as drastic as the idea seemed, it was really easy to remove grains from my diet. There was more room in my diet for vegetables, fruits, protein and fats. (Dairy products were already a substantial part of my diet and that didn't change.)
I never felt hungry or deprived. My energy level increased. I found I had far fewer cravings. And my tendency to alleviate stress with food went away.
But the best part was realizing my weight loss goal. The pounds melted off like butter in a sauté pan. I lost 30 pounds in four months. The first 20 pounds disappeared in the first six weeks. There is less of me now than when I graduated from high school.
I was worried, though, about what my nurse would say when I went in for my annual check-up last month. My brother-in-law is a medical doctor and he said a diet plan like mine (high in saturated fat) would raise my cholesterol levels. The federal nutrition guidelines say the same thing: "Saturated fats and trans fats tend to raise 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood."
The lab results from my check-up proved my brother-in-law and the federal government wrong. Despite regularly consuming full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, butter, heavy cream, eggs and red meat, my good cholesterol (HDL) was 20 points higher than the recommended minimum (40 mg/dl) and my bad cholesterol (LDL) was 52 points lower than the recommended maximum (130 mg/dl). Plus, my triglyceride levels were at the bottom of the normal range (30 - 150 mg/dl).
What does all this mean? Removing grains from my diet has made me a healthier person. And I never would have reached this point if I had followed the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (or any one of the million other diet plans out there).
A consumer survey done by the USDA back in 1996 found that nearly 80 percent of people agreed with the statement: "There are so many recommendations about healthy ways to eat, it's hard to know what to believe."
What I've come to believe in the past year is that we all have to determine the combination and quantity of foods that helps us feel energized and healthy. The government's nutritional guidelines don't work for everyone.