Diet is a Greek word for ‘way of life,’ and that is the sense in which I use the word. It’s been commandeered in recent years to mean weight loss program, and often when I tell people that I’m on a diet, they respond with something like: “but you’re so healthy, why are you dieting?” I’m dieting because we have to eat something, and I want what I eat to make me stronger, smarter, and happier. Seems like kind of a tall order, but it’s a work in progress. I pick up and drop things as I learn more and discover new things about my body. One can spend thier entire life refining their diet. One should spend their life refining their diet. It’s your fuel source and the building blocks for every part of your body: your brain, your lungs, your heart. Between diet and sleep, there are few things that can greater affect your wellbeing.
One of the most important things to realize about dieting is that everyone’s body is different. That said though, we’re more similar than different, so even if you can eat shit and not get fat, that doesn’t mean you’re dodging heart disease or diabetes. Be smart about realizing where you’re different and where you’re in denial because you love ice cream. So if we’re all different, what can I recommend to a general audience? Some general guidelines to start with and a way to measure improvement in future experimentation.
Guidelines: I recommend starting with worrying about food quality. Focus on eating real foods which would have been available to our paleolithic (caveman/woman) ancestors. We spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving to eat a diet of wild game and foraged roots and berries, only to discover agriculture some 10,000 years ago and completely change our diets. Since that change, we’ve gotten shorter, developed teeth problems, and problems like obesity and heart disease (and other so called diseases of civilization). As a side note, I’m not arguing that agriculture was a bad thing, it’s allowed humans to develop past small nomadic societies and into it’s state today, what I am saying is that it’s wasn’t good for our diets.
As such, my general recommendation is to eat vegetables and meat as your primary energy sources. Avoid all grains, dairy, and refined foods. If you can’t look at your food and see what animal or plant it came from, you really should think twice about eating it. Also be careful with potatoes, legumes (like peanuts and beans), and fruit. Potatoes and legumes because they contain anti-nutrients which end up doing more harm than good. Fruit can be a problem because many people will substitute the sugar they cut out of their diet with very sugary fruit (one note on this is that we have bred a lot of our fruits to be much sweeter than they ever were before agriculture. See this picture of a wild banana.) Fruit obviously has a lot of good vitamins and nutrients in it, but don’t overdo it, one or two pieces a day is pushing it. During your first 30 days, I’d say avoid it pretty much all together.
Measuring Improvement: Try it for 30 days and see if you feel better at the end of the 30 days. Some things to watch for are general energy levels, periods of sleepiness throughout the day, how you feel when you wake up, feeling hungry throughout the day. You have to commit to a minimum of 30 days though. The first two weeks you will likely feel worse because (if you’re like most people, and chances are you are) your body will have to make the adjustment between burning carbs as a primary energy source to burning fat. The good news is, after this changeover has occurred, you’ll reap a lot of benefits. To name a few that I’ve experienced on this diet: I don’t feel tired mid-afternoon anymore, I don’t get mood swings based on my blood sugar modulation between meals, and I’ve leaned out a little bit (I’m pretty lean already, my friend lost 30+ pounds). This same trial period works great for any dietary modifications you want to make, try it for 30 days, check back at the end and see if you look and feel better. If so, keep it, if not, get rid of it. No amount of scientific evidence can be as convincing as simply trying it for yourself. Worst case scenario, you’ve wasted 30 days, but in reality it hasn’t been wasted anyways because you’ve learned something about your body and your diet.
One important thing to remember on all this though is that the end goal is improving your quality of life. If for any reason, sticking to your diet is causing you more grief than benefits, you need to sit down and take a long look at what to do about it. On common situation this can come up with is alcohol consumption. Alcohol is detrimental to your bodily health. I think we can all agree on that. However, drinking can be an important part of socializing and general enjoyment of life, so maybe having a few drinks isn’t ideal from a diet standpoint, but if it’s going to make you happier, maybe you should let loose from time to time. To paraphrase Robb Wolf: Drink as much as it takes to optimize your sex life, without too much detriment your performance.
For more reading/watching/listening on this subject, check out:
Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
Robb Wolf’s Website
The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain
The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain
Fat Head a documentary by Tom Naughton
or just do a google search for some research on anything I’ve mentioned above. I recommend finding multiple sources though, and be very careful about shoddy research, there’s a lot out there in the area of nutrition.
Feel free to ask questions in the comments, I’ll try to get to them. Or even better, post results of your dietary experimentations.