“Don’t diet, try it!”

Diets are stupid. There, I said it.

There’s lots of information out there these days about the merits of different dietary approaches, what’s one to make of it all?

I’ve often found that aside from politics and religion, diet, and specifically the diet one ‘believes in’, seems to be the topic of recurring and often vigorous debate. I suppose I can understand this, at least partially. With diet, we are referring to our philosophical, scientific and practical approach to how we sustain our lives. Every day we make choices about our diets and many of us do our utmost to determine the ‘best’ path, and then try our best to follow it. After all, in a very real sense, our life is at stake. Our diet affects not only how long the body can sustain its essential functions, but also determines how optimally it will function, put simply, it determines both the quality and quantity of our lives. Quite rightly, people invest a lot in managing their diets, in both time and money. With this in mind, perhaps it’s not really a surprise to see people become defensive when another so willingly dismisses the approach that they have adopted (placed their faith in?).

Typically, for someone to become and advocate of any individual diet, they have to have had (or at least perceived) positive effects from implementing it in their own life, supporting literature in the form of books and scientific articles, and a community of fellow ‘followers’. Once these have been established, eureka! I’ve ‘figured out’ how the human diet is ‘supposed’ to be! The fog has lifted, exuberant health awaits, look out world here I come!

But then you encounter the follower of another diet (faith?) and an argument ensues. Loose science is thrown around and even looser conclusions drawn. Words like quinoa, gluten, phytates, insulin, superfood, raw, antioxidants, ketones and many more are unleashed like spears thrown from both sides. In the end, neither side is victorious, and both have probably secreted their daily allowance of cortisol. But how could either side win? They both have science, they both have best-selling books, they both have legions of followers, and they both have themselves as shining examples, proof-positive that the diet they follow is the real deal.

So where am I going with this? Well, I guess I’m hoping we can do away with these silly arguments once and for all.

The reality is there is no ‘best’ diet. There is simply a range of possible approaches to eating, which each individual has the responsibility to experiment with and adapt to their ever-changing internal and external circumstances, as they refine and develop an approach that delivers to them the health, vitality and ‘joi de vivre’ they are seeking.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think scientific inquiry in these fields is interesting, and necessary to push our knowledge forward. However it’s important to remember that no study is ever an open-shut case, where 100% of participants experienced the same result. There is always at least some variability in response, and I’m sure we all know at least a couple people who have lived on a diet of cigarettes and white bread for 90 years and are still going strong. At the very least, these examples should give us pause to think before we vehemently argue our ‘truth’.

Interestingly, the more science delves in to nutritional research, and the more we learn about bio-individuality and the multitude of variables that affect our health, the more it seems to become a game of simplification. No need for counting calories, recording meals, cupboards full of the latest supplements, or fancy gadgets (although these can be fun!).

Notwithstanding certain outlier cases that require more fine-tuning, the approach to ‘healthy’ eating becomes quite simple.

  1. Set your compass. Know what your goals are, accept that there will be setbacks, and commit to lifestyle changes, not short bursts to prep for bikini season. Minimizing the stress that your approach to eating has on your life is VERY important.
  2. Eat real food. The majority of your diet should consist of food that has no ‘ingredients’ and no/minimal processing. There are some exceptions, but in general you should treat processed food as ‘treats’.
  3. Avoid potential risks. These risks vary depending on what area you are in, but suffice it to say that you should be extra diligent while in China. Mitigate potential harm by prioritizing organic, non-gmo, free-range etc.
  4. To the extent possible, follow nature. What does this mean? Eat real, non-processed food, in the time of the year that it grows, as soon as possible after it was harvested. I realize in today’s world that is almost impossible to adhere to 100%, but again, rather than an all or none approach, treat it as a guide to making decisions when such options are present.
  5. Eat more veggies than anything. Veggies are extremely nutrient dense and have many positive effects on the body, without much downside, get’em in ya!
  6. Embrace ‘good’ fats. Fat is an essential part of a healthy diet, which the general public has been misinformed about for a long time. Re-educate yourself on this topic, identify the beneficial fats, and include them in your diet.
  7. Limit sugar (including fruit). Use it as an occasional treat. This point is particularly important if fat-loss is your goal.
  8. Eat mindfully. An optimal diet is not a static checklist of things to eat each day. What you should eat depends on many variables, such as activity level, sleep quality, stress etc. Also, enjoy food. Eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and enjoy the experience. (If you’re interested there’s some fascinating research suggesting that the context in which you eat your food (where, with whom, in what way etc.) is very influential on how that food ultimately influences your health).
  9. Chill out. The stress you place on yourself to follow an exact diet may have a more negative impact on your health than that donut at lunch ever could. Don’t beat yourself up. If you slip up, enjoy the hell out of that slip, get it out of your system, and then gently guide yourself back to your healthy routine. If you hate how you eat and hate yourself when your cravings get the better of you, you are not engaging in a sustainable eating practice. Find a baseline, a place to start that works for you, that begins integrating some better habits, and then slowly, over time, and once new habits have become established, add more. Many people have several years of poor eating habits under their belts, so don’t worry if it takes some time to un-do them. With any luck you’ll be around for a while yet.
  10. N=1, this means you’re the most relevant test subject in determining what is beneficial for YOU. Don’t let rigidly adhering to any diet keep you from experimenting on yourself, these experiments are what allow you to constantly refine and improve your approach, and they can even be kinda fun!

We know all this is easier said than done, so if you need some help with the ‘how’, feel free to drop me a line!

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