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My Rant on Diets

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

There is no shortage of diets in the world of fitness, nutrition, and overall health. One of the things that makes nutrition so complicated is that it is so individualized. Meaning what works for me may not work for you. However, there are a set of principles that make a diet a successful in the long run, that I think everyone should understand.

Principle number 1: Real food

At their core, all of the diets out there make you shift from highly processed foods to real and organic food (as best as you can). I hope most of you know already hearing things like twinkies, microwavable dinners, and highly processed snacks and treats are not good for our long-term health.

These foods are often calorie dense (not nutrient dense) and are often packed with added sugars and hidden saturated or trans-fat and provide almost zero vitamins and minerals. They provide little to our body other than quick energy that gets used or absorbed quickly, leaving us needing more and we repeat the cycle. Real food on the other hand is nutritious, providing more than just quick energy. They provide better macronutrient profiles, vitamins, minerals, and even antioxidants. This is the first step I would recommend to someone that wants to change their dietary lifestyle. To determine real food, I just go by asking is this a food that is minimally processed and can it be found in some way in nature.

Principle number 2: appropriate calorie consumption.

I tend to cringe nowadays when I hear things like “carbs will make you fat.” In reality, eating too much of anything will make you store excess body fat, regardless of the macronutrient. Our bodies store carbohydrates in liver and skeletal muscle, in the form of glycogen, and fat in adipose tissue, in the form of triglycerides. This is so we have an available fuel source to pick from when we are exercising, at rest, or in extreme survival mode such as starvation.

Carbohydrates account for only 2-3% of our body mass, so most people are concerned with reducing fat accumulation more so than carbohydrate, and protein is used for adding lean body mass, which is beneficial. I like the analogy of a warehouse. Warehouses receive packages, store packages, and ship packages. We receive food, breakdown and store the macronutrients from food, and ship those macronutrients in the form of energy for exercise or building muscle and tissues.

If we receive more than we ship, then the storage gets backed up and we increase more of what we store, and in our case, resulting in body fat and weight gain. In order to reduce the amount we store, we need to increase shipping in the form of calorie expenditures (physical activity), or reduce the amount we receive (calories consumed). It may be unfortunate to hear, but it really does come down to calories in vs calories out (first law of thermodynamics).

A good dietitian, nutritionist, or popular diet enthusiasts will not say just eat any amount of this and you will be good. Even though it is almost impossible to do, eating veggies to the point that you are over your calorie needs can increase body fat and weight. Some diets are more satiating (meaning leaving you more satisfied), than others. So, you may feel fuller and not want to eat as much (think high animal protein diets). That being said, I am willing to bet that if you were to take anyone who has had success on any diets, they would be in a caloric deficit and consuming less than they are expending. Therefore, losing body fat and weight. The most important thing to remember is to eat the right amount for yourself and based on your own goals so that you can be the best version of yourself you can be.

Principle number 3: consistency.

It is cliché but the best diet is the one that you are most able to stick to in the long term. Yeah, your friend might be on a plant-based diet, but you do not want to miss out on eating a steak here and there. And that is totally okay. We all have different sets of genes and many of them impact how we breakdown, digest, and utilize the foods we eat. Different countries around the world have different diets and within those countries there are extremely healthy people living long and happy lives.

So, what works for one person may not work for you. Some of the biggest rewards in life happen when we are patient and stay the course. When we stay consistent with a diet our body makes the adaptations in order to thrive in the nutritional environment it is put through. Many of the research studies out there follow people for an extended period of time, 4, 8, 12, weeks, and sometimes years and years later with follow up studies. In many of them the more adherence there is to a diet, the more likely the person is to reap the benefits.

I follow a wide range of diet enthusiasts on social media, and recently I have been realizing that there is an issue with those that preach diets like carnivore, keto, plant-based, and any diet you can think of. To me it feels as if they fail to acknowledge the benefits that diets other than the ones they preach, and follow can have on someone. Certain nutrients are easier to obtain from animal foods than plant foods and vice versa. For example, fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants, fiber, phytochemicals, and unsaturated fats. These things that may be difficult to get in a high animal protein diet. On the other hand, things like carnitine, choline, creatine, and certain essential fatty acids, are found either only in, or in higher amounts in animal products. It is clear that both sides have benefits to offer, and I think that this needs to be represented better.

The last thing is YOU!

Remember anything in life always comes back to you and what your goals and aspirations are. For food, determine what you want your relationship with food to be. Weather it is eating for performance, aesthetics, longevity, or you are a foodie at heart (if it fits your macros), there is a diet that can work for you and incorporate it into your lifestyle so you can live well while living the life that you want to live.

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