Over the past few months, I have spent considerable time reviewing all sorts of diets including intermittent fasting, low carb, low fat, high protein, vegan, gluten-free, calorie counting, calorie restricted optimal nutrition (CRON), paleo, etc. and have come to an educated conclusion that the notion of going "on a diet" is just plain foolish.
What, you may say? Don't some people need to lose weight? Aren't diets merely a means to an end? What's wrong with trying different schemes to lose weight until you find one that works? These are all valid questions, but unfortunately diets collectively seem to do more harm than good.
First, the science is pretty clear that the more diets one tries, the more likely that person is to never successfully lose weight and keep it off.
Second, as most diets are simply focused on weight loss, they ignore something far more important--your health. In most cases, restricting calorie absorption to less than calorie expenditure will result in weight loss. However, such approaches often are not nutritionally sound and can actually be quite inflammatory to the human body, which can lead to systemic illness.
Third, what often works for one person may not work for you or even be harmful. For example cutting out gluten when you have no gluten insensitivity or celiac disease also deprives you of glucasin, a peptide known to decrease inflammation by reducing interleukin-6. Eating lots of protein in the form of meat and eggs can increase cardiovascualr disease even as you lose weight.
So what did I learn from all the studies and books I read?
Diets don't work but principles do. So here are my take-away principles of eating healthy.
1. Human beings do not need a lot of food to stay healthy and vibrant. Think like the Okinawans who practice hora hachi bu, which means to eat until you are 80 percent full. Once your nutritional needs are met, excess nutrients are not only unnecessary, but may be harmful. There is growing evidence that eating less versus more is the healthiest route as it requires your body to exert less effort to break down, absorb and dispose of what it doesn't need.. So it doesn't matter when you eat what, but make sure that the foods you eat contain all the essential nutrients.
2. Although the science is inconclusive regarding organic versus conventional grown, natural versus processed, it appears prudent to avoid chemicals whenever possible. Everybody reacts differently to different chemicals and the human body is fairly adept at eliminating toxins, but one can never say conclusively that any certain chemical will not have a negative effect on you. I wouldn't get paranoid about it, but caution is indicated in severely restricting your exposure to chemicals in the foods you ingest. (It doesn't hurt to limit chemicals you are otherwise exposed to as well.)
3. Eat when you are hungry. The conventional wisdom to eat three times a day, or the oft recommended multiple small meals has no irrefutable science to support it. It is clear that early man could not easily regulate access to food. It is also clear that we don't exactly know what effect this had, but I think it is reasonable to conclude based on the absence of (or conflicting) evidence to suggest otherwise that eating regularly may not have any proven benefit (other than perhaps scheduled toileting for some) as long as nutritional needs are met.
4. You need to get B12 naturally from fish, chicken or meat. Wild fish is my favorite, but it should not be eaten in excess anymore than any other nutritionally sound foods. Three to four times a week will more than suffice.
5. Nuts are a great source of minerals and far less fattening than most people think because unless the nut is completely grounded, much of its fat is not absorbed due to being tied up with its fiber.
6. Natural food rich in both soluble and insoluble fibers are great, but like everything else should be eaten in moderation.
7. Avoid any overcooked or burnt food.
8. Eat fruits, but don't feast on them as too much fructose may be a problem. You can eat them at any time of the day or night. Vegetables can also be eaten at any time, but again there is no value in excessive consumption.
9. If you are around foods you want to avoid, expect to eat them eventually. Therefore, limit your exposure to such foods by not purchasing them for others, having them at your home, or staying exposed to them for extended periods of time like a piece of chocolate cake in front of you at a wedding. Push it away or move away, but staring at it is fraught with danger.
10. Limit you exposure to restaurant or prepared food containing unknown ingredients. What you don't know may be harmful to you in a myriad of ways.
11. If you are a compulsive eater or suffer from an eating disorder like a sugar addiction, consult a health certified psychologist to help identify the root cause of your eating problem and get cognitive behavioral therapy to address the issue. Some people need help and you need to figure out if you are one of them. Repeated dieting and failure to sustain weight loss is a good indicator that you are in need of trained help.
12. Avoid diet pills like appetite suppressants. They are never a good long term-solution and just will add to your total frustration.
The goal with these principles is that dieting, even under best case scenarios, only sometimes achieves short term weight loss results, but is often followed by long-term frustration.
Don't be a fool. Eat (enough) to live as opposed to diet for weight loss. It's the best advice that anyone can ever give you.