As a trainer people always ask me what diet is best and how to eat. While not a nutritionist I do have some nutritional training, lots of experience personally (I haven’t yet mentioned in this blog my personal struggles with food: enormous capacity to overindulge, which has left many in awe, and I’ve suffered from major compulsive eating behaviours!) and knowing what my clients eat too, I can tell you this: the best diet is no “diet” at all!
It’s actually very simple. You do have to pay attention to what you eat, and make a lifestyle of it (in fact that’s the trick to “dieting”), BUT it is super simple: eat real food, mostly veggies, fruits, beans/legumes, some other protein-based foods, and a few whole grains, nuts and seeds, and stop when you are 80% full. I will delve into greater detail below, and share rationale for each “rule”.
Let me qualify the definition of real food. It is food that someone 150 years ago would have understood the concept of, along with the way it is packaged. So yes, they may have known crackers, but not from a box! While tomatoes and pickles might have been a canned item cream of asparagus soup wasn’t! In addition real food generally has a short ingredient list, a curry perhaps being an exception. This ingredient list should only contain items someone 150 years ago would understand.
What about my favourite international recipe or recipe from your country of origin? Foreign is ok, so if you were to have asked a Thai/Indian/Mexican/Italian 150 years ago and they would have understood you’re in the clear. FD&C anything, artificial anything, high fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose, dextrose, maltose (look up all the names for sugar) MSG (look up all the names for this too!), etc. is not real food, anything that contains it is not real food.
But sugar and butter and flour were around 150 years ago. Yes, they were, and they are real food, now let’s be clear the less processed the better. So if it’s white you want that to be a VERY limited part of your consumption. Remember also the rule about eating mostly vegetables, fruits and legumes; with those in mind sugar and flour and butter are limited to minor additions anyhow.
You also want to look at making natural protein sources the next food group on that list. Proteins are beans/legumes, eggs, fish, poultry, dairy, and meat. I would include them in that order from most consumed frequently to least. Organic tofu (this is a whole other topic but soy crops are way too messed with to eat anything but real unadultered soy), and in more limited quantities (unless you’re vegan, then give ‘er!) nuts and seeds are fantastic and healthy too, remember though that nuts and seeds are calorie dense so pardon the pun but don’t go nuts! Processed meats are so full of badness I would avoid them like the plague particularly if they are packaged and not from the deli counter. Of course we’re avoiding processed food, but processed meats often get forgotten for being processed when new to eating a real food diet. Fake meats for vegetarians are also something to maintain on the special occasion list as they’re usually heavily processed and full of additives.
That’s a lot simpler than most books heh? Why should you care about all the health factors you just want to lose weight? Well if you want to keep it off and maintain it, you’re going to need a lifestyle plan not a short-term diet. You can’t sustain long term weight-loss with a diet. If you want a healthy body weight and to feel good know that it’s a commitment. It’s a little tricky at first, but gets easier day-by-day, and while you’ll always love your crappy favourites, you’ll love them less, and you’ll actually crave good food! Also, the most important part of your immune system is all the bacteria in your gut, that’s where it all starts. If you don’t keep it healthy things just go downhill from there. You won’t just be overweight, you could be sick too. That’s why (as a kid who grew up in the 80s) you should “give a care”!
If you want more detail I’m sure in future blogs I will cover more but want to keep it simple for those who are looking for easy to digest information. Nutrition and health are things we should understand, they’re the building blocks of the one thing we own for life. Instead food is viewed as a burden, chore, entertainment, pastime, optional when it’s inconvenient, and many other strange and unhealthy ways, and we pay with illness and disease. Remember next time you pull up to the drive through that a bucket of chicken nor a Big Mac make for quality building blocks. For a little bit more detail keep reading, there’s a paragraph or 2 on each rule so that you can understand the “whys” of each one.
Eat real food: Processed foods are not food. We eat it, often it tastes good and is convenient, but that was the point when it was designed in a lab. And food should be grown and eaten, not grown, designed, fortified, tested, tweaked, packaged and marketed. To get my point across when’s the last time you saw a citrus fruit that had to say “Now with Vitamin C!” in order to help you select if you’d get a lime or a grapefruit? With regard to refined foods (usually the white “white” version of grains and sugar), they are real food with all of the nutrition removed and the calories left behind. If I told you I was going to give you the packaging my iPhone came in (and apple does have nice packaging, looks good) but there’s nothing inside, would you want it?! White bread/sugar/rice looks so clean and uniform, but it’s like the empty iPhone box: it fills a void, but it serves no purpose. Since the whole point of eating is to provide nutrition of which the refined food is void, it’s best avoided.
Mostly veggies, fruits and legumes: that is what our digestive tract was meant to process most. They contain both kinds of fibre which keeps those insides clean and moving freely allowing for your body to readily absorb nutrients and remove waste. They are full of micronutrients (also known as vitamins), and your body was designed to get vitamins from these foods and not a tablet, so your body will absorb this goodness better than from a vitamin tablet. They are low in calories. Our diets are generally very calorie dense, by the time we feel full we’ve eaten way more calories than we should have if we haven’t loaded up on these foods; this is why so many of us are overweight.
You’re thinking: some people say fruits are too full of sugar. Really? You’re afraid of the calories in fruit sugar but eat crap non-food, c’mon now! If you are diabetic be smart about this and use moderation. If you’re not diabetic think of fruit as nature’s candy.
Stop when you’re 80% full: It takes a while for the signal to get from your stomach to your head that you’re full. So stop and wait for that signal to arrive rather than stopping at full and feeling overfull by the time you’re clearing the dishes… and you should be clearing dishes, fast food restaurants don’t make real food, even if it looks legit there’s all kinds of nasty and preservatives added, sorry!
Some protein in a particular order: protein is important, especially if you’re very active, but unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan you get enough for sure, probably more than you need and your kidneys have to work overtime to process the excess. So despite what certain high protein diet pushers will tell you about hunter gatherers, we were more gatherer hunters. Flesh from fish to meat were a limited part of our diet. A) we had to catch it and B) we lived in communities where we had to share it, in other words 12 oz. meat was on a list of extreme rarities, if ever. And in case you haven’t tried, animals aren’t easy to catch especially without a gun or perfectly engineered crossbow, that’s even still not always easy, so meat wasn’t going to be a daily indulgence for our ancestors (yes, there are a few exceptions in some cultures. I welcome you to eat a predominantly raw whale meat diet, for example, if you prefer. I’m just thinking what I recommend is more realistic for most people’s available food selection). So the above explains why beans/legumes are first on the list. The rest: eggs are easier to catch, than their moms, they don’t run away, which means we also would have had more of them in our diets for millennia and therefore can absorb nutrients from them well, if you want to look at protein from an evolutionary standpoint (there are a few very popular diets surrounding evolution right now.
Fish and poultry are good sources of protein, fish also have healthy fats, and neither is associated with heart disease the #1 North American killer. That said, excess fish consumption is associated with mercury poisoning. Farmed fish, meat and chickens are raised in very unhealthy environments. Generally we reject “yucky” looking produce because who wants to eat rotten or deformed food? Can’t be good for you right? Well then, you might want to apply that to your meat. I don’t want to scare anyone or show anyone disturbing pictures (I don’t like that either), just know that if it isn’t organic it probably falls in to the unhealthy/rotten/deformed category (or does significant environmental damage that will screw over our source of air or water, which you might need as well). Either way, probably time to ease up on quantity and go for a few quality pieces of organic meat every once in a while instead.
Dairy is for baby cows. I know I love it too! But it’s not like human milk, and would you even drink human milk? No? That’s gross you say? But from a cow it’s fine? I see.
Never mind how silly our mindset around this is, here are the facts: an estimated 65-75% of the world’s population cannot properly digest dairy products. If your descendants are from northern Europe you may be luckier and your chances of feeling awful after dairy consumption are only 5-20% depending on the country, if you’re from Asia though chances are you’re 90-100% likely to feel like crap! And the rest of the world sits somewhere in between. It is incidentally quite racist how dairy works itself out, except for with Indians: if you’re from Northern India you’re a lower 30% chance of lactose intolerance vs. South Indians who are at 70%,. There dairy wants to divide the country. Otherwise, for the most part it has a lot to do with genetics, and therefore race. I’m not racist, but dairy is and I’m conveying the facts of racist dairy folks.
So since most of us are looking to improve our diet, putting something in that we cannot properly digest, real food or not, isn’t a great idea, especially since creating an imbalance like that begs to alter the overall balance of our system. If you can digest it that’s great, it’s not to be overdone as it still is high in fat most of the ways it’s presented (cheese, butter, sour cream). If it’s reduced fat it is refined/processed and therefore not real whole food (and affects its digestibility and nutrient absorption once it’s made lower fat!). Just keep those guidelines in mind, also overall butter, yogurt, kefir, and well-ages cheeses tend to be the most digestible for most.
So now you understand they “whys” and I’ve done it up for you in 2500 words. So much easier than reading a book on a fad diet that isn’t sustainable, so that you’ll just have to read another one when a new fad comes along. That cycle can be OVER!!! YAY!!!
On the validity of this information:
Is this just my opinion? Nope. I mean this isn’t anyone else’s exact advice, BUT there have been several studies done over the years (I’m going with 80-ish years for those wanting numbers), the most newly published I’ve read was published this year (2014). Smarty pants’ from Ivy League schools and such have a lot of the same things to say as I do, but make it all complicated sounding. Or the beef and dairy industry lobby for propagation of their products despite that they’re not so great for us in the massive quantities that we eat them, so you don’t really hear this eat real food perspective as much as you should.
I always encourage further learning and investigating more for yourself. Most of the food documentaries on Netflix are a great place to start (caution on “Vegucated” it’s an experiment in veganism. It’s graphic: good to know where your food comes from, but I had a tough time watching and this approach didn’t suit me). Everyone needs to know more about their bodies and what they put in to it. After all you’re stuck with it for life, may as well ensure you’re in on how to operate it; you’ve been driving it without knowing for how long now?!
The sources are from years of accumulated knowledge via school lectures, magazine articles, peer-reviewed journals, conferences and other professional development, documentaries, books, and some valid internet sources. I cannot define where or how each tidbit of knowledge came to me, sometimes I’ve received it via a multitude of these sources. I do encourage you to learn more if you’re not sure. For those who don’t have it in them to look it all up there’s one that’s sure, and I’m sure you know it just to hear it: I’m not steering you wrong when I say “Eat real food!”