Quick Hit Summary
Popular diets are always coming and going. What doesn't change though is the fact that everyone will have their own unique response to a given diet. This article describes the approach I take with diets, using the Paleo diet as an example.
The Evils of Dairy, Grains & More … Or Not?
Figure 1. Ah yes, the origins of the Paleo Diet! Word captions by Sean Casey who adapted the image from original source.
Over the years, many dietary plans have gained popular acceptance in society. These include the USDA, Mediterranean, Atkins, South Beach and more. Within the last 5 years, a new diet has emerged in health/fitness circles – The Paleo Diet. Although many versions exist, the central tenets of most state that grains, dairy, and many other food items, should be completely removed from your diet to maximize health and performance. In addition, one should eat a variety of minimally processed whole foods … assuming that they aren't on the "banned" list of course! Jokes aside, my point in writing this article is not to say whether the paleo diet is good or bad. Rather, I'd like to share with you my philosophical and practical approach to any new revolutionary diet, using paleo as an example.
Looking at a few anecdotal stories, it's easy to see why the paleo diet has become the current rage. It doesn't take long to come across a forum/message board or local CrossFit scene to find some formerly overweight or obese person with lackluster energy praising the sudden weight loss, improvement in blood panel profiles (ie- lipids, glucose levels, etc), and increased energy levels after switching diets. I don't doubt these improvements. In fact I strongly applaud these life changes.
Yet, before we start to hail any one particular diet, paleo or otherwise, as the Holy Grail, we must take into consideration an important truth – the lifestyles many of these individuals led prior to their dietary epiphany. Quite possibly they were sedentary and lived off fast food, sugary sodas, frozen pizzas or similar for years. After coming to a realization that they needed to turn their life around, they started following a new dietary approach (i.e. – paleo) that promoted minimally processed whole foods. In addition they may have started to exercise. Thus, a person went from leading a sedentary junk food filled lifestyle to a more active lifestyle that involves frequent exercise and eating a variety of minimally processed whole foods that fell within the paleo guidelines. Fast forward a bit & before long, these same individuals are standing on their bully pulpit, claiming how evil dairy, oats, rice and dare we mention, white potatoes, are in the human diet.
I can't help but laugh when I hear stories such as the one above. I see/hear them all the time. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of principles about the paleo diet that I TRULY like and applaud. However, when you change 80 different food variables at once, it's really hard to say that one of the previously demonized whole foods was/was not responsible for the changes experienced by "the follower". With that said, I'll share with you a powerfully simple, yet often forgotten, truth when it comes to these diets:
Eating anything other than garbage as well as leading an active lifestyle will lead to physical and psychological benefits to the end user.
Don't feel bad if you have to take a few moments to ponder on that thought… I realize it's a pretty mind blowing statement; borderline revolutionary some may argue.
A More Impressive Story
What I feel is more impressive than the above scenario (i.e. – individual eating less than ideal prior to starting new diet) is hearing stories about people who are already highly active, eat a very healthy diet with proper supplementation and then take a challenge. If they report significant improvements, THEN you got my attention. Now my critics out there are likely to say, “We have professional athlete X, Y, Z endorsing our dietary strategy. How much more of a testimony do you need than that of someone competing at the highest level…?”
Well, if they were doing everything else correct, as stated above, I’m definitely impressed. However, one of the first things I learned early on was that it is false to assume that just because someone is a professional/elite athlete they MUST be following a great diet. Many of them are putting less than ideal foods into their body just like everyone else. Due to their age, genetics, etc, they can get away with it and still perform at a high level. If you take an individual such as this, have them eat a more nutritious diet, add in proper supplementation, of course they’re going to see benefit. Furthermore, this athlete is their own unique individual, which, in my opinion makes a difference as I share in the next section…
My Advice for Starting New Diets
Here's my advice for those individuals who are "gung ho" about starting up a new diet – do a little ME-search. Staying consistent, let's use Paleo as our example. Try it out for 4 weeks. After the initial 4 weeks is over, experiment with adding moderate amounts of "banned" food back into your diet, one at a time. On the flip side, simply remove 1 food from your diet at a time. The key thing is that you're only changing one variable at a time. I also recommend taking 7-10 days when adding/subtracting foods before evaluating results.
At the end of each time period assess outcomes. In doing so, be sure to put any hard core paleo rhetoric that you may be harboring aside and honestly look at the results. If you find that you feel the same regardless of if you eat/don't eat the "banned" food, then my guess it's probably fine to eat in moderation. Who knows, you may very well find that you FEEL BETTER with more energy to exercise upon adding it back into the diet; especially if you're following a "carbaphobic" version of the Paleo diet! If you feel worse after reintroducing the food into your diet, don't eat it!
A final point that I'd like to make is that it is false to assume that the results you experience when removing/introducing foods into your diet will be identical with that of someone else. Just as everyone responds differently to a training program, individuals will respond differently to the same dietary program.
Popular diets are coming and going. What doesn't change though is the fact that everyone will have their own unique response to a given diet. So before you jump on the mass food demonizing bandwagon, add/eliminate foods one at a time from your diet and honestly evaluate your body's response. In other words, be a food "analyzer", not a food basher!
So there you have it. My dietary advice is as simple as that; nothing more than using a little Me-search to determine what works best for you.
1 Nk. Prehistoric drawings in the Magura cave, Bulgaria. 17 July 2007. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, I, Nk. This applies worldwide. Image access and adapted on March 9 2013 from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fi…-_drawings.jpg