I originally posted this last year. Still being relatively close to the New Year I thought I might drop this one again. We are obsessed with ‘The Best’. But is there really ever such a thing?
Recently, I had a friend ask for some advice on dietary choices. She eats a fairly healthy diet but has been feeling under the weather as of late. She began to do some research on things she might change up. As she went on to google to begin researching she found lots of choices. She was overwhelmed and she came to me hoping that I might be able to direct her to the one, be all, end all, answer. That’s the way we are as Americans. We don’t want to workout, we want to do ‘the best workout’. We don’t want our kids to go to school, we want our kids in ‘the best school’. We don’t want to invest in the stock market, we want our strategy to be ‘the most researched, resilient, robust plan’ that a financial advisor from ‘the best company’ can come up with. We seem to be obsessed with this idea that there is this one, complete, final, absolute best version of things. The diet thing has exploded in recent years. Paleo, primal, raw food, vegetarian, vegan etc. I’m not going to say any one of them is the best or the worst. I’ve probably been on some variant of all of them. You can probably find research that supports the advocacy of any one of them. How does one know which way to go? To answer this question I think it’s helpful to share my nutrition journey up until now…
- I grew up in the south and very overweight. Pop tarts, pizza, McDonalds, soda, cookies etc. These were regular parts of my diet alongside the many home cooked southern soul-food style meals my mother cooked. This nutritional profile won’t show up in your google search for a healthy diet 😉
- When I first saw progress with weight loss I adopted a simple dietary strategy: No more sweets, no more fast food, only drink water. I gave myself one cheat meal a week.
- After losing 80 lbs I had to smarten up my approach. I maintained my rigid standards above, but I began to eat 5-6 small meals a day. Knocking that last 20-25 lbs proved very challenging. I couldn’t just run it off. There were times where I could maintain this pattern and I would get lean but it’s hard to be a full-time engineering student, have a part time job, and prepare 5-6 small meals a day. It wasn’t long term sustainable. But this is what everyone and everything in the media said to do at the time. So I stayed with it for years. From 19 years old to ending my time in the military at 30 years old. I kept trying to make it happen.
- Something had to give and that’s when I realized it was time to start reading. The crossfit community had introduced me to a paleo style of eating. The main shift was eliminating grains and processed sugar from my diet. When I said I got rid of ‘sweets’ earlier, I meant what I perceived at the time to be very deliberate sweets: Oreos, donuts, cakes, pies, ice cream, shakes etc. I didn’t realize how much sugar bread had in it. Or pasta, or crackers, or everything that’s packaged with a label. Sugar is in almost every processed food. I switched to paleo and 30 lbs melted away. 195 baby! Felt better than ever. Kept reading and learning and tweaking and experimenting.
- The latest shift, going vegan (slowly, mind you), has been brought on by a few things: Meat, in general, is not sustainably raised. Proper animal husbandry takes way more care than many of the large meat companies provide. Not to mention the deplorable working conditions in many meat packing plants. Read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. It’s an Eye opener. I’ve known this for a long time but my first task was breaking my addiction to grains and sugar. Properly raised meat is expensive as hell! As an entrepreneur trying to get a company of the ground, I can’t afford $20-30 steaks. Julie Piatt has a really inspiring story of healing a serious ailment with eastern medicine and a plant based diet. Her Husband, Rich Roll, was fueled to 50 lbs of weight loss and becoming a successful ultra marathoner and triathlete on that same plant based diet. I’m intrigued!
Many of my phases have been highly informed by practicality and common sense. Real food (mostly veggies and fruit), that is minimally processed is probably always going to beat out processed food in terms of nutritional value. Real food that doesn’t break my pocket book is where I’m going to spend most of my dollars. The preparation of that food has to fit reasonably into the demands of my life (5-6 small meals doesn’t). Most importantly, you have to be willing (occasionally) to pick up a book on the topic and read. The research will probably always change what we view as the best diet. Our bodies will change and life’s demands on our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual energies will change with time. We must be sensitive and be aware of our own body’s needs. Ownership. You need to be the first and foremost expert on you. Sometimes we get so fixated on having the right answer that the volume of data causes us to be paralyzed in taking a step towards any strategy. This leads to stagnation and frustration, and a building sense that the problem is too big to solve. People, my first step wasn’t even researched. Nobody needs a PHD to know you can’t eat McDonald’s everyday. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut (so to speak) and try something. DO SOMETHIN’!
I ended up telling my friend to keep eating what she was eating and instead we talked about stress she was having at work. Persistent stress, that I’ve known her to have consistently. I pointed out to her that when we don’t feel good physically we automatically assume it’s a physical problem. Could she make some tweaks to her diet? Yeah, probably. But for someone who is eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day and may have a little ice cream 1-2x a week, is diet really the issue? How about dumping that chronic stress? That might settle your aches and pains down. At a minimum, I can’t see it hurting the situation. Feeling something in our physical bodies doesn’t necessarily equate to physical origins (i.e. eating/exercise). I don’t know if an ounce for ounce best diet exists. I’m actually eating grains again. Once I gave them up, I thought I would never go back. I’m eating meat once every week right now. I definitely never thought that would happen! Maybe the best diet is the resultant of prudent learning and stewardship by the consumer. Maybe the best diet evolves with our understanding. Maybe our digestive processes are as much dependent on the responsible handling of our money, relationships, and work as they are our food choices. Maybe sometimes you just have to try something and see what happens.
Until next time…