The one "true" diet and the Origin of the Species

Everyone is looking for the right and correct way to eat.  There are thousands of diets and hundreds of approaches to eating.  How can I or anyone else hope to sift a few grains of truth from all the opinions and guesses well enough to give advise and ultimately actually do my job?  If you are interested in health, fitness or making changes to your body you NEED to eat right and I hope to be able to give you a push in the right direction.

My business is primarily about health.  Improving health through fat loss or muscle gain, improving health through strength training and improving health through diet and lifestyle changes.  It can be easy to focus on one goal exclusively, weight loss at the expense of strength, strength at the expense of fat gain or any of the above at the expense of health.  Eating in a way that works with our bodies should first and foremost improve and protect health.  My clients goals may be performance, fat loss or muscle gain but I have no interest in any unnatural method that achieved this in the short term at the expense of health.  Rapid short term weight loss is simple and unhealthy.  Also a natural diet shouldn't require scales and a detailed log in order to work.  It should be as simple as possible but no simpler as Einstein would say.

The 'science' of nutrition is a mess.  For any fact one study proves to be true and accurate there will be two to show the opposite.  It is very nearly impossible to make a statement that literally no one would contradict.  

You have to drink water... You have to eat something sometimes... You have to... Nope that was it.

I know there are lots of things nearly no one would contradict but you would be surprised.  

Should you only drink when thirsty, drink three litres a day regardless of thirst, only drink at sunrise and sunset, drink until you pee clear, does peeing clear indicates dehydration and does mean you should stop or do you need even more water but this time with electrolytes?  Do you drink every hour, never drink an hour before or after a meal or should you sip all day? Even that statement 'drink water' gets complicated.  Let's not even get into filters, temperature and tap verses bottled.

Introduce the big powers like the food, health and pharmaceutical industry slanting the studies, results and the media's reporting of them in the direction they would like and suddenly you can trust very little of the available information.  The food industry wants you to carry on buying and eating the same junk in increasing quantity regardless of the consequences, the fitness industry and its steroid using poster children wants you to eat every 45 minutes, buy their bars, powders and potions but then train on a quiet, tidy treadmill out of the way of everyone else then go home while the pharmaceutical industry wants to treat your future diabetes, high blood pressure and maybe a cancer or two.  They might also tell some fibs about cholesterol to get you on another unnecessary medication as well.  

My three guiding lights through this rubbish are,

  1. Dan John quotes, specifically 'success leaves tracks'.
  2. Evolutionary logic.
  3. Multiple independent discoveries. 

The first is pretty self explanatory.  "Success leaves tracks". It is unlikely you are trying to do anything that has never been done before.  If you want to know how to eat for a goal then look at people how have already achieved that goal.  Pretty much all bodybuilder eat a lot of protein all the time and increase or reduce carbs for different training phases.  So for muscle that's a pretty good starting place.  Nearly anyone who has lost weight successfully limited or removed sugar and probably had a salad once and a while and got at least a little active.  Admittedly the challenge here is separating what people actually did from what they, or there sponcers, claim the did.  Here's looking at you Cristiano Ronaldo (sponsored by Herbalife).  As for healthy eating and lifestyle just look to any indigenous population that hasn't got in bed with the Western industrial diet yet.  No lifestyle diseases there.  As a personal trainer I get to run different diets on multiple people in addition to myself and have seen what works.  It's not exactly scientific but if it works it works.  Let's not let the 'why?' keep us up at night.

Secondly is evolutionary logic.  Still a simple enough idea although it leads to some unpopular conclusions. We 'are' in a some long ignored spiral of our DNA, hunter gatherer primates.  Any creationists may leave the room now if they wish. If a piece of dietary advice would make absolutely no sense in those prehistorical circumstances then I will dismiss it with an easy heart.  If I am told we are supposed to eat every hour and never miss breakfast I will wonder how we ever survived a winter let alone an ice age.  If I'm told that that I should be careful with fat and meat intake and should increase my intake of agriculturally mass produced grain foods then I will be skeptical.  Whole grains be dammed.  The idea that a slightly less steady meal pattern across a day, week or couple of months is more natural and healthy makes perfect sense.  Different types and quantities of food would obviously have been available at different times of the day or year.  Game in the spring, game and veg in the summer, game and fruit in the autumn and sod all in the winter.  Fish possibly.

Finally we have multiple independent discovery.  A slightly more obscure method of 'fact checking' so let me explain.  Lots of important discoveries have in fact been made twice or more by different people with no knowledge of each other.  For example calculus was discovered by Sir Isaac Newton as you no doubt know.  What you might not know is that another man named Gotfried Wilhelm Leibniz discovered it at the same time.  I guess he just a worse PR guy than Ike and was more or less ignored.  Another famous case and the inspiration for the title of this article was the theory of evolution by natural selection.  Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin both discovered this at the same time through different methods in different places.  I read a lot of information on diet and nutrition.  Most of it agrees on the extreme basics and then contradicts everything after that.  However sometimes the same little details or patterns show up again and again.  When two or more approaches to diet with no real connection to each other suggest the same thing I always take note.  For example reducing or avoiding protein for a day a week comes up again and again everywhere from bodybuilding guides to hippy natural health gurus to mental performance diets.  The same could be said for varying your quantity and types of food through the week.  This loops back to my evolutionary logic point.

Using this slightly wobbly logic I consider the following points as 'true'.  I won't go into the exact background to each one but they are all the results of the process above.  I have two levels of diet complexity depending on if you are just starting or going for perfection.

The basics are: 

  • Eat natural whole foods.  Nothing heavily processed.  Did it grow in the ground or water or did it once eat things that grew in the ground or water.  I consider this almost to basic to need saying.  Your granola bar is not healthy and your diet soda is evil.
  • We should burn fat as a primary source of energy.  To achieve this eat primarily fat five days a week while keeping carbohydrates as low as possible. Some people require more that five days the first weeks to adapt to burning fat.  
  • To prevent the negative effects of long term carb restriction eat primarily low GI carbohydrates or two days a week.  Take a 'cheat' day here if you like.
  • Keep protein and low carb vegetable intake steady through the week.

The next step up when the basics are down more or less always:

  • Cycle calories through the week.  If you need about 2500 then eat 2000 Monday and 3000 Tuesday.  Or 500 Wednesday and 4500 Thursday if you want.  Always keep a note of what works for you and makes you feel/perform best.  Even if the calories change keep the fats up and carbs down.  This can be planned or allowed to happen based on hunger.  Time a high calorie day with a high carbohydrate day when you have something social going on.
  • Reduce protein to nothing one day a week.  Increase the amount the following day or days to keep the week about balanced.

There is plenty of wiggle room on this plan.  You can increase or decrease the calories on the carb days to support different goals without changing the fundamentals of the diet.  It would be impossible to go into every what every change of meal timing and food choice would do but the above is enough to get started.  

Let me know what you thing in the comments or please get in touch through the ask a question tab.

Richard Bath

Force of Nature Personal Training