With the holidays just around the corner, I have had to listen to people speak with bated-breath over the fear of falling off the dietary bandwagon with regular feasts that characterize this time of year. I began to notice however, that the diets people held were far from consistent.
This makes sense as we live in a world of conflicting dietary advice. A cursory Google search reveals reams of “reputable” sources suggesting you eat more whole grains, eat like a cave man, eat everything but grains, abstain from solid foods, drink more coffee, drink less coffee, and these are just the first three pages of Google.
Down the rabbit hole I have no doubt that I will be living on a diet of fermented and nasally ingested cinnamon powder; washed down with several smoothies made of ingredients typically found in lawn mower bags.
Being the stupid experimenter that I am (I refuse to say researcher as this would imply that I write down my results with any sort of frequency), I have experimented with a variety of these diets to see what will happen.
My experiments revealed one critical finding:
There is no silver bullet.
No special diet, no magic ingredient, no detox and no super foods. Just a whole pile of ingredients that effect everyone differently.
That of course does not mean that there aren’t garbage diets. Living on lemon juice and lawn trimmings is stupid. Being a Breatharian (living only on air) is stupid. Living primarily on meat and no carbs is…surprisingly popular.
Many of the other diets out there, whether it be the South Beach Diet, Wheat Belly, Paleo or Mediterranean Diet do have some merit however. The concern I have is that everyone is different and though we would like to be told to only eat X, Y, and Z to look like superhuman dynamo with an energy level to match, the truth is that solving for X is a deeply personal experience.
The only way to find out is to experiment and see what works for you (or enlist the help of the dietitian to ensure you aren’t throwing darts in the dark). Having talked to everyone from competitive bodybuilders to marathoners and everything in between, I can honestly say that the diets are far from consistent. I have seen men subsist on pizza and processed carbs and somehow generate amazing amounts of productivity. Similarly, I have seen many live on these same processed carbohydrates and embody something closer to Jabba the Hutt.
My own experimentation found that large amounts of processed carbs don’t do me any favours. With that said, I was raised as a computer-bound child of the nineties on a steady diet of instant noodles and canned seafood…but time will tell how that turns out.
What I can say is that anyone who proposes an easy answer is lying to you. Avoiding bread won’t make or break you. For some, it might be a little easier on the system, but avoiding grain is no substitute for regular exercise and better portion control.
Similarly, just as we are given mixed messages about diet, we are also assaulted with all sorts of body image issues. Six-pack abs somehow became the pinnacle of human achievement in North American society and I am not sure why. Cardio and crunches will get you that, but it certainly doesn’t mean that you are “strong” in any sense of the word…just dedicated to a very limited range of exercises and diet. Similarly, massive pectoral muscles somehow got in vogue, despite being used primarily as a stabilizing muscle to keep you from falling backwards. Not particularly useful or a measure of physical fitness, but somehow pushed on us as the ultimate reward of gym membership.
To reiterate: experiment with your diet, don’t trust anyone peddling easy answers (particularly if they follow it up with a “magic” pill that claims to do everything the red pill from the Matrix did and more) and exercise in a diversity of ways to find out what works for you.
No easy answers today, but next week I will get off the subject of food and onto something more holiday focused.