But before we do, something to keep in mind: Many slightly heavy people are healthy and many thin people are not. Most people are after diets to loose weight, not a bad thing, as long as we know that thin and healthy are mutually exclusive. (But being overly heavy and unhealthy may not be).
A few weeks ago a friend emailed me asking to recommend a diet to loose a little weight. My response was that I’m not a diet expert, but I’d suggest general principles, focused on overall health, that may help.
Sifting through the morass of diet information is complex and tedious, made even more so by the complexity of our endocrine system, the way we live our lives, and the differences in genetic makeup.
Two popular, almost polar opposite diets are: 1) raw organic vegetarian whole food, and 2) paleo, primarily meat and saturated fat. And there are hundreds of diet variations in between. There are smart, educated people who espouse low fat, while others tell us high fat is where it’s at. There are so many smart people saying different things it’s hard to know which smart people to believe.
No matter who or what you believe, everyone must find what works for them. There is no one-size-fits-all for diets, but there are several truths that collectively, many smart people agree on:
- whole foods are preferable to processed foods
- fresh seasonal food is preferable to packaged
- drinking sodas, diet or otherwise, is not a good idea
- eating fat doesn’t make you fat, or unhealthy
- eating (dietary) cholesterol does not correlate to raising blood cholesterol
- hydrogenated oils (or trans fats) are toxic
- foods with a list of unrecognizable ingredients is better left avoided
And other concepts some smart people know:
- all calories are not created equal — so counting them, in or out, is a futile effort
- proteins, carbohydrates, and fats burn differently
- some foods require more calories to digest and assimilate than they contain
- we have complex systems of enzymes throughout our digestive system which can be thrown off by many factors, including our ability to handle stress
- good sleep on a consistent basis is an important component of good diet & health
And other general considerations:
- pointing to single individuals is not an example of how diets work
- we’re better off focusing on quality of food over quantity
- too much sugar is harmful
- carbohydrates turn into sugar in the bloodstream
Gary Taubes, an investigative reporter who has made a career exposing bad science, wrote a provocative article in the New York Times several years ago, followed by a couple of books, on how the low-fat emphasis we’ve been fed may actually be the cause of many problems. And Dr. Peter Attia addresses here, in part, how our food pyramid may be upside down.
Since most of us buy food that others have raised or prepared, and much of the food business is focused on how food tastes and not how it affects us after it passes our taste buds, finding good, wholesome food, especially while traveling, is a challenge. We can only do our best with the choices at hand.
Bottom line, a diet is one aspect of the weight/health equation. Our metabolic balance is affected by a few other components, all connected:
- Sleep — affects how we process nutrition while we’re awake
- Stress — unavoidable and not a bad thing, but how we handle stress affects our health & digestion process
- Physical Activity — important for keeping our overall endocrine, muscular, and skeletal systems strong and functioning with vitality
The recommendation to my friend?
- Eat whole foods, whether raw or cooked
- When eating animals, as much as possible, try to ensure they were raised well
- When eating produce, try to make sure it was raised well (organic, non-GMO)
- Don’t be afraid of a little fat, whether it’s chicken skin, coconut oil, nuts, olives, or avocado
- Limit starches like rice, potatoes and corn
- Limit or eliminate refined grains such as cereal, flour baked products, and pasta
- Avoid drinking sugar or sugar-free (diet) drinks, they mess with your system’s digestive enzymes
- Avoid packaged foods with long ingredient lists
- Avoid anything made with sugar, including most sugar substitutes
- Avoid most heated vegetable oils (many are genetically modified anyhow)
- Start daily semi-vigorous walks in the morning — or something similarly active
- Don’t compromise on sleep
- Drink a glass of water when waking
- Be physically active for 45 minutes before eating breakfast (and don’t skip breakfast)
My friend’s response? “What you recommend is impossible, but thanks anyway.”