Speaking of struggling... How awesome is this?!?!
I’ve known countless personal trainers who stay thin on a diet of chocolate, donuts, and alcohol. And if I had a dollar for every overweight, frustrated trainee who actually was doing what they were told, and was still making no headway, I’d be a wealthy man.
It doesn’t make sense. Yet we still believe the rules and ignore the countless exceptions, spouting platitudes like ‘the exception proves the rule’. What does that even mean? And how is it supposed to be helpful?
Basically, if you don’t struggle with this stuff, my blog isn’t really for you. But if you are struggling and confused, I hope I can add some helpful perspective to all the prejudice-infused garbage out there.
It’s so hard to know who to believe. When we in the health and fitness industry interpret scientific papers to the broader community, we who have varying scientific knowledge to begin with and our own agendas anyway, it’s easy to misrepresent (intentionally or not) the findings of certain studies... Studies which might only have been undertaken to try to discredit someone else, anyway.
What results is confusion and fear, and people start to make food choices contrary to what their intuition (note: not their whimsy) is telling them. This can be problematic in so many ways.
There’s a school of thought which I favour (because it suits me, it makes sense to me, and it’s not based on selling a product) that basically looks at nature and evolution to work out what’s best for us. It certainly makes sense that the human organism would have evolved to be able to digest and assimilate certain foods better than others – probably depending on what we had easy access to for the past tens of thousands of years.
But it still doesn’t answer the question: what the hell are we supposed to eat, specifically? We know variety is important, but of the vast range of natural, unprocessed foods, what's good? What's bad? How much processing is okay? Cooking? Juicing? Is there any credence to the low-carb or low-fat approach? Am I supposed to believe that the pomegranate, which has existed for a very long time, shouldn’t be eaten because we didn’t develop the ability to metabolise carbohydrate as we evolved? Or am I supposed to believe that we should choose chicken over duck because it’s not as fatty, and we didn’t evolve to be able to assimilate fat? Why are so many naturally occurring food substances rich in carbohydrate and fat? How would we as a species have survived if we had not evolved to be able to digest and assimilate these things?
An animal... or a meal?
Am I supposed to believe that protein is king when if you look at natural food sources – there is absolutely nothing you can eat that is pure protein. All naturally occurring protein comes packaged with fat (meats) or with carbs (grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes) or both (nuts and seeds). Yet people argue so much – should I try going vegan, or adopt the high-meat paleo-styled approach? Both methods focus on ‘foods in their natural, un-processed state’.
Bearing all this in mind, when I have protein shakes I use a brown rice protein powder which I mix with water and any one or any combination of the following foods: cream, milk, almond milk, coconut milk or cream, cinnamon, maple syrup, berries, or banana. It also needs to be emphasised that I have protein shakes when I’m training really intensely, or when I think I might need extra protein, which is to say – it’s cyclical or only when I feel like it, as opposed to it being a regular habit.
I don’t know the science (because the scientists disagree too much), but it makes sense to me that I will digest and assimilate protein better if there’s also some fat or carbohydrate present. Because that's what it's like when you eat actual food.
What about milk? It makes sense that we shouldn't consume milk as adults, that it ain’t natural, but it’s also compelling to think of the fact that milk’s sole purpose is to be consumed. The purpose of plants is – maybe – to propagate? The purpose of animals is – arguably – to live and reproduce? Milk’s sole reason for existing is to be consumed. Why then, should we not consume it?
Should I try the green-tea diet? Goji berries? What is the most superest of the super-foods anyway? Should I eat berries because they have so much in them, but avoid red meat because it has so much in it? That sounds a little inconsistent.
In my own personal experience as well as the experience of many people I have known, adopting a strict exclusionist diet, irrespective of what it is you’re excluding, doesn’t end (to quote Buffy) with hugs and puppies.
This much I have learned:
Obsessive behaviour begets itself at the expense of our health.
Exclusionist diets make cravings worse.
Yet, sometimes we need a little obsession. And sometimes we need to exclude certain foods. Or are we just told we need these things? How can you tell what you should do? Try to be aware of yourself, on the inside. You can’t take a big chunk of food out of your diet and expect to have no cravings. So think about it – if you’re removing protein and fat, and you start to crave more sugar, is it because you’re not getting enough energy from the food you’re eating? If you adopt a vegetarian diet and you don’t increase your consumption of nuts, legumes, avocado and coconut, how are you filling the hole left by the meat?
If you exclude grains but you don’t increase your consumption of vegetables and fruits and the wonderful and alkalising leafy greens, what’s going to happen?
Eat what seems natural to you. Eat what you seem to respond well to. Eat what you enjoy, in the amounts that feel right. If you’re like me and the nature-evolution eating thing seems to make sense, base your choices on that. But don’t be too hard on yourself, because the fact that something’s modern doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad.
And so what if it does? I really enjoy my indulgences. And you’re meant to. I don’t care if ‘this new study’ reveals that dark chocolate is good for you, because I’m not interested in deluding myself. I don’t eat it ‘for the antioxidants’, I eat it because I want to, and it’s my damn decision.
I really don’t subscribe to the ‘everything in moderation’ approach, nor do I favour ‘eat right for your type’, because you aren’t a type, you’re an individual. Eat right for you.
Health isn’t ‘out there’, it’s ‘in here’ *points at chest*. I no longer believe it’s about dedication and discipline; discipline can hurt as much as it can help. It’s about self-knowledge and awareness, and for that, all you need is you.