I was reading an article before, and was told that whether my goal is fat loss or muscle gain, I should be eating 200 grams of protein each day. I don’t know how people come to these figures. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten 200 grams of protein in a single day; to get near that figure, I’d need to be eating steak and eggs for every meal, or adding at least three protein shakes to a regular day’s worth of food, or drinking a few litres of milk. Thirty eggs. An unbelievably large quantity of tofu. Meat and milk, essentially. In quantities that would be truly difficult for me to sustain.
Likewise, depending on what I read, it seems I should be consuming anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 calories per day. That’s a pretty big window. There’s a reason I don’t like to track all this stuff too much anymore. The numbers interfere with listening to, and trusting, my own body and perception, and I only feed my obsessions to a point.
I used to say things like “everyone knows what healthy eating is, it’s not an issue of not knowing”, but now I’m not so sure. When everyone around you is telling you to eat less, that you should be dieting all the time, people start to believe that a 1,200 calorie per day diet is the right amount of food to eat, and they forget that the very essence of weight-loss dieting comes down to not eating enough.
Not only that, but I saw a banner ad before which I did not click: “avoid these five fruits and veggies to burn fat every day”. I fear we do not all know what healthy eating is anymore. We are being told to avoid apples because they might make us fat. It’s ridiculous. If apples are making you fat, the internet cannot help you. The amount of confusion and contradictory information astounds me. When did we reach the point where we started to believe that avoiding broccoli is the right thing to do for weight loss? There are a hundred reasons to eat or to avoid broccoli, depending on you, but weight loss?
I had a client one time, who was trying to avoid carbs. She was hungry, had skipped a meal, and by the end of the day she had a fist-full of jelly babies. She avoided the fruit, and she said to me, “they’re full of sugar but at least I didn’t have any carbs”. All I could tell her was that actually, sugar is a carb. It’s the simplest of all carbs, and the most quickly absorbed into the body. But we are told certain things, we aren’t really told what they mean, or we get confused amidst a sea of contradictory articles, and if you miss something, if you lose context – what do you cling to, to keep afloat?
Chemicals. People are afraid of chemicals, and too quickly we forget that all things are made of chemicals. I’ve seen it referenced a couple of times recently: dihydrogen monoxide. Sounds scary, but it’s only the chemical name for water. Pure water. All foods contain naturally occurring chemicals. Some foods contain added chemicals. But all things are made of chemicals. Chemistry may be the study of pretty much anything. It is too easy to profit from fear and propaganda.
We start to believe that because we are fatter than we want to be, this necessarily means we eat too much. Or that the right amount of food is something less than what we need to maintain our daily functions. Vanity and various interventions aside, it seems clear to me that the right amount of food is the amount that supports all your body’s functions and your daily activity – not the amount that interferes with your ability to get shit done, and forces your body to compensate somehow. It has become rather skewed.
But the essence of a diet is deprivation. Eat less than you need, and force the body to rely on fat stores for energy. There’s a difference between deprivation and the right amount of food to support correct function. We seem to forget this, always believing we should eat less, less, ever less. But diets were never meant to be life-long, yet they don’t seem to work right when cycled either.
As an appropriately educated and qualified Personal Trainer in Australia, the only nutritional advice I am actually supposed to dispense is in accordance with the Nationally Standardised Guidelines. It seems to be pretty well established stuff, there’s a lot in there that makes sense, and it includes the Five Food Groups approach to eating, which means Personal Trainers in this country should be telling you to eat plenty of grains – but this is not so much in style at the moment. If your trainer is telling you to follow some crazy plan – check that they do actually know what they’re talking about, because at Personal Trainer School, we actually covered fuck-all nutrition. Why? Because it’s complicated and the job of a good Personal Trainer is to teach you how to exercise, not to magically make you thin. Nutritionists study for years. Nobody knows everything.
In the end, I don’t know. You, as a person, certainly are unique. If you went to see a Nutritionist, the advice they gave you would be dependent on your own history of eating and your own unique condition. Often, it would not be the same advice they would give to someone else. But when you read the internet and magazines, what do you trust? There’s a good chance that some foods you are told you should be eating, you despise. In that case, don’t eat them. You will have certain things you can or cannot tolerate, for a world of reasons. Rather than push through and stubbornly believe you should be eating a certain thing, observe instead. If it disagrees with you or you find it off-putting, don’t eat it. What’s the point?
If you find you’re hungry all the time, the problem might not be your appetite. You might not need an appetite suppressant, you might simply be in the long-term habit of believing you require less food than you actually do need. In this case, your appetite is fine. Your conception is what’s askew.
And food addiction? If you experience cravings, that’s not food addiction. It’s not a medically diagnosable disorder. There may be some extreme cases, to give benefit of the doubt, but I feel like we’ve got it backwards. It’s not that sugar and fat are addictive as such, it’s that we’re wired to seek out nutritionally dense foods – foods that we don’t need to eat much of, but which provide us with a large amount of energy. It’s efficient. And there are reward pathways in the brain that are set up to make sure we don’t die of starvation. You want a lot of bang for your buck – if you don’t need to eat much of a thing, but it provides you with a lot, that’s an efficient food choice. It’s only problematic in a certain context. But if you’re ‘on the go’ all the time, you want foods that will give you a bunch of stuff all at once, without taking up hours of your day. It is normal to seek out foods that deliver. And even if some of us really don’t need much food, every one of us still needs food. Calories are important, and you need to eat them. Calorically dense foods are not all bad. All things have pros and cons, and nutrition is complicated.
In the end, you cannot escape from the fact that you have to choose what you eat. We are cursed and blessed with freedom. You’re always going to have to eat something that someone else thinks is going to kill you, but in the end it’s got nothing to do with them. It’s your choice alone. Seek out advice from people you trust, who know you, who have some degree of knowledge, and work from there. Remember that context is important. The Interwebs don’t know what you’ve been eating up until now, how you’ve been living, and what your needs are. But you do.