Eat food, not fads.

We live in the age of the elimination diet. You can eat like a cave man or just “quit sugar” or combine all the fad diets and just eliminate food. As a dietitian, food and health dominate my life, so although I know these diets are not the solution to good health and your ideal weight, I can understand the appeal of these latest food fads. Our food supply is just a little crazy and people are confused. We are being brain washed by social media, where anyone with a computer can push their food agenda. We are losing touch with what food is and where it comes from and as a result are losing our food intuition. If I had a dollar for the number of times I have been told that bread or carbs are to blame for a person’s weight gain, I would be living in France, near one of my favourite climbing areas. We need to get our food judgment back and start eating food again…not fads.

TV shows are doing a terrific job of adding to the current food crisis. You only have to watch Recipe to Riches once, to gain the most transparent insight into how our food choices are being made for us, and the motivation behind the food available to us. Money is the sole driver behind our food supply and diet industry, more now than ever before. The simple little saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” has been over ridden by “down, down, prices are down”, a cyclone of colourful packets and the most confusing array of food products and advertising all vying for our attention. Little or no consideration is given to the impact on our health, life style, the environment, or whether we actually need yet another packet of something added into our already overstocked supermarkets. I mean seriously, do we really need yet another brand of cookie dough or gourmet sausage? And do we really need to have our curry with a side of blended cauliflower instead of rice?

Choose to get back to basics. Balance and moderation sound boring but it’s excellent to remember that extremes are marketable and we keep falling for it. Think about your health and diet in rock climbing terms, there are not many people who can climb their dream route or boulder V13 without putting in the hard yards (fun hard yards). This means a combination of a bit of training, enough time on rock, general fitness, all the mind stuff, staying injury free and the right combination of fuel. Just finger boarding on monos for 3 months probably isn’t going to get you up your first 33. Eating like a cave man or “quitting sugar” are enticing concepts that provide an appealing set of rules to follow andgenerally promise fast weight loss and lots of it, but the long term consequences are not worth it. Most of these fads have no scientific basis and are not sustainable. Choose to ignore the fads and get back to just eating food. The first step is to know what to look for. These 6 rules of thumb are a good starting point. Ignore any diet or meal plan that:

  1. Villainises and cuts out an entire food group e.g. dairy or grains.
  2. Promises extra fast weight loss (more than 1-2kg/week).
  3. Permits you to eat only specific foods e.g. cabbage or lemons.
  4. Makes you buy a bunch of supplements, tablets or specifically branded foods.
  5. Provides evidence for the diet from a celebrity, one study, only a small number of subjects or from people who claim to have had success with the diet.
  6. And finally, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Carbohydrates are a great example of a food group that has been made a villain. Every second person seems to be eliminating “evil” carbs and embracing the current yummy super heroes…big slabs of meat, butter, anything with the word coconut in it, kale and fat.

So here is the truth. Carbohydrates are not evil. They are not the root cause of all our lifestyle diseases and are not making us fat. Carbohydrates ideally provide 55-65% of our energy every day. If you eliminate 55% of what you eat each day by cutting out carbs and don’t replace them completely with another food group, you will lose weight…..Because you are eating less energy every day.

Carbs are something we most definitely need. To understand why, we need to talk a bit about the science. Carbohydrate provides us with energy. One gram of carbohydrate provides 16kJ. Our body’s need a constant supply of glucose, which is used as a fuel. Our main source of glucose is dietary carbohydrate. Glucose can also be synthesised from protein, so if the diet is low in carbohydrate, more of the protein we eat will be used to provide glucose. This means less is available for the growth and repair of body tissues…From a athletes point of view what this means is less protein available for recovering and getting stronger after we train.

So if carbs aren’t making us fat and unhealthy, then what is? Eating too much food is. Yep, even too much “healthy food”. And the obvious one, eating too much food that is processed, loaded with salt, fat and sugar and has an ingredient list longer than my arm. If we are looking for the evil villain we should be looking at the food products, “junk foods” and “convenience foods”, the super size portions and 2 for 1 deals.

Don’t get bamboozled by all that rubbish out there. The less processed your food is the better. Make sure you have some carbohydrate and protein at every meal, aim for more than 2 cups of vegetables every day, stick to just 2 pieces of fruit and eat a little bit of fat (e.g. unsaturated fats from nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils are great) and keep your treats…. as treats. Simple.