For anyone not competing in martial arts, attempting to fit into a specific dress, or mounting a thoroughbred as a pro jockey, temporary diets are pointless.
All too frequently I hear people breaking down their latest diet in less than permanent terms.
“I’m sticking to 1500 calories a day until I hit ___lbs”
“I’m drinking this smoothie for breakfast and lunch, then I can have all the asparagus and brown rice I want for dinner.”
“I signed up for this meal delivery plan that carefully crafts meals based on my specific requirements.”
My comment to all of these dieters is “do you intend to sustain this forever?”
If your planned diet duration is anything less than forever, what is the point? You’ll just revert to your previous dietary routine and status quo physical health.
Diets only make sense if the planned duration is FOR-EV-ERRRRRR
With that as a starting point, it becomes a tad easier to evaluate potential diets. Your new screening criteria could look something like this:
“Would this diet be mostly recognizable to someone 100 years ago?”
Save innovations in science and industrial processing for your next Prius. Humans were eating largely the same basic staples until the modern era of processed food. Use the 100 or 150 year test to evaluate potential diet staples.
“Can I afford this diet?”
Increasing numbers of Americans subscribe to meal preparation services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. These services advertise high quality meals that are easy to make in the midst of busy family life. The downside of these meals ready to make is the cost. Meals from all the major providers average $9-10 per serving. While this certainly brings the cost below that of going to to a restaurant dinner, it still far exceeds the grocery store.
“Does the diet match my lifestyle and work requirements?”
In my current Army lifestyle, I’m required to conduct physical fitness with my fellow Soldiers before getting changed and starting the day. Many Soldiers use this requirement as a rationale to “just grab something quick” from the base convenience store. Obviously only a small percentage of the population has my exact military circumstance, but you can likely see some parallels in your life.
Do the parameters of your prospective diet allow for options that are easily packable for consumption on the go or at work?
If you have to travel frequently for work, can you stay within your diet while in transit and staying at hotels?
Does your prospective diet offer enough variety to allow for creative meals?
If you do not truly enjoy eating the staples of a new diet, what makes you think it will get better over the long term?
Principles Over Policy
Overall, I try to focus on principles over strict policies. A policy or rule rigidly states what you can eat, how you should prepare it, and how much of it you should have. Principles on the other hand provide general guidelines for you to operate within. Principles allow for improvisation and adaption.
Here are a couple of the general principles I’ve found to be effective for me, and some of the books that helped form them.
1. Avoid added sugars and fruit juices.
2. Make the best thing for me also the easiest thing to access.
3. Avoid most carbohydrates from bread, grains, pasta, cereals etc…
4. Less ingredients is better.
5. Eat as much “good stuff” as I want (defined as most vegetables, full fat unsweetened dairy products, grass fed animal products, nuts).
A Case of the F-ck Its
Indulging in the occasional ice cream fits in my first principle as long as it truly is occasional. A policy of “never eating sugar” is a lot harder to maintain over the long term. When you do inevitably violate a strict dietary policy, you may succumb to a case of the “F-ck Its.”
“F-ck it! I’ve already busted my diet. Might as well finish off the entire sleeve of Oreos and get to work on the rest of that ice cream pint.”
The following books were very influential on me as I developed my personal nutrition philosophy. I encourage everyone to have a basis for their beliefs about nutrition. Adopting a diet without understanding the underlying tenets is akin to adopting a new religion because of the cool head wear.
Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fat, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health by Gary Taubes
The Case Against Sugar
by Gary Taubes
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
by Michael Pollan