Pretty much all diets are worthless. There, it has been said. Now take a moment and re-read the previous two sentences. If one were to actually look at all of the commercially available diets out there, over 600 diets and counting, it is easy to see that all of these approaches sacrifice long-term health for a perceived short-term benefit (weight loss, “cleansing,” etc.). This is no way to foster health and well being. In fact, the “diet” industry may be one of the most destructive forces opposing the creation of health today. Many of these diets call for calorie restriction of some kind for at least a short period of time.
Consider this when using the ever-popular calorie cutting model to achieve your weight loss goals, which by the way, has little or nothing to do with actual health: Within 24 hours of going on a low calorie diet, which is defined as eating less than 1800-2000 calories per day (according to the World Health Organization), you immediately deplete your brain chemistry and have been shown to increase fat storing (lipogenic) enzymes in the body. This is particularly important for females who already have 3 times the amount of fat storing (lipolytic) enzymes as fat burning ones. Any changes in brain chemistry will lead to cravings. Low calorie dieting is especially damaging for anyone with a history of depression, anxiety, eating disorders or alcoholism. Remember, all of this occurs after a single day. Why set yourself up for failure by depleting your brain chemistry? Anyone with a history of chronic yo-yo dieting or long-term use of most medications is most certainly going to have severe issues with their physiology, including but not limited to, altered energy production, nutritional deficiencies, and so on.
Let me also state for the record that I am not making fun of or attacking the individuals that adhere to any given “diet” – Paleo, vegan, Blood Type, or otherwise. As you will see, I am equally unimpressed with any of the mainstream, fad approaches to nutrition. What would be most beneficial to humanity at this point, where food is concerned, is a total shift in consciousness around the terms “health” and “healthy” and what those words actually mean. What is under scrutiny here is the very concept of a gimmick approach to nutrition and health as a whole.
It seems like I can hardly go a single day without someone asking me about my thoughts on the “Paleo” diet, or the “Dukan” diet, or the “Hollywood Cookie Diet,” etc. Every presentation I give where I speak about any nutritional or health related topic, as soon as the floor opens for questions I know what the first one will be, “Do you like the “Paleo” diet?,” or “Is the “Gluten Free” diet as good as they say it is?” “What about the Blood Type diet – does that work?”
Spin, Spin, and More Spin
Every diet book or approach out there is bound to have some spin on it. All of the authors are very cleaver at marketing their approach as the latest and greatest thing since sliced bread (I personally think sliced bread is not necessarily a good thing, but you get the idea). A more than clear example of this is The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD. First off, if memory serves me correctly the actual study was titled “Mortality, Biochemistry, Diet, and Lifestyle in Rural China” and was about 890 pages worth of observation and documentation. However, in the book The China Study, Campbell chose only to reveal, out of the 100,000 statistical associations documented, the ones that were in line with and supported his vegan beliefs. I am not picking on The China Study (okay maybe I am just a little) but this kind of thing happens everywhere you look where supposed ‘research’ is concerned – especially the popular stuff that makes it to your television, news stand, book store, or favorite day-time talk show. You might find it interesting to know that wheat flour actually had a higher correlation to heart disease than red meat did based on the ‘China Study.’ Where was that in the book? I must have missed that chapter. The same thing can be said for the recent observational study from Harvard in the Archives of Internal Medicine demonstrating a correlation between red meat and early death. They forgot to mention a host of other factors and left out the part that showed that those with the highest cholesterol levels actually lived longer than those with lower cholesterol levels (by far not the first study to document such a thing) – but hey, who is going to come out and say that, right!
In addition, just about every dietary strategy tends to be modified to fit some gimmicky way of eating (as if the diet itself was not gimmicky enough). Paleo is a great example. I have worked with vegetarian Paleos, raw food Paleos, fruititarian Paleos, sugar-free Paleos, Monday-through-Friday Paleos, face-East-50%-of-the-time Paleos, and on and on the list goes. It’s sort of annoying to be honest with you. Everyone is putting some sort of spin on the Paleo approach, and many other so-called “healthy” nutritional approaches to try to create their own cult following or cash in on the dieting frenzy of today. For me…all of this nonsense begs one question; “What is the optimal objective of any approach to diet/nutrition?”, “Paleo” or otherwise, and, an even better question, “Is it really healthy?”
A Slight Throwback
Back in the day, particularly say prior to the Second World War, there were actually large groups of people who managed to survive without gimmicky diet approaches and live very healthy, free from modern disease, etc., by simply eating whole, real food. I know, that sounds ridiculous, right? Long before fad diets, like the Paleo approach, people ate foods free from chemicals, fertilizers, fillers, stabilizers, emulsifiers, colorings, additives, preservatives, and dyes. Imagine that. This of course was before commercial agriculture and food giants decided to take over the food supply. People did seemingly unthinkable things like eating animals that were raised appropriately off of a diet of grass, drank raw milk (oh the horror!), and regularly consumed fresh fruits and vegetables often grown locally, if not right in the back yard!
If one were so inclined to study the research of people like Weston A. Price, DDS, Francis M. Pottenger, M.D., Major General Sir Robert McCarrison, M.D. – and there are MANY others, one could easily determine what the creation of health looks like. Price studied some of the healthiest populations all over the world in the 1930’s – 14 different cultures if I remember correctly. In all cases, the tribes were incredibly healthy and free from chronic, degenerative disease of any kind. Many of them had no native word for “cancer.” These people just knew how to be healthy. Pottenger and McCarrison extensively studied the effects of food on health and disease with tremendous precision (Pottenger used cats and McCarrison used rats respectively). A quick glance at the Peckham Experiment and also the work of Lady Eve Balfour (the Haughley Experiment) will clearly demonstrate what happens when real food is the primary energy source in one’s “diet.” The healthiest populations on the planet did not require a University dietetics degree to know what to eat, no schooling on how to farm land appropriately, etc. Being healthy was just the way of Life.
Fast forward to today – things are a bit….different. We have added over 10,000 man-made chemicals to our food supply in the last 100 years, many of which have never been tested for safety in any quantity. Humanity has sat idly by while the ecosystem and soil that provides the very fabric of health and Life is raped by big Agriculture and Food Giants like Monsanto. If you think I am “off my rocker” I would invite you to read the books listed below in the Recommended Reading list and then formulate a more informed opinion.
Along with the industrialization of agriculture came “bought and paid for,” made-up, garbage science that told people to stop consuming the foods which have been eaten for thousands of years by the healthiest populations on the planet (i.e.- saturated fats), and start consuming foods that were never meant to be eaten by any intelligent animal – synthetic fats in the form of hydrogenated vegetable oils (there are countless other examples here, but you get the idea). As a society, we no longer eat real food. Rather, we eat a bunch of things that masquerade as food that are calorically dense and completely devoid of any real nutrition. Day after day passes by as the average person continues to use his/her stomach as a garbage can. The results? We spend the greatest percentage of GDP amongst industrialized nations on so-called “health care”… AND we are fatter, sicker, and more diseased than ever before in human history – period.
Redefining What is Healthy
For me, perhaps the greatest thing the “Paleo” or “Primal” approaches have done is to actually attempt to get people to think about how we made it this far throughout the course of human evolution. It has people wondering just what did we eat “back in the day” and how does that compare to the way we eat today. This is a huge contribution and offering of these systems. But, does that make it, or any other gimmick approach to nutrition, healthy per se?
The way that I personally define health – in the case of food – is to determine whether a given food actually supports human physiology. By human physiology, I mean –does the food you are eating support cellular energy production (efficient oxidative metabolism), and does it favor the body’s regenerative processes over inflammation and degeneration? The cell is the fundamental unit of Life, so, the question of health really comes down to supporting effective and efficient oxidative metabolism at the cell level (cellular respiration). As Ray Peat, PhD, has stated, “The ideal therapy is one which restores the cellular energy thoroughly, so the organism regains its full capacity to adapt, and seeks appropriate stimulation.” Applying this statement would contribute significantly to a much needed shift in human consciousness around food and health in general.
In order for an individual to create such an internal environment which favors the creation of health, that individual will have to call into question just about all of their inherited beliefs about what food and health is really about – regardless of what the latest dietary trend might be saying. Going “Paleo” or “Dukan” or “Skinny Bitch” may indeed represent something healthier than what you were doing (like living off a steady diet of candy, soda, coffee, and string cheese), but that in and of itself does not make something inherently healthy in any real sense of the term. When I have a client tell me that s/he has been eating “insert gimmick approach here” for the last X number of months or years, I always say the same thing, “Let me see your food logs and what you currently do on a day-to-day basis and we will go from there.” I say this because in my experience every single person has, in one way or another, placed their own “spin” on what the “gimmick” was originally intended to be. The result is, typically, an individual with a super stressed physiology and a very damaged metabolism. Just because a food item fits into a certain model or “diet” approach does not make it healthy. Further, just because a food is edible does not mean that we, as human beings, have any business eating it on a regular basis. We should look at the cell and its ability to produce energy efficiently as a guide for health and nutrition, not “so-and-so’s” latest book or what the Hollywood Stars are doing.
Call it what you want but it should not need to be called anything – to place a name on what you are doing nutritionally is a faulty process unto itself. In actuality, there is no name for any given diet. The word diet itself should be completely stricken from our vocabulary at this point. It is such a poverty stricken word that has far too many negative associations. For many, it creates or adds to poor self-esteem and self-concept issues. What DOES exist is simply the individual’s relationship to his/her food, and the knowledge that person has or does not have about how a given food item affects his or her physiology on a moment to moment, short term, and long term basis – to foster health and regeneration or propagate degeneration and disease. There are very simple and effective methods to determine if what you are eating is beneficial or detrimental to your physiology. Armed with nothing more than a thermometer and some pretty simple blood labs, you can easily determine the health benefit of any eating strategy over the course of time. My experience has been that anyone utilizing any of the current diet gimmicks available today, no matter how well-intended their efforts may be, is not doing their physiology / metabolism any favors in the long run.
Brandon J. Alleman has a private nutritional consulting practice. He works with clients locally, nationally, and internationally. Please contact him today to learn about his nutritional consulting services and programs that are offered to engaged members and clients only.
Recommended Reading & Study:
1. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price
3. Empty Harvest by Bernard Jensen and Mark Anderson
4. The Textbook of Medical Physiology by Arthur C. Guyton, M.D.
5. Human Physiology and Mechanisms of Disease, 6e by Arthur C. Guyton, M.D.
6. Endocrine Physiology by Constance Martin, PhD
7. Beating the Food Giants by Paul A. Stitt
8. Biologists in Search of Material: Findings of the Pioneer Health Centre Peckham (Peckham Experiment)