One of the most frustrating paradoxes in the modern age is the obesity epidemic: We know more about food, nutrition, physical activity and human health than at any previous point in recorded history, and more people are obese – even morbidly obese – than at any previous point in recorded history.
The internet is awash with theories as to why this is the case… We’re too darn lazy, we spend too much time on the internet, we don’t spend enough time outside being active, we eat too much sugar, we eat too much meat, we eat too much fat, we don’t eat enough vegetables, we don’t eat enough fruit, etc., etc., etc.
And yet while our field of knowledge is broader and deeper than ever before, and while that knowledge is more easily accessible to the average person than ever before, the average American is more confused than ever before… at least those of us who continue to struggle with those numbers on the scale, it seems.
Given my day job (ag media) and my hobby (powerlifting), I see definitive claims about food and nutrition just about every day, many (most?) of which directly contradict someone’s else’s claim with the same degree of certainty.
I am among the 70% of U.S. adults who are overweight or obese, so this hits fairly close to home for me. One of my first blog series, in fact, was what I called the “Half Man Challenge,” so named because I had a goal of becoming half (not quite literally, but close) the size I was at that time. And in fact over a series of years, I lost nearly 80 pounds through better management of both diet and exercise.
Where to begin…???
What most of us struggle with, first off, is the sheer enormity of the problem. No one wakes up one day 20, 50 or 100 pounds overweight… it happens over time. Many times we don’t really realize that it is happening, and the incremental nature of the situation is ultimately what gets us. So then when we finally face up to the harsh reality, the prospect of undoing those years of poor choices is staggering.
And then, after we decide that something has to be done, the next biggest challenge is figuring out what that something actually is… What’s the path that will get us back to a picture of health, whatever that may be for a given individual.
This is where things get a little… confusing. Should we go low-carb, should we go keto, should we go paleo, what about low-fat, is gluten what’s making me fat, have you heard of the South Beach Diet, what about Weight Watchers, oh my friend at work said she’s doing great on Atkins, Dr. Oz did this thing on juice cleansing that sounds good, how many calories should I be eating anyway… and these are just the things that I typed off the top of my head.
And every one of us knows someone who has all the answers. “It’s just calories in, calories out,” they might say, to which the sharp mind replies, “Well, 2,000 calories of doughnuts and 2,000 calories of meat and veg are plenty different.” For every friend who champions some variation of the low-carb diet (Keto, Paleo, Atkins, etc., etc.), there is a friend who says you can’t perform at an optimal level without carbohydrates, and both friends have studies to back them up.
Here’s the reality of the situation: there are many roads to Rome, and most of them will get you there eventually.
World-class powerlifter Dr. Ben Pollack got me thinking about this earlier today with a video he published earlier in the year:
There are some things most people agree on; one example being that the basic calorie balance is what matters in the end. But tactically, there is no single “right way” to achieve that caloric balance, from a diet standpoint. In my experience – losing nearly 80 pounds, gaining it all back, and then working to lose it all again – what you do doesn’t matter nearly so much as does doing it consistently.
Doing the thing that keeps you on track consistently is the “magic trick” we’re all looking for when we google this stuff.
Cory Gregory pushes a program called Anabolic Fasting, which is in essence a hybrid of Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale’s Metabolic Diet and Intermittent Fasting. I like it for two reasons: one, for whatever reason going “low carb” works better for me (historically, I seem to stay on track more consistently when I’m on a low-carb nutrition plan), and two, doing the day’s eating between noon and 7 p.m. (-ish, sometimes it’s noon and 8, or 11 and 7, depending on what I’m doing that day) means I don’t have to stress over individual portions so much at my two main meals. I generally eat a pretty good sized lunch (steak and eggs is a common lunch for me) and then more moderate for dinner, so lunch might be 900 calories and dinner might only be 700-800. I’ll have a protein shake after training, and then usually a big Honeycrisp Apple for a snack somewhere along the way, maybe some string cheese if I need more protein.
Come up with a plan, and Just Do It.
Someone reading this is going to come up with 27 reasons why what I’m doing is wrong. And yet, I’m down ~22 pounds this year thus far, and my nutrition plan isn’t making me crazy.
Does that mean you should immediately jump on the Anabolic Fasting program? Well, if you generally do well on low-carb protocols and don’t think you’ll go nuts not eating from the time you get out of bed until noon, go for it. If you think those things would drive you up the wall, hey, it ain’t the program for you.
Pollack got to the meat of it: these various diets or programs have value because different people respond differently. Eat plenty of protein, eat plenty of veggies and fruit, and then you can figure out what tradeoff of carbs and fat makes sense in your lifestyle and for your body.
The diet that works best is the one you can stick with. This goes for training, too, by the way. I see people ready to cut one another up because they prefer Starting Strength to StrongLifts 5×5, or Westside to some program their one really jacked buddy told them about, etc., etc. There are a million programs out there. Do your homework, pick a program, and then stick with it until it’s done.
It’s not rocket science, which isn’t the same as saying that it’s easy. Trust me, I’ve been there, too.