Diets - There Isn't Much New Under the Sun

I've been around the nutrition, dieting, eating for health and eating for performance game a long time - just over 30 years.  Here are some of the 'diets' that I've done: Atkins, Bodyopus, Mediterranean, Eat Right for Your Blood Type, Low carb, Intermittent Fasting (IF), Carb Backloading, etc.

I researched all of these and then applied the principles they called for to my own life.  By the way, I like research and studies, but I most value results that I can put my eyes on and backup with quantitative data.  When I can apply and measure a certain diet, and see that it's working, or not working, then I have my proof.  This to me is better than trusting someone in a lab coat, practicing on mice, men, or whatever.  Usually the men aren't even lifting weights, or if they are, it's often some form of leg extension of something (not impressive).  

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I don't see value in studies and research.  I do.  In fact, I like to have both real world results in practice, and research that is backed by science.  

So, when it comes to diets, here are two of my key takeaways:

1) There isn't much new under the sun

2) Most everything works for a little while

Per 1) above - Much of this stuff is re-packaged, 'tweaked', and marketed.  Most made a lot of money too.  For example, IF is very popular right now.  But, if you think about it, men have been eating this way, as hunters and gatherers, for years.  Atkins (ketosis) was done by certain tribes, best I can tell from research, long before my time.  So, other than some slight changes and buzzwords, not much of this is anything new.  

Per 2) above - Going back to the IF example. There was a time when eating was feast or famine - BAM - IF dieting, without any gadgets or add-ons.  Do I think that IF can work, for a little while, to shed body fat and cleanse the body?  Yes I do.  I actually like it for longevity.  But, even if it did work for a while, I'm not sold on it.  For example, I think it's great if the goal is to lose muscle (sarcasm), and virtually no one should be trying to lose muscle.  Yes, this can be combated by consuming EAAs (and I recommend that), but then it's not a true fast, although I do think there is still benefits.  Also, although IF is good for longevity, one should know that longevity is often opposite of human performance (e.g. building muscle, e.g. check out MTOR vs AMPK).  The other thing I do not like about IF is that it can tax the adrenal glands and cause the body to release a greater amount of cortisol (a stress hormone).  Couple that with hunger pangs, often addressed by coffee to remedy that hunger, and the problem can worsen.  So, for those who do IF, I ask them if their adrenals can handle it. 

Bottom line - IF can work for a while, but what gets left on the table when it comes to muscle, given that protein and carbs are needed for muscle?  And what does one's cortisol and overall stress levels look like?  As per the rest of the diets I mentioned above, without going into each, I'd say that all have benefits (and downsides) in my opinion.  My advice is to:

  • Do the research, understand pros and cons, and give a new diet a try if you like what you learn about it
  • How you look and feel matters a lot, while on this diet.  Quantitative data is even better.  If a diet wrecks your lipids (like the carb backload diet did mine) than you don't want to spend much time on that diet.
  • Do not go too extreme, for too long.  Eat for health, eat for performance.  
  • Be cautious cutting out entire food groups (e.g. carbs) for too long.  Most everything works for a little while.  
  • And finally, at some point, consider doing what I did and get away from any and all diets and go towards a way of eating.  Base this on nutritious foods that you like (and more importantly that like you) and get the right amount of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).  

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