Finding the Perfect Diet: Down the Rabbit Hole

Healthy Goodness

I'm not a nutritionist and I don't play one on TV.  I did take a college-level nutrition course when I was a pre-Med major and I've read lots and lots on the subject.  I actually understand the Krebs Cycle.  But I'm not a registered dietician, so I don't have the deep educational background needed to really digest (dissect?) each new fad that comes along. As I debate the pros and cons of the Paleo Diet vs. the 4-Hour Body vs. Weight Watchers vs. Zen eating it all gets pretty confusing.  If you really want to throw your brain into overdrive, go read ScienceDaily or the Journal of Nutrition websites and see how much conflicting, truly conflicting, information is out there. The fact that Dr. Dean Ornish (Preventive Medicine Research Institute) and Dr. Barry Sears (The Zone Diet) frequently got into public skirmishes because both believed so ardently that they were right and the other guy was wrong should go a long way to showing you that there is no "one" answer. The Publishing Industry Is Getting Savvier; You Need To, Too The publishing industry is learning that a personable doctor (Dr. Oz anyone?) and a heavily researched tome ("The 4-Hour Body") can really boost sales.  If you throw a big degree around or a lot of studies from places like UCLA or Harvard, the reader will give you more credence and is more likeley to try your advice as opposed to someone else's.  Everyone makes more money (the first goal) and hopefully the reader loses weight and lives more healthfully (very much the second goal from the publisher's point of view). We need to be much more savvy when taking in all of this information.  Is there a lot of smoke and mirrors?  Are these pieces of advice one perspective of a bigger study that just happens to support the writer's point of view?  Will it work for me? If You Read It In Three Different Places, That Doesn't Make It True I've been discovering a trend as I make my way through 30 days of "The 4-Hour Body."  I'm looking for research so I go buzz around the 'net, find a study, and click through to the link and absorb the nugget of info.  Back to my internet search I go when I hit the same nugget of info again but in a different article.  My subconscious has just "reinforced" the original fact I read which makes it more "true" even though it's the same study.  A month or two later that "fact" is lodged in my brain and I just assume it's true, even if it was a tiny participant study of 12 grad students.  I don't remember that it was a small study, just the nugget.  Be careful with this one! Science and Our DNA Evolve In the 1970s, we believed low fats were the key to health and our burgeoning waistlines have proven that quite wrong.  Science has evolved and will continue to evolve as time passes.  It's entirely possible that what is thought to be true today will be debunked and cast to the wreckage of scientific discovery.  It happens all. the. time. I've also been skimming through the Paleo Diet stuff (I'm considering doing 30 days of that next) and my big issue with the book is that the author is saying there has been practically zero evolution of our DNA in 333 generations (he says this several times in the book).  I don't completely buy it.  I've been told that because I am of Northern European descent that I have a gene which metabolizes milk easily.  If my ancestors were hunter/gatherers then where did that gene come from?  Wouldn't it be from evolution?  While I don't think we're that much different than we were 333 generations ago, isn't it possible we've shifted a little?  Isn't that more than possible? Be Your Own Guinea Pig I'd rather you get your health advice from a doctor than an actress.  (Yet I'm pretty sure actresses outnumber doctors in the diet book section.)  But you're going to have to figure out what works best for you, all by yourself.  It is relatively easy to get a consult from your HMO to speak with a nutritionist, so go find one and have a good chat!  If you can get into a medically supervised diet program (if you need one), then please do.  Even then, take what they say with a grain of salt.  You might do well on low-carb, slow-carb, high-protein, vegan, all things in moderation, or just some simple stress reduction so you can ditch the munchie attacks. You need to find your way.  Not what your friend is doing (although that might work), not what your spouse is doing, and not what is being pitched by the latest guru to pop up on "The View."  You need to find your way.  Keep in mind that as you grow older and your body changes, you'll need to adjust.  (Yeah, I know, that kinda sucks, but that's life too.) So what do you think about all the diet suggestions out there?  Do you think the same is true for fitness? (Yes!!!) Have you been unsuccessful on one diet and successful on another?  Please share your stories.  I'm pretty passionate about this subject and I'd love to talk about it more. Cheers, Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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7 Responses to Finding the Perfect Diet: Down the Rabbit Hole

  1. amy January 26, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    This is a good idea for your blog.5 years ago I lost 50 pounds from eating healthy. The ABS diet book taught me how to eliminate processed foods. A year ago, i had an ulcer that changed the way my stomach feels even now. Then in June, I became a Vegetarian.

    So my diet- well I’ve given up a lot of food : dairy (im very lactose intolerant), meat (it helps my stomach. I have a lot less digestive problems and cut down on acid BC of the ulcer- don’t eat oranges and stay away from a lot of tomato base products.

    I find that my body works better eating small meals (eating large meals hurts my stomach and caused me to have heartburn) that are concentrated on protein and good fats. Every meal, I try to eat a mix of carbs, fat and protein.

  2. Dean Ouellette January 26, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    Lisa have you read Why we get fat and what to do about it by Gary Taubes? Just curious on your thoughts if you have. I just picked it up on my kindle app and just started it. Have not read enough to make any comments yet.

  3. Lisa Johnson January 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    Hi Amy, I think you’ve given us a good example, as your body has evolved your diet has evolved with it and the emphasis is on being healthy … :-)

    Dean, I have the Good Calories, Bad Calories book by Gary Taubes, I picked it up last week but I haven’t cracked the spine yet. I will soon, let me know what you think of it too. :-) L–

  4. Sonia Simone January 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    Taubes writes very convincingly, but there’s evidence out there that he either overlooks or is not aware of. Google his name and you’ll find some interesting critiques, including from people who buy his basic premise (which is that carbohydrates, and particularly refined ones, are the problem).

    Also, anyone can test Taubes’ hypothesis for themselves — take a diet you normally lose a pound or two a week on, and add a bunch of fat and protein. See if you continue to lose weight.

    My biggest problem with paleo is that paleolithic humans only lived to be 40-50. So of course they didn’t have heart disease, osteoporosis or dementia — those are diseases of older people. They also walked for hours every day — is it the diet that worked the health miracles, or the exercise, or both?

    The human body didn’t evolve to hit 100 (which I have every intention of doing). I suspect it’s a very healthy way to eat, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only healthy way to eat, since none of the “Blue Zone” populations (great book I bet you’d enjoy) eat that way — not in the strict sense, anyway.

    I truly believe there are differences in the way different people metabolize certain categories of foods. Carbohydrates are one — if I try to go Atkins, I get so sick I vomit (it’s super fun), plus I get blinding migraine-style headaches. For lots of other people, Atkins works beautifully. And I agree — Europeans clearly metabolize milk differently than Asians or Africans. Just no question. (Maybe it still makes us fat, I dunno.)

  5. Lisa Johnson January 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Sonia, it’s the one size fits all approach again. There simply can’t be one … it’s just not possible given ethnic diversity and cultural differences. I did talk to my nutritionist again today and I asked her about the Paleo premise that there hasn’t been any evolution in the last 333 generations (an oft quoted line in the book) and she said no, of course there’s been evolution.

    It did also cross my mind that people died a whole lot younger then so how can you compare the two. All the walking too … you can’t separate their lifestyle from their food choices …


  6. Aidan January 27, 2011 at 7:48 am #

    It might not be quite the problem in the US as it is in some European countries but alcohol is at the core of many of the health issues in countries like Ireland and Britain. I think that many people would lose weight very quickly just by stopping drinking or even just cutting down.
    Alcohol is fattening in itself and many people can’t have just the one glass of wine. Moreover, it leads to all kind of snacking behaviours or trips to fast food joints after a drinking session. I am amazed to see young people who should have no trouble staying in shape piling on the pounds because of this.
    Looking at lifestyle as opposed to just diet I think that places like Japan or Italy enjoy really tastey diets and a few drinks without there being major issues around obesity. Unfortunately there are cultural issues at work. We are all individuals working within the parameters of our culture and that presents different challenges in the US than Ireland or in Holland or wherever.
    Still, I wonder if the best diet advice might be to say to somebody who likes Italian food, okay, then live like an Italian. Just find a (healthy) cuisine you like and try to imitate your target culture.

  7. Lisa Johnson January 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

    Aidan this reminds me of something Nigella Lawsom (famous chef) said on her cooking show one day. She doesn’t go “on a diet” she just starts cooking a lot of Chinese food. (Healthy chinese food!) It works like a charm for her. Her downfall, btw, is Italian food, part of her heritage.

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