By Matt Stone
There is a lot of hype surrounding various “healthy diets.” I too had a religious faith that a nutritious and wholesome diet would deliver unspeakable vitality. The science seemed to be there, testimonials left and right, and it “just made so much sense.” But, when I tried various versions of what seemed like the optimal diet at the time, it didn’t always work out the way I assumed it would. After many years of communication with people about health and diet, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the exception, but that the long-term success of puritanical eating endeavors fail more often than they succeed. Although I could easily construct a 50-item list of reasons as to why that is, I’ll keep it to the top 10…
- Insufficient Calorie Intake – This is far and away the most common reason people fail to thrive on their “healthy” diet. Although what is considered a healthy diet is extremely diverse, one thing that all of them have in common is the strict forbidden-ness of eating meals that are highly palatable. Most recommend eating lots of high-fiber, high-water content foods that are big and bulky but not very calorie-dense (or tasty). Others recommend eating no sugar. Some recommend eating no fat. Those that allow you to eat rich, fatty, calorie-dense meats and oils often forbid combining them with starches and sugars. And all healthy diets steer people away from eating refined, processed food that is soft, easy to chew, highly digestible, calorie dense, combines fat and carbohydrate together, and that fosters a higher calorie intake. All of these things are appetite deterrents, spontaneously lowering calorie intake, and when calorie intake falls too low, metabolic rate drops and any number of different maladies can ensue – from cold hands and feet and infertility to constipation and insomnia and everything in between. Total system shutdown. To better demonstrate this, here is a “healthy” meal I prepared at home recently. This giant pile of beans, corn, tomatoes, and potatoes with a little cheese, avocado, and sour cream added to it was very difficult to finish. Yet, this is only 500 calories of food! My girlfriend, who typically eats over 1,000 calories at meals, only made it to about the 300-calorie mark as you can see…
- Suboptimal Carbohydrate Intake – With the increasing prevalence of carbohydrate-restricted diets and widespread carbophobia in general, many people are eating well below the optimal intake levels for carbohydrates. If someone is doing any vigorous exercise at all, which most health-conscious people are, the minimum daily carbohydrate intake to properly restore glycogen levels is 5 grams per kg of lean bodyweight per day. For harder-training individuals this number is much higher. For more on optimal carbohydrate intake, read How Many Carbohydrates Should You Eat.
- Low Fat Content – A diet low in fat, in and of itself, isn’t usually problematic. Even with a nonfat diet the body can still manufacture its own fats, such as palmitic acid, mead acid, and the short-chain saturated fats – butyric, propionic, and acetic acids. Most of what is known about these fats suggests that these are the healthiest of all fats, and healthier than the fats you ingest from food directly. So, in theory, a low fat diet shouldn’t be a problem. But it often is a problem – a BIG problem, because without fat the palatability of the diet suffers tremendously. Not only does the food taste boring, but you have to eat twice as much of it or more just to get the same amount of calories you would get on a normal diet. The best way to grasp this is to think about our friend, the potato. 1 pound of potatoes with a stick of butter added to it tastes absolutely heavenly and can be consumed at one sitting easy. Without the fat, however, you would have to eat 4 pounds of fat-free potatoes to achieve the same calorie levels. Good luck with that. Once again, this is a problem because nothing causes more widespread and severe dysfunction as a failure to obtain adequate energy from your diet due to the impact that energy shortage has on metabolic rate. The formula I use for estimating ballpark minimum calorie intake with moderate physical activity per day is: 20 X Lean body weight in pounds. Reduce that figure by 1% for every year in age you are over 30.
- Too Much Water – Fruits, vegetables, juices, smoothies, salads, raw foods, and other health foodist staples have a very high water content. In addition to that, teas, coffee, health tonics, protein shakes, fermented beverages, and copious amounts of water are often consumed for health reasons on top of all those watery foods. The net result is chronic overhydration (dilution of interstitial fluid), which lowers metabolic rate and elicits a strong stress reaction from the nervous system, often leading to symptoms like anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, shakiness, irritability, blurred vision, erratic heartbeat or palpitation, polyuria, nocturia, headache, migraine, seizure, and other forms of low-grade dysfunction.
- Low Salt Intake – Sodium is the dominant ion in the body’s roughly 15 liters of interstitial fluid, including the blood. Typical concentration is 9 grams of salt per liter of fluid. Salt is often avoided by those attempting to eat a healthy diet, and when combined with excessive consumption of water and watery foods, this is particularly detrimental, leading to the problems highlighted in #4.
- Decreased Digestibility – Not everyone has the same degree of digestive prowess. While some may be able to plow through a lot of unrefined, fibrous, coarse whole grains, beans, legumes, vegetables, and other iconic health foods – others are negatively impacted by trying to eat these foods, especially in large quantity, suffering from gas, bloating, IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal permeability, SIBO, and other disorders. Ironically, only really healthy people seem to thrive eating really healthy food!
- Too Many Thyroid Inhibitors – The plant kingdom is full of chemicals meant to deter creatures like us from eating those plants. Various enzyme inhibitors and plant ‘poisons’ can be found in various seeds, beans, nuts, and vegetables. The worst offenders are cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli, and other crucifers. Other foods to avoid eating in excess include beans, lentils, soy, nuts, and seeds. No need to be overly fearful of eating such foods, but the “health nut” often goes way overboard on these foods, juicing kale and cabbage and replacing all meat and dairy with beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy. This “backfires.” Get it! You know, the magical fruit? Nevermind.
- Too Much Protein – Protein has always soaked up the spotlight as being a healthy substance. The more the better. It is glorified as being healthy because it helps build lean muscle mass, burns up more calories to digest, and decreases appetite. Protein “boosts your metabolism” or so they say. It is, of course, the opposite, and eating an appetite deterrent that burns up a bunch of calories to digest in the context of a healthy diet full of other appetite deterrents that are difficult to digest turns to inadequate calorie consumption and metabolic obliteration very quickly. But in addition to that, protein, particularly protein from animal products, which typically contains higher amounts of tryptophan, methionine, and cysteine, is suppressive to metabolic rate in other ways (raises serotonin for example, which suppresses metabolic rate) and raises inflammation in excess. Eating tons of canned tuna and chicken breasts and egg whites and turkey burgers and whey protein - common staples amongst those pursuing a healthy diet, is not something I condone.
- Social Isolation – While harder to “scientifically prove,” eating a special diet that forbids common foods eaten at restaurants and amongst your friends and family members, can be socially crippling. While it’s hard to measure how detrimental it is to each healthy eater on an individual basis, this is a legitimate concern - and drives some people to avoid social interactions to evade temptation and toxic food, or causes them great anxiety, guilt, and other powerful forms of psychological distress when they are eating foods perceived as unhealthy.
- Consuming “Healthy” Fats – Many big mistakes are made here, as the mainstream belief about fat is that saturated fat is harmful, and unsaturated fat is healthy. This is completely backwards. Replacing saturated fats like tropical oils, red meat, chocolate, cheese, and butter with the “healthy fats” from nuts, seeds, vegetable oil, poultry, and margarine is a catastrophic error. These fats lead to greater lipid peroxidation, free radical damage, inflammation, carcinogenesis, impaired glucose metabolism, increased size and number of fat cells, and more, all while suppressing metabolic rate – just to name a few of the more well-established effects of “healthy fats.” But even those healthy eaters who have heard about the harmful effects of vegetable oil and butter substitutes are still often making mistakes and taking in huge amounts of fat overall (burning fat for fuel instead of glucose and suffering ill consequences from it), still engulfing obscene amounts of “healthy fats” from nuts, seeds, and fish oils, and taking in massive doses of the most inflammatory fat of all, Arachidonic acid, by eating stupid quantities of egg yolks, chicken fat, duck fat, lard, bacon, and organ meats as if these foods are medicinal in a dose-dependent fashion. These foods can be nutritious, but most of the evidence we have about degenerative and inflammatory diseases points, not to lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet, but to an excess of Arachidonic Acid in cells and tissues as being the primary causal dietary factor of modern illness.
Anyway, if you are trying your darnedest to eat a really healthy diet and experiencing anything but wonderful health, you might consider not eating so healthy. Eat more yummy things to get those calories in, always save room for dessert, go back to eating “artery-clogging saturated fats,” pile on the salt, stop drinking so much damn water, quit eating so many vegetables – you are not a rabbit, and, for the love of god, STOP PLAYING WITH YOURSELF!
Well, you don’t have to do that last thing. Just thought it was a good phrase to end it with. I guess I should’ve stuck with the timeless…
San Dimas High School Football Rules!