New Diet Beliefs
Let me start by admitting everything I know about dieting today is backed by years of first hand trial and error.
I used to hold some moronic beliefs when it came to nutrition:
- I used to believe dairy would make me fat so I avoided milk and yogurt like the plague
- I used to believe eating one bowl of Special K per day would make me skinny
- I used to believe one shot of Apple Cider Vinegar per day burned fat
- I used to believe butter in my coffee would “boost cognitive function”
- I used to believe juice fasts would “detox my system” and “reset my metabolism”
- I used to believe a weekly “Cheat Day” would prevent “starvation mode”
- I used to believe carbs were the devil…
...Until I started to use my medulla oblongata
I spun my wheels for years eating up the false claims of every Tom, Dick, and Harry trying to make a quick buck boasting about their latest diet “hack”.
Now that I’ve sufficiently embarrassed myself, you are welcome to not listen to anything else I have to say on the subject. Because I’ll admit, it gets weirder.
Today, I feel like I have a stronger foundation to stand on when it comes to talking about nutrition. The reason: I found better teachers.
These new teachers don’t demonize foods, nor do they promote any one “superfood”. They focus on things that actually make a difference, like energy balance - instead of splitting hairs on things that hardly matter, like nutrient timing and supplements.
Most importantly, they cite research backed studies when providing guidance.
Here’s the current roster of teachers I look to for diet and exercise advice:
(Yes, I realize they’re all men. In my defense, I’m married to a Latina. I cannot have fit and half-naked women influencers all up in my IG feed. Can you imagine me trying to explain to Dia it’s for educational purposes? 💀)
Here are a few takeaways I’d like to share with you:
- No Such Thing as Good or Bad Foods
- Energy Balance is King
- Track Your Intake
- Be Flexible, Not Rigid
- You Can’t Out-Train a Bad Diet
- Be Efficient: NEAT vs. EAT
- No Such Thing as Good or Bad Diets
No Such Thing as Good or Bad Food
Food is a source of energy. That energy is measured in units known as calories.
A calorie... is a calorie. They’re all the same, no matter where they come from.
Just like a mile is always a mile. The distance is always the same, whether it’s on pavement, sand, or water.
100 calories from a chocolate bar is the same as 100 calories from chicken breast. However, the nutrient profile of each is different.
The chocolate bar will consist of mostly carbohydrates and fat, while the chicken breast will consist of mostly protein and a little bit of fat.
Which will keep you satiated longer? Probably the chicken breast.
Which will make you feel like you have more energy immediately? Probably the chocolate bar.
It’s an important distinction to make: no matter the source, 100 calories is always the same, but the nutrient profile varies across different foods.
When people say “good food” they typically mean unprocessed, organic, no added sugar, etc.
When people say “bad food” they typically mean highly processed, refined sugars, microwavable, etc.
Don’t judge your food as good or bad. It’s not that simple. Improve the relationship.
No one ever got skinny from eating one salad and no one ever got fat from eating one cookie.
Source: Jordan Syatt
You can lose weight by eating McDonald’s every day. You can also gain weight by going Vegan and all-organic.
The socially accepted judgment of food quality has nothing to do with your weight. Weight is dictated by energy balance. Calories In vs. Calories Out (CICO).
Energy Balance is King
Source: Andy Morgan
If you consume more calories than your body needs, you will gain weight.
If you consume less calories than your body needs, you will lose weight.
If you consume the same amount of calories your body needs, you will maintain your weight.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is a dementor trying to profit off of you. Run.
Consider this: the average adult male may consume close to ~750,000 - 1,000,000 calories per year. When you combine that with the idea that most people stay the same weight for years on end, you realize how efficient our body is at telling us how much to eat.
Even if you fluctuate 5lbs in either direction in any given year, that’s only a variance of 2% in caloric consumption.
Here’s the math on that.
- Given: There are 3,500 calories in a pound
- 5 lbs x 3,500 calories / lb = 17,500 calories.
- 17,500 calories / 750,000 calories in a year = 2.3%
- 17,500 calories / 1,000,000 calories in a year = 1.75%
The upside? We’re great at self-preservation.
The downside? It’s extremely difficult to sustainably gain or lose weight.
The solution? Track your intake.
Track Your Intake
If you’re asking yourself, “How much food should I be eating?”, that’s the right question! But if you’ve never tracked your food intake before, you can start by simply tracking what you’re already eating. Don’t make any changes. Just record.
I use an app called, MyFitnessPal. There are many other apps similar to MFP that are just as good. I just don’t have any experience with them.
Once you start recording what you’re eating on a daily basis, you’ll get a feel for how many calories you’re consuming.
Calories consumed isn’t the only thing you should be tracking. You should also be tracking your weight (daily) and measurements (weekly).
Source: Andy Morgan
You can’t base all of your progress on just your weight. Although the scale is a great tool, it can’t be the end-all-be-all of determining progress.
If your weight stays the same but your pant size goes down...you’re making progress.
If your weight stays the same but your arms start to fill out your t-shirt...you’re making progress.
If your weight stays the same but your pictures improve...you’re making progress.
In order to develop a healthy relationship with the scale, view it as a single tool in the toolbox.
Be Flexible, Not Rigid.
Source: Graeme Tomlinson
Sustainability is the critical element required to maintain adherence to a calorie deficit over time.
If your diet is too restrictive, you won’t enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t last. The best way to stick to your diet is to include foods you enjoy on a daily basis at a moderate intake.
I have a terrible sweet tooth. The reason I’m able to stick to my diet is because I allow myself to have dessert every night. Usually that looks like a serving (or two) of children’s cereal.
I adjust the rest of my day around my dessert, because I know if I don’t get the foods I enjoy, I won’t last.
However, you have to be careful not to overdo it!
A study was published in 2019 that found >50% higher energy intake when people consumed an ultra-processed diet compared to an unprocessed diet, which translated to an increased energy intake of more than 500 calories per day.
In other words: more processed foods = higher caloric intake.
Although the researchers didn’t explore exact causation, the scientists deduced an ultra-processed diet is easier to eat, which caused people to eat more.
Think about how quickly you can eat a hamburger patty from McDonalds vs. a grilled steak from Costco.
You Can’t Out-Train a Bad Diet
Source: Dr. Spencer Nadolsky
No amount of exercise is going to save you from a perpetually shitty diet.
Here are the calories burned for a 150lb individual across various exercises performed for 30 minutes: (Calculator Used)
- Stationary Cycling (Vigorous Effort) - 357 calories
- Stationary Rowing (Vigorous Effort) - 304 calories
- Jumping Rope (Fast) - 429 calories
- Running (8 minute mile) - 447 calories
- Freestyle Swimming (Fast) - 393 calories
- Weightlifting (Vigorous Effort) - 214 calories**
These numbers are aggressively high, considering no normal person can sustain a fast or vigorous pace in any of these exercises for a full 30 minutes.
Back in the early 2010s, I used to workout at LA Fitness. After almost every weightlifting session, I’d stop by the smoothie bar and buy a Peanut Butter & Jelly Protein Shake. That shake was probably in the realm of 600 calories, **which means I was taking in about 3x what I was dishing out.
This wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if I used it as a meal replacement, but I didn’t. I used it as a reward for hitting the gym.
Be Efficient: NEAT vs. EAT
It’s more time efficient to achieve a calorie deficit through nutrition adjustments. Eating less is much simpler than exercising more.
It’s also safer. Exercising too much will interfere with recovery, cause fatigue, or lead to injury.
- NEAT = Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
- EAT = Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
According to this study, “In those who habitually participate in purposeful physical training, EAT is believed to maximally account for 15-30% of TEE (Total Energy Expenditure)... In contrast, NEAT represents the predominant component of daily activity-related thermogenesis, including for most subjects undergoing regular physical training.”
In other words: We burn 70% - 85% of our calories while we’re NOT exercising (sedentary work, sleeping, traveling by car, etc).
No Such Thing as a Good or Bad Diet
Keto. Paleo. Atkins. Intermittent Fasting. Whole 30. Vegan.
If you’ve been paying attention, you now know it doesn’t matter. What matters is how much food you eat, not what kind of food you eat.
However, if one of these diet styles increases your adherence, then it definitely matters. Pick the one you can stick to and then focus on reducing your caloric intake (if you’re trying to lose weight).
The reason most of these diets work is because they completely eliminate an entire category of food.
Source: Dr. Spencer Nadolsky
- Keto: Basically eliminates carbohydrates & protein (when you do it right)
- Paleo: Basically eliminates carbohydrates
- Atkins: Basically eliminates carbohydrates
- Intermittent Fasting: Basically eliminates a large block of time to eat
- Vegan: Basically eliminates protein (broccoli, chickpeas, and lentils are NOT a good source of protein)
When you restrict yourself from the full spectrum of foods, of course you’re going to see some early success. However, once you find a way to replace what you’ve categorically eliminated, you will slowly put the weight back on.
I’m not super fit. Nor do I have cover page abs.
I do, however, have years of experience when it comes to trying new diets, battling the scale, and having unrealistic expectations for my fitness efforts.
If nothing else, this new set of teachers provided me with the following:
A better relationship with food. I used to be so strict with myself. There was a time when I would say “No” to a slice of cake at a birthday party. Or I would stop myself from having a second slice of pizza when watching a game with friends.
A better relationship with the scale. I used to get discouraged when I hopped on the scale after a vacation. I’d see I gained a few pounds and wonder if I wasted all my prior effort.
A better understanding of what it takes to get results. I’ve had visible abs for like a day on a few separate occasions, but the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. It takes a little bit more effort than I’m willing to put in. I’m finally ok with that. For me, 80% input to yield 80% output is better than going all-in.
Before you leave this post, I hope you take a second to follow at least one, if not all, of my teachers.
Here’s that list again, with a short blurb about what you can expect from each person.
- @Ben Carpenter: Easy to understand graphics from difficult to read research papers
- @Andy Morgan: British Blogger living in Japan. His client transformation page looks like the finalist lineup of Mr. Olympia.
- @Jordan Syatt: Potty mouth, but hilarious and experimental (30 days challenges)
- @Physiqonomics: The Deadpool of Fitness
- @Graeme Tomlinson: Graphics that show how you can make better dieting decisions
- @Dr. Spencer Nadolsky: Meme connoisseur