Recent posts by one of the very few sources I consider reliable on nutrition prompted me to revisit the theme of diet. So I hope you can stomach one more post on this topic. I’m going to try to make it worth your while by presenting a hint of a solution.
If you have not yet read what Dr. David Katz has to say on the subject, stop reading this right now, and go read a few of his posts instead. I won’t mind. Really.
Still with me? Perhaps you only have a few minutes, so allow me to summarize the current status. (And provide links to his most recent and relevant posts; some are on LinkedIn and may require an account to access.)
Let me make something clear right off the bat:
Dieting does No Good
Dieting does not work. It’s that simple. I’ve written about it myself, and this post by Dr. Katz is quite entertainingly showing that all serious nutrition experts, those not trying to sell you something, say so.
This video about a much-publicized recent study does what journalists always (erroneously) think is better journalism: providing statements from both sides, even though it is a non-debate.
Even having a good overall diet, eating food (not too much) and mostly from plants, is not enough if you are trying to lose a lot of weight, and/or remain healthy for a really long time. For that, you need to exercise, to move, on a daily basis. It is a lifestyle issue, not a diet issue.
But that’s hard work. Are we sure there’s nothing we can do about the food we eat? (Or so we keep asking ourselves.)
In the absence of successful “mainstream” diets, people turn to even stranger diets, like the would-be paleo diet. But even that, as I’ve indicated previously, and as Dr. Katz has put it time and time again (as reported here as well), is part of repeated attempts at making believe we can get fit and slim without doing real work.
So despite dieting not working, why do we keep talking about diet as if it is the solution? Why is it that every so often a new kind of special diet starts and claims to be the solution we’ve been looking for?
Basically, the question is:
Why do we keep focusing on dieting?
Because it is appealing to us.
Most (all?) of us have a tendency to seek easy fixes, magical solutions, silver bullets. I feel this is primarily due to our innate tendency to assign simple cause and effect relationships to phenomena: if this bush moves, that’s probably because there is a tiger ready to jump on me, sort of thinking. In this case: I’m getting fatter, so it must be what I’m eating.
To some extent it is, but that’s not the point. We focus on the wrong culprit at the expense of the white elephant on the couch.
The main aspect of our lifestyle that is different from what our ancestors of even a hundred years ago had to deal with is lack of movement.
Yes, it would be harder to move a lot more; it is effort. But there is more at play:
We are constantly bombarded by good stories that, even though they are scientifically unsound, appeal to our innate need for those causation narratives. Those stories are how modern snake oil salespersons get us time and time again.
If, as I surmise, this is a big part of the problem, it also suggests a way to fight.
A way forward?
While I generally agree with Dr. Katz that we should “grow up” about it, and that we must make the effort to eat well, along with exercising, not smoking, etc., I think we need a pro-active approach as well.
Since the ease with which stories can be created about special diets is part of the problem, perhaps a good story could be part of the solution. We need new narratives to replace those of the pixie dust diets, successful precisely because, although they don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, they appeal to us through simple (simplistic) stories. We can keep telling ourselves, and others, the well-articulated lies we were told by the dieting peddlers precisely because they are simple enough.
On the other hand, the “I eat food, not too much, mostly from plants” story requires more explanations when you try to discuss it with others, and few of us have the knowledge to feel comfortable doing that.
There should not be a need for more explanation; our ancestors did not feel such need. They just ate what food they had.
The problem nowadays is that we have way too much, and it is all way too rich for our own good. In a see of contradictory advice and the occasional about-face of scientists themselves (which is even harder to explain for non-scientists), we all feel a need to justify our choices.
What better way to justify those choices than a good story?
So that’s the narrative, the story, we need to work on, instead of just de-bunking the others (not that there’s anything wrong with de-bunking). Allow me to have a go at a first draft.
A proto-story for healthy living
I am a human being, an animal that has evolved over millions of years to actively seek and eat a wide variety of plants and other animals.
Lately I’ve been extracting even more nutriments from my environment by cooking and domesticating my food sources. That’s great progress.
But my body has not yet evolved to remain healthy by staying put all the time and eating heavily processed stuff. Yes, stuff: there is no better word for some of what our modern society provides.
So I need to move on a daily basis, a lot, and eat foods that are as close to their natural forms as possible. That means different things to different people, but to me it means plants and some animals that have not strayed very far from their natural lifecycles. When I eat that way, I find that I eat less because I feel full sooner. And the more I move, the more I crave good food, and the better I feel.
If machines and chemical processes other than the digestive systems of other animals have been involved, I am very careful with how much I consume.
And always, no matter what I eat, I make sure to move a lot. Everyday.
That’s it. C’mon, it’s not that hard to memorize. Give it a try. You can even substitute something for “plants and animals” if you are so philosophically inclined. No problem.
Or comment with suggestions to improve it…
But, in any case, I have a final piece of advice for you about the claims of Diet Peddlers:
Top picture from Pixabay.