Popular Diets

There are lots of  popular diet books and diet cults that claim they know what you should be eating. Many of them back up their claims with plausible arguments and research. Here are a few notable ones:

Paleo – Typically moderate protein, moderate to high fat, and low-carb (with about 20% of total calories coming from carbs in most cases). Foods are restricted to what would’ve been available to our Paleolithic ancestors (with some variation). The diet is aimed at health and longevity, rather than performance.

The Zone Diet – A 30/40/30 ration of protein/carbs/fat. Emphasis on meat as a source of protein. Aimed at fat loss. Proponents claim that it balances hormones.

The Dukan Diet – A low-calorie, high protein diet aimed at weight loss.

The Atkins Diet – An initial ketogenic phase followed by restricted carbohydrates. Again, aimed at weight loss.

The Paleo diet, in particular, has a lot of ardent supporters. But the evidence for their dietary choices is sketchy (see, for example, this article by Lyle McDonald). To me it seems irrational to base your food intake on evolutionary arguments. Practical results may indicate that Paleo works, but is it the best approach for you? Perhaps not. Here’s an amusing flow chart that summarises the diet quite accurately:

My Approach

When do I eat?

On days that I train, I structure my meals around my training. At the moment I’m following carb backloading, which means I have a low carb period before and during training, and take in all my carbs after training. On rest days I eat fewer carbs, and I have them in the evening. The point is that I don’t believe in following a low-carb diet, or a high-carb diet. I have periods where I fast or where I restrict carbs to emphasise fat burning. Then at times when I really need carbs I will have them, rather than crudely spreading them over several meals where they won’t be used as effectively. Similarly, I don’t take in a lot of fat at times when my carbs are high. Or if I do, they come from fish oils and MCTs. The only time I eat ad libiditum is when I do ADF! Protein intake varies according to the amount of carbs I’m eating.

What do I eat?

I look at my macros and I match up the amounts with food that I have available. I don’t really care if I get protein from whey, cottage cheese, or steak, I just choose something that I will enjoy and is convenient.

How do I feel after I eat?

If I feel bloated or lethargic after eating, I try and find out what caused it and eliminate it from my diet. Even when I was eating 1 or 2 large meals a day (sometimes 3000+kcals in one sitting), I felt fine, because I used food that I respond well to, like potatoes instead of rice.

How do I look after I eat?

The mirror is an excellent feedback tool for adjusting your diet. If I notice that I’m looking puffy in the face, or generally carrying more water than usual, this is a good sign that I’m eating something that doesn’t agree with me. Sometimes it’s simply the quantities involved: if I drink a lot of milk, it causes a lot of digestion issues and makes me look bloated, but low to moderate consumption is fine. Eggs are particularly troublesome in large quantities, so I use them sparingly.

Recommendations

Eliminate foods that don’t work for you.

Remove common allergens from your diet: gluten, wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, etc. Do this for about 2-4 weeks. Add them back in one at a time. You probably can’t narrow down all the things that you might be allergic to, but you can identify the main ones.

(c) peter pearson - http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterpearson/

Vary your diet and find foods that you can eat.

If you only ever eat chicken, tuna, and steak, try eating pork or turkey. If you always get your carbs from pasta and oats, try potatoes and sweet potatoes. If your diet has been structured properly, you should be able to easily substitute for different foods and hit your macronutrient targets or calorie requirements.

Prepare and cook your food properly.

You should avoid eating a lot of heavily processed foods. Use suitable cooking oils: coconut oil, butter, lard and other animal fats are fantastic. Avoid vegetable oil that is high in Omega 6s and polyunsaturated fats. If you eat oats, beans, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, try soaking them to remove antinutrients like phytic acid. Don’t boil vegetables if you can steam them, unless you’re going to use the cooking water in your dish.

The Next Step

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4 responses to “How I Approach My Diet (Or Why I’m Not Paleo)

  1. So a little disappointed actually that the article changed tact, I was hoping you would stay on the pale topic, hence it said why I am not paleo. For me I follow a lot of pale advocates and the one that are making waves in the industry for me Robb wolf, Chriss kresser, marks daily apple etc are totally carb agnostic, they know that whether your paleo or not carb intake can vary hugely due to inherent need for activity levels. The Lyle article really didn’t expand on a lot, and the research that he used showed that those people were consuming a non-gluten grain.

    A good resource at this point in my comment is a book called “wheat belly” which explains how the wheat grain that we eat today is vastly different to the wheat grain of 1000 years ago, short head dwarf wheat as opposed to enkorn or emmer wheat. This process has made it highly inflammatory to the gut and immune system. Remember that paleo is just a word and a diet concept has to be called something, god I wish it was called the ben coomber diet, I would have made a bomb. Paleo used to be low carb focused, but over the last 1-2 years the advocates have come to the understanding that macros still need to vary for individual needs.

    So you didn’t expand to say why you are not paleo? Yet you mention that if foods bloat or don’t agree with you you know to cut back, which for me are largely the foods the paleo diet looks to get rid of. I don’t eat them purely as they make me bloated and puffy too, not a look I’m trying to rock out since the obese years to be honest. Do I believe in paleo, yes and no, I believe in all the shit it removes from the diet (although i believe in dairy, i have beef with gluten and wheat) because I see so many problems with it every day in coaching people. Not common for me to remove gluten and wheat and see 4kg dropped in the next visit to the toilet. The flow chart is indeed funny but there are reasons some of the “flows” exists, i.e. peanuts, most people are inflamed and fat and too high on omega 6, so are peanuts an ideal food, no.

  2. So a little disappointed actually that the article changed tact, I was hoping you would stay on the pale topic, hence it said why I am not paleo. For me I follow a lot of pale advocates and the one that are making waves in the industry for me Robb wolf, Chriss kresser, marks daily apple etc are totally carb agnostic, they know that whether your paleo or not carb intake can vary hugely due to inherent need for activity levels. The Lyle article really didn’t expand on a lot, and the research that he used showed that those people were consuming a non-gluten grain.
    A good resource at this point in my comment is a book called “wheat belly” which explains how the wheat grain that we eat today is vastly different to the wheat grain of 1000 years ago, short head dwarf wheat as opposed to enkorn or emmer wheat. This process has made it highly inflammatory to the gut and immune system. Remember that paleo is just a word and a diet concept has to be called something, god I wish it was called the ben coomber diet, I would have made a bomb. Paleo used to be low carb focused, but over the last 1-2 years the advocates have come to the understanding that macros still need to vary for individual needs.
    So you didn’t expand to say why you are not paleo? Yet you mention that if foods bloat or don’t agree with you you know to cut back, which for me are largely the foods the paleo diet looks to get rid of. I don’t eat them purely as they make me bloated and puffy too, not a look I’m trying to rock out since the obese years to be honest. Do I believe in paleo, yes and no, I believe in all the shit it removes from the diet (although i believe in dairy, i have beef with gluten and wheat) because I see so many problems with it every day in coaching people. Not common for me to remove gluten and wheat and see 4kg dropped in the next visit to the toilet. The flow chart is indeed funny but there are reasons some of the “flows” exists, i.e. peanuts, most people are inflamed and fat and too high on omega 6, so are peanuts an ideal food, no.

    Fantastic comment, Ben. I guess my main complaint with Paleo is that people stick to it blindly, when they could follow the sort of rational approach you advocate. I’m not trying to attack Paleo, but rather suggest that people find what works for them as individuals, and not excluding grains simply because someone tells them to. If they can eat grains with good results (in terms of health, performance, and physique) then it seems illogical to exclude them.

    I guess I was being a bit cheeky saying I’m not Paleo, when I agree with some of the principles, but I think what I want to emphasise is that no diet can tell you what your body responds to, you need to experiment!

    I don’t even lift.

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