Bruce Lee is probably one of the most iconic figures of our time. He was also a modern philosopher, credited with some exceptionally wise quotes and phrases which have become posters, internet images and even tattoos. My personal favourite is this: ‘Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.’
I like this quote so much because it is EXACTLY whatwe should do when we look at various different dieting protocols and approaches. As soon as you give a dieting system a name you create rules, and rules breed rigidity and dogmatism. These ‘prescribed rules’ can lead to taking a diet too far, and risk suffering for the sake of adhering to arbitrary restrictions laid down by whoever wrote the first book. Any diet with a name was not created for YOU, it was created for the creator, through the tinted lenses of their world view in their situation and alongside their values. Unless you share all of these things, whatever dieting approach you choose will not suit you 100%.
What we must do, then, is look at their positives, their drawbacks, and combine them all with a large dose of personal preference, and we will have something we can use. Let’s take a look at three popular dieting approaches and see what we can take from them, starting with the diet in vogue at the moment:
A diet which has many iterations, but the overarching theme is that we only eat foods which were around 10,000 years ago, before agriculture.
Paleo proponents claim that you will remove all of the foods which cause modern diseases, you’ll lose weight, you’ll gain muscle and you’ll live longer. This is, however, entirely unsupported.
This diet focuses on whole foods, advocates a high protein intake and a large amount of vegetable consumption, and reduces intakes of added sugars, highly refined grains and sweetened beverages. This improves nutrient intakes and also reduces the risk of overnutrition by a significant amount.
Paleo dieting, in its strictest sense, advocates the removal of many foods which are in fact beneficial, such as whole grains and dairy. It also pays little or no attention to calories while advising a large intake of fatty meats and other added fats, and therefore will only ‘work’ in terms of weight loss for those who happen to autoregulate their eating effectively. Finally, it’s highly restrictive and will make it very difficult to take part in numerous social situations.
A whole foods approach should generally be the one you adopt, and protein, vegetables and fats should be the main things you pay close attention to with your overall food intake. This will improve your health, energy levels and athletic progress.
IIFYM (if it fits your macros) is the extreme endpoint of ‘flexible dieting’. Essentially IIFYM controls how much you eat, but not what and when. So long as your macronutrient needs are met by the end of the day, you can pretty much do what you like.
This dieting strategy promises guaranteed results with no restrictions on food choices. Lose fat while eating burgers and gain muscle while skipping the post workout shake. There are, however, a few things which need to be addressed.
Simply, it works. If you hit your numbers, your body composition will make predictable changes. There are also no restrictions on foods or timings meaning that you can fit your fitness goals into any lifestyle.
IIFYM, in its strictest sense, means that one could live on quest bars, protein powder and jelly babies if one wanted to and, though physique goals would be met, energy levels, nutrient deficiencies and dental health would likely suffer. Furthermore, this approach can lead to people obsessing over their numbers and living a life which is no longer flexible.
Calorie and macronutrient control matters if you want to optimise body composition, and we cannot rely simply on hoping for the best when it comes to energy balance. Furthermore, there really aren’t any foods which must be universally avoided in order to maintain optimal health. Healthy eating involves including more variety, rather than excluding ‘bad things’.
Removing gluten from one’s diet is a current trend, which is a problem. Removing foods because it is trendy makes no sense at all, and unfortunately that is what is the case, the majority of the time. Gluten is a protein found in some grains which for some people can cause an adverse reaction. Those with celiacs disease can have symptoms ranging from digestive discomfort to death, while a non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a hotly debated potential issue which has (depending on who you believe) roots as a non-allergic food sensitivity, or a placebo effect. Removing gluten containing foods is done, in both instances, as a means of removing symptoms.
The proposed benefits of removing gluten are as wide reaching as reducing inflammation, losing weight, improving cognitive function, lengthening your life and, of course, improving digestive issues. Whether any of this actually occurs is a very contentious topic.
Well, for those who cut out gluten, it ‘works’. Those on a gluten free diet report reduced symptoms and overall improved health. Removing gluten will typically reduce someone’s intake of highly refined grains and other ‘junk foods’ which contribute to overnutrition, and of course removing gluten is unlikely to lead to any kind of nutrient deficiency.
In a lot of cases there is no need to remove gluten. A lot of folks are doing it without looking into why and are just drawing a ‘gluten is bad’ conclusion from nowhere. This means that they are making their diet needlessly restrictive.
There’s a very important lesson here, and it is this: sometimes, you really do just need to listen to your body. There is a heated debate raging as to whether non-celiac gluten sensitivity exists or whether it’s something else, but for me, that’s not really the point. What we should take from that discussion is the very important message that for many/most people, gluten isn’t to be feared and shouldn’t be removed from the diet as standard procedure, but we can also take the other side. A lot of people report a reduction in certain symptoms by removing gluten from their food, and they
FEEL GOOD. That means that, although the body of evidence doesn’t support a gluten free diet, some people just might benefit from adopting one.