It's the Context, Not the Diet

My usual reaction when someone tells me they're on a low-fat diet.

My usual reaction when someone tells me they're on a low-fat diet.

As some of you may know, I’m a big fan of the saying “The more you know, the more you don’t.”  I’ve often said this in regard to strength and conditioning, but after “getting my nerd on” during the past few months with nutrition, it really applies to that world as well.

So what do I mean?  The more you learn about a subject, the more you realize how much is simply built upon assumptions, and sometimes, how much of the field is yet to be discovered.  How this applies to my world can often be seen with strength and conditioning terms like concurrent or conjugate periodization (I think I just heard a few of your snore while reading those words).  For those that are unfamiliar, these simply describe certain ways to progressively advance people’s workouts.  But, the reason these methods are used are simply because we think they work, or that they have worked with people in the past.

Let’s apply all this fancy mumbo jumbo to an actual weight room scenario. For instance, someone could probably get pretty big and explosive by working on their squat for 6 weeks, then decreasing their squatting frequency and increasing the frequency they perform an Olympic lift, like a hang clean, for another few weeks.  According to the periodization theories, they would be developing more strength in the squat, then increasing their ability to rapidly display that strength (i.e. increasing their power) by going to an Olympic lift such as the clean.  However, common sense will tell you that the more someone squats, the more strength they’re probably going to display in every other activity.  And, that this whole “periodization” thing is just a way to make us sound smart.

The same is true with diet and nutrition.  Often times, our culture looks for a secret ingredient that’s in or out of favor (fat, carbs, protein, omega-3’s, etc.) as the magic bullet to a healthy life.  Yet, there’s a reason why multi-vitamins and supplements just don’t work as well as eating a balanced diet, and it’s because we’re taking our nutrients out of their natural context.  For instance, there are thousands of compounds in a piece of kale, and we have no idea how all of these interact with our body.  But what do we know?  That people who tend to eat a ton of kale (and other fruits and vegetables) are probably healthier than those that don’t.  Food is simply more than the sum of its parts.

This video does a great job explaining how of the science behind nutrition is yet to be discovered.  I know I've linked to this video at least twice before, but if you haven't seen it yet, set aside 18 minutes to give it a look.

Often times, we just have to use our heads to live a healthy life.  It’s when we try to take shortcuts, or try to make “convenient changes” that we ignore the greater context of what can make us all really healthy.