The Secret All Good Diets Share (or How Nutrition is Like Country Music)

I'm never going to look at radishes the same way again..

I'm never going to look at radishes the same way again..

I'm in a nutritional state of mind this week, as I've been preparing for my second nutrition lecture: "Are All Calories Created Equal?" It'll be on Feburary 7th, at The Training Room in Somerville (Washington St) at 2 pm.  As last time, I promise to keep the references to Channing Tatum to a maximum, and the pictures of Richard Simmons to a minimum.

(But no promises.)

Anyway, as I type this post I have five different academic journals open in my browser (yes, I just counted). To say I'm geeking out on nutrition would be a slight understatement.  And besides all of those open tabs making my computer run a bit slower, I have to say, my powerpoint slides are going to kick some ass.  <-----The only thing that could make me sound more like a nerd would be if I actually said "Bazinga!!"

Without giving away my presentation, I did want to share one of the biggest secrets about nutrition.  In fact, it's something I didn't even realize until I started doing the research for my last presentation:

Dietary experts agree on 90-99% of what we should be eating to lose weight, live longer, and stay healthy. And if they don't?  They usually have their own agenda.

Let that sink in for a second.

Yes, the nutrition experts - at least those that are looking out for us - agree on at least 90% of what we should be eating for weight loss/optimal health/harnessing our inner Channing Tatum.  And, in fact, I touched on this similarity in my first nutrition lecture, "Navigating the Paleo, Vegan, and Low-Fat Matrix."  These three diets share very similar characteristics: A) eat real, whole foods, B) stop eating refined processed foods/sugars, C) focus on foods and not nutrients.  Yes, the smaller details differ (inclusion of animal products, grains, flawed historical references as to why their diet is superior, etc.), but a top down approach shows many more similarities than differences.

Unfortunately, all the quarreling between experts have harmed the greater public.  We get caught up in the smaller, fickle debates (eggs are good for, they're actually the devil incarnate for your heart....wait, no, they're good again!), and we tend to lose sight of what all the experts DO agree on: eat your fruits and vegetables, and don't eat the processed garbage. 

It's like a lot like someone's house is on fire and these experts are debating the type of hose to use, whether or not it should be hard water or soft water, and what temperature the water should be.


In fact, the field of nutrition is a lot like the current state of country music. OK, just go with me on this one..

Below is a mashup of 6 of the most popular country songs from the past few years.  Just like nutrition, most of the songs share a ton of characteristics - instead of fruits and vegetables, it's guitar riffs and lyrics about fireworks, trucks, and moonlight.  The smaller differences give each song it's own identity, just like the trendiest diets.  And, I'll probably catch some flak for saying it, but I happen to really like this as a stand alone song:

Clearly, I'll use any excuse I can to extend the reach of country music.  But, just like nutrition, the spirit of all the songs is the exact same.  Come to think of it, this reminds me of a story..

A few years ago, I was meeting with one of my first nutrition clients.  I was pretty green at the time, as I had just completed my nutrition certification, and I admit, I was a bit nervous to be giving nutritional advice.  We all have our own relationship with food since it's a source of our identity, comfort, and sometimes even our medicine (especially when we're hangry). Fortunately, there was a glaring hole in this person's diet making my job pretty easy: over the span of a few days, they averaged less than one fruit or vegetable each day.

Over the next few months, the amount of fruits and vegetables this person consumed edged upward.  Fast forward a few months and after consistently getting 6-7 fruits or vegetables into their diet I gave them a new challenge: it was time for them to eat 8+ each day.

I'll never forget their reaction: "Then all I'm going to be eating is fruits and vegetables!?!?!?"  And, as they came to that realization they looked at me like the dramatic chipmunk.

As I think back, I can't really blame them.  In my old cubicle days, I *thought* I ate healthy too.  I'd have blueberries on my cheerios, maybe some grapes with a big fat sandwich, and some vegetables (think small bowl of greens) with dinner.  And you know what?  It just wasn't good enough.  I couldn't sort through all the noise to get the crux of the diet message: fruits and vegetables aren't a part of your meal....they should BE the meal.

And, that's really how I want to wrap this post up.  Regardless of dogma, eating fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed foods are the most effective way to lose weight, keep you satiated, and give you optimal health.  The real work is not in debating which diet is best for the human race.  Rather, the hard part is learning how to effectively change your habits to make these foods the staples of your diet, and not on the periphery. After all, there are no shortcuts, at least none that are sustainable.