Food Tribalism and Weight Loss: Creating More Confusion than Good

Anyone else confused by all the different diets that promise results? See what Nathane Jackson has to say about finding the one that works for you.

Diet Variety

man_healthy_diet_food_fridge_fruit_veggies_vegetables_apple_picIn recent years we have seen many books promoting “X” diet as being the one diet suitable for everyone. The ancestral movement hit us hard over the last decade, but I feel that it has peaked and is now losing its steam. Before that, the vegan diet was all the hype and I for one, fell head over heels in love with it, until it started treating me poorly, resulting in our eventual breakup. After five years of trying to make a vegan diet work for me, it took some detailed functional testing and an ah-ha moment in front of my bathroom mirror to make me realize a vegan diet just wasn’t for good for my health.

Other food tribes focus on macronutrients and suggest that a certain percentage of a person’s diet should be X percent fat, X percent carbohydrates, and X percent protein with one of these macronutrients being extremely high or extremely low. Such is the case with a ketogenic diet (roughly 5% carbohydrates, 65% fat and 30% protein, and this is the more balanced of the ratios I found) or the 80-10-10 diet (80% carbohydrates, 10% fat and 10% protein).

I have a real problem with these tribes who demonize or glorify a specific macronutrient and push it on to the masses as the next “best” diet. To me, it is just a shady and unethical way to increase book sales by feeding off of peoples fear and uncertainty. Unfortunately, the truth about nutrition isn’t sexy, it will rarely reach bestseller status, and people generally find it boring because they say they already “know what to do.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t been crazy about the food pyramids and MyPlates of years past as there has been some glorifying and demonizing of their own going on and I suspect there was some influence from the big food companies.

Experience

counting_calories_diet_plan_calculator_weight_fork_measure_picIn terms of weight loss, experience shows that when protein is matched and total calories consumed are below maintenance levels, people decrease body fat and do so equally on both a higher carbohydrate or a higher fat diet and any percentage in between. This is why with my clientele we most definitely go through the nail biting and awfully painful task of tracking calories, at least until they can prove to me they have a handle on what they’re consuming day in and day out.

Calorie counting alone has taken its share of criticism by those authors and nutrition gurus who suggest tracking calories is either not important or so incorrect that we shouldn’t even bother. Instead they appeal to the overweight crowd by pumping up some form of “never track a calorie again and instead eat X macronutrient and in X amount, but not X macronutrient and god forbid in X amount.” If you aren’t tracking your calories then you’re just guessing.

Results

In the initial stages of a weight loss program, low carbohydrate diets may produce a more favorable number on the scale or a better visual in the mirror initially, but after a few weeks there is no difference in decreased weight loss and body fat compared to a higher carbohydrate diet. A decrease in carbohydrates causes the body to lose water weight but after a while your body will adjust and the playing field will become more balanced.

I have tried not counting calories before, as it sounded so good that I wanted it to work for my clients and for myself. For me, since I already had a good idea of how much food I should consume per day from having competed in physique competitions in the past and tracking everything down to a single grain of rice, not counting calories was okay because as soon as I started to notice a little body fat I could easily manipulate my intake.

woman_scale_unhappy_weight_loss_goals_sad_picFor those of my clients who were severely overweight and obese, they did well at first with a “eat whole foods and eat until 80% full” approach as it was a huge change or step in the right direction from their past dietary practices. However, when these people worked themselves down into what is considered a moderately overweight category, they had a difficult time losing body fat from there. The same went for those who were 10–15 pounds away from their target body weight, as not tracking food intake, and relying solely on whole foods or trying to figure out when they were 80% full did nothing for them but cause confusion and frustration.

Your Best Diet

No matter what book ends up on the New York Times Best Seller list, there is no one diet for everyone. Depending on a person’s health history and current apparent symptoms, I may have them go through an elimination diet to understand which foods are best for them, then determine which “diet” is optimal. If it happens to be a plant-based diet, then great, I’ll make it work. If it is more of a paleo diet then we go with that. If it’s high fat/low carb or high carb/low fat, now we know and we go from there. If it happens to be cookies and milk, then “Houston, we have a problem.”

Train hard, but train smart!

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