This has to be the most contentious, fiercely debated and most disputed area of any in the fitness industry. Hopefully this article will inject a bit of balance and common sense into what can become quite a heated debate.
For starters, lets jettison the term diet. Just reading it raises my stress hormone - it insinuates that here is a quick fix that you can do for a few weeks/months/years, get into great shape and then return to the pies and deep fried Mars Bars, a happier, leaner and healthier human. Nonsense.
We need a new paradigm. A lifestyle shift that won't make you a freak at social gatherings, a simple to follow, safe and effective method that will ensure that you get the results you want without making you miserable, neurotic, calorie counting, or fat phobic.
So what is it? Well a client of mine recently asked me to condense my approach to nutrition into a bite sized chunk (excuse the pun). I tried to nail it in two points:
1. Ensuring that insulin levels stay nice and stable throughout the day
2. Avoiding foods that cause inflamation
So how do we encorporate that into something that we can apply on our plates?
Well, lets keep it simple - fat and protein have little effect on blood sugar levels, so if we eat those at every meal than that is a good start. When we talk about fat we need to be thinking olive oil, avocadoes, fish oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds and fish oil.
Protein - well lets have a source of animal protein at every meal. Since the media hysteria about red meat and cancer I do think it pays to be a little circumspect - try not to eat deli meats that are full of preservatives and nitrates, these have been linked with lung dysfunctions and as chemicals are best left out of the body. No, instead I think a quote from Mike Mahler (incidentally a vegetarian who has got exceptional results without animal protein) is applicable - if you are going to eat meat then make sure it is of the best quality you can possibly afford. On a budget? Then just eat a little less!
Next step, never eat carbs. Ever. Don't touch them, look at them or even think about them. They are the work of the devil. JOKING. It is this nonsensical approach that is going to cause all sorts of problems - no, just be a bit careful around them. Jonny Bowden once said no one ever got diabetes from eating carrots, and the hysteria around carbohydrate intake annoys me no end - however carbs do break down to glycogen faster than fat or protein. That being the case lets choose them wisely.
If you eat ample dark green leafy vegetables and moderate proportions of fruit then that is a good start - just eat the pasta, rice, potatoes or veg as an "earned" meal. How do you earn it? Simple, you either ONLY consume it post workout OR on a "cheat day".
The point is this method means that you are not restricted, curtailed, penalised or considered a social outcast when you eat out, you just aim to earn the right to eat them.
Every nutritionist I have ever read (certainly the ones worth reading) agree - boosting carb intake scientifically and in a timed fashion accelerates fat loss, and does not impede it. From Dr Mauro Di Pasquale, Jonny Bowden, Charles Poliquin, Dr John Berardi and Tim Ferriss all agree (to differing levels) on this approach.
Finally, avoid foods that inflame. Too much Omega 6 will inflame and grains have a tendency towards inflamation as well. I was privelaged to attend a seminar on gluten intolerance with the worlds leading authority, Dr Tom O'Bryan and quite honestly it would put you off bread and gluten based products for the rest of your life. If you are not sure if you have gluten intolerance and don't have the ability to screen for it try this:
Do you suffer from joint inflamation, brain fog or IBS? Trying to shift inches around your waist to no avail? Try taking all gluten out of your diet for a couple of mohths (no bread, pasta etc). If you symptoms dramatically clear up, stay off it - for life! Yup, no going back, even the smallest amount will trigger the inflamatory cascade, and that inflamation will then last a long time. Another tell-tale sign is if you are from Celtic extraction, or have fair hair and blue eyes - people with this genetic make up tend more towards gluten intolerance due to the fact that it hasn't been in their ancestral food chain as long.
But I thought gluten intolerance was just coeliac disease? I hear you mutter. Well, according to Dr O'Bryan this end stage of serious intolerance to gluten is the tip of the iceberg - the real impact of gluten intolerance is actually terrifyingly broad - from brain lesions to Hashimoto's disease, thyroid dysfunction to arthritis. It is the inflamatory fire that will target your bodies weakest link. Villous atrophy (the destruction of the delicate villi of the small bowel) is symptomatic of only ONE area that gluten intolerance can target and therefore the idea that coeliac disease is primarily a disease of the small bowel is outdated.
So maybe, pop the sandwich down in favour of a salad with chicken and pine nuts?
The key is moderation - a low-carb diet for the rest of your life is a shortcut to insanity, but if you think you are going to become the living embodiment of a Olympian strength, muscularity and leaness on a diet of pasta, rice, bread and potatoes. . .dream on.
Even my most sceptical clients report a dramatic, yes, dramatic, reduction in bloating and abdominal discomfort when they remove these foods from their diet - and then report diabolical discomfort when they treat themselves on it again. So there is food for thought there (pun intended).
And eat more regularly. Recently there was a TV program on glamour model Jodie Marsh getting in preparation for a bodybuilding contest. She was waking up in the night to eat meals, her personal trainer brow-beating her into upping her calorie intake, setting alarms to remind her to eat. She dropped from 17% body fat to 13%. So if you want to lose body fat you need to eat every 2-3 hours. If you miss a feed just imagine your body happily cannibalizing your hard earned muscle tissue - because that is EXACTLY what is happening. A client of mine has over the past few months taken to this method and has lost a stone, even though she feels like she is eating all the time. It feels good not to go hungry wouldn't you agree? And if you are happily sustained, what are the odds you are going to go on a energy drink and chocolate bar binge? Not much because your blood sugar levels won't require such a massive boost.
In summary. . .earn your carbs, eat more, drink more water, eat more veg, and don't forget your fat. I am off to drink 4 tablespoons of Spanish olive oil right now, for heart health, joint health and because I have nothing better to do. . .