It is official. It seems the only dietary regime left to me is to become a breatharian. Extreme you say? Well, allow me to share how I have come to this conclusion.
I have spent the last few years working in the high-performance sport area with our Nation’s elite athletes. I was working with athletes who train up to 24 hours per week. I was a performance nutritionist. My role was to ensure their health was not compromised, and provide nutrition strategies that facilitated training adaptations so they can win gold medals. The athletes perceived food as fuel, and if it all went a little south then the effects were pretty noticeable. My research time was invested in those strategies that promote health and performance in athletes. It was a very unique bubble.
Now that I am out of the bubble, I am learning a whole lot of things about food I didn’t know. Sugar is bad for you and must be avoided at all costs! Dairy is bad for you and must be avoided at all costs! Protein is bad for you, and if it comes from animals, well then you are killing the planet and should therefore be avoided at all costs! The fruit and vegetables we consume are no longer a suitable source of nutrients as our soil is now deplete of the things that make them grow! Carbohydrates are bad for you and make you fat! So does fat, but then some people say you must eat fat, and only fat. In fact everything makes you fat and is going to kill either you or the planet, or both! Add to this the fact that I am now required to ‘live my best life’, well suffice to say, I am a little overwhelmed and since there is nothing left, then I need to become a breatharian and live on air (which I will probably soon find out is bad for me too).
Of course, I am being trite, flippant and bloody preposterous. I love food; ALL of them, and there is no way I will be giving them up. I am not lying about being overwhelmed though. The sheer volume of nutrition beliefs, or rather mis-beliefs, is staggering. How on earth did we get here? Have we all lost the plot, even common sense?
I am a scientist and as such I have a tendency to scoff and call BS on a lot of stuff, but I am working on being more entertaining of new ideas. Yes, I can entertain an idea without having to accept it. Logically I turned to the literature and I thought I would start with the sugar thing. I mean given all the fear and avoidance of the white devil, and the alternative 'healthy sweet' industry that is juggernauting through society, I thought this would be the easiest place to start.
What did I find? I found not one single research article, review, meta-analysis or epidemiological study that suggests a grain of white sugar will make you fat or kill you. I also didn’t find anything that found that a teaspoon, or even a tablespoon, of the white stuff will do that either. I did find a lot of research on sugar, but they all contained the words “too much” and added sugar. Huh, go figure. Not only did they contain the words too much, but also the words soft drink. So, too much added sugar, and particularly in the form of soft drinks will lead to health risks, weight gain and damage to the liver. The general advice from the United Nations, World Health Organisation and everyone is to REDUCE sugar intake. Yes, Reduce.
Now last time I checked (which was actually 10 seconds ago when I googled the definition just to be sure I hadn’t completely missed a re-write of the dictionary), reduce means to “make smaller or less in amount”. How was this then interpreted as eliminate? How did people take' reduce added sugars in the diet' and become terrified of it? Why have we now started adding Medjool dates (delicious by the way), vanilla, artificial sweeteners and honey to add sweetness to everything instead. Errr, still sugar, just with more fibre. In the body it is still converted to glucose, just like normal sugar.
Too much, …. too much, ……. too much…. too much of anything is bad. Too many fat-soluble vitamins will make you sick. Too much protein will increase nitrogen in your body, make your wee frothy and bung you up big time. Carbohydrate? We don’t advocate smashing carbs even to athletes, you periodise your carbs and fluctuate their intake relative to what you have going on in your day. Carbohydrates are essential and provide valuable nutrients and fibre, but too much in the absence of exercise or sufficient energy expenditure isn't good.
A normal, healthy, balanced diet has moderate amounts of everything, and admittedly should have small amounts of certain things, but a healthy diet doesn’t eliminate anything or everything (unless of course you have known medical conditions and allergies like coeliacs, etc.).
I have started my own business and apparently, I need to have a why (yes this is a true story, I wish I was making it up). What is my business why? If I had known I would have to answer such tough questions I wouldn’t have started this in the first place. Well after my paralysis by analysis on the food front I have discovered my why. Why do I do what I do? I am saddened by the fear people have of food. I am saddened by the constant manipulation of diets I see in those I know based on nothing more than hearing something, or following some social influencer. I know why they do it. A quick fix, rapid weight-loss, immediate change. My advice, play the long game. The power is in the hands of the wrong people. There are too many unqualified people out there giving advice on something that really matters. I don’t like how some people judge others because of how they eat. I don’t like how people consider themselves a failure or consider themselves ‘weak’ because they can’t adhere to extreme food rules, or feel like they lack control over their daily diet. I am frustrated by the cherry-picking of the research data to support only one side of the argument. I am frustrated by the noise around food and it is all just too much …. too much …… too much. I am calling enough and am bringing some common sense to this Mad Hatter’s tea party. Want to join me?