The more you learn about fad diets, the more you realize they're complete bullshit. The highly restrictive, almost impossible-to-maintain modes of eating essentially set dieters up to fail — while earning their creators a handsome profit.
In a hilarious must-read in the Guardian, Dean Burnett illustrates this truth by offering up alternatives to the latest fad, the Paleo diet.
Burnett's "primordio diet," for example, reaches past Paleo to a much purer (primordial) time: "As part of the primordio diet, you cut out all processed foods, meat, plant material and basically anything that has in any way been derived from a living organism at some point. Or from rocks. Anything with molecules in it is right out."
Then there's the "Jurassic diet," for which Burnett suggests humans eat more like dinosaurs, following the logic that dinosaurs lasted "about 1,000 times longer than man has currently been around." To diet like a dinosaur, he writes, you simply, "Eat as many leaves as you want, but you have to rip them from the trees with your powerful teeth and extremely long neck, before swallowing them and deriving energy from them via your cavernous and complex digestive system."
My favorite Burnett invention is the "childhood diet," for its deceptive simplicity:
When were you at your healthiest? When you were a child! You weighed much less than you do now, and you had boundless energy, and you weren’t worried about job loss or mortgages or your star sign or anything. Children are clearly much healthier overall, and it’s only the onset of adulthood where we can buy fatty foods and alcohol that our health starts to decline and we get out of shape.
If people could just unleash their "inner child," they'd be on the road to a thinner future. "You should still give me money if you do this though," he writes, "because it was my idea." It's incredible no one has thought of this before.
What science tells us about diet
There are about three things we know from science about healthy eating:
1) We can all stand to eat more fruits and vegetables, and less processed food and sugar.
2) People can survive healthfully by following a mind-boggling variety of eating patterns.
3) All diets — low-fat, low-carb, Weight Watchers, Atkins, etc. — have about the same modest results in the long run, no matter their macronutrient composition, and it's incredibly difficult for people to keep weight off when following extreme diets that don't mesh with their habits and lifestyle patterns.
As I have written previously, these truths should actually be liberating. We’ve been sold this idea that if we just buy into one particular diet — and purchase all its associated books and energy bars and health shakes — we will walk the golden path to thinness. But science (and experience) has shown us that's not true. Researchers who work on weight loss and obesity (and who don't have conflicts of interest from peddling books or other products) almost universally recommended simply cutting calories in a way you like and can sustain, and trying to be more active. If you can do that by following Burnett's primordio or childhood diet, go for it.
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