There is no shortage of nutritional advice available out there. Intermittent fasting, carb cycling, trying to eat like Palaeolithic humans (while continuing to enjoy cars, electric light and the internet)… the list goes on. There are approaches that focus on what you should do, such as the Mediterranean Diet and Volumetrics. And there are approaches that focus on what you shouldn’t do. These tend to spawn books with titles like Grain Brain, Wheat Belly and The Gluten Cankle Catastrophe. I made that last one up but you get the point.
The interesting thing is that all of these approaches can work.
So what doesn’t work? Becoming a food weirdo does not work. That’s why we avoid food weirdness at all costs.
What is food weirdness?
In the sexual world it has been suggested that repression leads to obsession which in turn leads to fetishization. While we’re not worried about anyone sitting around eating moon pies with nipple clamps on, we do want to make sure that everyone has a healthy ongoing relationship with food.
Food should either provide experiential pleasure or sustenance. Preferably both.
Food should not cause stress and it should not cause guilt. Yet it can if we let it. That’s why dietary restriction is way, way down the list of priorities for us.
The default setting of most people – from dietitians and personal trainers to well-meaning parents and friends – is often to focus on what to take out. Shaming you about what you aren’t supposed to be eating can range from gentle too harsh. Yet this theme dominates exchanges. It is also a frequent conversation that people have with themselves; what they shouldn’t have eaten or how those chips or that cake or that tankard of ale are signs of failure and sadness.
Louis C.K. has famously said, “The meal is not over when I’m full. The meal is over when I hate myself.”
Trying not to eat bad things while obsessing about those very same things is about as effective as trying not to fall off a tightrope while staring down at the ground the entire time.
The issue you really should be focusing on is which foods will help contribute to your goals. How can you add nutritional density to the existing structure of your daily habits? How can we improve the way you feel and make decisions? And, perhaps most importantly; how can you fill the gastronomic world with so much positivity that the remaining nonsense is gently and naturally edged out?
We know that food is more than a collection of macronutrients. This article from Precision Nutrition does a great job of sorting through many of the understated values of food: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/food-is-not-fuel.
We also know that people can be exceptionally successful while still reserving 10–20% of their intake (you can most easily break this down by meal numbers) for whatever they want. That’s right, whatever they bloody well want.
This extra 10–20% is what many people are quick to discard. They feel that a more obsessive approach will yield faster results. And perhaps it does… right up until they crash and burn. You remember the order? Repression, obsession, fetishization and so on.
If people didn’t crash and burn so frequently, we would be happy to implement strict dietary measures. But they do, so we don’t. Instead, we remind them that the buffer provided by 10–20% ensures that they can have access to whatever food they love EVERY WEEK and still be successful. There may not be room for everything but there is certainly room for whatever’s on your mind.
One of our favourite tools is the Minimum Enjoyment Standard. When treats are limited, we want to help ensure they are great. The rules are as follows:
Slow down. Make it an experience. Savour the textures and flavours. Focus on the sensations. Enjoy and appreciate that this is part of a successful nutritional process and a life well-lived.
We also recommend rating your treats on a scale of 1–10 in terms of enjoyment. As you move forward in your nutritional process you will select a minimum standard for the things that are not congruent with your fitness goals. Most people begin with a minimum standard of 6 or 7 out of 10. Then as they progress they begin to do more with less. Choices in pastry, wine, chocolate — anything enjoyable — become upgraded.
In time, life will consist of regular meals with high nutrient density and minimum nonsense. And then somewhere between 2–4 times a week, life will consist of truly memorable food experiences. Not too much of a good thing, just enough to reach all of your goals; from body composition to enjoyment. No weirdness, just goodness.
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