This is such a loaded question it’s difficult to know where to start. I heard on a podcast recently (and I don’t remember which one, otherwise I would be happy to attribute this to whomever said it) the following advice which I think is perfect:
There is no such thing as the perfect diet…
only the perfect diet for you.
What works for one person perfectly will be a miserable failure for another person. Diet is based on individual tastes, your ethnic background, your environment, your genetic makeup, and your caloric needs based on your level of physical (and mental) activity. So if anyone ever tells you they have the perfect diet for everyone…they’re full of it.
MY DIET JOURNEY
I’m a full-blown sugar whore, a child of the eighties. I grew up on Lucky Charms, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Fruit Loops, and Chips Ahoy. We always had Country Crock margarine, low fat white bread, fat free yogurt…the works. This was absolutely typical, but the more important question is, why? That’s an incredibly long story so I provided resources below to help you understand the genesis of the “fat-free diet” movement. Needless to say, fixing my diet has been the hardest challenge I’ve faced the last ten years. Being sedentary all day long surrounded by processed sugars and snacks hasn’t helped me at all. So don’t think that I’ve been a health nut since the womb and developing a healthy diet has been easy for me. It’s been exactly the opposite…one of the hardest struggles I’ve ever faced. And it wasn’t fast.
Thanks to the Internet everyone is an expert on diet & nutrition now. I don’t want to be “that guy.” I’m the opposite of an expert, I’m not sharing my own research, I’m sharing the research of the experts that I have found along my own personal journey.
WHERE SHOULD I START?
There is a general consensus that certain things are universally bad for us, and some things are universally good for us. I’ve tried to take a balanced, long-term approach to diet based on the advice of some of the resources below, as well as my own experimentation.
• All processed sugars are bad. Period. They have no nutritional value. And processed sugars and simple carbohydrates are what make us fat. Prove me wrong.
• Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Despite what we’ve been told the last several decades, fat is good for us and necessary for proper cognitive and cellular function. The trick is knowing which fats to eat. See below for resources that help distinguish good fats from bad fats. If you’re eating all low-fat foods that compensate by adding sugars and fillers, throw that stuff out. Today. Within 24 hours of introducing full fats into your diet, you’ll see your energy levels increase dramatically.
• If you want to lose weight, eating less and exercising more is the exact OPPOSITE approach to take. Please see my previous blog post “Making sense of calories in vs. calories out” to understand this idea further.
• A healthy diet should include plenty of natural foods that occur in nature and have existed for hundreds of years. Think to yourself, “What did my grandparents eat?” However, with all the processing, chemicals, and garbage added into our commercial food, it’s important to understand how your food is raised and grown now, even if it is something your grandparents would’ve eaten.
MY OWN PERSONAL DIET
• On a general level, I have adopted an approach called the “80/20 rule,” which I learned from the brilliant Mark Sisson. This means that 80% of the time I stick to my diet religiously. The other 20% of the time, I eat whatever I want. This allows me to eat foods I love, but it also keeps me on track long-term without feeling like I have to summon a tremendous amount of willpower. I find the more I stick to the 80%, the less interested I am in the 20%.
• I follow a loose version of The Bulletproof Diet mixed with Ben Greenfield’s Super Human Food Pyramid. As a general guideline, I also follow the cleansing diet recommended by The Akasha Center (but I ignore the part about avoiding all beef. If it’s grass-fed I’ll eat it). This means my diet is Paleo-esque with some exceptions. If you’re interested in a true Paleo approach, I highly recommend Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint.
• I eat a high fat diet with very few carbohydrates. I have almost completely eliminated processed foods, simple sugars, and all dairy except grass-fed butter. But to clarify, I have not eliminated carbs in exchange for bacon-wrapped bacon every single day. I am very selective about the quality of my food. I don’t pinch pennies on the fuel I need to function properly. I buy mostly organic. I only eat meat that is 100% grass fed (I’ve provided resources below to understand why), and I incorporate leafy greens into all of my Nutribullet smoothies, as well as Shakeology every single day. The high amount of fat in my diet comes from incredibly healthy, pure, natural sources like MCT Oil, full fat coconut milk, almonds and other raw nuts, grass-fed butter, grass-fed beef…and did I mention grass-fed butter yet?
MY ENERGY LEVELS ARE THROUGH THE ROOF
I have spent the majority of my life being very active, but I’ve never focused on my diet until recently. Until 5-6 years ago, I didn’t need to. My metabolism was such that I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain a pound. Those days came and went, and now maintaining my weight is incredibly difficult. Since that change happened, I have done several intense exercise programs (Power 90, P90X, Les Mills Combat), but my results were less than optimal because I always looked at diet as an afterthought. As soon as I adopted these new dietary principles, my energy went through the roof, the afternoon crashes we are all so familiar with completely disappeared, and I started losing weight and body fat…quickly. And I did it all while working long days on a network tv show with only a Nutribullet and George Foreman Grill available. So it can be done.