This is the introduction to a three-part series about the three biggest weigh-loss myths that I think everyone should know about. More so, this article really distills everything I have come to know about nutrition on my quest for optimal health. I hope you can join me for the whole article. It's well worth the read.
I am a self-educated, self-confessed nutrition junkie (how's that for an oxymoron!) Over the past few years in particular I have read countless books, listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts and interviews, trawled through laborious research papers and, of course, self-experimented.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me what actually works when it comes to diet, exercise and body composition. I finally get it. It makes sense. And it's simple.
The tragedy is that what is now common sense to me - and what those of us in the ancestral health / functional medicine / evolutionary nutrition / Paleo / Primal community know actually works - is greatly at odds with the conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom tells us this - if you want to lose weight you need to eat less and train more. You need to eat less fat and animal products and eat more fruit and whole grains.
Well sorry to rock the boat, folks, but this is bad advice. It doesn't work.
Unfortunately people stubbornly stand by these myths. They want to believe that it is true because it gives them an excuse - a cop out.
"If only I were disciplined enough to eat less and train more then I would be skinny".
"When I used to play netball I was skinny, therefore if I take up netball again I will get skinny"
"If I do spin class four times a week then I can eat cheesecake on the weekend"
"Debby must starve herself and run five miles a day, the skinny bitch!"
The above statements are all complete rubbish.
You can be as disciplined as Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1972 but if you train stupidly and eat crap you'll still be fat. (Unless you are taking enough steroids to kill a werewolf).
You can play netball again every day of the week but if you're hormones are out of whack then you'll never look like you did in your late teens.
You can spin to your heart's content but it will never give you a free pass to eat insulin-spiking foods on a regular basis without continuing to fill out your 'portable cushion'.
And I'll bet the house that Debby's leanness is not achieved merely through starvation and overtraining, or if it is, then it isn't sustainable.
I have to remind myself that 99 percent of the population - my friends included - have no idea about the truths that I'm going to share in this post.
Bare in mind that all this stuff seems very simple. It'll even make sense to you. The three big myths - and my "anti-rules" - may seem a bit controversial at first but you'll have to trust me on this.
The awesome thing is that if you have a true desire to adopt this way of living then, aside from those who are really metabolically broken such as obese diabetics, it is easy to get lean and stay lean with a minimal amount of effort.
Look Good Naked
When you dig down to the base layer of human desire, through the cheesy TV commercials for high fibre cereal, the outrageously unattainable fitness magazine covers and all the hype over the latest CrossFit/Bootcamp/Soul Cycle fitness craze, everyone wants the same thing - to look good naked.
Being healthy, feeling good and performing well are just as important but let's be honest, except for a few megalomaniacs or professional athletes who rely on performance to get paid, pretty much everyone wants to be lean.
Sadly we live in a superficial society that worships skinny and shuns fat. Celebrities have almost become a parody of tininess - half the size of real humans! I saw Natalie Portman the other night at an event, and she is one of the most stunning specimens of female beauty I've ever seen, but she is freaking tiny! Literally 50% smaller than your average 165lb American woman.
Ironically, thanks to the industrialization and commercialization of our food sources, most people in Western society today are not lean... far from it! You know the stats - two-thirds of [Americans and Australians and British] are overweight or obese. Being normal weight these days is rare. It's sad.
So why is this? The true experts in the field… not those idiots writing the health articles in lifestyle sections of Metro Dailies advising you to eat low-fat yoghurt and "healthy whole grains"... but the guys fighting the good fight in the trenches - the Robb Wolfs, Mark Sissons and Chris Kressers - who have actually helped thousands of everyday people to regain their health, get lean and avoid chronic illness through smarter lifestyle choices. They all understand what works and what does not.
OK so those dudes are all of a Paleo/Primal bent like me, but I'm actually not being biased here. I've listened to enough experts from all backgrounds - biochemists, personal trainers, elite athletes, medical practitioners, nutritionists, even farmers - and almost without exception their varied experience has driven them towards the same conclusions time and time again. I now also share these same conclusions.
I'm going to give you a brief insight here into everything I have learned on my nutrition-junkie education binge. And then I am going to talk about the three biggest myths that you need to dispel in order to get lean and stay lean in a sustainable, healthy and simple way.
Six Tenets of Optimal Health
Firstly let's look at the the common tenets, not only of those Paleo gurus mentioned above, but of any successful health coach worth their weight in pink Himalayan salt.
These are the things that are so basic that they apply to every human being - from the obese sedentary fifty year old male with diabetes to the elite footballer of twenty. These things are requisite to being lean and healthy:
1. Eat real foods - cut the processed crap, lay off the industrial seed oils, the refined sugars, the trans fats, toxins, carcinogens and the nutrient-poor carbohydrates (and sadly, beer).
2. Eat nutrient-dense foods from healthy plants and animals - including wild caught seafood, pasture-raised meat and eggs, lots of vegetables, some fruit, nuts, seeds and other good fats. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly from oily fish, are crucial to your health. Eating meat is not a necessity but avoiding all animal products (Veganism) is NOT optimal for health. Only a vegan would argue otherwise.
3. Manage stress - Sleep well, relax, be active, sociable and connect with other people
4. Exercise smart - Lift some weights, do some sprints and do lots of low-level exercise that you actually enjoy. Don't go crazy on the exercise! Overtraining (such as doing marathons) is bad for your health.
5. Get outdoors and get some sun - Vitamin D is very important for good metabolic function.
6. Hormones are key - Get your hormones sorted out and your overall health and body composition will improve. The best way to alter your hormones is through a healthy lifestyle: i.e. by following the above five points.