If you spend much time on Twitter reading about diets, you'll notice a common theme among the top tweeps in categories such as Paleo, low carb high fat, raw food, low carb and vegan: They come to praise their own plans - and poop on others. And sometimes, it gets downright nasty. Now a nutrition expert sheds light on the reasons in a dynamic new diet book: "Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of US" (click for details).
"Mainstream science is on one side, saying there’s no single ideal diet for humans. But all around us, popular diets are claiming that they are the healthiest diet for all. It’s a fundamental contradiction. My gut instinct was that it was not rational to say any one diet is the best way to eat. I wanted to offer an alternative," said author Matt Fitzgerald in an interview with Outside magazine about his new book.
Why the extreme passion about one specific diet? "Food is such a basic symbol of identity. We become emotionally invested. Even three-month-old infants show dislike for puppets who don’t like the food they like. I think we are all susceptible to the mythology that one diet is best," reflects Matt.
But in reality, he says, it's impossible to prescribe one diet as the ultimate best approach for everyone. And although it may be appealing to proclaim that you've found the ideal approach and tempting to dismiss other diets, Matt feels that moderation is best. That means that rather than eliminate entire food groups like the Paleo diet does, you learn to enjoy "agnostic healthy eating."
And Matt feels that he's not alone in this attitude. "The silent majority of health conscious eaters out there want to eat healthy and are turned off by diet cults. In my exposure to world-class endurance athletes, very few Olympic-caliber athletes do any kind of diet with a name. They don’t demonize any nutrient. My personal instinct is that I don’t want to trust fear mongering salesmen who vilify a lot of the food people eat."
As for the highly popular Paleo diet? Matt calls it "absurd. It is a fantasy. The diet is based on a 19th century misunderstanding that evolutionary adaptation moves at a glacial pace. The Paleo idea that no animal should eat anything it hasn’t eaten before is silly."
However, while he feels that a Paleo plan can be healthy, "the way a lot of people do it, with indiscriminate heavy meat eating, is not very healthy. I think people should eat a lot more fish and high quality meat. I see a lot of Paleo followers gobbling huge amounts of bacon."
Matt is in good company about his views on proclaiming one diet to be the best. “People have elevated dieting to religious zealotry,” said Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., in an interview with Shape magazine. He is a weight-loss physician and author of "The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work" (click for details).
Dr. Freedhoff offers a way to redefine success and shed pounds without so much stress about stringent rules. His book includes tips on weight loss as well as ways to modify popular plans to make them more palatable. We asked him to elaborate about what really constitutes the best diet.
"The best diet for an individual is the one they actually enjoy enough to sustain and so if someone could enjoyable control their weight by means of Paleo or LCHF, I’d have no concerns," he declared.
As for the reason why we become so invested in specific foods, such as chocolate?
"Food isn’t just fuel. For us as a species food serves important roles in both comfort and celebration and is one of all of our live’s greatest joys. If there’s a food a person loves that their diet forbids them to have, I don’t think that diet will last very long and so I’d much rather help a person to determine the smallest amount of chocolate they need to like their life, than to suggest they live without it and then ultimately abandon their healthy living efforts when they miss it too much."
What about his own diet? "There’s nothing I recommend in The Diet Fix that I don’t practice myself. I tend to have a homemade protein, berry, swiss chard smoothie for breakfast, nuts for snacks, leftover dinner for lunch, a home cooked meal for dinner, and then more often than not, a bit of scotch and a few potato chips (perfection’s a bad goal)."