I’ve been through quite the dietary journey in the last 17 or so years.
I can remember like it was yesterday, jumping on the low-fat-bandwagon in high school, because that’s what all the experts at the time touted as the recipe for a long, healthy life.
Then, in my late teens and early twenties, carbohydrates became the new scapegoat for all of our health problems as a society, and the conventional wisdom was that if you wanted to live a longer, healthier life—and sport a six-pack while at it—you should ditch the excess glucose and instead load up on tons of satiating protein and healthy fats.
A few years down the road from that, the Paleo(lithic) movement, piggybacking on the popularity of Crossfit and other extreme work-out trends, grabbed a hold of the zeitgeist, and now carbs were OK—just as long as you stayed away from grains and other post-agricultural foodstuffs.
This nutritional realm is where I resided for the next 8 years—from the age of 23 until about one year ago.
Throughout that time I reveled in my self-perceived rebelliousness from the status quo. (Doctors—pff!—what do they know?)
I was also hell-bent on maximizing my lean body-mass and strength levels, and I didn’t really put much thought into other important factors one should consider when choosing a nutritional regimen (more on this later).
Then I turned 30; my goals changed.
I wasn’t really interested anymore in increasing my squat or bench-press or dead-lift; working out 4-5 days per week was becoming a chore and taking away from other activities I really enjoyed—like my books.
I also got a dog, and then a cat, and my relationship with my pets began to shape how I felt about eating a pound or more of animal flesh every day.
I started to rethink my entire approach to health and began to open my mind up to other voices and philosophies on the subject.
What I realized is that, throughout all those years of training, and eating, and focusing solely on myself and my physical appearance, I was out of balance; I was living a bit too much in the here-and-now; I wasn’t thinking about myself 40 years down the road or about the society and world around me.
I decided to change that.
I started by cutting my workouts down to 2-3 days per week, so that I could have more time to read and learn and improve other areas of my life.
I began to look at long-term statistics and comparing them to everything I’d learned in the past, as well as to the latest trends in the industry.
I experimented with foods I was told would destroy my health—even though I had eaten them in the past and always felt fine.
Most importantly in my opinion, I started researching how the way we eat affects the planet, and I tried to reconcile that with how we evolved as a species for 2.5 million years.
I finally faced the pendulum inside my mind that, as far as my eating habits and nutritional philosophy were concerned, had been swinging violently back and forth for almost two decades, and I tried to center it.
I based my approach towards nutrition not solely on what would make me bigger and stronger but on what would keep me healthy in the long-term—while also limiting my ecological footprint and respecting the fact that I’m just one of seven billion people sharing this planet.
So what did I change?
Well, my protein consumption came down drastically, by about half: Instead of taking the body-builder approach and eating 1 gram of protein for each pound of lean body mass, I went with Dr. Mercola’s recommendation of .5 grams per pound.
Considering that meat consumption takes a huge toll on the environment, I decided to limit myself to just one 4-6 oz. serving per day, sticking to chicken and fish most nights of the week, as they have a much lower carbon footprint than that of pork and beef.
I also researched the statistics on some of the healthiest people on earth—living in 5 places coined the Blue Zones—and discovered that their diets, while similar in food choices to mine, were radically different in macro-nutrient ratios.
So, because I cut back on protein intake but still needed enough calories to get through the day, and in an effort to mimic the diet of the Blue Zone inhabitants, I started eating more calories in the form of carbohydrates—specifically oats, potatoes, sprouted, sourdough bread and legumes (also an excellent source of protein, by the way), along with some fruit and the copious amounts of vegetables I was eating already.
As a result, my macro-nutrient profile is now more in line with what the statistics show is healthy in the long-term: about 50-55% carbohydrates; 25-30% fat; and 15-20% protein.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit it, if you want to be the strongest, biggest person in the world, this type of eating plan probably won’t suffice: I’ve lost about 15 pounds since starting it earlier this year (I’m now the lightest I’ve ever been in my entire adult life).
As I mentioned earlier, however, I’m totally fine with this; at this point in my life I just want to be healthy while living up to what I feel are my social responsibilities as a citizen of earth.
While I still have a lot to learn and a long journey ahead of me, what I have begun to realize is that the universe always seeks balance—and because we are all of, and a part of, the universe, we thrive when we seek this homeostasis as well.
Human beings, along with most of the life on this planet, are incredibly complex creatures.
Anyone that claims that a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition is they way to go for the entire human population either doesn’t understand biology or isn’t being very honest.
Nutritional needs, for the most part, are highly individualistic—and unless you have a specific, and extreme, health condition that requires severely restricting your diet, the best approach, if you want to feel good and experience sound health in the long-term, is that of a moderately balanced, whole-food diet.
I know this advice isn’t very sexy, and it might not sell a million books or trend on twitter in today’s age of extremism—but it works.
And to be quite honest, if you aren’t a professional athlete or fitness competitor who’s income depends on a very specific body composition or performance requirement, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to stress so much about how you look once your healthy; there are just way bigger issues that we face in life that could benefit from some of that extra focus and determination.
So, I recommend taking the same approach toward nutrition that you would for any other worthwhile venture in life—the long one.
If you are truly interested in life-long health and wellness, and you don’t just want to yo-yo back and forth from one extreme diet to another, take the time to research what has been statistically proven to work long-term.
Educate yourself on how the different macro-nutrients work in the body.
(Hint: we need all of them to thrive.)
While I do feel that putting yourself first when deciding on a nutritional approach should remain a priority; I also feel that each of us does have a responsibility to our fellow-man and our ecological system.
I believe that we are all healthiest when we balance our own personal needs with those of the world around us—if not just because of the concrete impact our choices have on each other and the planet, then maybe just becuase we feel better on the inside when we to do the right thing.
When it comes to eating for long-term health, investigative journalist and author, Michael Pollan, said it best: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
It might not get you that eight-pack.
You might not bench-press 300 pounds.
You won’t get to eat bacon and steak at every meal.
But you’ll probably live a long life in balance with the natural world.
And, at least for me, that’s more than enough.
Aside from the ones already embedded within this article, the following links helped influence the thoughts and opinions relayed in this post: