There Is No Magic Diet -- We're all Different

Trying to figure out how to be well and healthy has become a ridiculously complicated, challenging, and unnatural process in the unnatural world we've created around us.

From stuff you can sprinkle on your food, to infomercials selling weird contraptions that contort and twist you in strange ways, to Paleo, to vegan, to vegetarian, to pescatarian, to counting calories, to weighing food, to logging exercise -- it can get overwhelming faster than you can pull a 1/2 pint of Blue Bell out of the freezer and take it down (which for me used to be about 2 minutes).

But here's the thing, across the board humans are incredibly adaptive and can handle amazingly diverse foods, climates, and habitats and have been doing so for thousands and thousands of years.

There is no one perfect way to eat or move or live.

There is not a magic food list or precise time to eat that if you follow to the letter, you will look, feel and perform in ways that you've always wanted. We're too diverse for that and anyone who claims to have all the answers or the only right way to do it should be avoided like Colin Kaepernick throwing in Richard Sherman's direction.

Ben Greenfield recently wrote on article about all the different variations in diet from robust and healthy cultures throughout world history. It's a great read -- here's a sample:

  • The Swiss of the Loetschental Valley ate fresh, hand-milled rye bread and lots of raw and fermented dairy.

  • The Native Americans of the Rocky Mountains ate organs and bones of wild animals, gave the muscle protein to the dogs, and ate in-season vegetation including bark and tree buds.

  • The Gaelics in the Outer and Inner Hebrides ate oats at every meal, tons of local seafood (with an emphasis on cod liver oil), and fresh or frozen veggies.

  • The tribes in Eastern and Central Africa ate starches like sweet potatoes, beans, corn, and millet, fish and shellfish, wild game, and insects.

  • The Eskimos of Alaska ate very little vegetation and tons of sea animals (whole sea animals), fish and eggs, and other wild land animals.

It used to be easier to know what to eat because the world was small and travel was rare. You stayed around the same people (and therefore similar genes) and the same area most of your life. Today people can cross the globe in a matter of hours and cultures have blended, which is great, but now a little more trial and error has to be done to figure out which of your ancestral genes is controlling the part of you which handles food assimilation, hormone regulation and weight management.

Do you have some Northern European milk drinker genes? Or maybe some Far Eastern starch consumers'? Is it the equatorial tropical fruit eaters? Is it the meat-only Arctic dwellers?

I know in my case, my relatives came from Germany and Austria which may be why I can handle raw and fermented dairy without a problem. And why I also avoid sugary fruits like oranges, bananas, mangoes and grapes for the most part.

Some people do well with ancient/original grains (if you can find them) and some don't. Some do well with dairy and some don't. Some do well with tons of fruits and veggies and some don't.

Some people can eat ice cream and soda and pasta and still maintain a healthy weight (doesn't mean they're necessarily as healthy as they could be, but when most people eat those things a lot, bad things happen).

The human diet is as diverse as the number of reasons why a four year old will just suddenly start crying and throwing a fit out of the clear blue.

So again, there is no magic, absolute truth list of foods TO EAT because it varies so much.

However, there IS an absolute truth list of foods to NOT EAT.

Across the board, in every human body, we can say that the following foods will create negative affects in greater than trace amounts -- the "Bad List" if you will:

  • processed sugar

  • foods not found in nature (more detail in a minute)

There. That was pretty easy. And pretty hard to argue with. Find me any evidence or research or group of people living on Earth today or at any time which included these two things as staples in the diet and thrived.

Find one example, and I'll shut up. I promise.

Those two bullet points include

  • soda and diet soda

  • candy

  • fruit juice

  • grains that have been altered from their original chromosomal makeup (most of today's wheat, rye, soy, corn, etc)

  • synthetic preservatives

  • food coloring

  • emulsifiers and fillers

  • cookies and cakes

  • grain fed or caged animals

  • margarine and trans fats

  • chicken nuggets

  • energy drinks

  • and many more

Quick side-note about liquids -- I love Nassim Taleb's rule about drinking things that are at least 1,000 years old which only includes water, wine and coffee.

Another way to think about it is removing things that did not exist in your ancestral habitat -- whatever habitat that was and there is a wide range to choose from.

It’s much easier to think about what NOT to do. It’s easier to prove what is wrong than what is absolutely right -- generally speaking. What makes people happy is a diverse and complex subject. What makes people unhappy is a little easier to agree on.

So the Simply Human Lifestyle, which tries to get folks to think about eating, moving, sleeping and enjoying to achieve optimal health, is not a cookie-cutter plan. It also doesn't say you can never ever have anything from that list or you're going to die. It does say, however, that the modern definition of "moderation" is as messed up as Beauty Pageants for 5 year olds.

It calls for variation, variety and tinkering with different foods and different times to eat to become the healthiest version of yourself. It requires a little bit of work...gasp!

The hard part is figuring out what works for you. But once you figure that out, it gets much less difficult.

The easy part is knowing what DOES NOT work which is the list of foods and food-like substances above.

Vegan works for you? Awesome. Eat a ton and wide variety of fresh and organic plants.

Paleo is how you function best? Go get ‘em caveman.

Gonna try the fruitarian thing? Buy some toilet paper but that’s great, too!

We’re all different. We find health by eating a variety of different things (and that variety is a little different for everyone). We all hurt our overall health by eating from the “Bad List.”

Hopefully this will clear some things up for anyone who is too confused to act -- paralysis by analysis -- and allow you to start removing things from your life that cause destruction and play around with the good stuff until you find the best combination.

Thanks for reading.

Subscribe to the Simply Human Podcast on iTunes

Listen to the Podcast on Stitcher