I like to catch up on news and research updates while eating my lunch. Recently, I read a very well-written article regarding the Paleo diet, and one statement inparticular caught my attention. When he stated that weight management is 80-90% diet, I almost choked on the Dorito I was eating.
At multiple times, the author indicated that “science has shown…” without actually citing any research articles specifically throughout his article. That is, unless you count the links he provided to the New York Times. However, I think the gentleman writing the article has his heart in the right place. He has an interest in health and fitness, appears to be a very fit individual, and wants to share his “secrets” with the world so that we can all be fit individuals, too. And he can write a convincing article! If I would not have spent the last 6 years of my life in graduate school focusing on nutrition research, I probably wouldn’t have questioned a word he said. Which is a problem—because as far as I can tell, this gentleman saying these very convincing things about weight management and nutrition and claiming “science has shown…” has a bachelor’s degree in economics.
Now that’s not to say you can’t learn a lot from just reading on your own. However, the general public usually does not have access to a database containing research articles, and the reporting of “research” by the media can be just plain scary and incredibly skewed at times.
I recently gave a 4-week sports nutrition seminar for any interested faculty, staff or students of Oklahoma State University. Each time I give this series, I’m always completely caught off guard by questions about my thoughts on whatever new diet is supposed to be the next miracle in weight management. My question, in return, usually consists of something along these lines: “So you want to train for your first full marathon, while leading an extremely busy life, AND trying to follow this strict new diet where you can only eat eggs (after all, eggs are “in” again) —under a full moon, while hopping on one foot?”. Okay, so maybe I’m not that sarcastic, but I really do try to encourage keeping it simple.
I really don’t have a problem with following a diet that helps you make better choices, whether it’s the Paleo diet or the Zone diet or whatever other diet piques your interest. My hesitation in recommending or endorsing any of these diets is the reality that many people end up making worse choices, simply because they’re not flexible. Often, a few foods that are considered appropriate for the diet will be identified by the dieter, and they will just keep eating those, because it’s easy. Variety goes out the window, as does likely a balance of nutrient intake.
As far as my response to the author’s claim that weight management is 80-90% diet? That might be true for some people. The human body seems to be highly adaptable, extremely complex, and it’s clear that not everyone has the same response to certain diets, or calorie restrictions, or exercise routines, or the same desires to consistently work at some of these disciplines. From personal experience, I try to make healthy choices and eat a lot of variety. With that, I certainly go through periods of time when I’m eating what would be considered “healthy” and periods of time when my diet resembles that of a teenage boy going through a growth spurt. But my weight never really fluctuates. In fact, the only time I can recall my weight changing much since I was about 18 years old (10 years ago) was when I experienced a significant running injury that didn’t allow me to do much in the way of exercising for a few weeks.
While the way I feel throughout the day and while I’m exercising is very closely linked to my diet, I don’t think my weight management is primarily the result of my diet. I believe it is the result of consistent exercise. As a Registered Dietitian, I absolutely endorse eating a healthy diet that includes a variety of foods and appropriate caloric content. As a fitness enthusiast, I am frustrated by the lack of “weight” occasionally given to the importance of consistent exercise of appropriate intensity and duration when it comes to weight management.
Always question what you read. It may be true, or you may find out that it’s not substantiated. If you’re unsure, consult a healthcare professional. But most importantly, to be successful in your health and fitness goals, just try to keep it simple and consistent. Find a balance of diet and exercise that works for you.
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