I’ve been called ignorant and seen as opposed to meat consumption for writing about a study showing that ketogenic diets (those that have a very low amount of carbohydrates) seem to have no effectiveness for weight loss when compared to other strategies.
I was also disrespected when I presented a survey with scientific evidence that the intermittent fasting does not work to lose weight. In an unscientific statement, the fasting advocate said the study shows something “completely contrary to everything we know.”
And I was offended for presenting a communiqué from the Belgian Academy of Medicine recommending caution with vegan diets for children, teenagers, pregnant women and nursing mothers.
I take offense when I say that fat is not a villain, sugar is not poison, milk is not prohibited and that bread can be part of a healthy diet.
They ask me if I’m for or against meat, for or against veganism, for or against a low carb diet, for or against a ketogenic diet, but the truth is that I’m against extremism, nutritional terrorism and the idea that there is an ideal way or better to eat.
Therefore, I would like to use these suffered attacks to talk about four aspects of food that are ignored by nutritional extremisms and food fads.
1. Food is behavior
Eating behavior is a broad term that encompasses choice, motivations that drive people to eat (eg, hunger, aesthetic standards, food presentation) and eating practices. It refers to our actions regarding food and, therefore, it may be related to eating problems, such as obesity e eating disorders.
Intermittent fasting, ketogenic, low carb, moon, protein, soup, detox, paleo diets, among many others, operate by extremism and are concerned with what, how much and when to eat, but leave out the so important “how”, ie the behavioral side of food.
This creates a big problem, as behavior is closely related to our habits. Habit is a behavior learned and repeated “on automatic”, without thinking about it. For example, leaving the house without breakfast may have become a habit. You wake up, brush your teeth, take a shower and simply leave the house, without thinking too much that you might be inattentive at work because you have an empty stomach.
Following this habit does not require so much effort, changing it does. It’s not simple to change your lifestyle, and that’s why we were unable to follow these recommendations of restrictive diets and extremists for a long time.
2. Health is not reduced to weight
Most of these nutritional extremisms are concerned with weight loss as it is now seen as synonymous with health, but that is not how it works.
In fact, there are healthy people of all shapes and sizes, and being thin doesn’t necessarily mean being healthy. Think of someone who lost weight as a result of an illness. Diabetes, hyperthyroidism, inflammatory bowel diseases, diverticulitis, anorexia nervosa, cancer, among other health problems, can present as symptoms of weight loss.
At the same time, you can be above the “ideal weight“, considering the BMI calculation, but actually being in very good health, with adequate physical and biochemical exams, feeling well-being and enjoying a good quality of life.
3. The human being is not a machine
With the pursuit of weight loss, nutritional extremisms reduce the human body to a machine. Just “close your mouth and work out”, that is, consuming less food and expending more energy to lose weight.
However, the human body is not a machine. We are living beings, governed by a biological apparatus, feelings, beliefs, cultural and social aspects. This makes everything more complex and unique.
How we metabolize nutrients and energy content depends on so many things that count calories it even becomes meaningless. The type of food consumed and the person’s metabolism, which varies with age, gender, weight, genetic issues, temperature, stress, and even the microbiota, influence metabolism.
Let me give you a simple example. It’s lunchtime and you decide to have an 800-calorie milkshake, the same amount of energy as a typical Brazilian lunch, with beans, rice, meat and a little salad, but you probably won’t feel so satisfied, as studies show that, by biological mechanisms, liquids do not promote as much satiety as foods we need to chew, not to mention the lack of variety and flavor.
In addition, many people will not feel satisfied either, because for cultural reasons the milkshake is not considered a food to eat for lunch.
See how much is involved?
4. Diets can cause eating disorders
It’s a shame that while nutritional extremisms are difficult to follow, they can soon have unpleasant consequences. That’s why I’m always hitting the make peace with food and body and eat everything.
One of my critics said this phrase is condescending to binge eaters and “typical of naturally thin people who don’t know what they’re talking about.” However, one of the serious problems with nutritional extremisms and restrictive diets is that they are a risk factor for eating disorders such as binge eating.
In these cases, where many factors (social, cultural, psychological, biological) are involved, the trigger for the development of an eating disorder can be a restrictive diet (almost every eating disorder starts with one!). The person already has a genetic predisposition, is on a restrictive diet and then develops this mental health problem.
The worst thing is that these diets are often prescribed by nutritionists or other health professionals, such as doctors, even though they do not have the skills and competences for dietary prescription.
With this we see that not only the general public needs to be aware of the need to prevent eating disorders and have a critical view of diets, but also health professionals need more emphasis on this topic in their professional training.
Eating disorders need to be treated with a multidisciplinary team, minimally composed of a psychiatrist, psychologist and nutritionist specialized and trained in the treatment of eating disorders. If you identify difficulties with eating that have affected your life, do not hesitate to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Therefore, in order to have health, well-being and quality of life, I recommend changing your eating habits gradually and eating everything. Thus, it is possible to rebuild a good relationship with food and with the body, as I show in my book “The 7 Pillars of Food Health“.
Enjoy your lunch!