Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Workout Wednesday: Diet Trends

Something I’ve noticed in the past two years or so is that there are cycles, or trends, if you will, in types of dieting and nutrition. I have followed people on Instagram (try @skinnymeg31, @jazzythings, @dallassrae, @busygirlseatclean, @corinanielsen, @shivalicious89, @trishallen, @fromfatgirlto5k, @fitalicious_me, @tastyhealth) and watched their journeys. Some of them started overweight and lost a lot of weight. Some of them started thin and got healthy and toned. Some of them decided to do bikini and physique competitions. Some of them got to an unhealthy weight, ruined their metabolisms, or developed eating disorders. Many of them have evolved in the way they think about nutrition. While they all have had different paths, they have the same goal: health and balance. They also love food! I’ve learned a lot just by reading their posts, seeing their food, and observing their development.

There are a few dieting trends I see that have lingered in the last couple of years. Rather than research all of these in detail, I just want to review each of them briefly including what my impressions have been. I also want to provide a little direction if you want to find out more about any of these. Do your own research. Always! 

Intermittent Fasting

This actually is a growing trend, still in its beginning phases from what I’ve seen. I’ve done a little research and would like to do more, and maybe even try it out sometime. Essentially, intermittent fasting is the idea that you go without food for a period of time, and you consume all your daily calories within a small time frame. This can vary from 4 to 8 hours of “feeding.” Then you spend another period of time fasting. Some people do this constantly. Some people cycle with a few days of fasting, and a few days off. I can’t attest to the best way to do it. {This guy} says that your body will adjust to the type of eating that you do. For example, if you currently get hungry and eat every few hours, it’s because your body has come to expect that. The same will go for fasting for longer periods of time. The types of food you eat in your “feeding” period depend on your goals, but some say you can eat whatever you want. {This article} has some great explanations of your options. My cousin has also recommended {this guy’s book}.

I feel like this would be a major adjustment for anybody, but it seems interesting and doable, especially if you have so much freedom. It also appears to get good results for people. I’ve heard in general that fasting is actually a very healthy thing to do regularly, so I don’t see too many drawbacks, especially reading the research in Steve’s article. 

Gluten Free

Again, I haven’t done too much research on this trend. I started to read the book Wheat Belly after a foodie friend read it and posted about it. It’s very compelling as the author, William Davis, M.D., has seen some great results for himself and in his patients. By “great results,” I am not just talking about weight loss. He says that some benefits of cutting out wheat gluten help with intestinal problems, cholesterol, bone density, skin conditions, joint inflammation, and more. Some people go gluten free because they have a serious intolerance, and others do it for different reasons. The overwhelming majority of people I've observed do not make this a permanent lifestyle. But they do attest to feeling great when they do it.

While I’m not a big bread or pasta eater, I love baked goods, sandwiches, and pizza. I notice the difference in my bathroom experiences when I eat wheat in certain forms, and because of this I've thought about trying to go gluten free to see how it makes me feel. I anticipate it would make me feel better (because veggies), though I doubt I’d be as serious about it as some people are. Besides, you find gluten in {the craziest places}!

Clean Eating

This is the biggest and most powerful trend of eating that I have observed and also participated in. For those unfamiliar with “clean eating,” just consider it to be the simplest type of eating. Sticking with whole foods—fruits, veggies, whole grains like oats, brown rice, and quinoa, lean meats, and certain oils (like olive or coconut)—is usually qualified as “clean.” Many clean eaters also stay away from especially starchy foods, like white potatoes. Some will eat plain Greek yogurt, and others don’t drink milk, but go with almond or coconut milk instead. Although you can tell from the ingredients that these often have more ingredients than a typical clean food would. A devoted clean eater might also encourage you to only get your sugar from .fruits, though less processed sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or molasses are also used, albeit sparingly. Try {The Gracious Pantry} for clean eating recipes and explanations. Technically if you avoid processed foods, you also may get rid of a lot of the refined foods and therefore end up somewhat gluten free anyway. Many of the people who make clean eating a priority have a cheat day or cheat meal every week. This idea is debatable in the health world.

What I notice on days I eat especially well is how much better I feel, especially during workouts. I have a very keen sense of self-awareness when it comes to my body and how foods and habits affect me. I feel that our bodies know what to do with healthy, real foods, and that these are definitely the best for us when it comes to performance and how we feel. I love the simplicity of it as the recipes by @busygirlseatclean on Instagram are so easy to make (7 ingredients or fewer). But as I’ve said repeatedly, I have a very hard time staying away from the less healthy foods I love. (Try Chinese for dinner on Monday, Noodles & Co. chicken Alfredo for dinner on Tuesday, peach cobbler and ice cream both nights, and Belgian waffle/eggs/bacon at The Original Pancake House this morning.) The benefits of eating this way are numerous to me, though I find it very difficult to maintain. Also some clean eaters can be judgmental and get into the habit of making other people feel bad for foods they eat—I’ve done it! 


Oh, you’ve all heard of Paleo by now. Based on the Paleolithic diet eaten by cavemen, this one is a {very simple diet}, even simpler than clean eating. Its name may not be appropriate since most of the foods we eat today, even our normal produce, were not available to cavemen {see this video}. However, the idea behind it is that we are genetically adapted to eating certain foods. Paleo dieters eat a lot of protein, few carbohydrates, more (good) fats, low sodium, etc. The amount of protein we actually need as a species is debatable, as is the way in which we obtain the protein (meat vs. veggies, beans, etc.). With this diet you also have the cutting out of refined foods and wheat gluten, obtaining carbohydrates mostly from vegetables.

I think a diet high in vegetables is always a good thing, but I also believe in lower meat consumption, and I think legumes and peanuts are perfectly healthy! So this diet has never really appealed to me because it is restrictive even of healthy foods. Again, many people claim to feel great when they eat this way, but I’m not sure what we really should attribute that to. Is it the lower sugar and cutting out of wheat gluten? Is it the increase in vegetables and good fats? Is it all of it put together? I guess the answer is to do your own research or try it out yourself.

IIFYM – Flexible Dieting and Reverse Dieting

I think what makes flexible dieting so interesting is how many people I’ve seen “convert” to it after developing eating disorders (several of the Instagram accounts I mentioned earlier discuss their process of reverse dieting). For a humorous and interesting introduction, I’d recommend following @biolayne on Instagram, or look at {his YouTube channel}. You may also want to check out the {Flexible Dieting eBook} by Krissy Cagney, or follow her on Instagram @kmaecags. Heads up, she has a foul mouth. (She has a lovely movement called “Doughnuts and Deadlifts,” which I think sums this idea up pretty well.) Both Norton and Cagney use science to explain why you don’t have to eat clean all the time. You use the “if it fits your macros” idea to fit in the foods that are good for you, and the ones you enjoy, all in one day. The general idea is 80% healthy foods, and the other 20% “sanity foods.” This is meant to help you keep your sanity by preventing you from binging on foods that you tell yourself are “off limits.” It helps you be more aware of portions and macros for accomplishing goals. Another good piece of reading is {Corina Nielsen’s latest blog post} on food phobias and food shaming. She stresses moderation. 

an example of @corinanielsen's flexible dieting day
As far as my observations go, I’ve seen that this method gives all my favorite fitness people really good results. The downside is the constant measuring and weighing you have to do to count your macros (fat, carbs, protein). The upside is being able to fit your favorite “unhealthy” foods into your macros. You calculate your macros based on your personal goals, and the experts can help you do that. Though even using something as simple as the MyFitnessPal app or website can be helpful to start. I like that this helps people keep a healthy relationship with food, making it so that they don’t feel bad when they decide to eat some pizza or ice cream at the end of the day.

Final Comments

Now, look, folks, I am no health expert. I don’t have a nutrition certification or degree. I don’t have a personal training certification. I’m just an observer. I see a lot of merit to all of the different diet trends that are out there. And if weight loss or health is the goal, then I bet any one of the above would work, at least for a small period of time. The question you have to ask yourself is what would work for you, what makes you feel the best, and are you going to gain all your weight back if you quit?

I believe in moderation in life. The same goes for food. Did I feel bad for eating all that Chinese food on Monday, or the pasta from Noodles & Company on Tuesday? Nope; food is delicious. Were they the healthiest options? Probably not. Did I keep the portions in control, or fit them in my macros? Definitely not. Should I make some changes? Probably. Should I just give up on being healthy and eat all the things? No way Jose. Is there hope? Yes.

I believe you can enjoy life, enjoy “unhealthy” food, and still be healthy. I’m no health expert, but I love food. I’m learning. And this is all a process. Striking a balance is the key, and I think flexible dieting is probably the most sensible bet for anybody looking to get and stay healthy.

*Post edit: I still stick with what I said in my last paragraph, although I should specify it as more of a loose guide than actual specific tracking (80% healthy 20% not). Corina Nielsen specified to me that she stopped tracking and then started again to accomplish some fitness goals she has, saying, "The idea behind tracking is that it helps keep you aware of portions, macros for goals, etc. Definitely not a lifelong thing to do, I would shoot myself lol!"

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