“…if it were humanly possible to objectively and with a truly open mind sift through all the various research, theory and evidence on optimum diet and lifestyle, you’d end up sobbing mess with no idea as to what was best.”
We all love a good dietary fad, it makes a great topic to polarise discussions and descend into youtube comment style insults. And I’m no exception, I’ve chewed and argued my way through macrobiotic, raw food, junk food, organic food, no food, Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, vagatarian, contrarian and utilitarian diets. With Paleo is the flavour of the moment for me and quite a few of my hobo comrades.
Opinions are like nipples1
(Everyone has them)
And I had two insightful but ultimately contradictory responses. This neatly illustrates the problem with trying to unravel truth from the plethora of divergent theory, evidence and opinions relating to optimal diet and lifestyle.
First let me regurgitate (pun intended) and analyse the two responses here:
Mr Lawler – if it works why fall off?
(Test results back up the theory)
“An awesome two months” seems to be some pretty good anecdotal evidence on my part. Moreover, not mentioned in the tweet is that over the last 15 years of experimentation I’ve found that that wheat, grains and dairy products pretty reliably make me feel tired (hyperglycemic?), irritable and a variety of other discomforts. I’m finding that my experience converges on something very similar to the Paleo diet being optimal for me.
Mr Tulley: Choose life over Paleo
(Theory isn’t everything)
Whilst it might be tempting to try and apply a simple set of rules, my takeaway from Mr Tulley‘s “Choose life” comment is that our instincts can often be closer to the mark on what is right for us (instincts themselves are born from very powerful decision making processes not normaly available to our conscious mind see Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking).
To hijack Mr Nassim Taleb‘s metaphor on cats vs washing machines – we are like cats not washing machines. Humans are extraordinarily complex and somewhat unpredictable systems that require a certain amount of disorder. Simple rules and constant conditions do not apply to, or benefit us in the same way they do a washing machine.
So What’s a caveman to do?
I’d wager my best caveman club that if it were humanly possible to objectively and with a truly open mind sift through all the various research, theory and evidence on optimum diet and lifestyle, you’d end up sobbing mess with no idea as to what was best. There’s so much passion, ego, argument, evidence and contradiction as to what makes healthy Homo Erectii (and indeed Homo sapiens).
My 2 cents
So rather than leave you in the lurch with a “we know that we don’t know” conclusion, allow me to throw you some scraps left over from my 15 year hunt through dietary fads and experimentation.
Look for convergence
Whilst there may be a lot of contradiction and misinformation, at some point one would hope a Darwinian champion to emerge. In the same vein as evolutionary theory, we would expect fads to come and go with some sort of convergence towards health e.g. it seems pretty universal that cutting down on processed foods and sugar benefits our bodies.
We’re not all equal
I’m always amused by the petty battles that lifestyle and dietary discussion seem to descend into. Adding fuel to these flame wars is the fact that we are not all a like, and what works for Human A could be the nemesis for Human B. I’d suggest looking for “what works for me”, and not expecting the exact same results as anyone else.
In this context Via Negativa basically means taking harmful things out rather than putting beneficial things in – I think it’s generally easier and healthier to look at taking away the bad. For example I’d cut out processed food first before tinkering with supplements or Acai berries.
The weakest link
We’re complex systems with many interdependent parts, diet is just one factor in our overall health and well being. Don’t forget to look at the big picture, eating well is good an’ all, but if you’re snorting coke of a hooker’s arse every night then don’t expect cutting out processed sugar to make it all better.
Recognise your beliefs
Our thoughts and beliefs have an undeniable effect on our reality. The confirmation bias and placebo effect of our own beliefs towards diet and lifestyle have a very real effect. If I believe the chocolate croissant I’m about to eat is bad, then there’s a good chance I’ll feel bad after eating it. Of course my beliefs may be nonsense, or perhaps even harmful, in which reality is going to catch up and bite me in the arse at some point.
I think the antidote for this potential trap is to acknowledge that you have a set of beliefs and assumptions and strive to keep an open mind to contradictory claims or evidence. However, if you’ve found something that you believe is working, then keep doing it! Just have at the back of your mind the notion that your beliefs are unlikely to be 100% correct, and at some point they will likely change anyway.
Think back to five years ago, did you hold the exact same beliefs as to what an optimum diet/lifestyle was?
Dinner in Tokyo, raw horse and an egg
1. “Opinions are like nipples” reference, the brilliant 24b/6