Making Sense of Eating

Charles Simpson

Coach Charles

Charles, one of our trainers, helps to unravel the secrets of eating healthily.

The Paleo diet swept into popularity with the running community faster than Ussain Bolt in the 100m dash. The diet’s claim: eat like paleolithic man (no processed foods, grains, or dairy) because “hunter-gatherers typically were free from the chronic illnesses and diseases that are epidemic in Western populations,” according to Dr. Cordain, the diet’s inventor.

The problem is that paleolithic-era man, while not suffering from diabetes, had a life expectancy of about 20 years and died of quite a few other health-related diseases we don’t have to worry about in an agricultural society (turns out calcium from dairy is important). But with minimalist running culture sweeping the nation, the back-to-our-ancestry paleo diet quickly gained popularity to become the new South Beach, which was for a time the new Atkins, which was for a time the new Jenny Craig.

The point is, diets fall in and out of fashion, but there are some lessons we can take from all of them. To help make sense of the madness, US News compiled research on 29 popular diet plans and ranked them among several criterion. And for the majority of us not looking for a strict diet regiment there are two key take-aways from US News’ work: 1) the right diet varies between individuals and, 2) there are a few universal guidelines that can be drawn from any effective diet plan.

This is important because regardless of which (if any) diet plan you buy in to, they mostly boil down to a few basic principles that we’ve all been taught since 1st grade and that we have known about as a civilization since the Big Man told the Israelites about the benefits of a bacon-free diet from Mount Sinai:

1. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. They have a low caloric content and lots of important nutrients.

2. Avoid sweet, fatty, salty, and heavily processed foods (for in depth reading on processed versus home cooked, see Cooked by Michael Pollan). Pretty much anything that your mother would have told you not to fill up on before dinner, don’t fill up on.

3. Get protein from lean sources like fish, eggs, and nuts rather than fatty foods like sausage.

4. Don’t overeat.

Whether the diet is wrapped up as Paleo or stamped as Atkins or brand named South Beach, they all aim to help you meet the aforementioned objectives. This means that anyone can eat healthily without conforming strictly to any one diet plan, and that we all know fairly intuitively what is healthy and what is not even without Dr. Oz leaning over our shoulders. The tough bit, then, isn’t choosing a diet plan, but in making the conscious choice to eat a carrot rather than a curly fry. Compounding the difficulty is that salty, fatty, and sugary foods are literally addictive – our bodies crave them (for in depth reading see Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss). The good news is that the body adapts to lose these cravings and feel good on a healthy diet if given the time to transition away from bad food and into healthy eating. In other words, you can train your body to enjoy eating healthily.

So whether you call yourself a caveman, a Weight Watcher, a vegan, or a freegan, being aware of what you eat and taking the initiative to choose the healthy option is what makes the difference. So the stick driving your healthy eating is avoiding the diseases and other issues brought on by grease, salt, and too many calories. And the carrot (pun intended) for runners is the benefit to your speed. According to Runner’s World, 10 pounds less in weight equals 20 seconds less in time per mile. For a 5K, that means a minute faster finishing time. For marathoners, that means nine minutes in time saved, or a PR, or a qualification for Boston, or running through the finish rather than crawling. Simply put, eat healthier, run faster.

Say no to Cheetos.

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