Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The basic criteria for a good diet

with 5 comments

Some people have trouble staying on a diet for more than a week or two. Their intentions are good, but they find they just can’t stick to it. Almost always the reason is that their diet fails to satisfy the basic criteria listed below.

Whenever you are having difficulty forcing yourself to do something (cardio exercise, for example), spend some serious thought and time and perhaps even money to set yourself up so that the thing you must do becomes enjoyable. If it becomes more fun to do than not to do, you are drawn to it rather than having to push yourself to it.

For cardio exercise, I found Nordic walking to be very enjoyable, and at the link are the criteria it satisfied. The post also discusses its value as a cardio exercise, describes the equipment, provides some reference links for equipment, and has videos of people doing Nordic walking. Nordic walking is excellent cardio exercise: see “Aerobics” revisited and my current Aerobics score.

In another context, my guide to gourmet shaving describes how to use the same strategy with shaving: if you make shaving an enjoyable activity, then you look forward every day to the pleasure of your morning shave. (I hated shaving and had a beard for more than three decades. When my job required shaving, that’s when I decided to figure out how to making shaving enjoyable. Now each morning begins with the pleasurable ritual of a good shave, thanks to having learned about good tools and good technique.)

So if you want to stick to a healthy diet, apply the same strategy: create a healthy and satisfying diet that you will enjoy sticking to indefinitely. Since it will be your permanent diet, it must satisfy six basic criteria:

1. A good diet is nutritionally complete.

It must provide all the necessary nutrients—vitamins, minerals, etc.—that your body needs to maintain health. For example, your (new, permanent) diet must include the essential proteins and the omega-6 and omega-3 fats that your body cannot make for itself, along with adequate calcium, zinc, iron, manganese, vitamins (A, B12, C, E, K, etc.), and so on and on. This is a basic requirement. If a diet fails this criterion, don’t choose it. (Goodbye, celery-and-water diet.) You can verify that your diet is complete by using the (free) program at Cronometer.com. (I did pay the $35/year Gold fee to get some additional features, but that’s optional.)

Cronometer displays the specific nutrients you are consuming, with a progress bar for each nutrient. If you hover the mouse over the progress bar for a nutrient, a popup displays a sorted list of your sources of that nutrient. Under “Trends > Nutrition Report” you can see the daily averages for the nutrients for any date range you specify.

If some nutrient is deficient, search “foods high in” that nutrient and add one or two of those to your diet. This is better than using a supplement, since nutrients are usually better absorbed from food than from a supplement, and indeed some supplements don’t work at all. For example, I found I was short of selenium, so I added 1 brazil nut a day to my diet, and that provides 165% of the RDA for selenium.

People who go on a diet that is not nutritionally complete cannot stay on the diet for long (or their health suffers from a lack of one or more necessary nutrients), but doing the diet for just a short time fits with their goal: to lose weight very quickly so they can get off the diet as soon as possible, especially since such diets are sadly lacking in the “tasty” department (e.g., the celery-and-water diet).

The dieter is willing to suffer through a tasteless diet (that generally also leaves them feeling always hungry) for a short while to lose some weight, and then eagerly returns to their regular way of eating—which is what put the weight on in the first place. (It is to avoid this yo-yo effect that the change in your diet must be permanent, and that requires that it be nutritionally complete.)

2. A good diet includes a wide variety of foods from which to choose.

If the diet does not include a wide selection of food, the diet in time becomes boring.

3. A good diet is tasty, so that you enjoy your meals.

Tastiness comes in part from the choice of food and in part from the meal is prepared. Thus to satisfy this criterion, you must prep and cook the food in a way that makes it tasty, and since that is something you must do, you should spend some time and thought on how to make doing it enjoyable. (My current diet advice includes some tips on meal preparation: tools, techniques, tips, recipes, and attitude. Scroll down until you come to the subheading “Prepare your meals from scratch—it quickly becomes enjoyable” and start reading there.)

4. A good diet’s meals are filling and do not leave you feeling hungry.

It’s important you not feel hungryat the end of the meal and not between meals (because you want to avoid eating between meals). The trick here is to avoid refined sugar and simple carbs, and favor instead foods with ample dietary fiber, a very important carb.  You don’t restrict dietary fiber intake even in low-carb (where you restrict net carbs—total carbs minus dietary fiber) because fiber is good: Fiber Is Good for You. Now Scientists May Know Why. And see also this 6-minute video. When I switched to a whole-food plant-based diet, I was surprised at how filling it was. I had to cut back on the amount I cooked just because I couldn’t eat it all. And though I did shed excess weight easily, I never felt hungry.

5. A good diet does not focus solely on calories.

Look beyond the caloric content of the food to its quality as food. Although 100 calories of refined sugar and 100 calories of walnuts are identical insofar as calories are concerned, they differ a lot in their impact on your metabolism and body: 100 calories of refined sugar immediately raises blood glucose levels, triggering an insulin rush, followed by an energy crash and hunger (and, if repeated enough, you become insulin resistant, and that’s the threshold to diabetes). In contrast, 100 calories of walnuts is digested slowly, keeping blood glucose levels on an even keel and extending satiation, and also provides dietary fiber and omega-3, an essential fatty acid.) Read this: CICO Killer, Qu’est-Ce Que C’est? (That is one installment in a series of posts on the problem of obesity. You can see the (current) full table on contents in this post.)  And see also Death of the Calorie.

Looking solely at calories also overlooks a key factor losing weight: your gut microbiome. (And eat fresh fruit: it’s a probiotic.)

Update: And calories do not explain the obesity epidemic. Read “A Chemical Hunger,” and in this connection, read particularly Part 2 “Current Theories of Obesity Are Inadequate.” That section specifically debunks the “Calories In, Calories Out” (CICO) argument (aka “Eat Less, Move More”).

“This model seems to exist mostly to make lean people feel smug,” writes Stephen Guyenet, “since it attributes their leanness entirely to wise voluntary decisions and a strong character. I think at this point, few people in the research world believe the CICO model.”

/update

This is not to say that calories should be ignored altogether: focus first on the quality of the food, but also watch cumulative calories. Cronometer.com, mentioned above, can help by displaying your calorie budget (for your weight loss/gain) and the amount remaining on the “Diary” page. First go to “Settings > Profile” and enter your personal information, including your level of activity, and then under “Settings > Targets” specify the rate at which you want to lose/gain weight. From that Cronometer computes the calorie budget and tracks your progress as you enter the foods you eat. But the first priority is to choose quality foods.

One important measure of the quality of food is that it be a whole food rather than a processed food or a refined food. Processed foods tend to contain refined sugar (especially high-fructose corn syrup, because it’s cheap) and high levels of sodium, and they generally leave you unsatisfied and wanting to eat more (perhaps coincidentally, this benefits the manufacturer of the food by increasing sales volume). See this article. And refining a food results in something whose effect on the body differs a lot from the whole food—for example, refined sugar hits blood glucose levels hard; the sugar in fruit does not.

6. A good diet does not require the purchase of proprietary products.

“Products” means product foods (canned liquid meals, frozen dinners, and so on). A good diet helps you learn how to make healthy meals using food from the supermarket: produce, fruit, grains, beans, and so on. If you have to eat proprietary food, you are either going to live on that forever, or you are going to stop and revert to your regular diet — and regain any lost weight.

I also think on-going membership fees are not a good idea, but I do have to recognize that WW Freestyle has indeed helped many people, and their points system nudges people toward making better food choices and learning to make permanent alterations in their diet.

The diet set out in Part 2 of  Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Die, a book well worth reading, does satisfy the above criteria. I’ve had no problem sticking with the diet because I thoroughly enjoy the food, both preparing it and eating it. In this post I describe the approach I worked out and the lessons learned. The post is lengthy because I learned a lot.

How Not to Diet

Dr. Michael Greger has recently published a comprehensive guide to dieting, which he describes in this video on evidence-based weight loss. The book, How Not to Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss, is well worth reading and is based on the findings of sound nutritional research. It includes footnotes that identify the studies that support the recommendations made in the book so that you can read the studies if you want to know more..

Updated as of 26 November 2019

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2018 at 7:37 am

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Nice info, but does this include red meat, poultry and fish? As someone who does intense weight training, it’s imperative that protein from animal sources are included in my diet.

    Like

    Joe

    10 July 2019 at 3:04 pm

  2. Actually, you don’t need protein from animal sources, even if you’re training hard. This documentary of the experience of elite athletes on a whole-food plant-based diet will be of interest: The Game Changers. At the link you’ll see where you can stream the documentary — among other sites, it’s available on Netflix. One nice touch: in the documentary you see some delicious-looking meals — and you can find the recipes on the movie website.

    Watch also this brief video:

    and, on a more somber note, this video (which is among several on the effects of meat in one’s diet:

    But what I wrote above is completely independent of meat, poultry, and fish. If you read it carefully, you’ll see that what is discussed is the diet and whether it is complete and satisfying.

    For more information, see the material at the links in the post.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    10 July 2019 at 3:08 pm

  3. Thanks for the info, and the YouTube clip.

    Like

    Joe

    11 July 2019 at 1:52 am

  4. You’re welcome, and do check out the links in the post above. There’s a lot of information available nowadays, though of course there’s also a lot of misinformation as well. Be careful out there. 🙂

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    11 July 2019 at 6:24 am

  5. BTW, I just came across this blog post by Dr. Greger this morning, though IGF-1 is a well known factor in nutrition. (You might find the movie Forks Over Knives of interest, and IGF-1 is discussed there as well. Link is to Netflix.)

    IGF-1 comes from animal protein.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    11 July 2019 at 8:42 am


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: