I first started working in the fitness industry during the time when it seemed like the entire nutrition industry believed that dietary fat was evil, and the cause of obesity as well as many diseases. Of course, many now look back on that and think how wrong we were and question how we could possibly have believed such a thing and how, thankfully, we now know the “right” way for humans to eat. Yet, interestingly, body fat is often used as the sign of the diet’s effectiveness on our health.
The understanding that body fat was unhealthy was presented with the history of how in the mid 1900s we learned how to produce food at such a scale that it was cheap and developed tools that reduced our daily physical activity, creating a social status indicator that was the opposite of how it was previously. With the belief that before this time people who physically worked were thinner from laboring and not able to eat as much due to cost, while those who were higher on the socio-economic scale didn’t have to labor and could eat more. Thus, carrying more fat was desirable until it was easy to do and then carrying less was the ideal.
While this explanation doesn’t at all address the health implications that body fat is supposed to have, it does give a solid story about how we as a society developed our issues with body fat. It cannot, however, be a true story because it doesn’t explain how the most popular books in the United States in the 1800s were diet books. In the book A Short History of the American Stomach, Frederick Kaufman writes about how many of the new diets of today are actually diets from the 19th century. The modern day versions certainly have new names and the options our food industry has been able to create are remarkable, but the essence is the same. Which I would think could make one question the trust that they have placed in the current dietary plan.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of diet books and they may all work but they are too contradictory to think that they will work for everyone. But they don’t have to work for everyone, they just have to work for you. And that, I believe, should be the guiding focus for whatever dietary plan you have.
How do you know if your diet is working for you? You pay attention and you track. Tracking means writing down when you eat, what you eat and how much you eat. Paying attention is not only writing down how you feel in your diet tracker, but also watching your body metrics (blood sugar, cholesterols, body weight, etc.) which over time can provide insights into how your body is responding to your diet. The tricky part is to not overvalue the measurements. It can be far too easy to have a number on the scale override your efforts and seem like a much more real indicator of how your diet is working for you than the fact that you aren’t as exhausted at the end of a day. If this sounds familiar, please consider not using the scale. There are so many great reasons to pay attention to what you are eating and while numbers can seem real and objective, placing too much importance on them can cause harm to the far more important goal of optimizing health.
I know it can be tedious, but the simple fact is that the more you consistently track when, what and how much you eat, as well as how it makes you feel, the better you will understand your body and how to provide the best nutrition for it.
As always, let me know how I can help.