Deciphering Contradictory Diet Advice

I do a lot of reading about fitness and nutrition all over the internet.  And let me tell you, it can be incredibly confusing.  Even seemingly reputable sources contradict each other.

Here’s a fun little exercise you can try too.  Go to these sites and see what they tell you about your Recommended Daily Intake for weight loss.

Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid Tool

American Cancer Society Calorie Counter

My Current Stats:

Age: 32
Height: 5’8″
Weight: 217
Sex: F

My Results:

Mayo Clinic (to lose weight) = 1200 calories per day plus 30-60 min of exercise per day.

ACS (heavy activity level) = 4340 calories per day to maintain, 3, 840 per day to lose.

So confusing.  And this is just one example of many conflicting pieces of advice you will find when you start digging.  Some places you will read about the dangers of high fat diets.  Other places you will read about the ineffectiveness of high carb diets.  Some will tell you never to eat coconut milk.  Others will tell you coconut milk is a miracle food.  All will state these tips in a way that makes them sound like facts based on science.  The truth is, very little of this information is based on real science.  Much of it is based on some science and a lot of interpretation.  Much of it is based on anecdotal evidence.  That is not science.

What’s a person to do?  I just want to get healthy.  I don’t want to do anything harmful to myself like undereating.  I got so spun up in the low carb, low fat thing that I ended up eating mostly protein!  I’ll leave it to your imagination what that did to my digestive system.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize over a year of getting healthy: Listen to your own body.  If you are meticulous about calorie counting, you can determine what level of caloric intake will cause weight loss.  Give it a month and if you neither gain nor lose, change the amount.  It is tedious, but you will learn about how your body works.  Because in all honesty, how could a chart or calculator possibly account for all types of people?  My bf weighs 240 pounds and is 5’9″.  Any one of those charts would say he is obese.  But what none of them take into account is your body composition- muscle vs fat.  My bf is a bodybuilder.  He certainly is not obese.

Low fat?  Low Carb?  How about neither.  Just eat sensibly.  It is obviously much too complicated to be broken down into simplistic terms.  Some fat is good.  Some carbs are good.  Does science truly understand how nutrition affects the body?  I think we do not.  So it is a mistake to think any particular type of diet is going to be the silver bullet and to drastically alter your caloric intake based on flawed science with unknown consequences.  It all comes back to moderation.  Only the physics aspect is true without a doubt (Calories in/Calories out) but what that means to each individual isn’t so clear.

My biggest piece of advice on this subject is to be very skeptical about everything you read when it comes to nutrition.  Try to eat the least processed foods possible.  Whole food will always be better.  For example, instead of apple juice or and apple fruit roll, just have an apple.  Avoid any food that says “DIET” “LIGHT” “LITE” “LOWFAT” or “LOWCARB” on it’s label.  These words are hiding other factors about the food.  Always read the small print and if it is unavailable, avoid that food like the plague.  This is a pretty simple and effective method of dieting and getting the healthiest and least chemically altered foods.  And it is not restrictive in that you really can eat anything as long as you stay within your calorie range.

2 thoughts on “Deciphering Contradictory Diet Advice

  1. as a side note, that ACS calculator looks COMPLETELY wrong. At sedentary it’s putting me at 3k a day, no other calculator does that. It also has no age factor. ACS – for cancer, not weight advice.

    but yea in general, we’re still learning how the whole body works. Things like paleo/primal are triggering into new knowledge but are probably too extreme too. Use judgement and build something sustainable. People usually fall off hard all the extreme stuff.

  2. My son is on the so called cave diet (meat and veg only) He looks and feels healthy mind you he is 21! I have had friends on macrobiotic diets eating mainly grains and on raw food diets. This is so confusing best as you say to use common sense!

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