You can eat everything! (…just not at the same time)
Would you voluntarily put your leg in a cast without an injury!? …so why would you put yourself on a specialized restrictive diet without a diagnosed condition?
And yet, whenever I tell people what I do, inevitably they tell me (proudly) about the restrictions they’ve put themselves under.
Carb-free, gluten-free, fat-free, meat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, soya-free …I mean the list goes on and on! All this and more, usually from almost perfectly healthy individuals. Why would anyone do that to themselves?!
Full disclosure: I have not eaten meat at all since I was 13 – this purely because I find the texture very challenging. We all have our tastes and preferences, some of us have religious or cultural restrictions, and that’s okay: what matters is a diet YOU can live with.
But if your ‘diet’ cuts out a vital macronutrient or micronutrients, or vastly overloads you on protein, that’s not healthy or living and likely bordering on socially unacceptable.
Where do these fads come from? I’m a dietitian not a psychologist, but I have a few guesses:
Media: celebrities and zealots pushing their fads – perhaps for personal gain or sheer misguidedness, charismatic TV doctors, and wild claims that get repeated on the Internet fill up the public discourse and starve the oxygen out of any reasonable discussion. It’s a lot more interesting to read about “The One Secret Doctors Don’t Want You to Know About” or repost that funny picture on Facebook, than it is to read a peer reviewed journal. (Or listen to that boring dietitian drone on about balanced diet and exercise – the truth can be boring!)
Profit: food manufacturers listen to these trends very carefully! Nothing is more boring than selling oats for example, but wave a magic marketing wand and they are now gluten free oats that help in weight control, lower cholesterol, fight heart disease and are an excellent source of fibre — this stuff sells itself!
The crazier the fad, the easier it is to monetize, such as in case of sugared, coloured vitamin fortified waters marketed as an ergogenic aids.
Lazy Journalism: simplistic headlines always fail to convey the nuanced findings of studies – almost never mentions the conclusion of every study: more research necessary.
Us: We all like to push ourselves, and we all want to be special. The same good instinct that makes us think ‘I wonder if I can run that marathon’ makes us think crazy things like ‘I wonder if I could survive two weeks on lemon juice alone.’ (Please, please don’t do this!) I hate to say it, but some people do pick food allergies the same way you’d pick an obscure band to show how different you are.
Ambitious medical professionals: Sometimes I kick myself for worrying about being bound by HCPC ethical / professional obligations – otherwise I would just start a new fad! Let’s say benzoate, I could start telling everyone they need to avoid it like poison! Or something plausibly anthropological yet easy to repost on Facebook: say, that the builders of Stonehenge were incredibly fit and we all need to adopt the Late Neolithic Diet. I could become rich and famous!
Correlation mistaken for causation: People are very quick to blame a vegetable or gluten or dairy for their IBS-like symptoms rather than last night’s two gin and tonics before dinner and half a bottle of wine with dinner. And then it’s the dairy they cut out!
Now, we’re not going to change the world overnight. But go ahead – eat everything – I’m giving you the permission! Of course amount and frequency are key, but you can have a diet you can LIVE with, and it’s not so hard:
…Instead of getting your nutrition cues from a flavour of the month celebrity, instead of learning about nutrition from a supermarket chain or a TV doctor – the best policy is moderation and learning to enjoy everything. If your family has eaten dairy or gluten for generations – it is most likely that so can you! Come and learn to balance your diet with me.
Eating is an intensely social and cultural experience and excluding yourself from these experiences will not only cheat you out of a meal, but you are losing context and a occasion to partake in humanity’s most shared activity.