How many strict diets exist out there? It seems as though every couple of years a new one comes through the woodwork with all of the same claims. These claims start out with the creators of said diets, but eventually move on to the people who take up and follow these nutritional changes with sometimes ideological levels of following. With this multi-week investigation on dietary improvement that I’m currently pursuing I figured this was the next logical step in my research.
Now, why are there often benefits for people when they start following these new diets? I found that there are actually a couple of reasons that I could see, so let’s dig right in to them.
The Exclusion Effect
(Just to be clear, we don’t suggest taking part in any of these diets, and doing so should be a decision you make for yourself after educating yourself on the matter.)
Picture the average North American diet. What does it consist of? Do you see hamburgers, pizza, fries, pasta, and breakfast pastries? Do you see a daily dose of sugar in the forms of pop, flavored waters, ice cream, and confectioneries? Well, if you do, you’re actually not far from the truth. As a population we consume an average of 57 pounds of added sugar per person per year ! This makes sense when you note the ever-growing obesity epidemic, alongside the almost 1 in 3 people that now suffer from a metabolic disease related to sugar consumption.
Now, what if you were on a diet that excluded added sugar or carbohydrates like the carnivore or ketogenic diets? Instantly that flood of sugar is gone. Within a few weeks your joints feel better with less inflammation, less oxidative stress in your body, and no more rollercoasters of energy highs followed by an early afternoon sugar crash. With sugar gone that also means alcohol is out as well, preventing that hangover, poor sleep quality, and removing a portion of empty calories from your diet.
Next, imagine yourself on a diet that restricts the intake of processed meats such as the vegetarian or vegan diets. There go the poor saturated fat choices that the majority of people make when reaching for hot dogs, hamburgers, or salted and smoked meats. Over night this reduces the amount of artery clogging saturated and trans fats coming into your system. Many vegans also remove processed white sugar from their diets as well, getting a two-for-one deal on exclusion in their diet.
But, in our opinion the above are not the healthiest way to go about making a lifestyle change. Although you’re excluding negative health contributors, you’re also excluding essential nutrients with these exclusion diets or at least making it harder to get these without supplementation. You can get similar benefits by removing the things that detract from your overall well-being, while still taking in the nutrients that contribute to your health. It just takes a little bit of effort and investment in your health.
How often do you hear people self-identifying as a vegan, or as a ketogenic follower, or even as a carnivore? It seems that more and more these days people are touting their dietary choices as passionately as religion. But how much of their elation is due to this ideological following as opposed to purely benefits to their health? Sure, these exclusion diets each have their positives, but can it be argued truthfully that one is better than the other with broad sweeping strokes? Especially when the diverse genetic variability that exists in the world is taken into account, where people have food allergies, microbiomes that differ from person to person, and a multitude of contrasting lifestyle pursuits that require certain nutritional intakes. Then why is there a constant conversion effort by the masses following these diets and why are arguments breaking out about strangers’ dietary choices?
In part this can be explained by the phenomenon of the echo chamber. If you haven’t heard the term before, it refers to a group of people reaffirming their own pre-existing convictions by stating them to people that they know hold those same ideas. By doing this they get the positive emotion that goes along with feeling as though you’re correct, and hold the high ground in a dietary argument. The problem with these echo chambers is that the ideas that these groups hold can never be challenged. This slowly builds into an ideology that’s held with religious fervour, and you eventually get the veganism, carnivore, and ketogenic movements that, by their own followers’ convictions, are infallible and above questioning.
Another reason for this dietary tribalism is the feeling that people get from belonging to a group. Many in our society are lonely, and searching for something to belong to. Some of them find what they’re looking for in these dietary followings. They have social groups online that they can belong to, and with the added excitement of conflicts between rival tribes driving this bond they feel to their faction, this is exactly what many are looking for.
The problem with the above is that once something is beyond questioning, it becomes a very close-minded viewpoint. If we aren’t open to information that can be brought to our attention then it’s very easy to approach situations of controversy with a confrontational demeanor. Another problem with this is if we are unwilling to accept new information then we stand with the belief that we already know everything, and how boring would that be if we already had everything figured out?
What’s The Goal?
In essence, the masses don’t seek out these dietary followings to be confrontational. The majority of people in these groups are seeking health. They see claims online of cured chronic illness, disease and auto-immune disorders. It’s hard not to notice the positive changes that those following these diets exhibit. But they’re not the best way to go. There’s too much diversity in our human population for one broad sweep diet to be the ‘one’ for everyone, and arguing the opposite is just irresponsible. Our human diversity is a good thing. It means we don’t need these exclusion diets to see health benefits. We just need to make the conscious decision to educate ourselves and listen to what our bodies are telling us to the best of our abilities. That’s how we’ll find health as a group.
1. Common Foods Diets Exclude
2. Australian Exclusion Diets
3. Fat Loss and the Carnivore Diet
4. How Much Sugar is Too Much?
5. Diabetes in North America and the Caribbean
6. Dietary Tribalism