This article originally appeared on the gritandteeth page. After some recent controversy regarding an age-old argument it became apparent that the sentiment found below is still very relevant and useful to some.
Jump the Shark
It’s hard to accurately identify a threat these days. Between driving, chronic stress, and the societal pressure to always be striving for more, our senses are on overtime, our nervous systems are frayed. It’s no wonder why we fall for sensationalism, we have very little bandwidth left to determine real existential threats. If you want to fear solely by the numbers, terrorist organizations, combined have killed approximately 18,000 people last year and 186,000 over the previous decade (most of which have occurred in countries that you wouldn’t be reading this in) This is a tragic consequence of almost impossible to know factors, very few of which we have control over. Consequently, while we are busy taking our shoes off at the airport, deaths incurred by risk factors associated with Type II diabetes and heart disease (influenced heavily and in some cases solely by nutrition) have killed millions—and that’s just counting this year so far.
Jump the shark is a term referring to the absurdity that a television series must rise to if it is to continue to enthrall its viewers. It comes from reference of the television series, Happy Days where "The Fonze" attempted to jump a shark on water skis. This over-the-top plot most commonly occurs in the third or fourth season, and is an impossible attempt at keeping the viewer interested in an unresolved narrative that can never wrap up a conclusion with the antagonist, hence it would be the end of the series and the end of paychecks for all involved; coincidentally, it sounds similar to the military action of the Middle East for the past three decades as well as news regarding diets for the same time period.
We unfortunately map our news like we do our entertainment; we need exponentially aggressive headlines in order to grab our attention, in order to tell us who or what to fear. We need enemies, and what better place to find a foe than in our food. Spoiler alert, when looking for the real enemy it is best to look inward—the bad guy is us, the consumer, the reader, the human who can't identify the real threat to his own safety. It is this irrational beast that avoids apples because of fructose, bread because FODMAPS but continues to watch Dexter past the 4th season.
MEET THINE ENEMY
How harmful are the stories we create? There is an unending assortment of diets that will in some way or another tell you a story of how to eat in order to achieve X. This could be anything from losing weight (most popular), gaining weight (a close second), curing a disease (strong possibility of bullshit), improved sex life (tantric salad?), increased spirituality (no comment), and there are hundreds of thousands of other claims in between. What they should sell you is a diet book named by its real power, The Diet Diet Book: ‘make cult-like friends, alienate those that disagree, and learn absolutely nothing about nutrition’.
Diet books are masterful in their marketing, persuasive in their sales-pitch, and utterly worthless in their content. The media promotes them on the basis of being controversial but they are more often than not just a bad interpretation of what the research actually says. They get away with this for the most part because you (the consumer) are stupid and don’t want real usable information, you want cliff notes that are repeatable at cocktail parties and help you sound ”revolutionary”. We don’t want information, we want a story, a fairytale that allows us to wash our previous sins and blame our previous misunderstanding of a topic on an international conspiracy—a big bad wolf. If you wanted to really understand your own nutrition, you would pick up a textbook, you would dig into the references; you would practice nutrition—not just bitch about it. The basics of sound nutrition are so fundamentally well understood that it makes any attempt at repeating them seem asinine, but in the unlikely circumstance you missed it the first time around here is a review:
Calories fucking matter. You’ll notice I don't say they are the ONLY thing that matters, but they are the most influential, as in you cannot overwrite the importance of a calorie balance. I don't care how messed up your thyroid is—if you don’t eat, you are going to die. More than 7 and a half million people die every year from starvation, do you really still want to use the excuse that calories don’t matter? "But hormones!" some asshole will scream from behind his phone screen, someone else might mutter to his friends that quit listening "what about food quality?" this is what we call putting the horse before the cart, they are ingredients, they matter, just not in the order that makes a liberal portion of guacamole cancel out the caloric load because you took the bun off your burger. I still hear—even from somewhat respectable people in the nutrition world—that they admonish calories in calories out, maybe for good reason, pointing to its association with a neurotic approach to diet; a risk factor in rare cases of eating disorders. But this is a mistake—not one intelligible person believes that all calories are equal, that is not what calories in calories out means. No one is saying they don’t influence powerful hormonal fluctuations. What we insinuate is that there is an amount of calories that influences weight gain and weight loss, to deny this is to deny the cause of death that almost equals the death toll of the holocaust each and every year.
Beyond this, there is a healthy amount of minimally required fats and protein that needs to be consumed in order to stay alive, there are also essential vitamins and minerals that need to be present not in just delaying death but a specific amount individually required to live optimally, but instead of acknowledging that proper micronutrients that are specific requirements on an individual basis, diet gurus and the hordes of morons that follow them want to bastardize education, and pigeon hole the argument by blaming: "IT'S SUGAR THAT'S THE ENEMY!!!! AAAHHHGGgghhs".
CARB-FREE IS THE NEW GLUTEN-FREE
Carbohydrates are NOT essential for staying alive, neither are iPhones, but telling people they don’t need them, and trying to organize the government based off of bogus studies to tax them is going to make people angry and makes you look like an asshole for doing so. The data showing how carbohydrates can enhance performance and optimize the human body is robust (to say the least). I totally respect your choice in abstaining from an entire food group, but please quit trying to convince my friends and family to convert to your diet so that you feel better about it. We really are so happy that you decided in your 40's and 50's to quit eating like a toddler, but that doesn't mean we appreciate your newfound passion, and self-appointed position of dietary police. Contrary to your recent actions, Facebook is not the perfect place to spread that PubMed study that you haven’t actually read (let alone understand). Sugar isn’t anywhere near as toxic as your behavior, nor is it as addictive as the likes you get from posting that same fucking recipe of a bacon wrapped avocado.
PERCEPTION IS A MOTHER-FUCKER
Pay attention very closely—nutrition is not a cure; it is a form of therapy. It is the first line of defense against obesity and other all-cause mortalities, but it is not a dip in the river Styx. This is important in understanding the larger picture because your sporadic relationship with food is based on the false idea that you can permanently influence your health with a temporary intervention like a 30-day challenge. Health is not a place, it is a state, influenced by its circumstances and perishable. Even in rare scenarios where nutrition highly effects the outcome of a malady or disorder like Epilepsy (in which case a ketogenic diet may be appropriate), it is because it is therapeutic, it needs to constantly and consistently be addressed in order to provide any benefit, this is just the same as preventing or reversing obesity and Type II diabetes. But unlike a specific drug protocol, nutrition has vastly different tolerances, the vacillation and consequences are not always immediate, therefore any idiot can tell you to pump coffee up your ass and it will take years of research to negate the advice, by that time he has long cashed the check based on your belief in a nutritional cure—to be fair I am not even sure it can be considered “nutrition” once a food item becomes a suppository.
DIET IS A PRESCRIPTION OF WHAT WE SHOULD EAT
NUTRITION IS OUR REACTION TO WHAT WE EAT
Just because it makes it in through your mouth does not mean it’s absorbed into your body. The goal of nutrition is to optimize our health, increase performance, and eventually extend the longevity of our terminal existence. This does not happen by just eating foods associated with health, but by eating foods that we have an overall positive reaction from, this difference is not just semantics, it is the art of programming intelligent nutritional practices. The best in our industry do this subconsciously, knowing there is nothing special about an acai bowl, or putting butter in your coffee, but there is something special about understanding our reaction to those foods.
There are specific parameters associated with health (no, it isn’t a six-pack) and for the most part it is the “lack of” that describes health, as in without illness. There are biomarkers that indicate a high incidence of risk factors that lead to illness, there are also certain food combinations that are negatively associated with these, namely a high occurrence of saturated fat and abnormally high intake of sugar. This, however, does not make either of these food items "bad", it means your reaction to them is. Individually, we have responses to food, 50g of sugar might wreak havoc in an individual prone to insulin resistance. However, it may increase very desirable attributes associated with recovery in others who have earned the metabolic right to consume it. There is a trend among the best of the best in nutrition to no longer label diets, but to promote a state best associated with health, longevity, or the ability to accomplish a task. Sometimes this is described as an average blood glucose level with mitigated fluctuations; this comes from a healthy reaction to food not an adherence to a specific food itself.
Nutrition lives on a U-shaped curve, in other words, sound nutrition is a balancing act of getting enough but not too much of any one thing that pushes us over the curve of optimum. Knowing this will make the sensationalism often found in articles selling fear and conspiracy even more frustrating. Yes, it is true that in the 70's there was indeed some shady political bullshit that led to the government recommending a high amount of carbohydrates. It is also true that they fear mongered the intake of fat. Often when this example is given as the sole cause of the obesity epidemic, it is conveniently left out that the past 50 years have been anything but low fat, in fact, despite the recommendation to abstain, Americans on average only shifted their dietary fat intake down 4%, but shockingly increased their overall caloric intake by 20%, that is a net gain of dietary fat intake. The exact opposite scenario is now playing out before your very eyes. Fat it seems is now a “super food”, its rise to power as a nutrient demi-god is the pendulum of idiocy swinging to an opposing side in search of a simple answer. Now the fear should be a reaction that will most likely end up killing quite a few people prematurely. As the demonization of sugar spreads and the glorification of eating coconut manna becomes more and more common, you will see an increase once again in obesity, not because fat is bad but because people never actually get rid of sugar or highly refined carbohydrates while increasing "healthy fats", and they certainly as a general rule don't limit their total amount of food.
And yet “experts” still blast the same message, “you don’t need to count calories, just choose these magical items, fear these foods, listen to my morning show interview, and buy my book”. Anytime the discouragement of more detailed information is promoted as an ideal, anytime you are disparaged from learning more about the elements of your own diet, you should be very wary. If we promoted the same behavior in finance people would lose their minds, and consequently their freedom, because any practice that encourages ignorance is not a successful one, it is simply an ignorance prison. The more you know about your personal nutrition then the more control you will have over your reaction to it. Tracking food is not easy, reading the dry nature of textbooks that have unbiased information on diet isn't fun, reducing the amount you eat in a world of marketed abundance is downright painful but doing so gives you a real defense in a world that, in all honesty. doesn't give a fuck if you are healthy or not. I guess in a sense, not giving into the sales pitch of a fad diet, understanding nutritional basics, and practicing a healthy dose of skepticism could be considered an act of rebellion, you could be a freedom fighter of the food industry, a lone hero whose sole mission is to stop the evil uprising of corporate greed, the spread of false narratives, and to brave extreme odds in order to truly find themselves in the 4th season with no other enemies but their own desire to eat a donut.