Never before in the history of mankind have we ever been more divided when it comes to the food on our plate. Back when we were primitive cavemen fighting to live to see another day, it didn’t matter whether dinner came from a fruit on a tree or a freshly killed stag. Today, thanks to the luxury of modern technology, advances in medicine, and mass food production, that point in our evolution has become but a painted dream.
But in the comfort of luxury-, which many of us have taken for granted-, we’ve become totally eclipsed by the pleasure of eating and are losing our connection to eating for nourishment.
There are so many diets out there that you’re bound to land on one that’s best for you. And even if you do decide to follow a particular diet, you’ll soon find out that there are many different forms of adherence. Call it a “spectrum”.
Thus, today’s topic isn’t about what should be the perfect diet, or even how to do one perfectly, but is instead about what every diet, no matter how rigid or lax, should not be. It is also about finding a reason behind embarking on a diet, because oftentimes, people don’t really know why they’re eating a certain way in the first place.
So without further ado, let’s jump in.
A Closer Look Into Different Diets
Head over to Instagram, and find an account of a bikini competitor. Most likely, their handle incorporates their name and the word ‘fit’ at the end. It will most likely look something like this: Barbie_Fit, or ChefBoyardee_Fit.
At first glance, this person appears to be the pinnacle of health. They’re ultra shredded, and compete in body competitions showing off physiques so perfect you’d swear they were sculpted by the Greek gods. They look like they could fly right out of the pages of a comic book. This person shares videos of themselves working out, posing in front of a mirror with some kind of relevant, deep, philosophical quote in the caption, and talk about the mental challenges of their fitness journey. OK, so far, so good.
But then they get to their diet. And that’s when I’m riled up.
If Barbie_Fit or ChefBoyardee_Fit actually posts a meal, a lot of times, I’ll see that it’s nothing but a bunch of packaged, processed foods, with maybe a few pieces of broccoli. Everything is comes in the form of protein bars, protein shakes, protein pancakes, protein muffins- basically, anything with the word protein in it. On top of that, bear witness to some of the most over-the-top, epic “cheat” meals so outrageous you’d swear Hollywood would be calling them a sequel to the Fast & Furious franchise. If they’re not cleaning out the kitchens at fast food joints, then they’re eating low-calorie desserts and low-carb breads, pastas, and rice crackers. I hardly see any plants aside from a lick of lettuce and a sprinkle of berries.
Moving on, here’s a different example, which has to do with the diet wars. Here’s a new pair of conflicting diets with similar problems in their food selections:
Yu-Gi_Keto and Poke_Vegan.
Let’s head over to their Instagram accounts and take a look at their meals.
Yu-Gi_Keto, it wasn’t any more obvious, follows a ketogenic diet. We don’t know if they’re adhering to this diet for health reasons or losing weight. What we do know is that they love their bacon. Lots of it. Lots, and lots, and lots of it. And cheese. Lots, and lots, and lots of it.
Whenever I squint my eyes, I see mostly browns, yellows, and whites.
To be fair, when done right, keto incorporates a lot of vegetables, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. (Think: Wahls Paleo Plus. ) However, the dark side of keto features every food being covered under mountains of cheese. You’ll find weird and unusual ways to incorporate bacon into virtually every type of dish out there. There’s an unlimited supply of fat bombs, bulletproof coffees, and fat-head pizza crusts. Did I forget to mention the ungodly amount of so-called ‘healthy’ desserts? As long as it’s keto, it’s good to go! Cheese muffins, crepes, peanut butter cups, pudding…. Recipes featuring ingredients consisting mostly of sugar-free sweeteners like Swerve, butter, whey protein powder, coconut oil, and nut-based flour. I understand the purpose of a ketogenic diet, but whatever happened to balance? Is it ever okay to be eating some variation of a junk food every single day?
But I’m not finished yet.
Poke_Vegan isn’t off the hook, either. While I commend vegans for taking a conscious effort to support the environment and fight for animal rights, I don’t completely agree with the notion that many of the processed foods they eat are healthy. Poke_Vegan definitely loves to have fruits and veggies, but there also are a lot of faux meats, cheeses, milks, yogurts, desserts, and snacks. By the way, has anyone heard about the new Beyond the Meat burger patty? “The Future of Protein”? I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but I’m calling it the Danny Rand- Iron Fist- of veggie burgers. It talks a good game, but when it comes to performing (nutritionally speaking), it fails to deliver.
Here’s a list of ingredients that can be found in the Immortal Iron- I mean Beyond Burger:
Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Water, Yeast Extract, Maltodextrin, Natural Flavors, Gum Arabic, Sunflower Oil, Salt, Succinic Acid, Acetic Acid, Non-GMO Modified Food Starch, Cellulose from Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Beet Juice Extract (for color), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Annatto Extract (for color), Citrus Fruit Extract (to maintain quality), Vegetable Glycerin. 
All I see is a bunch of isolates, processed oils, plant cellulose (fiber), and flavors. But where’s the real food? Why not eat some actual peas, or, get your protein and fiber from whole plants like vegetables and legumes?
Poke_Vegan really seems to love these types of foods. The dairy substitutes contain a lot of sugars, thickeners, and preservatives. The faux meats may also contain gluten, GMO soy or corn, excess sodium, evaporated cane juice (aka, SUGAR), and carageenan (I’d avoid this as much as possible if you are dealing with gastrointestinal imbalances and conditions  ). The excuse is that as long as it’s vegan, it’s healthy.
A Junk Food by Any Other Name
I’m sure sensible minds realize that junk food is junk food, no matter the dietary umbrella it falls within. And I think we all know that it’s never a good idea to go overboard on any kind of food, whether it’s kale or beef. Common sense would tell us that foods like fried chicken, cookies, pizza, and ice cream are fine to eat as a treat. I’m not a fan of the term moderation per se, and prefer to lean towards the word balance.
If eating a slice or two of pie every now and then keeps you sane, and the rest of your diet consists of REAL food that DOES NOT come from a box, then by all means, have it, guilt free!
But there’s no way I could ever be convinced that eating some dietary rendition of a popular junk food everyday of the week is healthy. It defeats the principle of changing an unhealthy habit for a good one. Why are you trying to end your bagel-bites for breakfast addiction by opting for a ketogenic version of it instead? Sure, you’re not dealing with the same list of faulty ingredients, but you’re still reinforcing the idea that pizza for breakfast is good for you.
Reality check: call it vegan, keto, ‘guilt-free’, or the savior of the modern world, it’s still junk.
The Illusion of Success
Here’s something else you may want to consider whenever you come across a person who regularly competes in physique competitions: their diet is very specific, and tailored to their goal. It would be nigh impossible to maintain their physiques year round without running into any problems such as hormonal imbalances, eating disorders, sleep depravation, adrenal dysfunction, lowered immune function, poor bone health, and metabolic damage. For women and men, a lowered body fat percentage comes with its risks. Some people embrace those risks head on and know how to stay healthy because of them. But they are in large part the exception and not the rule. Women and men are both at risk for a whole host of problems whenever their body fat gets too low- don’t think it’s only women who need to be concerned .
The guys need to be aware of the risks, too.
Aside from the implications towards one’s overall health, both bikini and bodybuilding competitors don’t always walk around looking shredded year round. They have what are known as “off-seasons”, when they are, well, off of training.
Instagram is very egregious when it comes to the illusion of success. The glossy, fit bodies we see are mere highlights of a show reel. What we don’t often see are the behind-the-scenes, dirty, and gritty side of success. News flash- the best in show love to milk as much as they can from their night of fame. They’ll take as many pictures as they can while they’re in stage-ready shape, and spread them throughout the span of several months before they can repeat the process all over again once the next competition rolls around.
This trick works in that you believe the person is that shredded 365 days a year, without ever realizing they’re probably a lot less leaner, more softer, and nowhere near as vascular or toned as they are on the day of their competition. It also should be worth mentioning that many competitors photoshop their images, even if they’re taken during the “off season”. Again, not everyone resorts to this, and not everyone is going to cover up the fact that they do end up gaining back some healthy weight once they’re done competing. But there’s a dark, illusive side that can easily influence uninformed minds into thinking this body type is not only the pinnacle of health but is also sustainable.
Their diet is not going to support the average person who is just looking to drop the weight and get fit. The reason they eat the way they do is because of a short-term goal. So don’t confuse a brief moment of “success” for a lifetime of sustainability.
If the Shoe Fits…
This next point is bit controversial, but I’m willing to discuss it. And that’s IIFYM, otherwise known as If It Fits Your Macros. For the uninformed, your macros are the amount of macronutrients you need to consume each day to gain, lose, or maintain weight. When a person is asking for your macros, they’re referring to the three macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fat. Sometimes they’ll also want to know the amount of calories you’re aiming to eat.
Another name that IIFYM goes by is Flexible Dieting. No matter the name you decide to call it by, the goal is reach your daily macros. It doesn’t matter what kinds of food you eat to reach them, just as long as they’re met, you’re good to go.
IIFYM can be a good tool for people who need to manage their caloric intake or overcome eating disorders. I’ve known a few people who’ve gotten over several years of restriction and food addiction just by adhering to IIFYM, which allowed them to consume the foods that once were on the “no fly list” while still maintaining their weight.
But here’s where IIFYM can turn into a complete nutritional disaster.
Similar to the bikini/bodybuilding competitors (some of which who prefer IIFYM over the typical diets plastered all over bodybuilding.com), IIFYM gives people the illusion of sustainability.
Just because one person can achieve a certain physique doesn’t mean you can if the two of you have completely different nutritional needs. Not only that, many fans of IIFYM seem to believe they can get away with meeting their macros everyday on a diet of fast food and epic cheat meals.
In theory, it doesn’t matter if you eat a pound of French fries or a pound of carrots- as long as the two of them amount to your targeted macros, then you’re free to eat whatever you want. The problem I have with this is that people have given themselves permission to go all out and eat a diet consisting mainly of junk food.
If there’s a little siren going off in your head, please, listen to it, and listen to it well.
Sure, on the outside you’re going to be feeling great. But the scary thing is what could be happening on the inside.
The Tale of the Twinkie
In 2010, professor Mark Haub of Kansas State University embarked on what is known as the “Twinkie Diet”, in which he ate a diet consisting entirely of Twinkies, nutty bars, powdered donuts, Doritos, Oreos, and high-sugar cereals for a period of approximately two months.  Deciding to consume less calories than he burned, professor Haub limited himself to somewhere under 1,800 calories a day. At the end of the experiment, his body mass index (BMI) reduced from 28.8 (overweight) to 24.9 (normal); for cholesterol, his LDL (“bad”) cholesterol dropped by 20% while his HDL (“good” cholesterol increased by 20%, and his triglycerides were reduced by 39%.
This experiment exemplifies IIFYM/flexible dieting in that a specific macro or caloric score was consistently made day in and day out no matter the quality of food that was eaten. It also shows that calories do play a role in weight loss.
However, there is one glaring problem with this kind of a diet:
The lack of nutrients.
Think about it- do Twinkies grow on trees? (Please, don’t answer that.)
Have you ever walked into a Vitamin Shoppe and seen “Twinkie Extract” being sold? Is there such thing as an “essential Twinkie” or RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of Twinkies?
Twinkies have absolutely zero nutritional benefit to the body, with unquestionably enormous value to only our palate.
Did you know that during his experiment, professor Haub had to supplement with a multivitamin, protein shake, and (gasp) some vegetables to avoid running into malnutrition? 
In the long term, a diet like the Twinkie diet starves the body of essential nutrients that are needed to sustain optimal function. These include your micronutrients, which are the vitamins and minerals your body also needs to perform a myriad of functions like digestion, regulating your metabolism, and making sure your heart doesn’t shut down. 
You also have your phytonutrients, antioxidants, essential amino acids, and essential fatty acids, all of which play additional roles in the body’s maintenance, repair, and protection against disease and premature aging.    And let’s not forget about fiber, which feeds the trillions of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract that aid in digestion, immunity, nutrient synthesis, and even metabolism and brain health. 
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a diet with the bulk of its food coming from junk food is going to lead to catastrophic side effects when maintained for long periods of time.
An estimated 85% of Americans do not consume the recommended daily intakes of all of the essential micronutrients that are needed for proper function and development. 
Look around, and it’s no wonder why the rates of obesity are skyrocketing like never before, particularly in children and young adults. 
I know you’ve heard it a thousand times, but truly, a modern diet is lethal, and crafty. It will shape shift and make its way into any diet we embark upon under the guise of ‘health’, ‘weight loss’, and ‘fitness’.
If you’re here at Super Hero Jacked, you’re obviously out to make a change. Whether that’s dissatisfaction with the current state of your body or even your internal well being, you know deep down inside that the old way of eating, moving, and thinking has got to go.
Before you choose to follow any diet- paleo, keto, IIFYM, gluten free, vegan, raw food, and so on- sit down and look at the BIG PICTURE. Try to imagine what this diet is going to do for you in REAL LIFE. Do you see yourself cutting out meat year after year, even during holidays like Thanksgiving? Do you think packing in mountain loads of cream cheese is going to be a regular thing even when you’re married with kids? Moreover, do you want to end up taking a grocery list of medications and prescriptions when you’re middle aged?
How about feeling great all the time, keeping a healthy weight and physique for life (not just one night on a stage), and being there for your loved ones as long as possible? Yeah, I know that sounds like something straight out of a Hallmark movie, but it’s the truth!
What this boils down to is finding your why when it comes to nutrition. If you’re going to eat low-carb, you’d better understand the purpose for doing so, and whether or not it’s something you see yourself doing from here on out. Likewise, if you want to be a vegan, don’t just do it because someone online is telling you to. Do it for the same reasons I’ve written before.
Get your research done, look at the people who have maintained a designated diet for most of their life, and are thriving from their adherence. Look to those who set a good example for the diet they recommend, not the ones who are failing miserably and getting unhealthy in the process.
Enjoying our food is an integral part of existence, but it’s also a means of supporting our health and vitality.
At the end of the day, ask yourself-
What am I eating for?
After all, when it comes to fitness, we know it’s important to train with a purpose, so why not do the same with your diet?
Soapbox rant done.
AKA, The Dragon
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