Well, here you are. You saw the title and clicked on the article. Just so that everything is on the table: below, you will not find a magical nutrition plan or any “pro tips” to help you get shredded. What you will find is the truth. Truth of the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet – it’s not coincidental that it spells “sad”).
The fact of the matter is that most people who will read this article do not have a purpose to their diet. I’m not implying that you can’t differentiate between foods that are conducive to your health versus foods that don’t even register as food to your digestive system. I am, however, stating that you can’t finish the current sentence accurately: “The definition of ‘health’ is ______.” And that’s fine, because health is subjective, relative, and some could even argue that it’s an abstract idea. However, when it comes to the food that you put into your body, you should only eat what you could deem as a step in the direction of your purpose.
The beauty of this concept is that YOU define your purpose. Even if you’d like to read this at a high resolution and stay within the realm of physical health or even just fitness and nutrition, that’s ok… but you must first define your purpose before you can even consider steps in the right direction. Otherwise, where do you think you’re going?
Six Reasons your diet isn’t working
So for all of you who are still with me, I’m about to cast a broad net over the bigger of two ponds that we could label: “Reasons that people eat what they eat that are not in alignment with their purpose, and why.” Before you get offended, understand that this list and its reasoning is blunt but accurate. I have the privilege of working with and being around people all day every day who are consistently taking steps toward a health goal – whatever that may be – and whose’ attitudes, fitness, commentary, and inquiry have not only shaped the basis for the reason of this article but also represent the whole of America and it’s ideas of health quite nicely.
Reason 1: Motivation
Why this is not conducive to a purpose: Motivation is a dynamic concept that remains at a high level for a short period of time. It will drive you to eat “clean” today, but tomorrow it may fail you.
Reason 2: Lack of nutritional education
Why: The less you know about the food that you eat, the less you can align your diet (means) with your purpose.
Reason 3: Addiction
Why: While it seems obvious why addiction is objectionly negative, it’s never as simple or easy resolving problems of such depth.
Reason 4: Anxiety/Stress
Why: Both anxiety and stress can give rise to impulsive emotions with decision-making, which I think we can all agree is never the most pragmatic approach to purposeful actions.
Reason 5: Lack of sleep and/or exercise
Why: Sleep and exercise are regulatory processes for the human body to every single one of its functioning systems. If one or both of these factors are not properly fed and practiced, the body, mind, and auto-regulatory hormones regarding hunger and appetite won’t allow you to make healthy decisions regarding the food you put into your body.
Reason 6: Medication
Why: Different medications clearly affect the body and mind in different ways and with different magnitudes. However, it’s wise to simply understand that the purpose of medication, in general, is to alter part of the human body in an artificial way, which means unnatural measures as well. This has the potential to affect the body in positive and negative ways, but it is important to also mention that if medication can be avoided in any way, it should be avoided to influence decision-making for diet.
The reason you need food
Now that you know a few of the important driving factors that are not desirable for the purpose of your diet, let’s discuss the real reason behind what constitutes a “healthy” diet. The real reason that any living being (humans included) would need food, and a certain kind of food, can quite accurately be boiled down to one word: fuel.
After you finish rolling your eyes, please humor me and jump on this train of thought. It doesn’t matter what you believe to understand and know exactly what I’m about to articulate. Since the beginning of time, mankind has had a choice. The choice to lay around and the choice to get up. The choice of fried rice or steamed rice. The choice to treat others with respect and the choice to have a resentful attitude. The choice to own your mistakes and the choice to point a finger. It’s called free will. But (big “but”), there must be two ends of the spectrum for there to be a truly “free” will. There must be consequences, and there must be both good and bad choices. Now that we’ve spelled out the existential phenomenon of being, let’s apply that to what you put into your body.
****Each choice of what you eat may not be obvious in a positive or negative light, especially just by looking at your food. It may not even be obvious just based on how you may or may not feel after eating said food. If what you eat should solely be based on how it fuels your body, then the fallace must be in the taste. Most foods won’t make you feel a certain way that can be impactful enough to dominate your decision-making process. That’s usually where the line is drawn between food and drugs. Since taste is where the temptation is, we have two options, the way I see it. These two options are truly genuine, this is no longer rhetoric. Option 1: You can cut your losses, take the good with the bad, and resort back to your purpose (in a broad sense – fuel) at every single choice in the moment of the choice. Option 2: You can change your entire diet, planning and only eating foods that you know exactly what is in them, cutting out anything and everything that does not fuel your body the way it was designed to be fed. While Option 1 seems like a more realistic choice and lifestyle, please practice this option with caution. While it is slightly more relaxed in its tone and methods, it takes an extremely strong, sound and consistent will to decide against a human impulse as often as it would require to make all of its nutritional choices on a daily basis. This is not easy by any means, and can take a real toll on the human psyche. This looks something like having a double bacon cheeseburger in one hand and a seaweed turkey wrap in the other and throwing the burger in the trash approximately 15/15 times per day. Option 2 may look more difficult at first conception, but in reality all of the hard choices are made up front. If you make one, convicted decision early, then everything that happens afterward has been decided for you. This may require slightly more planning and some trivial-level parameters, but is much easier on a day-to-day basis. This looks something like only eating real foods, only keeping organic, non-processed food in your house, and only eating at restaurants that you know have means (food) that fit your purpose.
While these two methods are helpful in your decision-making when it comes to your diet, they can also be applied elsewhere and are useful in many areas of life. You’re welcome. One other piece of advice to mention here is that the options can actually be combined and often are by those who practice this theory. This combination is best manifested in concepts such as meal-prepping only for the week and leaving the weekend open to choose non-purpose-driven foods if so desired, the 80/20 rule – meaning 80% of one’s diet is purposeful while an intentional 20% is not to achieve a level of balance, and then the occasional “cheat meal” for the more disciplined of those that follow their purpose for nearly every single meal. Regardless of your means, success in your diet will be determined by the same factors that usually determine success in almost any endeavor. These factors include effort, preparation, attention to detail, consistency, and keeping your purpose in mind.
Before we continue into specifics related to a higher resolution of your purpose, I’d like to inform you on a couple of concepts that if true, may be out of your control. The first I’d like to bring attention to is that of your DNA. Your genetics.  Throughout the course of your nutritional journey, you’re sure to have heard many testimonies on those who have tried and succeeded, tried and failed many different kinds of diets. As you also know, every single human being on the planet is unique. Without getting too technical here, I just need you to consider the fact that the people you come from may have a much bigger impact on your diet that you’d want them to. For example, if your heritage is Irish and your ancestors lived through the Irish Potato Famine and you’ve realized that switching to white rice as a source of complex carbohydrates has caused you to put on an unwanted 15 pounds, it may be time to appreciate the fact that your body can use potatoes more efficiently than it uses (and clearly stores) white rice. That is one, very specific example and will most likely not apply to 99.99% of you reading this. But please, take your genealogy into account when planning your diet. The second concept I’d like to bring forth is that of bioavailability.  This one is slightly more complex and may never have a clear solution because of our rapid widespread availability of all kinds of foods that has exponentially increased over the course of history. An easy, manipulative way of explaining this would be to ask you a simple question such as: If you live in Dallas, Texas, and you’ve lived here your entire life and you do very little traveling, is there any feasible explanation of why you should be able to eat ‘fresh’ pineapple in the middle of January? The answer is a resounding “no,” in case you didn’t know. Do pineapples grow in Texas at all, even artificially or genetically-modified? Not to my knowledge. They definitely don’t grow in Dallas, and the fruit is definitely not ripe in 30-40 degree weather. Some of your minds are currently being blown right now. Before your freak out and throw everything in your fridge away, please understand that this is simply a concept of thought, a theory. There is science to support bioavailability, and the science leans in favor of only eating what’s naturally available where you live. However, what truly is naturally available where you live? So much of our food is genetically engineered and modified for taste and appearance and size and convenience. Before you launch a full-blown attack on our actions for food availability, please also understand that the effects of eating a pineapple in Dallas in January are not proven to be negative. The effects of acting against bioavailability have not been proven to be anything, especially if the “unnaturally-sourced” foods are real, unprocessed and conducive to your purpose. I don’t aim to bring stress to your preparation and planning for your diet, I just want to give you the facts and make you aware of as many of the factors as possible.
With those two controversial topics out of the way, let’s get serious here. I’ve given you a lot of information but little direction. Yes, we now understand the purpose and the immovable obstacles that stand in the way, but where do we go from here? What IS best for me in particular? What’s the correct diet for my genealogy and for where I live? Keep reading, but please don’t expect to find a table with every single possible line of heritage and every single location on the planet cross-referenced to show you exactly what diet is right for you (although that would be nice). You can expect to find a list of resources where people who are more read than I have spelled out for you exactly what and why a certain diet can and will help you and in what ways.
Plan and Prepare
Before I give you specific diets and particular methods to fuel your body, we must categorize the human purpose into general energy needs, that way you can at least begin in the right ballpark. There are three basic components of any diet that can apply to ANY diet that will lead to success and an achieved purpose. These three are of my own volition based on my knowledge, practice and experience in diet and nutrition. If any current or future diet disputes these, please contact me directly and I will do everything in my power to answer the conflict of ideology.
- Prioritize protein. The average human doesn’t eat enough protein on a daily basis which can lead to increased appetite, muscular atrophy, and hormonal imbalances.
- Eat real food. If you don’t know what it is, where it comes from, or what it does for your body in a basic sense – and if “you are what you eat” – why would you allow it to become part of you?
- Exercise. The balance of “health” is paramount over nutrition; directly across the metaphorical scale from nutrition is exercise. One cannot exist without the other.
To categorize diets into energy needs, you need to understand which types of lifestyles and exercise regimens require what kind of energy. In an extremely simplified explanation, there are three types of exercise and I’ve mentioned some examples for each:
- Anaerobic Exercise (‘an’ meaning ‘without’ and ‘aerobic’ meaning ‘oxygen’)
- Olympic weightlifting
- Strongman training
- Plyometric training
- Strength training of any kind
- Aerobic Exercise (meaning ‘using oxygen’)
- Long distance running
- Cross-country skiing
- Cardiovascular training of any kind
- Cross-Training (meaning a ‘cross’ between strength and endurance)
- Team Sports
- Martial Arts
The reason this categorization is so important is because depending on which type of exercise that you’re participating in, you could benefit most from a specific type of diet. Again, these are maximally simplified and generalized for a basic understanding. Next, I will list the energy demands for each type of exercise and examples of diets that have been shown to work best for each kind. The diets listed below  and not the end-all, be-all, but are some of the most well known and practiced diets in today’s world.
- Anaerobic Exercise: Strength and high intensity exercise is fueled by an energy source called creatine phosphate. To save you from the extensive technical vocabulary that explains the energy systems, you can store this fuel source by consuming protein, essential amino acids , supplementing creatine , and enough carbohydrates to replenish spent calories from exercise.
- The Bodybuilder’s Diet : If you Google this, I’m not sure what would come up, but what is implied here is measurement of as many nutrients possible. A bodybuilder, or someone who is aiming to have as low of a body fat percentage possible, will weigh and measure everything that they eat to only replenish exactly as much of their energy as they used, or less than – depending on where they are in their training. These diets will stick to basic foods so that measuring and determining nutrient values is as simple as possible. There is also little to no value in taste with diets like this. Choice of food is almost solely determined by its nutritional value.
- The Ketogenic Diet : There are multiple variations and implementations of this diet, but the basic idea is a high fat, low carb caloric intake. The purpose of this is to put one’s body into a state of “ketosis” which causes the energy used in most moments of the day by fats instead of carbohydrates. I would give a word of caution to the average person with this diet: if you choose to exercise while on Keto, please start slow and build your work tolerance over time. Keto doesn’t store or allow for much extra energy and is difficult to program for strenuous exercise.
- Intermittent Fasting (IF) : Because this concept is actually to NOT eat food for a given period of time, I wouldn’t consider it a diet. However, the effects of this “lifestyle” are similar to that of Keto, and are to reinforce that high levels of carbohydrates are not needed for the non-exercise hours of the day. I would give a similar word of caution to the user, especially if you’ve never done fasted exercise before. It will zap your energy quickly.
- The Carnivore Diet : Because strength training includes such a rapid and consistent level of muscular synthesis and protein is necessary, the carnivore diet is a great option, especially for protein prioritization. In this diet, the user is simply to stick to eating as much of a meat-only diet as possible. All parts of game are encouraged to be eaten, not just muscles, since they have a limited amount of micronutrients. However, due to potential nutrient deficiencies, it is often recommended to supplement an extra carbohydrate source and various vitamins and minerals to keep a balance.
- Aerobic Exercise: Cardiovascular and endurance training require high levels of energy, and therefore – calories. This energy expenditure is technically referred to as the oxidative energy system and requires a great deal of both carbs and fat. Depending on the exact duration and intensity of exercise, one could need varying proportions of fat and carbohydrates. Nonetheless, high amounts of both are necessary in order to fuel this type of exercise.
- Carb-Loading : The serious endurance athletes will match their diet with their training program using this technique. Typically, before a high volume workout or phase of training, an athlete will eat a large amount of carbohydrates to store energy for use in their exercise.
- Cross-Training & Other: Because cross-training is such a wide sphere and the energy demands can differ greatly, there are no specific diets just for football players or hurdlers or tennis athletes. Below are a few noteworthy examples of diets that are conducive to a purpose of fuel for the body and can be altered and tweaked to match different lifestyles and goals.
- Whole30 : This 30-day challenge, of sorts, values the use of whole foods in the diet and aims to eliminate sugar, dairy, alcohol, grain, and soy in the diet in an attempt to rebalance hormones and fix digestive problems that you may not even know that you have.
- The Paleolithic Diet : This diet, often referred to as the “caveman diet” is supposedly what early humans ate, sticking to whole foods and generally bioavaiblable foods. The foods often avoided here are dairy, sugar, grains, processed foods, vegetable oils, and trans fats. Where this differs from the Whole30 is that the Paleo diet allows for natural sugars such as honey, maple syrup and all fruit.
- The Vegetarian Diet : This diet is simple, and is quite literally the opposite of the carnivore diet. Meat is to be avoided. In most variations, dairy and animal products are allowed, as long as it isn’t the actual meat that’s consumed. The basis behind this diet isn’t traditionally due to dietary concerns, but more of an environmental stance. The focus is placed on care for animals and to reduce the slaughter of them. However, due to an increasingly large spotlight on the subject, research has been conducted to both support and criticize the health aspects of the diet.
- The Vegan Diet/Veganism Lifestyle : As possibly the most controversial diet in existence, the vegans believe it’s immoral and unhealthy to consume any animal product at any level. Also referred to as “plant-based” dieting, veganism takes animal concern and environmental awareness to a new level, forbidding any use of animal products, meat or otherwise. What seemingly began as a philosophy has been studied and is now backed with extensive scientific research. Because of the nature of this topic, I will neither confirm nor deny veganism’s credibility as a purposeful diet, but simply bring some resources to the table and allow you to make your own decision. As I’m sure you know, it is both a very popular lifestyle and a very infamous lifestyle. There is no shortage of literature on the subject, both critical and supportive.
Wrap it up, Dylan…
I hope by now you don’t feel quite overwhelmed, but hopefully as if your eyes have been opened. At the very least, I hope that something in this article has struck a chord inside that resonates and will help you align the food that you eat to your purpose related to exercise, health and life in general. Someone old-school once said something along the lines of, “How you do anything is how you do everything,” so if that’s true in the slightest, don’t let anyone catch you giving a half-assed effort on something as important as your diet. You are not what you eat, but if you are what you repeatedly do, then be a purposeful human.
- Diet for your biology
- Bioavailability – https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-019-0012-2
- Energy systems – https://www.acefitness.org/fitness-certifications/ace-answers/exam-preparation-blog/3256/the-three-primary-energy-pathways-explained/
- “Bodybuilder’s Diet” – https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/a19537649/bodybuilder-diet-weight-gain/
- Ketogenic Diet – https://www.drberg.com/the-healthy-keto-diet-for-beginners?gclid=CjwKCAiAzNj9BRBDEiwAPsL0d3hL2gt1llCu414BWmsEuqaLBP9wNzmaahgawOKzA65BbiaOgYpU4RoCPBQQAvD_BwE#guide1
- Intermittent Fasting – https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156
- Carnivore Diet – https://meatrx.com/resources/carnivore-diet-faq/
- Carb-Loading – https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/carbohydrate-loading/art-20048518
- Whole30 – https://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/
- The Paleolithic Diet – https://thepaleodiet.com/paleo-101/what-is-paleo
- The Vegetarian Diet – https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/vegetarian-and-special-diets/vegetarianism-the-basic-facts
- Veganism – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662288/
- The Essential Amino Acids – http://www.biology.arizona.edu/biochemistry/problem_sets/aa/aa.html
- Creatine – https://bestfornutrition.com/foods-high-in-creatine/