Why I Don’t Support Restrictive Diets, Cleansing, or Fasting

New training clients usually have questions about the nutritional aspect of getting into better shape. Sometimes, weight loss can seem like a giant puzzle. Most of the time, they don’t know where to begin, or they aren’t really sure what “eating healthy” means. Many times, they’re looking for my opinion about popular restrictive diets, cleansing, or fasting.

Personal Trainer Nutrition - Restrictive Diets

I always bring up nutrition in every session, but it’s also something that I come back to weekly. Nutrition needs continuous planning and consideration, just as workouts do.

This Personal Trainer’s Nutrition Plan

The first thing I tell my clients regarding food is this: I’m not a nutritionist, so I can’t tell you what to eat. However, I am a really fit person, so let me tell you about what I would eat.

The next thing that I tell my clients is to keep a food journal. You never really know what you’re eating, or exactly what’s in your nutrition plan until you really keep track and see exactly how many calories, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (macronutrients) you are eating in a day.

Once you know exactly what you’re eating, you can really find the right portion sizes and the correct macronutrient amounts for your fitness goals.

My own personal nutrition plan is a conglomeration of several popular diets.

The Zone Diet

I eat a zone based diet where 40 percent of my daily caloric intake is carbohydrates, 30 percent is fat, and 30 percent is protein. These percentages never change for me. The only thing that changes is the number of calories that I consume. If I want to gain weight, I increase calories; if I want to lose weight, I decrease calories. The percentage of macronutrients stays the same.

This approach takes a lot of thinking out of the equation. All I have to do is plan my meals ahead of time by using an online food journal like Myfitnesspal, and I can see what macronutrients I need to increase or remove in order to hit my target goals for the day. It took me about six solid months of food journaling before eating this way became a habit.

These days, I only have to enter my foods into the food journal every couple of weeks or so to ensure that I am still on track. I eat the same things so often that I know exactly what proportions I’m eating.

Paleo Diet

I don’t follow paleo 100 percent, because I do have some grains and refined carbohydrates from time to time. However, I do try to limit them as much as I can. Cheerios, protein bars, and beer are my main exceptions. Whenever possible, I try to refrain from eating anything with white flour, rice, bread, or pasta.

South Beach Diet

I try to eat as many high-fiber foods, lean proteins, and healthy fats as possible. This includes lots of broccoli, carrots, turkey, chicken, olives, and avocados. I also try to avoid sugar as much as possible, including fruit.

Eating this way works for me. It’s not exactly according to the USDA recommendations, but I feel that the MyPlate has been politically influenced by the agriculture lobbies.

I generally stay about 9 percent body fat, and have plenty of fuel in my tank for a physically active lifestyle. I get all of the nutrients that I need through regular whole foods, and the only supplements that I take are whey protein powder, daily multivitamin, and sometimes fish oil.

“Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. There are exceptions — honey — but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food.”   Michael Pollan

Restrictive Diets, Cleansing, or Fasting

Many clients ask about other popular diets which their friends, relatives, and favorite celebrities might have had marginal success with. Atkins, Clean Diet, Grapefruit Diet, Lemonade Diet, Master Cleanse, Medifast Diet, NutriSystem Diet, Slim-Fast Plan, and Super Cleanse are a few examples of these restrictive and cleansing diets.

All of these diets have two things in common.

  1. With these diets you lose 5-10 pounds really quickly, and with no additional physical exertion. This is a huge gimmick selling point for these diets. Who doesn’t want to lose 5-10 pounds really quickly?
  2. None of these diets provide a blueprint on how you should eat for the rest of your life. Nobody can maintain a restrictive or cleanse diet indefinitely; they are not good-habit forming; and the weight loss and methods of eating are not sustainable.

Some of these diets like Medifast and NutriSystem include their own products that claim to take the thinking out of it for you. All you have to do is eat their prepackaged food, and you’re good to go! However, this food is expensive. “Fortunately”, you can join their multi-level marketing programs and sell the products to your friends so that you can receive a commission.

Another problem with eating this prepackaged food is that it doesn’t teach you how to make good choices on your own. In addition, it comes in boxes and packages, and has plenty of chemicals and preservatives.

  • Stay away from diets that require you to sell their products in order for you to afford them!
  • Stay away from diets that would damage your health if you ate that way permanently!

Cleansing diets are marketed as a way of quickly detoxing from all of the harmful, chemical stuff that you put into your body.

The problem with cleansing is that you can’t eat that way forever, it doesn’t teach you how to eat correctly, and it doesn’t provide a balanced approach for giving your body all of the nutrients that it needs. Your body will cleanse itself quickly enough if you just start on a whole foods approach. Quit eating processed garbage. Going on a liquid diet for a week is not necessary to become a healthier person.

The Psychology of Eating

There is a big psychological component to most eating disorders, including ones that involve eating too much and too little. I think that it’s flat-out dangerous to make food associations that involve reward or punishment.

Food as a reward

When I worked a desk job, I often found it disturbing when the company I worked for would reward us with cookies, donuts, and pizza. I would refrain from participating and didn’t appreciate all of the coercion and peer pressure to eat things that are awful for my health. This didn’t just happen occasionally; this was a weekly, sometimes daily occurrence. There was even a whole cubicle in most of the departments that was the dedicated pot-luck or snack cube!

To be honest, there were plenty of times that I wanted to throw my health and nutrition aside. It took a lot of willpower to say no. People really get offended when you don’t want to pollute your body. “C’mon, just one”, was a common statement.

Of course, it starts sooner than your post-college office job. It starts in elementary school when you receive candy and soda for good grades; it’s there in little league when you get a pizza party for winning a big game.

It’s indoctrinated into our society in cultish fashion. “Good job, you’re a winner!” Reward yourself with stuff that is going to shorten your lifespan, give you diabetes, and cost all of us a fortune in preventable medical bills!

Our bodies just aren’t meant to process that much sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates. A piece of cake on a birthday or wedding, and ice cream on a trip into town has turned into sugar based cereals for breakfast, candy bars for snacks, sodas for lunch and dinner, and snack cakes for dessert.

What was once considered a treat is now a staple of our daily caloric intake. It’s no wonder that we’re all on the losing side of this occurrence.

Food as a punishment

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have people starving themselves and developing bulimia and anorexia so that they can wear the same dress sizes as their friends, so their peers don’t make comments on their weight, and so that they can look like the latest celebrity waif.

You have diets where you do nothing but drink liquids for weeks, or eat barely enough to function.

In consideration of psychology’s role in our eating habits, I will not condone, suggest, or give any support of fasting or cleansing.

By sticking to a solid exercise regimen, and following the zone based approach that I outlined earlier, I’m able to eat a surprising amount of food on a daily basis, never feel hungry for very long, and maintain my desired bodyweight.

What Your Nutritionist Won’t Tell You

It’s not like some personal trainer/fitness blogger like me made up these restrictive diets, cleansing, or fasting diets. These things are backed by doctors and nutritionists.

As a personal trainer, I can be sued for malpractice if I try to tell my clients what to eat and prescribe nutrition plans. Doing such things is outside the limits of my certifications. That’s why I can only tell people what I would do, and not what they should do.

A nutritionist won’t tell you that the science used in their research has a general margin of error that is unacceptable in any other science. The reason for this high margin of error in nutrition science is that a nutritionist can never demonstrate a true placebo in laboratory or any setting. This is simply because you cannot prevent people from eating, or follow them around one hundred percent of the time to ensure accuracy.

Proper nutrition is such a big part of being a healthy person, and everyone is surrounded with misinformation, lies, salesmen, and questionable science. I’m not even suggesting that I have the answers – but, the way of eating that I’ve laid out here works for me. I’ve been eating this way for over six years, and it’s working. I don’t starve, I don’t cleanse, I’m very physically active, and I don’t make money by getting my friends to buy what I’m eating.

While I can’t tell you what to eat, I hope that you take into consideration all that I’ve presented here. If you have someone you care about who is dabbling with restrictive diets and cleanses, then please forward them this article so that they can possibly research a little more about the possible side effects on their bodies, and their thinking.

If the way that you eat requires that you change things up considerably, then I implore you to look into a stable, common sense plan. A real nutrition plan is a way that you can eat for the rest of your life, and not just one week, or one month.

Eat Whole Foods

To sum everything up as simply as possible: eat whole foods. Eat foods that have one ingredient whenever you can. That ingredient should be the name of the food. It’s a solid approach that teaches you how to make good decisions, and it is a sustainable way of eating. You can eat this way week after week, month after month, year after year. Seek out as much information on your own as possible, and really question any nutrition plan that requires you to buy things that aren’t whole foods.

I know that’s a lot of information to “digest”! I’d love to hear what you think about all of this in the comments section below!