Monday, October 08, 2007

Let's Not Complicate Matters...

Last week Chad Waterbury very kindly sent me a copy of his latest eBook, called THE 10/10 TRANSFORMATION (available here, which is a nutrition and workout program designed to get you to lose 10 pounds of fat AND gain 10 pounds of muscle over the course of nine weeks. It’s a nifty program, and looking it over I can see that it would be effective: the workouts are varied, and progressive, and, (this being Waterbury) shot through with challengingly counterintuitive touches.

The nutrition advice is really novel, though. Not because it’s particularly esoteric or groundbreaking in its principles, but because it’s about as simply and clearly laid out as any eating plan I’ve ever encountered.

He covers pretty much everything you need to know in about four pages.

At first, I couldn’t believe it. I kept scrolling back and forth looking for something he’d missed. But checking carefully, I could see that he’d managed to cover it all: composition of meals, meal frequency, timing, macronutrients, supplementation, water consumption, cheat meals, pre-and post-workout nutrition—it was all there in enough detail to make it patently obvious what you should and shouldn’t be eating day in and day out.

Apparently no one remembered to tell Chad that a complete eating and nutritional program has to take the form of a hefty, hardback book long on whys, wherefores, and esoteric formulae, and short on usable, practical advice. About ten pages of these books are useful; the other 240 are filler. I’ve bought a couple such books over the years, and read several more, and I think there’s something in their hardback-tome quality, and the rules and measures and devotion to carbless sacraments they contain, that reminds people of a religious text: buy this book, and ye shall sin no more.

I’d love to author one of these books just so I could include a sentence like “For Pete’s sake, just lay off the Krispy Kremes at 2 AM and you’ll be good to go, you Fat Cow,” round about page 210, because I know that no one will read that far.

Good lord above, it’s a lucrative formula, though: just how long was THE SOUTH BEACH DIET the #1 best-selling nonfiction book in America, its shiny green cover and Harlequin-romance logo gleaming at us from the window display of Barnes & Nobles everywhere? Only the adventures of a mythical boy wizard would dare challenge its reign…said wizard, of course, being one Dr. Atkins, may he now rest in carb-free peace.

What hit me like a ton of bricks when I read Chad’s eBook was that the concepts of good eating, as we now understand them, Just Aren’t That Complicated. That doesn’t mean they’re easy to adhere to—just that it doesn’t take a PhD to understand them. A few million books and articles and careers spent exploring our place in the universe and the nature of mankind, I understand. But a million works on how to eat right, when, as Chad and a few other anti-B.S. stalwarts have shown us, the information can be more or less contained in a handful of pages that a second-grader could comprehend? Unbelievable.

Now look here: I know that everyone has a different metabolism, preferences, and tolerance for things like sugar, meats and carbohydrates. So, yeah, different individuals may respond differently to the same diet. But we’re pretty much talking inches here, not miles—NO ONE’S going to do particularly well eating what my mother used to call “Nothing but paste” all day (bread, pasta, white rice), just as no one’s going to go too far wrong loading up on veggies and healthy animal proteins while avoiding processed foods. So, as with weight training, the basics are the basics; they’ve worked forever and will probably continue to form the backbone of every healthy eating program from now till the next ice age.

The rest is filler and packaging. I’ve always done best with a program that’s so simple a child could understand it, and failed on diet programs designed to provide fodder for cocktail-party chitchat. Simple diets just don’t allow you to get away with much. You know when you’ve screwed up. It’s the long, complex ones that allow loopholes and cheat weekends and a huge dessert every second Tuesday that get people into trouble.

A few years ago friend of mine who weighed close to 300 pounds suddenly decided to go 100% vegan, and, on top of that, to cease eating every day after 8 PM. Within a shockingly brief period, he was down to 180, and looked and felt fantastic. And this is a guy whose entire family is obese: a guy who’s waging a down-and-dirty war not only against the everyday gastronomic temptations the rest of us face, but against the very forces of his own DNA.

Now I’m not saying “Go Vegan” here; indeed, with apologies to my animal-loving friends, I generally consider animal proteins an important part of a good diet, especially if you exercise frequently or are trying to gain lean muscle mass. But my friend was successful with his vegan diet because the principles to such a diet are about as simple as they come. Just don’t eat any animal-source foods. And you either adhere to it or you don’t. You’re a vegan or you aren’t—no loopholes.

The diets that get confusing—and that fail--are the ones that say, “Eat All Your Favorite Foods and Still Lose Weight!”

Which is pretty much all of them except the ones that only take four pages to explain.

Time to tuck into a steak and some salad.


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