My Healthy Diet Is Boring, But It Works

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I’m not sure when I decided to make the leap, and I didn’t think the decision was all that crazy at the time.

I’d always been a skinny guy, hovering around 145 pounds throughout high school and college. I ate and drank like crap back then, but my inferno of a metabolism quickly incinerated the Pringles BBQ chips, Yoo-hoo, and Keystone Lights I used to throw into my gullet.

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After college, though, my high-performance, fat-burning furnace began to sputter and required additional maintenance. At one point, people started telling me I had “filled out.”

This was around the time when the Paleo diet was first unearthed, but for some reason I couldn’t find the appeal of living a life devoid of cheese, oatmeal, and peanut butter. Plus, didn’t the cavemen from that era lead short, dysentery-filled lives?

Atkins was also a thing. So was The South Beach Diet. The Duchess of York was hawking Weight Watchers for some reason (money?). Yet everyone I knew on these “systems” seemed to like talking about their diet more than they actually liked being on the diet itself.

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I don’t think it’s a coincidence that at the heart of the word “diet” is the word “die,” which is what most trend diets make you want to do when you’re in the third week of not eating cheese, oatmeal, and peanut butter, despite your new pants size.

And, at least what I could tell through observation, those diets only seemed to work in the short term. Maybe I should have been a weight-loss scientist, because a 2017 study reviewed the results of 25 weight loss programs and found that “commercial weight-loss programs frequently fail to produce modest but clinically meaningful weight loss with high rates of attrition suggesting that many consumers find dietary changes required by these programs unsustainable.”

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So I did something else. I decided to collect all the advice I’d read from the vast body of scientific research and dietitians I’d talked to as Food & Nutrition Editor of Men’s Health magazine and try to eat a sensible diet. Here’s what happened.

Man chopping vegetables in the kitchen, top view

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How I Ate a Sensible Diet

First off, I decided to eat real food. I prioritized anything that had one ingredient: chicken, beef, salmon, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, peanuts, milk, lobster, eggs, butter, avocado, blueberries, and I think you get the point. Did I occasionally enjoy a processed food product that contained something weirdo-sounding like guar gum or carrageenan? Sure. But I made no-bullshit food the centerpiece of each of my meals. Which segues nicely into my next point…

I made no food evil. Trendy diets love demonizing entire food groups or nutrients. On a low-fat diet you have to eat shit like Snackwells because god forbid you actually enjoy a real cookie. On Keto, carbs are so bad they’ll beat up a nice old grandmother crossing the street. On Dave Asprey’s bonkers Bulletproof Diet you’d better only buy his special brand of coffee because a study he sort of read from 1832 says that mycotoxins in commercial coffee will turn you into a half-man, half-bat with one sole purpose: to consume every last one of those you love.

By telling people what they can’t have on a diet, I think that makes them want them more. If I told you I had a brand-new diet called The Cotton Candy Diet, where you could eat anything in the world except for cotton candy, what does that make you want to do? You want to find the nearest carnival barker and load up on some of that oh-so-sweet pink fluffy spun sugar, don’t you now?

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