Keep It Simple, Stupid
Picture it, any CrossFit gym, 2014. A well educated adult starts CrossFit at their local affiliate and gets super excited about their health and fitness. After about a month, he hears about the Paleo diet and gives it a shot. He doesn’t really have much guidance, so he buys a book on Amazon and looks at some blogs. Over the next month or so he’s doing pretty well. Eating Paleo about 80% of the time. He makes Paleo muffins or pancakes for breakfasts, some meat and vegetable dishes like Paleo spaghetti or chili. He eats lots of meat (mmmm PROTEIN) and a few veggies on the side. Plenty of dried fruit and nuts throughout the day, and maybe a Paleo cookie or two for dessert. He still drinks some beer on the weekends. After two months, he’s lost a little weight and feels a little better, but isn’t quite seeing the results he wants. After doing some online research, he decides he may need to try intermittent fasting, Zone, or even ketosis to see results. So he comes on in and asks his coach and some other gym members what they think.
Sound familiar? As I’ve read blogs and spent time around CrossFitters over the past few years, I’ve noticed this happening a fair amount (not calling out anyone in particular, just a general observation). Sometimes we get so caught up in pursuing results via the next big idea, we forget to really think about what we’re doing. This approach can hurt us for a few reasons.
1. The Foundation isn’t there. The foundation of CrossFit is nutrition. And in my humble opinion, the foundation of nutrition is a clean, pretty much Paleo diet. I’m talking about a diet mostly fruits and vegetables, with a little meat, some nuts and seeds, healthy fats, and maybe some dried fruit or dark chocolate here and there. While not the ideal diet for everyone, this is where the experiment starts. If you’re not seeing the results you want on a diet like this, there are lots of things to look at (how much are you eating, when are you eating it, what are your goals, how are stress levels, etc). If a diet like this is too strict for you, then your goal should be working to get as close to it as is sustainable for you.
2. It plays into the American Diet System (which sucks). You know this system. Weight Watchers. Atkins. South Beach. Nutrisystem. Jenny Craig. Alli (or what I like to call the lose lose weight by pooping your pants pill). Anything you’ve ever seen advertised on TV with a tagline like “eat all your favorite foods and still lose weight!”. In America we like to follow diet rules, deprive ourselves, etc. We’ve been so conditioned to adhere to a diet and self shame when we don’t. So while the Zone diet is a WAY better option than Jenny Craig, if you are a person who has jumped from diet to diet, figuring out a sustainable, clean diet that moves you towards your goals is going to be way more successful then bringing food scales and time restrictions into the equation.
3. More stress. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t stand the Zone diet. Weighing all my food makes me feel obsessive and stressed out, negatively impacting my quality of life. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have Camille’s abs this July, but given my experience with this diet, no matter how good it is on paper, it isn’t going to help me. Not when I could do a better job of cutting out alcohol and grains first. On top of that, stress negatively impacts weight and health, raising cortisol levels (a hormone released in response to stress that raises blood sugar levels, boosts the metabolism of macronutrients, and suppresses the immune system) and increasing inflammation in the body. Unless you are a very high level athlete (I’m talking the kind who makes a living from their sport), in all likelihood a complicated diet like ketosis is not worth your time and energy when you could achieve a pretty good level of fitness and body composition just by eating clean most of the time.
Now, I’m by no means telling you NOT to try something new with your diet. It is, after all, YOUR diet. If you’re not having results you should always be trying something new. When it comes to nutrition, dietitians and experts can provide guidance, but ultimately you are your own laboratory. You need to figure out what works for you through trial and error. I am simply pointing out that before you try something complex like carb cycling, you should be eating clean, have cut out processed junk (yes, that includes Paleo baked goods), and achieved a balanced diet that generally makes you feel and perform well. If you want to level up your performance or body composition from there, by all means jump right in. But for most people, keeping it simple will work out best in the long run. Remember, a lot of us have 30-50 or more years to maintain health and fitness. Who wants to be on a crazy, complex diet for 50 years?
Have you ever tried a complex diet? How did it go?