Happy New Year, #ScienceBabeShills! After many moons of seeing people take New Years partying a little too hard before starting their new diets (tomorrow of course, ahem), I’m sipping a diet coke and feeling okay because I managed not to get drunk. I had a wonderful time hanging out with my friend Amanda who runs Modern Mainstream Mama. We got way dolled up and put out a spread of treats that weren’t compliant with any diet- sushi, chocolate, cheese and crackers (gluten free for my craptacular immune system), and it was nomtacular.
So tomorrow, of course, I start my detox. (ahem).
Er, more accurately, I am being more careful with my diet.
As there should be anytime you change your diet, there was a discussion with my doctor because I’m not technically overweight. I’m at the top of the ‘healthy end of the BMI scale. However, (1) I did gain back about 15lbs of my weight loss from a few years ago (and damn it, those jeans need to fit), and (2) as I’m doing some media and I’m aware that people will be picking apart every picture of me for every stray fat particle. I’m aiming for the middle of the healthy BMI range. Nothing major. So I’m working out more and counting calories. You know… insanely reasonable stuff.
And still not eating organic and still eating GMOs because of course.
So since it’s the New Year and everyone might be tempted to start a fad diet, it’s a good time to talk about a few of my favorite fad diets. Let’s go for three tiers of a good idea gone horribly wrong: gluten free, Paleo, and the mother of all bullshit diets, Bulletproof.
And for shits and giggles, we’ll have a bonus round of every insane diet that we can find on the internet.
So let’s start with going Gluten Free because the other two incorporate this into their dietary plan. First, I’ll tell you that I am gluten free. Why? I have celiac disease. I AM THE 1%, SUCK IT MICHAEL MOORE!
Er, um, wrong meeting.
Celiac disease is the one legitimate reason that people cut gluten out of their shopping lists (not to be confused with a wheat allergy, but that’s for another blog entry). Celiac is an annoying little freak of an autoimmune disease in which your body reacts to gluten, a protein in wheat, barley, and rye. The reaction damages the lining of the small intestine and you’re unable to adsorb nutrients. In many cases the disease is not diagnosed right away and there are a handful of co-morbidities that can be caused by this, including various dietary deficiencies, gall bladder malfunction, and even cancers in the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms vary from person to person and can appear at any time in your life; 34% of cases are diagnosed after the age of 20. I was diagnosed at 29.
First, what’s not bullshit with going gluten free? If you have celiac disease, you need to go gluten free because strict adherence to the diet is the only currently known treatment for celiac disease (it both treats the symptoms and can prevent some of the really nasty potential co-morbidities). A lot of really painful symptoms for me went away. That’s way, way not bullshit.
So… what is the bullshit here?
It’s not really a diet designed to make you lose weight given that one of the symptoms of celiac disease can be weight loss. So if you truly have the gluten disease and you remove it from your diet, odds are you’ll gain a little weight back. I understand this is anecdotal, but by the time I cut it out of my diet I was deficient in vitamins B and D and slightly anemic. I also gained back about a little weight after I stopped eating gluten. So I cut out wheat, pasta, bread, beer… and gained weight. Because everything else in my diet was finally being absorbed.
(And that would be the weight that I’m trying to lose again now, but without the whole ‘being constantly sick’ thing).
After a few years of dealing with this and seeing people with various degrees of understanding of what it meant to be gluten free, here are few signs of what it means when someone is hopping on this as a trend:
If someone says they’re “cutting down on their gluten,” they don’t have a gluten problem. This is an all or nothing thing.
If someone cuts it out of their diet but has “cheat” days if something is yummy enough? They either don’t understand the gravity of their situation or they probably don’t have a gluten problem.
If someone cuts it out and still drinks beer? They probably don’t have a gluten problem.
If someone cuts it out to lose weight? They probably don’t have a gluten problem.
It’s a weird diet trend. But with a few exceptions it’s a safe, albeit rather ineffective, diet if you’re going on it arbitrarily. So then why do I give a shit what people choose not to put into their body? Because (1) you know I can’t lay off bullshit and (2) a lot of people go into restaurants saying they’re “gluten free” lately. Some irrational bloggers even tell people to lie that they have allergies to avoid certain ingredients.
This can affect me.
When someone with an actual wheat allergy or celiac disease goes into a restaurant and says they have an allergy, do you think the chefs and waitstaff are more or less likely to take us seriously after they’ve dealt with twenty fakers in a row?
You’d be wrong if you guessed ‘more.’ And I’ve had contaminated food before. I’m definitely not the only one. This is a diet for people with a medical condition.
Gluten is not bad for you just because it’s a component in lot of things that have calories. It’s also not bad for you, someone without celiac disease, just because it’s bad for someone else. Cutting out gluten from your diet because it’s bad for people with celiac disease would be like cutting out peanuts because it’s bad for people with a peanut allergy. You can relax and enjoy the sticky buns from Flour in Cambridge, MA that I miss so damn much. And please do because they’re fucking delicious and those wonderful dream makers deserve your patronage (and if they find a way to make something gluten free over there, I’ll be back home in two weeks).
But for everyone who did take up this diet arbitrarily, I have a message for you ..
Courtesy of my friends at We Love GMOs and Vaccines.
We’re done with gluten woo, right? I mean, that’s all there is to it, gluten is fine for everyone except those of us with ridiculous immune systems, we can move on now?
Wait…. people took it a step further? Shit.
Of course they did. Because Paleo is a thing.
So the Paleo diet became trendy a handful of years ago mainly amongst the Cross Fit tribe of super humans. It’s spread to other athletes and non-athletes alike looking to improve their health. Paleo sounded like a good idea and maybe even sounded scientific. The premise of Paleo for fueling was to eat the types of foods that our paleolithic predecessors had access to pre-modern agriculture. From this you would live a healthier life because many diseases (especially autoimmune, because that seems to be the woo center of the universe) were caused by our modern diet. Sounds simple enough, since of course the cavemen all lived free of autoimmune disorders, cancer (but doesn’t eating meat cause cancer? Which woo is right?!) psoriasis, heart disease, premature ejaculation…
How scientifically sound is Paleo?
First, let’s look at what Paleo allows you to eat (from thepaleodiet.com)
- Grass-produced meats
- Fresh fruits and veggies
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthful oils (Olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut)
Well that sounds kinda like Atkins plus fruit… Now their list of things that are off limits:
- Cereal grains
- Legumes (including peanuts)
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Refined vegetable oils
There’s good and bad to this. The good? I can’t eat gluten so EAT ALL THE COWS!
But Paleo, as in… paleolithic? Not a chance. The premise is even flawed. Even if you avoid GMOs and eat all organic (which we know is bullshit), your diet isn’t going to look like the caveman’s diet. Through selective breeding of crops and cattle, all the species we see now are drastically different than what our paleolithic ancestors had to choose from. The meat extravaganza is more than a little bogus because they could only eat what they could catch, and fruits and nuts were way easier to hunt down. Avoiding processed foods is useful for weight loss because they’re a dense source of calories, but for healing disease or any of their other far reaching claims? There’s a full absence of evidence. And as for the claim that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is the exact diet of our obviously much healthier ancestors, go ahead and eat the paleolithic bananas.
You know, like this one:
The other premise of the Paleo diet that’s flawed is that a lot of our diseases are only lifestyle diseases of the modern world. My rule is ‘citation or GTFO,’ and I have a citation that says atherosclerosis was common even pre-agriculture. It’s not the GMOs, it’s not even the sugar. It’s just a disease that happens when you live long enough and you have certain genetics. There’s even some evidence that the cavemen may have had sweets, and subsequently, tooth decay. All of this was pre-modern agriculture.
When you get down to it, Paleo is a new fancy low carb diet masquerading as a lifestyle (and contributing to the gluten-phobic crowd). You have a chance at losing weight because you’re restricting your dietary choices so much and hence you’ll probably cut calories. Some have even called the diet orthorexic because it restricts whole food groups. But make no mistake, this is not similar to the diet of our ancestors. Besides, why would you want to live like them? Why would you even want to go back 115 years?
Now onwards to the mother of all gluten free woo, the Bulletproof Executive. The website is run by a
biohacker douchebag named Dave Asprey who claims that he doesn’t exercise and eats 4,500 calories per day and he has a pretty rocking body. Now look at the tag on the bottom of his website:
Can you really lose 100 pounds without using exercise, upgrade your IQ by more than 12 points, and stay healthy by sleeping less than 5 hours? It took more than 15 years and $300,000 to learn how to reach the Bulletproof® state of high performance. And it’s all here on the blog for you.
Well those don’t sound like overblown completely full of shit claims at all. And it’s not like he’ll do anything nutty like tell us to eat sticks of butter like a candy bar or-
And of course, he’s selling a diet that’s kinda like Paleo… BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! He claims there’s science behind his diet because grains contain opiates (they don’t), grains cause cancer (not really?), demonizes veganism (as though that makes his diet work better?), and makes a lot of claims that are just somewhere between pseudoscience and complete bullshit. He sells pricey MCT Oil to allegedly help brain function. Spoiler; it’s a souped up coconut oil. He also sells super expensive coffee that’s allegedly “toxin free” and tells you to blend about 600 calories of butter into it (because you know the cavemen were roasting coffee beans and whipping butter into it). My friend and one of my favorite health writers, James Fell, tore him to shreds already. From James’ article…
Do I have a problem with butter? Absolutely not. I eat it regularly, always favoring it over margarine, which I find a pale imitation. But I use butter wisely, meaning I don’t go hog wild on the stuff because it has a high caloric density. One little tablespoon of butter has as many calories as almost a pound-and-a-half of fresh spinach. Guess which is more filling. Guess which contains more nutrients.
Oh James, we love you. Those twelve extra IQ points aren’t being put to good use, are they Dave?
For inquiring minds, I’m just going with eating a little less and exercising a little more. Because sanity.
Let’s be honest, some diets are just silly. Nobody would actually eat for their chakra type given that there is no proof of a chakra, right? And it’s not like anybody would eat a diet made entirely of grapefruits or soup made of cabbage, that wouldn’t happen. And the blood type diet? I mean, a lot of people don’t know their blood type, this is just getting funny, nobody would ever sell a book based on this, right? A cookie diet, there’s no way this is a clever money making plan because people wouldn’t fall for this one, right? And of course the alkaline diet, people don’t actually believe we’re turning your body into a chemistry set, right?
And for the last time, nobody is going to build an industry on detoxing your system with juice, right?