Photo Credit: Big thanks to the awesome Lisa Hepfer
This page has two sections. The first is a simple five step guide to healthy eating. All you have to do is follow the steps and you’ll be set. The second section is a statement of what we know about nutrition and changing habits and why our approach to nutrition can be summarized into the 5 Habits.
These 5 Habits are taken from Precision Nutrition. They also have a couple of good guides that can help you with this. I highly recommend you download them and use them so often that you memorize them, which will likely take you less than two weeks.
This is your baseline diet. This is the healthiest, cheapest, most natural way to eat. Anything else like using supplements, specialty foods, fasting, calorie counting, carb-timing, macro splits, or any of the countless tweaks we can make to how we eat, is premature. Follow the 5 Habits, establish your baseline, and then you can get creative with all of those other things if that's what you want to do.
Part way is better than nothing. Eating two servings of veggies when you used to eat zero is improvement. Make incremental changes, don’t try to go from zero veggies to 10 servings in a day. Be patient, the goal is to build a habit which simply takes time and practice.
To begin with, let’s zoom way out and consider the sources of our knowledge. If you were to try to determine the scientific facts about the healthiest possible diet, how would you go about doing it? To do it to the highest most reliable standards, you’d need to run some single-variable experiments on a statistically significant sample size with a control group.
So let’s say we’re the federal government and we want to know if eggs are a cause of heart disease. A statistically significant sample size for the entire population of America is about 400 people. You have to account for people who won’t be able to finish the experiment, so you’ll actually need more than that. Let’s assume a 50% drop-out rate, so we need 800 people. Plus you’ll need to double that in order to have your control group, which means that we need 1,600 people. We randomly assign those to either the control or the experimental group.
Now comes the hard part. We have to isolate for this one variable- egg consumption and then test for markers of heart disease. But think of how many variables we’ll need to control for: age, race, sleep, activity levels, other food consumption besides just eggs, stress, prior health history, and food sensitivities are just a few that spring to mind as factors that have been linked to heart disease. And the egg itself could be a factor- the breed of chicken, the chicken’s diet, the age of the egg, and preparation method.
Again, we’re the Feds, so we can do this. We just need to expand the focus a bit. We can create groups for age ranges 0-20, 21-40, on up to 100. We’d also have to have different racial groups; the last census had 15 different categories for that. We give them all monitors to track sleep and tell them they all have to get at least 8 hours per night. We screen for health history and maybe have separate groups for pre-diabetic, diabetic, and other chronic diseases, also separated by age and race. Every person is prescribed a certain amount of exercise, no more no less. Then we set up a network of federally sanctioned chicken farms where every chicken gets the exact same treatment and food. Every egg is prepared the same way prior to being served to our subjects along with their other mandated food.
Speaking of which, what should we feed them besides eggs? We’d have to run the experiment multiple times, changing the baseline diet in order to isolate the effect of each food item so that we can know for sure that the heart disease we see is a result of the eggs, not the other things in their diet. Let’s give them a really simple diet with only one other protein source, veggie, and grain.
How long should we run the experiment? A year? More? What about long-term effects of 10 or more years? What do you think the drop-out rate would be for this? How well do you think people would comply with the rules?
Could we even find the people? In order to group by age, we’d need 5 groups of 1,600 (8,000 people) multiply that by however many racial groups. I said 15 earlier, so that’s 120,000 people now. And it still doesn’t include people with specific health or dietary conditions. We’d have to run it three more times in order to account for the other food items in their diet, so now we’re looking at 360,000 people to run this experiment and isolate for most of the big variables.
Now, I should point out that I’ve been fast and loose with the actual numbers here and any true researcher could pull this example apart, but it illustrates the bigger truth: that the complexity and logistics of such an experiment make it virtually impossible to do.
And in the end, assuming we’ve covered our bases and not screwed up somehow, we would only definitively know one thing about one food, that eggs do or don’t cause heart disease.
These are just the practical, logistical challenges of running a scientifically reliable study. My point here is to say that we don’t have scientific certainty about nutrition. Most nutrition research has very small sample sizes and doesn’t control for many (if any) other variables. My hope is that as you think about this, you lose most of your confidence in specific “rules” about nutrition, and that you are skeptical when anyone says they know something for sure that applies to everybody.
There is no magic pill, no silver bullet. You will need to put your mind to the task of experimenting and learning what works for your body, your goals, and your lifestyle. It’s a process you work through, not a solution you arrive at. It changes as your life and goals change. You can do it if you keep it simple.
In our collective experience, the biggest hinderance to eating well is not lack of knowledge, but life stuff that gets in the way. It’s when you have to work late, so you don’t have time to prep dinner, so you settle for take out or something easy. Too much of that and you have no baseline anymore.
So our approach of using the 5 Habits simplifies the process of deciding what to eat and pushes you toward nutrient dense foods. It guides portion control, but you never have to weigh or measure anything. It’s simple enough to memorize quickly but be comprehensive. You can use it anywhere anytime.
And you can use it right now without any further coaching or input from anyone else. Download the suggested pdf’s, choose one of the 5 Habits that you think you need the most work on, and make one daily step toward that goal. For example, eat one serving of veggies at breakfast. Keep it simple. When you’ve done that daily thing at least 90% of the time over four weeks, take a new step. There are 13 four-week periods in a year, think about how far 13 baby steps could actually get you. Keep going until you’ve met the recommended goals on all 5 Habits.