Most traditional weight loss advice tells us that we need to follow some kind of plan when it comes to our eating habits.
It typically involves a long list of rules and guidelines that feel daunting and restrictive. It can feel tedious and unenjoyable.
But according to Ryan Andrews, an expert nutrition coach at Precision Nutrition, we shouldn’t be thinking about our eating habits this way at all.
“A lot of people think they need a diet plan, when in reality, they don't,” he said. “If they simply engineered a way of life that was moderate and healthy, and they lived this way consistently, they would have the body composition they want.”
He explained that unless you’re an elite athlete or a fitness competitor with very specific body composition goals, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight that makes you happy can be as easy as eating more vegetables (he suggested they make up 50 percent of each meal) and adopting a more physically active way of life.
“To me, there are very few situations that should include ‘dieting,’” Andrews said. “If someone is an elite physique athlete or professional model, then getting help with a diet plan from a coach can be useful for their goals. However, if someone is ‘dieting’ and they aren't an elite physique athlete or professional model, they are likely setting themselves up for future problems.”
This is why he suggests a more moderate approach and highly advises avoiding what he describes as “extremes.”
The “extremes” he talked about, on either end of the spectrum, included habits like overeating and under-eating, food carelessness and food obsession (counting, weighting, calculating, etc.), toxicities and deficiencies.
“The extremes tend be an unhealthy place,” Andrews said. “And a lot of health professionals are trying to encourage people to find a more balanced middle ground.”
The one problem with this type of approach, though, is that there isn’t a clear way to define it.
“The main issue right now that I see with ‘moderation’ in North America is, while we all agree on it, there is no real definition,” Andrews said. “One persons ‘moderation’ would be another person’s road to heart disease or diabetes. And our food culture in North America is so non-existent, we really have no traditions to guide us, so we have to rely primarily on nutrition science and research, which doesn't always paint the full picture.”
He gave the example of cultures that live in what are known as the “Blue Zones,” or areas of the world where people live the longest.
“They are the ones who eat a simple diet of fresh, whole, mostly plant foods, they stay physically active as a way of life, and not just by going to a gym, they get genuine rest, they have solid social connections, they spend time outdoors, they live with purpose, and so forth,” Andrews explained.
According to him, this would be a “prime example of moderation,” and it’s embedded into the culture. There are no strict rules or intense guidelines to follow.
Ultimately, Andrews says that if you are living a truly healthy lifestyle, a healthy body and appearance will be byproduct.
“When we live a certain way, we look a certain way,” he said. “A nutritional approach that avoids the extremes is one that will most likely result in the best overall health and longevity.”