Common Sense and Dieting

7 Rules for a Successful Diet

© Bahram R. Shahmardaan, PhD


To understand our nutritional needs and what it means to have a healthy diet, we need to understand what the human body has been used to in the form of nutrition. For this we should pay attention to the food our ancestors ate in the past. This information will allow us to get some idea about the kind of foods our bodies were exposed to and got accustomed to in arriving at our present state of development.

Primitive human societies started out as hunter gatherers. In early days we did not have the tools we currently have to hunt animals, fish and store food. So primitive man lived on naturally occurring foods such as fruits, berries, fleshy roots, leaves and occasionally some eggs or fish and meat if they were lucky enough to kill a prey animal.
Later on we developed the ability to grow food, hunt and fish. But still most of our nutrition came from vegetation because we still did not have the ability to keep animal protein from spoiling. As hunter gatherers we expended a lot of energy in harvesting and catching the food we consumed. Even as farmers and owners of livestock we had to perform a lot of physical activity to grow and harvest food.

In the past when people were less mobile and refrigerated transportation was not well developed, we generally lived on the foods that were grown locally. So our bodies developed the antibodies to deal with the local foods. Consequently we suffered from fewer allergies and other health problems. Nowadays daily, fresh produce, meats and fish are flown into the USA from all over the world. Our bodies are not accustomed to these foods that have grown from soil in those parts of the world which are distant from where we grew up. These include soils of other states within our country. Furthermore, we get all types of fruits and vegetables all year long. As a result of this our bodies are unable to cope with these "alien" foods and so we are more prone to allergies, asthma and other conditions. This is further exacerbated by the fact that we are polluting our air with emissions from cars, trucks etc. and polluting our soil and water with all sorts of chemical pollutants.

In the last 60 odd years, thanks to modern refrigeration and food processing methods we can preserve foods for extended periods of time. With rapid transportation and refrigerated trucks and containers, fresh foods and meats can be transported over great distances. As a result in modern times particularly in the USA, we eat a lot more protein than our bodies are accustomed to. Additionally a lot of the animal protein we eat is full of antibiotics and hormones that the animals are fed for rapid growth etc. We are also living very sedentary and stressful lives. Our bodies do not get the exercise they need. Is it surprising then that we are growing large and fat. Also because of our culture, we want quick fixes and so we seek easy solutions and do not like to expend the time and energy needed to do what it takes to achieve long term results that will allow our bodies to become and remain healthy.

So some of us go from diet to diet in the hopes of losing the excess weight we carry. Some of the popular diets going around now are the Atkins diet, the Low Carb diet, the low fat or fat free diet etc. None of these diets are really healthy or provide permanent or even long term solutions. Before we talk about healthy nutrition let us observe some facts of nature.

The largest animals in the world are the elephant, giraffe, hippopotamus, rhinoceros and the buffalo. Would you consider these animals fat? Seriously, would you call a hippopotamus fat? Of course not. The hippo is supposed to look the way it is. So also the elephant and the rhino etc. And all these animals eat only vegetables and are on a fat free diet. They are also on a low carb diet because although grasses, leaves and vegetables do contain carbohydrates, the carb content is not as high as in grains and fruits with a high glycemic index. So what does that tell us?

· We do not need a lot of protein to be strong and develop large muscles
· The absence of fat or carbohydrates in our diet is not essential to losing weight nor does it prevent one from gaining weight.

So what is it that makes these animals who are on a low fat and low carb diet so huge? The answer lies in their genes. No matter what kind of a diet we will put the elephant on it will never shrink to the size of a rhinoceros. It will die but it will not shrink. So also with the other animals. Is a large elephant bad? No. That is just the way an elephant is supposed to be. So also a hippo, rhino, giraffe etc.

So the first rule of a common sense diet is that we should study our family tree. If our parents and grandparents are slim, chances are that we can also be slim. But if our ancestors are large we also will tend to be large. Is that bad? Of course not. That is just the way we are built. Do not allow yourself to be swayed by Madison Avenue and Hollywood's opinion of what is beautiful. Everyone and everything is beautiful in its natural setting. People without good character are not beautiful. They may be pretty but not beautiful.

The second rule of a common sense diet is that we should strive for good health and not good looks. When we achieve good health we will look the best we are capable of becoming. And when we have achieved optimum health we have to accept ourselves the way we are. Unless you accept yourself first, how can others accept you?

The third rule of a common sense diet is to recognize that if you gain only 2 pounds per year, then in 30 years you will have gained 60 pounds. So be conscious of your weight gain. It is far easier to lose 2 pounds than it is to lose 10 pounds. So do not allow those pounds to accumulate. There is no natural reason for us to put on weight as we grow old. In the wild, after animals have reached their prime, they seldom gain weight as they age. That is because of the natural balance they achieve because of their life style. We gain weight because our sedentary lifestyle is unnatural and we eat more for pleasure and less for nutritional needs.

The fourth rule of a common sense diet is, exercise. Because of our sedentary lifestyle, we must exercise to burn off the calories we consume every day.

The fifth rule of a common sense diet is that we should eat as much as possible of seasonal fruits and vegetables that are locally grown. We should also vary the source of protein i.e. fish, eggs, meat, soy beans, lentils, milk, cheese, nuts etc.

The sixth rule of a common sense diet is that we must be consistent in our efforts. If we overeat one day, we should balance that out by fasting or eating less the next day.

Finally, pay attention to the signals your body sends you. No one else lives in your body. Only you do. So listen to it and if some types of foods do not agree with you, stay away from them even if the company that produces them tells you that it is good. Remember, "Milk is not good for everybody".

Bahram R. Shahmardaan, PhD