Seven guests sit down at a restaurant. They all want the steak, but one says only with salad and olive oil, the next only wants the meat, the third wants the steak replaced with soybean patties. The fourth wants it covered in melted butter. The fifth asks for the steak to be bought out in three hours. The sixth wants the steak, sauce and chips blended and the seventh brings his scales to weigh the steak and sides.
A bizarre scene, but the least likely aspect of it is getting Paleo, carnivore, vegan, keto, intermittent fasting, juicing and longevity dieters sitting down at the same table, talking cordially.
Polite dinners such as this rarely occur because diets polarise people so much. Don’t try to get a vegan and a carnivore to the same table. Trust me, I tried all the main diets for months at a time and was met by a variety of reactions.
I tend to avoid discussing spirituality, kids’ educations and politics. These are personal choices. Recently, I had to blacklist discussions about food choices too. Food choices can be that deeply intertwined with our values and our ego.
At a time when obesity is on the rise lots of us are struggling with food. Then, on the other side, lies the food industry, the health coaches and social media influencers to add to the confusion.
You can find on internet science-based studies from the best universities and researchers in the world, blogs, sites and moving testimonials showing the superiority of every single one of these diets.
The best options is to try the diets for yourself. But who has time for that?
Well I did, I had to. I was crippled by severe digestive problems for years, reaching a point of chronic fatigue and occasional brain fog. I tried almost everything under the sun, including six of the seven diets above, and I can tell you: none of these diets are miraculous, they probably make wonders with some people, but not all people. And none is totally bad either, let alone evil.
Disoriented by all these conflicting pieces of information and with no easy solution, I started a nutrition degree. In the process, I am progressively regaining my health. Only trials and errors will teach what is good for you and what is not.
Here’s how people reacted when they heard which diet I was trying. Often, I had to hide my diet from others.
Paleo diet: eat like our ancestors 10,000 years ago. That means all the food should be non-processed.
Being Paleo is trendy in certain circles and usually well accepted. The science behind is that we are not meant to eat chemicals and food that didn’t exist a couple of thousands years ago, is easy to grasp. I had to answer questions about the “caveman diet” but the inquiries were always genuinely interested.
Carnivore: only eat animal products.
Meat has bad press, especially red meat, and the science behind a carnivore diet is not strong. Expect some resistance from your friends and be prepared to face comments about the impact of meat on the environment … and on your arteries.
Vegan: only eat non-animal products.
Many people feel bad about killing animals for our food and some may feel ill-at-ease when with someone who is doing more effort than them for the planet and animals. The main issue with some vegans is their moral superiority. To debug the debates, I invoke health reasons more than a moral call.
Keto: eat a lot of fat, really a lot (85 per cent of your calories intake), and avoid carbohydrates.
It goes against usual belief after hearing for two decades that low fat is what you need. However, in certain circles, it has become fashionable and if you haven’t tried out, you’re considered a has-been. Still, my mother worried that I was ruining my health and most of my friends thought I was crazy. I just tried to keep it low key and discreetly added olive oil to my food and ate cheese without bread (a heresy for a Frenchman like me).
Intermittent fasting: strict timing of your food. Usually you don’t eat for a window of time between 12 and 17 hours.
There is a strong resistance when one uses the word fast, although fasting has been part of most civilisations for thousands of years, and is even used in certain types of medicine. To avoid endless discussions about how healthy – or not healthy – fasting can be, I try to time my food so that if I have a lunch or dinner, it fits well into my IF window.
Juicing: blending your meals. With all the water you absorb with your juice, it is supposed to suppress your appetite.
The main concern from people around me is that I don’t get enough calories and it is also mine. I try to tell people that juicing on vegetables and eating the fibrous part is more nutritious and healthier than eating canned orange juice, but most people tend to mix things and just call you crazy.
Longevity Fast-Mimicking Diet: a short-term diet, the standard is five days, inducing strict calorie restriction and a precise ratio of macronutrients. The idea is that your body repairs and cleans itself when we eat less.
Few people know the FMD and most are reluctant to envisage that less calories means body repair and better health. I wouldn’t try it during a visit to my mother, Christmas or my birthday. Each time I have done it, I have kept the experiment to myself. There are some things that are not Instagram or Facebook material, and unless you want to attract comments about your mental sanity, it’s better to keep it to yourself.