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Uncle Sam Wants You To Avoid Shady Quacks And Scammers

So one thing I’ve struggled with observing the diet and nutrition and fitness community on the Internet is trying to separate the wheat from the chaff.  And by that I meant the…bovine fecal matter from the non-bovine fecal matter.  I see dozens of people pimping supplements or little “medical” devices.  I see hundreds more swearing by this or that fad diet. It’s hard to tell who’s right and who’s wrong.

And there is weird internecine digital bloodshed between the supporters of the various diets.  Vegans, carnivores, keto, paleo, vegetarians, and pescuatarians spend a lot of time selling their diet as the One True Way And The Light and dunking on and dragging the ungodly heretics who believe differently.  Truly, even a subject as anodyne as diet and nutrition can be screwed up by the Internet. The brutal, bloody Twitter combat raged by various groups who purport to be followers of the One True Diet is a terror to behold.

Many of these people spend a lot of time placing their superior dietary dogma on conspicuous display so the masses can bask in the glow of their culinary moral rectitude.  Vegans will share pictures of their cruelty free meals. Carnivores will show pictures of them stacking steaks like pancakes in a frying pan. Hardcore keto types will pretentiously remove the toppings from a pizza and just eat that, disdainfully casting away the high-carb pizza crust.  I cringe at this stuff. It’s self-righteous food porn.

I should note, in fairness, that most of them have pictures of tremendous weight loss.  So these diets all appear to work to some extent. But this disproves that their diet plan is the One Plan to Rule Them All.  If they all work, clearly the presumption that any one diet is the diet of the Ubermenschen is false.

The problem with all of this, is it’s hard to tell who’s legit and who’s got an ulterior motive.  Some of these guys are just trying to sell supplements. Others are just trying to get you to pay them for a book, or a gym membership, or a meal plan, or something else to that effect.  

Now, I should point out that the fact that someone is trying to sell you something isn’t inherently shady.  I’ve worked as a financial auditor for 13 years, and can confirm that most people who are trying to sell you something actually think it will help you.  Most Americans are honest. Fraud is actually very rare. Having said that, the nutrition and supplement and diet business does seem to attract more than its fair share of modern day snake oil salesmen.  

Others aren’t selling a product, but are pushing an ideology.  Vegans may make all sorts of claims about how their diet is best, when their ulterior motive is to advance animal rights.  Others might be pushing some all natural, anti-GMO, sustainable food narrative. This doesn’t necessarily make them awful. Maybe they’re acting in good faith, even if they believe something screwy.  But they could potentially be telling you something false in order to advance an agenda. Even if they’re well-intentioned, it’s disingenuous.

And there are a few people who absolutely give away that they’re jerking your chain.  Anyone who tries to sell you on the idea that “this is the diet that corporations don’t want you to know” or that the government has been secretly hiding some dietary secret from you is a con artist.  Back away from these people slowly. Or just run like hell.

But weeding out the nutballs, even the obvious ones, is a time consuming process.  So rather than spend a lot of time trying to interpret people’s true motives, I found an easier way.  I’ve identified a group of people whose motive is well known.  And that is the members of my dad’s old profession.  The United States military. Well, maybe not the Air Force.  Ye Olde Army Colonel who raised me always thought those guys were weak sauce.

The motives of the United States military are pretty obvious.  They need to be prepared to hand an ass-whupping to anyone who may need it.  This requires them to be in peak condition. Even soldiers who don’t serve in combat roles, or at least not ground combat, might have to be ready for this.  So they’re not going to spare any expense to make sure their people have the best nutrition science.  Of course not. The last time the military “spared expense”, electricity wasn’t a thing.

So what does the military say you should eat?  And I don’t mean that ridiculous three day “military diet” that you can find on the Internet.  I’m talking about the DoD diet standards. These standards encourage soldiers to eat high protein and low fat items, like fish, beans, whole wheat pasta, egg whites, skim or 1 percent milk, and low fat yogurt. And they encourage you to avoid items such as: fried items, high fat meats, egg yolks, and whole milk.  Clearly, there are things here that don’t fit the keto, vegan, carnivore, or paleo diets.

I went a step further and found a more hardcore nutrition guide, the Special Operations Forces Nutrition Guide.  It’s a thing.  And it’s not classified or anything.  Although I guess that’s not surprising, since it’s not like they’re going to eat special, top secret, Black Ops broccoli or anything.  I didn’t read the whole thing (it’s 225 pages) but just skimming revealed some things I shouldn’t have been shocked by at all. It’s all very traditional nutritional information.  No gimmicks or anything.  

For example, their perspective on carbs is that you should actually eat them.  Sorry keto and paleo peeps.  You need them.  Not getting enough can result in fatigue, poor sleep, and irritability, amongst other things.  And eating too much protein can be a problem. Excess protein is converted to fat. And they really aren’t fans of eating lots of fat directly too.  I know this could set the hair of a passionate keto acolyte absolutely on fire.  But the guys and gals who wrote this have no reason to lie. Their motive is known.  Keep U.S. troops in top condition. If they aren’t, they could get killed. The writers of this don’t want them to get killed.  They want the other side’s guys to get killed.

Low carb types, like the aforementioned pizza heretic, think grains are the worst thing ever.  But the writers of the SOFNG (not a clever acronym at all, is it?) don’t turn their nose up at bread and grains.  Nor do they exclude things with sugar in them. Nor do they insist on supplements. They encourage people to acquire nutrients through their diet.  As do I, because supplements are totally cheating. Although there is a section for special cases where special operators might use them. But that’s different.  If you’re planning to storm a beach, maybe it’s ok. If not, it’s cheating.

As I’ve been doing in my past pieces, they list a lot of food types which are good sources for particular nutrients.  And all of the lists contain at least one thing that would annoy or enrage a vegan, a carnivore, and all of the other diets in between.  Various meats and grains, for example, are listed and their consumption is encouraged.

There are other items that would be considered apostasy by the fad dieters in this text.  For example, some fad diet pushers scoff at the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and encourage people to fast regularly.  But the SOFNG (okay, that acronym really sucks) writers encourage a healthy breakfast.  You need energy in the morning. Especially if you’re going to do anything active.

Now, some of the stuff in the SOFNG (it doesn’t get better, no matter how many times I use it), like the normal DoD standards, is a serious buzzkill.  Like, don’t eat fast food or pizza. Avoid desserts and things. And avoid alcohol. Which is a literal buzzkill.  Most horrifyingly to me, fried foods are discouraged.  Not that I’m surprised, it just feels like a personal insult to my southern fried ancestry.  In short, never have fun. Fortunately, if you’re not a Navy Seal, you can probably cheat a little.

There’s also plenty of stuff about exercise.  They encourage a balance between strength training and cardio.  Which is upsetting to certain meatheads. There are lots of fitness bros out there who insist that strength training is the only thing to do.  I’ve literally seen some guys push the idea that cardio can be harmful. This is not unsurprisingly not true.  

The other peculiar thing about some of these muscle men is that they often push the more carnivorous diets.  According to the SOFNG (……..barf), strength training requires carbohydrates, and too much protein can actually inhibit muscle growth and cause calcium loss.  So a high protein/fat diet combined with strength training can actually leave you wrecked. This is bad news for the broscientists.

Now, I’m not pushing the idea that you should eat exactly what special operators eat.  This is a diet for someone who is superactive.  When you spend a day running, jumping out of airplanes, carrying an horrendous amount of equipment on a hike, and so forth, you can eat a lot and still keep a healthy weight.

You should eat the same things, just maybe not as much.  The point I’m getting at is that these don’t eschew carbs or meat, and don’t need gimmicks or supplements.  So people pushing supplements or quirky diets as if they’ve discovered some new thing that the rest of the world doesn’t know about are mostly full of it.  Eating carbs is still healthy. Eating meat is still healthy. Anyone who tells you that carbs are bad or meat are bad just isn’t following the science.  

Now I’m not writing this to trash keto and paleo and vegetarian and whatever.  I know that some of these diets are used to treat various diseases and conditions.  The keto diet was designed to treat epileptics. I know that people with high cholesterol, heart problems, or diabetes can bring it under control by eating mostly vegetables.  We know that people have successfully overcome these and other conditions with diet changes. As long as these are effective medical treatments, they can’t be bunk.  

But if all you want is weight loss, you don’t have to do any of these diets.  Sometimes when we’re losing weight on these unusual diets we don’t get all of the necessary micronutrients, because we’re excluding foods that are actually healthy.  You just need to balance your diet and get some exercise, not pick a fad diet. And don’t bother with supplements. That’s cheating.

If you were to choose one of these diets, I’d suggest tracking what you eat.  It is possible to get all of the essential nutrients in any of these diets, as long as you eat the right things.  I’ve learned this by tracking what I eat and totalling up the nutrients in the Cronometer app. But anyone who tells you that you must avoid all carbs or meats or whatever is just speaking from ignorance.  You can pick any one of these diets, or devise your own, and live a healthy life. There is no One True Diet.  

And now, more than ever, people of suspect integrity are pushing questionable diets and supplements, often as a “cure” or “treatment” for the coronavirus.  But this is exactly what the snake oil salesmen in the days of old did. Sell you something claiming it’s the answer and the cure for everything, when it frequently does nothing.

So be careful spending money on health plans and supplements.  Spend time educating yourself. Most of what you need is available for free, or at least for very little.  You can get healthy without spending a dime on nutritional information. And the truth is, the old school stuff that you were taught ages ago, like limiting fat and sugar, eating your fruits and veggies, and exercising, is all it takes.  It’s not really a secret at all.

Uncle Sam isn’t lying about this.  He has no reason to. He’d want his soldiers in peak shape.  So if what he says is contradicting some article I find on Twitter or this or that blog or in this or that magazine, I’d be inclined to side with Uncle Sam.  Do what he says, and avoid the quacks and scammers.

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Published by drilldowndiet

Formerly obese CPA/health humorist using Cronometer and FitBod to lose weight. Sharing assorted life hacks to squeeze nutrition and exercise into a busy schedule. Also on Twitter at @drilldowndiet and Facebook.

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