Traditional Diet Experiment – Lessons Learnt
If you are looking at starting a diet or mix your diet up a little bit, look no further. I have spent my life to date conducting mini-experiments on my body to see the best methods to lose weight and stay fit. In a series of 5 posts, I cover a brief history of the modern diets available and my experimentation with each one. Diets include the traditional diet, paleo diet, ketogenic diet, Zone diet, & intermittent fasting.
There isn’t a one size fits all approach or a quick fix to living a healthy life. This is why I believe it is important to conduct mini-experiments with the food you eat. Here you will find the pros and cons of my experiments of dieting both personally and from clients over the last 15 years. In this first post, I cover the history of the traditional diet and my experience.
Excuse me, teacher, what is a diet?
When you first learn about nutrition at school, your brain becomes inundated with new knowledge. It is the objective of the physical education curriculum to develop each child’s knowledge and skills about health and movement using the best available science (1). In other words, we are being taught from a young age how to look after ourselves to become healthy adults.
Let’s consider for a moment that the science used may be outdated. Are we still being taught how to become healthy adults or are we learning how to become sick and inflamed? There is contradictory dietary information readily available at our fingertips. What is taught by educational institutions along with media influence leads to confusion when choosing the best diet for their individual needs.
The Food Pyramid – Founding the Traditional Diet
From the country that gave the world Ikea, so too came the food pyramid. As a result of a string of protests for more affordable food in 1972, the National Board along with the Kooperativa Förbundet (KF) assigned a special working group called “diet and cost” (2). It was their job to find an affordable way to feed the people of Sweden. The committee designed two concepts, basic food (bread, milk, pasta & potatoes) and additional food (fish, fruit, meat & vegetables) (2).
KF released a flyer in 1973 stating that basic food would provide 3/4 of total daily protein intake and half of vitamin C intake (2). In contrast to this claim, local critics warned that consuming a large quantity of bread and pasta would lead to widespread obesity.
With the new claims in place, people needed a tool illustrating what to eat, and how much. In 1974 during a lecture given by Anna-Britt Agnsäter, CEO of the “test kitchen” for KF, an attendee Fjalar Clemes suggested the use of a triangle as a visual, with basic foods placed at the bottom. (2,3).
From this idea, the food pyramid was born, spreading across the world over a 20 year period. Today, most countries use a plate that illustrates portion size for each food group. The biggest difference of the two illustrations is the recommended portion size of vegetables as shown in the image.
All things considered, the original concept of the food pyramid served it purpose 50 years ago. There was a need to educate a large population of a viable way to eat well. For this reason and this reason alone, it served its purpose. There is a disconnect with updating nutritional standards as more science is made readily available. To stay on track, I have covered this in another article.
My Experience on the Traditional Diet (2002 – 2005)
As a result of being a fat little kid growing up, there reached a time just after school where I wanted to make a change. I read all the health books, magazines and articles I could get my hands on. The basic message from my research was: count calories, eat low-fat foods, a little lean protein and lots of carbohydrates. All things that I had never done before.
I visited my local gym, hired a personal trainer who set me up with my first ever diet plan. Not to my surprise, the diet plan followed the same guidelines as what I had read and been taught during school.
My traditional diet plan consisted of 2800 calories, 70% carbohydrate, 25% protein and 5% fat and looked like this:
- Breakfast – Rolled oats, banana, honey & skim milk
- Snack 1 – Turkey/cranberry sandwich on wholemeal, low-fat cottage cheese & an apple
- Lunch – Brown rice, tuna in brine, green salad, olive oil, lemon & tomato
- Snack 2 – same as snack 1
- Dinner – Pasta or Potato, Chicken breast or fish & tomato salsa
- Desert – Low-fat cottage cheese with honey
I followed the traditional diet for close to 3 years, increasing/ decreasing calories as required. Having a meal plan that follows your diet is very handy. It removes the added stress of figuring out exactly what to eat and of how much.
Before starting the traditional diet, I had never prepared meals in advance for myself. Whenever I was hungry, I would eat. Starting a diet plan was the first time food had become regimented which proved to be a tough transition. After the first week of measuring out food and eating the same thing, I started to understand what a meal should look like (according to this particular diet).
Understanding how many calories that were in each type of food was tricky too. Today there are apps that count your calories. All you have to do is enter the weight. I used a kitchen scale to measure out the weight of each ingredient before adding it to the meal. Here is another general method of using your hand as a measuring tool which can prove to be handy (no pun intended).
- Eating out was easy to do. Most places offer high carb, low-fat solutions
- Became conscientious of what I was putting in my mouth
- Learned how to diet & prepare food
- Lost some fat
When I first started, the traditional diet was enjoyable. It was easy to follow, and I was seeing progress after a short period (roughly six weeks). Breakfast remained a constant, snacks, lunch and dinner were interchangeable- making eating out easy. Almost all cafes or restaurants had meals that I could choose from, making food on the run easy too.
Although I didn’t achieve a six pack while I was on this particular diet (not from a lack of trying), I could never seem to lose the fat around my lower back or under my belly button. Because of not being able to lose the additional fat and the reasons below I decided to try the Paleo diet.
Given these points, the biggest positive that came out of this experience for me was learning how to diet and prepare food for a meal plan.
- Never completely satisfied after meals
- Bloating after meals
- Did not get below 10% body fat
- Measured out every calorie
- Inconsistent bowel movements
Without fail after each meal, I would still be craving more food. Along with not feeling entirely satisfied, I would experience bloating after eating which I thought was normal. You can find out why this happens in this post where I cover these issue in more detail.
There is evidence available now that show diets that include an abundance of grains, may have an inflammatory response in some individuals (6). I just happen to fall into that group. At the time; I consulted doctors, personal trainers and nutrition coaches who commended my blood work and my success in losing fat.
It is important to realise that I am not advocating one particular diet for everyone. There is a small portion of the population that can handle and process grains well. If you are one of these lucky people, you may enjoy progress following the traditional diet. I, however, cannot handle a diet rich in cereals and grains. When I ate grains, I found they had an adverse effect on my mind and body.
I asked myself questions like how do I look, feel and perform? As a result of taking a step back and watching what’s going on, I started to notice the small signals my body was sending me. You can learn a lot when you slow down and take note.
Carrying out this mini-experiment drove me to find out more about gut health and how to repair it. I had proven to myself that I was disciplined enough to eat the “right” foods. It was now time to evaluate my results and adjust. This is what lead me to find the Zone Diet.
Make sure you consult a doctor before starting any diet.