In the online blogging world, superfoods are to the nutrition and weight loss niches what list posts are to the advice/personal devleopment niches.
Fire up your favorite health blog and I can guarantee you one of two things: Recipes galore, and articles about 117 benefits of adding goji berries to your breakfast smoothie.
And I know why this is the case. Not because this stuff will actually change anyone’s life, but because in the world of so-called “viral” marketing, this is the stuff that makes the best share-bait.
I’ve seen posts that are functionally worthless get over 1 million shares. This makes me sad, because there are so many people out there who are desperate for some functional advice – like a good portion of the 68% of obese Americans who contribute to the billions of dollars spent on weight loss annually.
These people don’t need to know 15 Surprising Uses of Lemon or 51 Taste-Bud Tickling Apple Recipes.
They need to learn how to structure their environments and run their minds in order to get different results than they have on 10 different diets.
Celebrating the most base, generic, and mediocre advice that has either 1) no impact; 2) appeal to people who are already successful in their nutrition and lifestyle design; or 3) appeal to people who are suffering because it FEELS like progress – is not only completely pointless, it’s downright harmful.
That’s because of point #3. When we focus our energy on these practically-irrelevant forms of info-tainment, we feel like we’re learning something valuable, instead of actually doing something valuable.
Because really, 98% of people who read these articles aren’t using them in order to change their behavior. The articles titillate the senses, but offer no concrete means of actually changing our results.
Great, so mushrooms have a lot of vitamins. So how can I stop shoving cake in my face when I get cravings?
It doesn’t make sense.
So what we end up with is a huge cult celebrating irrelevant nutritional facts, just as the advice world celebrates cliches like “be grateful” (How? For what? When?)
Here’s the thing about this whole world of nutritional info-tainment:
It can be summed up in about 2 lines: Eat more fruits and veggies. Eat less processed food.
That’s it. That’s all we have to know. It’s probably useful for beginners to see that broccoli is way more nutrient-dense than bread or deep fried Twinkies, but the big question we have to answer is how do we get people to create a permanent behavior change?
I’m sorry, but knowing the micronutrient breakdown of pumpkin is not the answer.
Now, since most of the people writing this stuff are getting so much positive feedback from the world in terms of likes, shares, and repins, I feel it’s almost pointless to direct this at them. Stopping something like that must be akin to stopping smoking or curing a gambling addiction. Way too much stimulus on top of the appearance of actually doing GOOD.
So this message must be taken to heart by normal folks like you and me, who are trying our damnedest to make positive changes in our lives.
We have to inoculate ourselves against the seductive distractions.
We have to ask ourselves: Does this really matter? Is this one of the critical few decisions that will have an inordinately large impact?
Because I can tell you this: If you’re doing your grocery shopping in the vegetable aisle, you’ve already won. You can pick anything you want, and you don’t need to know a single fact about the macro or micronutrient content of your choices.
The key decision was to hit the veggie aisle instead of the cereal aisle, or the cake aisle, or the deep fried everything aisle. That’s the choice that accounts for 95% of your results in the supermarkets, not if you’ve miraculously decided to add winter squash to this weeks soup menu because you read about its high vitamin A content.
Eating can and should be fun. It shouldn’t require much deliberation.
But when we drown ourselves in all this minutia we add layers of complexity and magnify the importance of every little decision 1,000 times.
Take this from a guy under 10% body fat and a decent strength:weight ratio. I don’t give a flying fuck about superfoods, micronutrient contents etc. I eat what makes my body feel good and perform well, and I do so without guilt. I don’t have any label for my diet. So far as I’m concerned we have a diet, we don’t go on one.
Sometimes, mine includes cake. And guess what? According to every test I’ve ever taken I tend to be in great physical shape – and better than that, my real life performance aligns with what I want to be capable of.
That’s not meant to be boastful, it’s meant to reflect the fact that by focusing on a few, important factors we can get 80-90% of the way to the result we want.
Are there cases where we might want to delve into the minutia? Of course. But we need to save that for when we’ve got the big questions handled, or we’ll be obscuring the small details anyway.
1) What do I want to do with my body? Play basketball, knit, write, play with my kids? Get real about what you want to use your body FOR. If you want to sit on the couch all day and watch Friends reruns, your dietary requirements are different than if you want to run a marathon every day. I think both are equally bad goals by the way, exemplifying extremist, obsessive behavior.
2) How many ingredients are in my food? The best answer is “one”. That probably means that there’s no packaging to read in the first place, and that – if there is – there aren’t too many nasty additives. Of course, we have to be careful with the pesticides used on produce.
3) What does my body desire? I’m not talking about the desire for taste sensation, that’s a head-desire. Our bodies desire something different, and by paying attention we can tell. Think of yourself as a samurai and listen to your body. If you follow this intuition completely honestly, you will eventually find your way to nutritional habits that meet your needs. Your body knows that drinking a 2L Coke doesn’t feel good, even if the chemicals pumping through your bloodstream and brain are telling you that you crave it.
I need to qualify this: Sometimes it’s important to insert information from our brains, as this “listening to our bodies” idea only works if, at some point, our bodies have had a healthy system to recall and work towards. If we’ve always been in dysfunction, then we need to balance intuition – which can be seduced by extreme levels of fat/sugar/salt – and intellect.
That’s it. Number 3 can have the most variation in approach between individuals, depending on our medical situations and needs. But the first two have got to be addressed.
Then, once we’ve done that, maybe we can throw out superfoods and just eat food. The way nature intended. And the way we need.