Forks Over Knives: Eating for Change Challenge

I’m ridiculously wary of diets that claim one of two things: They are the ONLY way, or they are the BEST. It’s simply not true, at least not for EVERY. Single. Person.

There is no “the way”

Take the keto diet. Even my coaching program mentor, Brian Johnson touts the benefits of keto. But it’s not the best choice for a lot of people. Including my husband. Kidney disease and the moderate-high level of protein encouraged to get your body into ketosis, don’t generally mix. One thing Brian does typically say is you have to find your own idiosyncratic rhythm, what works for you.

Which is the point of this challenge. I have a trillion books on nutrition (okay, I have about 17…but that’s still a ridiculous number of nutrition books). Most if not all of them say the same thing about a completely different program. Whole30 claims they are the best solution. Revolution22 claims a plant-based diet will work for most people.

When I first got into fitness, I delved into many different ideas, too, until I found a practice that worked for me. It’s basically what I teach with ZooFit and practicing Eating Green. But since last year, I’ve been struggling with my weight and diet (not the starvation definition of diet, I’m talking about nutrition lifestyle). So, I wanted to check out some popular programs and weed out my library a little. Some are working well– like The Fast Diet (fasting twice a week) and Energize (eating windows)– at least when I practice them (I may or may not have experienced a particularly debilitating Winter Slump through February…).

But the last book I read (It Starts With Food) rubbed me the wrong way. Because while it didn’t outright state “our plan is THE best,” the authors certainly hinted at it, and almost guilted you into agreeing with them. Like you would have to be an complete out of touch idiot to want sugar after their program. Sorry, but the reason people love sugar (or honey, monkfruit, syrup, etc) is because it’s delicious, and you can tell me I will get the same satisfaction out of eating a banana as from ice cream until you are blue in the face. But you would be a liar!

I CAN make the conscious choice for what is better for me in the long-term, but don’t lie and say I won’t miss sugar (especially if you take out ALL forms of it outside of fruit).

It’s things like that which remind me that we have a huge cultural shaming and negativity problem around food, as a nation. Whole30 is NOT for everyone. Nothing is for everyone.

So you can imagine my dramatic eye-roll when this month’s program, Forks Over Knives, declared that a plant-based diet is the ONLY and BEST solution for our health, animal welfare, and the planet.

For the record, I recognize that a plant-based eating lifestyle is exponentially healthier for me, my husband, and many other folks. But to say it’s the ONLY solution? I call bullshit!

The problem I have is anytime someone/a new book claims to have the perfect diet that helps us AND the environment, it is ALWAYS a plant-based diet. And again, I personally agree that eating less meat would certainly reduce carbon emissions, improve animal welfare, cut down on agricultural pollution, deforestation, and water waste. But I also feel if you like/feel compelled to consume meat, then you can still follow that lifestyle without feeling guilty that you are destroying the planet. You just have to be careful and put in some extra effort.

That’s what I’ve noticed about these programs. They are trying to make something insanely complex and complicated into a simple tagline. You just can’t do that! Nutrition studies are still in their infancy compared to our medical and health knowledge. It would be like having a 17th century physician operate on you. Sure, we’ve come leaps and bounds, but the science isn’t completely all there. So, we can’t be positive that there’s a “sure fire” way or that there even is a “THE Way.”

In any case, there are some solid points brought up from Forks Over Knives that I’d like to elaborate on.

What the Standard/Modern American Diet Means to Animals and the Environment

“Near the beginning of the 20th century, Americans each ate about 120 pounds of meat yearly; as of 2007, we ate about 222 pounds. In 1913 we consumed about 40 pounds of processed sugar each; by 1999, that number had risen to 147 pounds. And in 1909, Americans downed 294 pounds of dairy products apiece– by 2006, that figure had more than doubled to 605 pounds per person.”

These statistics are staggering, but one way Forks Over Knives didn’t follow through is that these numbers don’t mean anything unless we understand the consequences– health and planet-wise. These numbers are doubling PER PERSON. And with the increase in population here in the U.S., that means meat production has soared. Sure, the meat industry is ecstatic, but how are we producing so much? How are we using the land, and how are we dealing with the waste associated with so much meat? And that doesn’t even cover the same questions about sugar, soy, dairy, chicken eggs, fish, and then across the pond with palm oil.

Back when Americans weren’t eating as much meat, and there weren’t as many Americans, farms were able to raise meat in sustainable and healthy ways. But now, with the high demand, many have turned to factory-farming, growth-hormones, cutting corners in welfare and environmental practices to meet the demands of consumers. The meat industry then uses lobbyists to lessen laws around safety practices so producers can save even more time and money. You know who pays in the end? Everyone– workers get hurt more often, animal welfare gets tossed out the window, public health takes a back seat, and environmental regulations are ignored.

So, what does all THAT mean? It means our unsatiable appetite for meat is costing us a lot. At this point, drastic changes in behavior are necessary. Drastic meaning, we need to at least bring down our meat consumption to early 20th century levels. Notice I am not saying cut it out entirely, unless that’s something that works for you and is feasible for you to accomplish. But we do need to do something.

Food Industry Bad Guys

One big theme I’ve begun to notice from my studies as a Performance and Resiliency coach, from my experience figuring out my Eating Green lifestyle, and from reading these books the past few months is this: (I’ll try not to use absolutes…) A large majority of our environmental, health, and social injustice issues trace back to the Food Industry, their sneaky tactics to convince us to spend our hard earned cash on their products and steer us closer and closer to the proverbial cliff.

In Forks Over Knives, they remind us of this danger: “The central protagonist of this dark scenario is the food industry and its profit demands. With billions of advertising and marketing dollars, it annually cajoles and entices us with its dairy, meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, as well as products laden with sugar, salt, and fat. This ceaseless assault achieves its goals of convincing a vulnerable and unprotected public to ingest food that will make them fat and sick: Obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, gallstones, osteoporosis, allergies, and asthma are but a few of the diseases of Western nutrition.

But what Forks Over Knives did better than most programs is give us extra tips to watch out for tricks from the Food Industry:

  • Read labels carefully! Manufacturers often change their ingredients lists to make it seem as if there is less of certain foods than there really is. For example, manufacturers will use different sweeteners, such as cane sugar, corn syrup, beet sugar, fructose, and so on, to push what might have been the first ingredient on a list down so we don’t notice that sugar is the #1 ingredient.
  • Also, pay attention to serving size. One of the ways that manufacturers fool consumers into buying their products is to make them seem lighter on calories and fat by reducing the serving size listed on the container. A small package of chips may only say 100 calories per serving, but when you read more carefully, you discover there are three servings, and you just downed the whole bag!

We do have a responsibility to take care of ourselves, but it’s hard when the Food Industry is the equivalent to an ultimate bad guy in superhero movies. So, if you stumble along your journey, it’s not entirely your fault. You’re human and the Food Industry has trillions of dollars to keep us hooked on their products.

Next Month

Next month I’m tackling one of my first programs that gave me success in 2014, the Zone. There are several books in the series by Barry Sears, but I’ll be focused on the Anti-Inflammatory Zone.

In the meantime, keep eating clean, eating green, and staying positive!

One Response

  1. A cat or dog has meat eating teeth. A cow has vegetable eating teeth. people have both types of teeth. I eat a bit of meat and a lot of grain and green vegetables. Works for me. It bothers me that meat animals do not live a happy life. The animal should live happy & never know what hit it when it becomes meat. Can we have a little ethics in raising meat animal?

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