Why most diets don’t work

The food pyramid looked way different when I was a kid. Bread and pasta were at the base of the pyramid, yet today pizza and noodles aren’t exactly considered the healthiest food out there.
Internet is flooded with articles about so many different diets and programs, and nobody seems to agree on what is the best. We are overwhelmed by all the information about what we should or shouldn’t eat. Constantly changing trends and paradoxical information (e.g. wine causes and prevents cancer, fats are good and bad, etc.) leave an average person in total confusion or with bad eating habits.

photo by ja ma

So much different information usually stem from sensationalist reviews of scientific studies. Most of the studies are based on insufficient information about the subjects, and it’s understandable, because it is very hard (impossible to be honest, at least for now) to monitor every bodily function of a human subject 24/7 in everyday life conditions. Other problem is that big companies tend to bribe the researchers to present the data which favors their product.

photo by Jannis Brandt

Many articles and studies regarding diets don’t put that much emphasis on how everyone is different (and no, I am not talking about being “big-boned”). Every person has a different genetic code and, what is more important for this subject, different gut flora. That’s one of the reasons why your friend can eat unholy amounts of food everyday and not gain weight, while you feel your late night binges after a week or so. The microbiome in your stomach has the last word on what nutrients and how much of them will enter the bloodstream. Everyone has few hundred distinct species of bacteria in their gut, and their number and ratio tells a lot about one’s eating habits and general health. For example, the difference between people who eat a lot of processed foods and the ones who don’t, can be seen in number of different species of bacteria in their microbiome, as the latter has a bigger variety.
Use of antibiotics and our eating habits greatly affected ecosystem in our guts. Some studies even show link between sudden rise of autoimmune diseases in the last 60 years (along with autism and diabetes) and the state of our gut flora, blaming modern agricultural and medical practices for pesticide and antibiotic overuse.

Picking a diet is very hard when so many perplexing factors are involved. Often is forgotten how not that long ago an average person couldn’t go to the supermarket and buy bananas, tomatoes, corn, goji berries, 10 different spices etc. People mostly ate what they could grow or find in the wild. Advance of trade and technology brought a great variety to our menu and we are yet to see the full effects of that change, as our biology takes time to catch up.

Different foods give different nutrients to your body and your microbiome. So it’s not enough to ask what do you need, but what your bacteria need too. Fibers play a big role in our diet because they present food to the residents of our digestive system. Fun fact: Mother’s milk contains oligosaccharides, which are used only to feed the beneficial bacteria in baby’s forming gut flora; the baby itself doesn’t need those compounds.

photo by Nathan Dumlao

Proper food regimen can have life changing effect on one’s life and overall happiness (it can even treat mild to moderate depression, many diseases of the digestive system, skin conditions, etc.), but how to find it now, in the endless sea of information? The best way is to ask the experts. Depending on the goal (losing or gaining weight, medical treatment, etc.), your body type, age and overall health, a good nutritionist can tailor a food regimen just for you. And it will probably work too! The point is to give your body and it’s good citizens everything they need in proper amounts. As that need differs among people, it is important to get to know your residents. One size doesn’t fit all, and personalized approach shows the best effects.

If you want to know more on this subject, I warmly recommend “10% human” by Alanna Collen, it’s a really fun reading to get into the matter and full of references, if you want to dig deeper.