Our goal at The Sustainable Training Method is to help you (our clients) find a lifestyle that consists of healthy sustainable habits. We are all individual, and we all have our own experience and wisdom to guide us. What might work from one person may not work for another and we must learn to create healthy behaviour changes that are sustainable for us. This includes a sustainable diet, sustainable sleep, sustainable stress management, sustainable training, and a sustainable community.
“One man's food is another man's poison”
What is a Sustainable Diet and where should you start?
Healthy eating is a lifestyle choice, not a diet. You may think the Paleo craze has come and gone, or you may have tried it and had limited success. I would agree that Paleo has some shortcomings, but I would also like to suggest that it gives us a great foundation to build from as the backbone of an ancestrial diet is what our bodies thrive on. Let me explain.
All organisms are adapted to survive and thrive in a particular environment, and when that environment changes faster than the organism can adapt, issues can occur. This is a fundamental principle of biology that applies to humans just as much as all organisms in nature.
For generations, humans ate meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and some starchy plants. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were fit, strong and lean, and remarkably free from chronic disease. Some would go as far to argue that they were superior to modern day humans in every measure of health and fitness. Those who were lucky to survive the extremly harsh environment, and reached an old age, did so without the inflammatory diseases that plague our health today (1 in 2 people are suffering from chronic disease in western societies today). They were not obese; they didn’t get heart disease or diabetics, hypertension, or most cancers. Compare this to modern society:
2018 statistics from The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare state:
63% of Australians ages 18 and over are overweight or obese
28% of children between the ages of 5-17 are overweight or obese
The lead causes of death between the ages of 45-74 are coronary heart disease and lung cancer
The lead causes of death between the ages 75 and above are coronary heart disease, dementia and Alzheimers disease
Quite simply, nutrition is essential for good health. It doesn’t matter how much you exercise, if your diet is full of fast food, takeaways, pre-packaged meals and processed snacks, or foods that don’t suit your body, you will struggle to truly nourish your body and give it the energy it needs to perform at its best.
What transformed us from being healthy, vital people, free of chronic inflammatory diseases to becoming a sick, fat and unhealthy population?
Our diet plays a vital role in the modern day health epidemic. Agriculture was the first kick in the guts as it decreases our protein intake, lowered the diversity of nutrient-dense on our foods, and increase our carbohydrate intake. The quality of our protein sources decreased as inferior farmed animal protein and plant proteins increase. Crops like wheat, corn, rice, and legumes increase our phytic acid intake, which interferes with the absorption of protein, vitamins and minerals. This lead to a wide range of diseases that weren’t common before agriculture (beriberi, pellagra, rickets, and scurvy). Current research continue to link grains to numerouse chronic diseases due to the infflamation caused by eating high quantities of grains. The health issues didn’t stop there, as the rates of tooth decay, anaemia (due to iron deficiency), increase infant mortality, and a decrease in bone density also starts to appear.
To make matters worse, the second kick to the guts was the Industrial Revolution (IR). The IR added processed sugar, flour, and vegetable oils to our menu, not to mention the preservatives and chemicals. All of these foods are highly processed and wreak havoc on our health.
The profound mismatch between our genetics and the “foodstuff” we are feeding our bodies today is partly responsible for the epidemic of modern disease, and it also explains why a Paleo diet can help so many people.
Strict Paleo can be a great starting place, and I often suggest clients follow a strict 30-60day Paleo diet experiment. Strict Paleo is not always the final destination as some people may thrive on strict Paleo and others may not, this depends on the individual and their ability to tolerate certain foods, which is mostly dependant on the environment they live in and their current level of health. If someone has a chronic disease strict Paleo may not be enought and certain “Paleo accepted foods” may also need to be removed from the diet.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to a Sustainable Diet. There is nothing worse than some “nutrition guru” claiming that everyone should be on a "low-carb diet" or a “high-fat diet.” The key to long-term sustainable success is personalisation to meet your needs, your lifestyle and your environment. This may also change as you age, your goals change, or you environment changes.
Humans can thrive on a wide variety of macronutrients ratios. The Maasai (Southern Kenya) people consume 65-75% of their calories from fat, primary from meat, milk and blood of the cows they raise. The traditional Inuit (northern Canada and parts of Greenland and Alaska) people consume up to 90% of their calories from fat at certain times of the year. The Kitava (Papua New Guinea) obtain about 70% of their calories from carbohydrates (fruit and vegetables), and the Tukisenta (Papua New Guinea) are said to consume as much as 95% of their calories from carbs. All of these populations were lean, fit and free of chronic disease, which demonstrates that there is more to a healthy diet than merely counting the macronutrients we eat. The quality of the food you are eating has a critical role to play as 500calories of process sugar and 500calories of fruit and vegetables are both sources of carbohydrates, but they do not have the same metabolic or hormonal response in the body.
Although we share lots in common, we all have slightly different genes, different lifestyles, different childhoods, different nutrient deficiencies, different gut health, differed health issues, different activity levels, different stress levels, and different goals. All of these factors influence what your Sustainable Diet might look like, and since these factors change over time - if you develop a chronic illness or move to a new climate, or increase your exercise volume/intensity - your diet will also change. Your diet should change with the seasons; it certainly did for our ancestors.
All of this information should make you start to questions if it fits your macros is not good enough?
How can you determine what personalisations you should add to your Sustainable Diet?
It’s easy to find excuses to skip meals, but if you are seriously committed to maintaining your health then you need to prioritise your nutrition.
Some of us have specific genes that predispose us to certain health problems. Let’s make one thing clear; recent studies have found that 84% of the risk of chronic disease is not genetic, but environmental and behavioural. Our genes do play a role in determining which diseases we are predisposed too, but the lifestyle choices we make and our environment turn out to be a far more critical determinant of our health and wellbeing.
For example, some populations produce certain enzymes that help them process carbohydrates more effectively than others. The diversity of the gut microbiome can dictate the number of calories we absorb from certain foods, and this is why calorie deficit diets don’t work for everyone.
Geographic location and climate also have a role to play. Cultures that live closer to the equator seem to consume more fruits and vegetables with higher water content, raw foods, and cold foods than those who live in colder climates away from the equator who seem to eat more meat and fat and warm meals.
If you struggle with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a low-FODMAP diet might be better for you. If you have an autoimmune disease, you may consider an autoimmune protocol and avoid foods like grains, dairy and eggs. If you have high histamine levels, you should eat a diet low in histamine. People who are suffering from thyroid issues should NOT be following a very low-carb-diet as insulin is required to convert T4 into the more active form of thyroid hormone T3. A very-low-carb diet will slow down the production of insulin and decrease the T4 to T3 conversion and make matters worse.
Your physical activity levels are also a key consideration in your diet. Doing manual labour work for 8hours a day will have different needs to those who sit in an office all day. High-intensity interval training, long slow aerobic conditioning, weight lifting and hypertrophy training all have their unique nutritional requirements. There is no single formula for everyone. Not doing enough physical activity is a big problem, but you can also do too much. A lot of CrossFitters are super active people, and they can often overtrain and under eat to the point that is counterproductive to their health.
By now you should start to see how personalisation of your diet is essential to your health and merely following the latest celebrity diet is never going to deliver the results you are seeking.
After completing a 30-60day strict Paleo diet I often tell clients to slowly start reintroducing certain foods like dairy, rice, legumes, etc.… back into the diet. By following a food reintroduction protocol, clients can begin to find what foods make them feel good and what food impact their energy, mood, digestion, cognitive function and overall health. Step-by-step clients start to build an awareness of a personalised Sustainable Diet that suits their lifestyle.
If your looking for further resource to regarding a Paleo diet and the reintroduction of certain foods I recommend The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser or his free e-books “Why a Paleo diet doesn’t instantly work for everyone” and “Effortless Paleo weight loss.”
If you need help with your sustainable diet and finding what is optimal for your health, performance and longevity may be working with a health coach can help you create new habits and implement healthy behaviour changes and move closer to your wellness goals.
What about Keto and Intermittant Fasting?
This section was added not long after the post went live as several people contacted me to ask about Ketosis and Intermittent fasting. Both seem to be the craze at the moment. IF you have metabolic dysfunction and you are overweight/obese/diabetic/epilepsy, you may consider trying ketosis or Intermittent fasting. The short-term studies around these diets have outstanding results for certain people, not everyone. However, neither of these two diets are sustainable, and the long-term impacts of being on these diets can be detrimental to your health and performance.
Two main issues to be aware of is the impacts on the gut microbiome and the impacts on our sex hormones. Long term fasting or ketosis can have horrific effects on fertility and the health of the gut. If you would like to know more, I suggest you listen to the following podcast between Chris Kresser and Dr Mercola where they talk about some of the latest insight into the topic.
Far too often people start following a diet and see some short term results. They mistakenly believe that continuing with the diet will deliver ongoing results; this is not the case. When you change diets, you apply new stress on the body, and the body must adapt to deal with the new stress. Once adjusted the body will find a new level of homeostasis and stay there. If you want further adaptations, you must apply different stress. This can be done by switching diets or by taking a break for the diet for a few days/weeks.
Cutting calories, skipping meals, eating low carb, eating high fat, or eating high protein for an extended period is not a sustainable approach to health and longevity. Yes, there are times when these diets are useful, but they are not long term.
What about food that is sustainable in terms of the environment?
A sustainable diet is also about protecting the environment and being able to sustain food production. There is a multi-trillion dollar global food industry that is growing, processing, manufacturing, marketing, and serving food like substances that are making us sick and fat.
They put private profit over the public good, harming us all. They privatise profits and socialise costs. We, taxpayers, are footing the bill for the growing of processed foods (through agricultural subsidies for the raw materials of processed food—namely wheat, corn, and soy), and for providing the poor quality processed food and soda to the poor (through our food stamps program)
The good news is that each step towards real, wholesome, delicious foods reduces your risk for chronic disease and increases your ability to feel great. Food has the power to transform lives and our planet, one forkful at a time.
At TSTMethod we strongly believe in an ancestral diet, and many people will argue that animal products are not sustainable and we should all be eating a plant-based diet. There is a growing shift toward a plant-based diet as many believe it's healthy and better for the environment.
There is no doubt that factory farming is problematic on every level. It’s not ethical, it’s not good for the environment, and it produces an inferior product low in nutrients. But there are other ways to farm animals, and this other way required us to vote with our wallet. Activism that is also good for your health and longevity. Plus it tastes a lot better!
The cost and resources required to raise a grass-fed organic animal are low when you consider the amount of nutrient-dense food can be produced per animal. If we eat like our ancestors, nose to tail, we can consume the meat, the organs, and even use the bones and off cuts to make bone broths (bones contain an abundance of minerals as well as 17 different amino acids, many of which are found in bone broth as proteins like collagen and gelatin, which has tremendous health benefits). Read more about bone broth here
As a consumer, we can exercise our choice by choosing to buy only pasture-raised organic meat, eggs, and animal products. We can speak with our wallets and stop supporting unethical factory farms by refusing to purchase low-grade products.