Over the past few weeks, I've begrudgingly imbibed quite a bit of media coverage on the topic of LeBron's recent low carbohydrate diet. Initially I laughed off the blatent nonsense, but I can't do it anymore. I've officially caved. Like a parent well-schooled in behavior psychology would say to their child that just got caught trying to put out an on-fire cat with the expensive bottled water, instead of tap water, I'm delivering the message that, "I'm not pissed, I'm just really disappointed".
But this isn't about his diet, this is about the way it has been covered; not only by the media, but by nutrition professionals that should damn well know better.
The article that pushed me over the edge can be found on Business Insider here, and I'm going to break it down piece by piece for you. Largely on track with the entirety of the media coverage on the subject, let it be known that I'm not picking on BI as a sole entity, they're just the unlucky ones who ran the most recent piece of shit article I've read on the subject.
“LeBron didn't eat sugar, carbs, or dairy for 67 straight days this summer. He subsisted on meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables”
Fruits and vegetables are carbs. You can actually eat a very high-carb, high-sugar diet while consuming no other carbs than fruits and vegetables. It seems that the media (and likely the average reader) are confusing grains with carbs. Grains will always be carbs, but carbs don’t have to be grains.
"So, how many bags of apples would I have to eat to get a carb?"
As far as the dairy thing, eliminating dairy is no secret to weight loss. It is completely unnecessary unless you are intolerant to it. And on that note, as it is a common intolerance, eliminating it for two to four weeks to see how you respond could certainly be beneficial. If you don’t notice any improvements, keep eating dairy.
A few years ago I had a couple of inflammatory blood markers that were elevated and I didn’t know why, as I had already controlled for the likely diet and lifestyle related culprits. So I pulled dairy out to see what would happen. Within a week I had lifelong sinus issues clear up and I felt less fatigued and more clear-headed all the time. Follow up blood work showed the inflammatory markers had decreased back to optimal ranges.
Every time I attempt to re-introduce dairy, I become congested and foggy-brained right away (unless its small amounts of raw or goat dairy). So for me, removing dairy was a good thing. But I likely have a sensitivity. Point being, it irritates me when nutritionists give this as general blanket advice that everybody should be doing, claiming that it increases cancer risk, causes excess fat storage and bloating, etc…its all bullshit in direct discordance with the published data.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, in this article, the theme of the RD’s interviewed is that dairy is something you should “never eliminate entirely”. This is just as stupid as saying its bad for everybody.
Dairy is unncessecary to optimal health. It is something you can absolutely include in your diet if you tolerate it well and enjoy it, but you certainly won’t be any less healthy without it.
What about calcium? For starters, the insane focus on calcium in mainstream nutrition advice has likely, if anything, caused an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, as without adequate Vitamin K2 your body does a poor job of keeping calcium out of the arterial walls.
Calcification of the arterial walls is super bad news.
Guess where vitamin K2 comes from? Egg yolks, organ meats (liver), salami, and high fat ground beef, to name a few (green veggies contain K1, not K2, which has little to no effect on preventing calcification of the arteries). Ahh yes, the same foods that most of the nutritionists preaching high intake of calcium filled low-fat dairy are telling us to avoid. You can get plenty of calcium from green veggies and fish.
So like many things when it comes to nutrition, dairy is optional. When somebody tells you everybody should avoid it or everybody needs it, stop listening to them and seek advice elsewhere.
“LeBron was able to pull off this diet because he has the resources to do it right, he's one of the most athletic people ever, and he has a team of experts making sure he's getting all the nutrients he needs.
But registered dietitians say the diet is too extreme, arguing that eliminating entire food groups to lose weight is both unnecessary and dangerous.”
First off, it seems strange to me that every one of the clients under my supervision that have attempted low carb or ketogenic diets have been able to succeed without being an elite athlete or hiring a team of experts. One nutrition coach for a few months to teach you how to make the right choices, learn when to make adjustments to the plan, and improve behavior patterns? Absolutely a good idea.
In fact, anytime somebody is considering making a significant change to their diet, I strongly encourage them to consult with a qualified nutrition coach as well as their physician, then put the two in touch to come up with a complimentary plan. If your nutrition coach or your doc doesn't want to have that meeting, time to reconsider one or both of them. But "a team of experts" is comically unnecessary, as is being one of the best athletes on the planet.
As for the latter part of the quoted paragraph, the whole concept of “food groups” is subjective, outdated and ridiculous, and I wish it would go away. We have macronutrients, not “food groups”. The only macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. None of these have been eliminated in LeBron’s diet.
"What fucking food group is this?"
"I would discourage any client, professional athlete or not, from following this low-carb diet," Torey Jones Armul, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Business Insider.
"To lose weight, increase energy levels, and improve performance, your best bet is loading up on fruits and vegetables, choosing whole grains and lean protein and making exercise a habit throughout the week."
This quote is a fine example of what makes me roll my eyes about most RD’s. And I’ve been around a lot of them. Torey, who is a marathon runner (ok, so I like to do a little research before I berate somebody), is describing ONE way to lose weight, increase energy, and improve performance. A low-fat, high-carb diet with lots of exercise.
Marathon runners love their carbs. Except, of course, for people like Timothy Olson, who recently won the Western States 100 Ultra Marathon (yep, 100 miles), on a ketogenic diet.
The idea that athletes need high amounts of carbohydrates for performance is completely inaccurate, as stored body fat provides a much more sustainable fuel depot; particularly for endurance events, if the metabolism is efficiently able to access it (which it is on a ketogenic diet). But now I'm getting sidetracked.
Low-fat, high-carb diets can work, for some people, some of the time. This is ONE method. A method that fails, for many people, as often as it works.
So what happens when Torey puts somebody on a plan like this and that client makes very little progress? Being that she has dug her heels in on her singular method, she will likely blame the client and assume they have compliance issues and are just eating a bunch of crap and not telling her about it, basically a willpower issue. While that does happen, its not as often as most finger-pointing coaches would hope.
And if the client truly is lying to you, you’ve done a horrible job of creating an optimal psychological environment for your client. It’s your fault they’re lying to you, because they feel like they have to, because you’re a shitty coach.
Whenever anyone says, as general advice “To lose weight, improve energy, and improve performance, here’s what you have to do...”, no matter how that sentence ends, they’re wrong.
I wouldn’t even begin to make a single suggestion to somebody until I’ve gone through a consultation and we’ve reviewed a lengthy questionnaire, current diet, previous diets, lab work, family history, readiness for change, personal preferences and abilities, etc. Then we decide together what the best plan of action will be, starting with small behavior changes. There are no absolutes.
So when somebody tells you what the best way is right off the bat, that means they are likely unwilling to change course when things aren't working.
The other thing that drives me nuts that Torey has echoed in accordance with most RD puppets is the fixation on “lean proteins”.
Again, this is ONE way. Not THE way. You don’t have to eat lean proteins. If you’re following a well-designed low-carb diet, or even more so with a ketogenic diet, you want to avoid lean proteins, and focus on eating high fat proteins.
Eating fat from meats doesn’t make you fat, and it doesn’t contribute to high cholesterol or heart disease, that’s all outdated nonsense.
Now if you’re eating a shitty diet and you add a bunch of fatty meats to it, sure, now that’s a setup for problems. But on a well-designed low carb diet, fatty meats are going to be quite health promoting and help you to lose weight, perform better, and feel great.
"Cutting out entire food groups is extreme and puts people at risk for nutritional deficiencies, not to mention nearly impossible to sustain in the long-term," she said.
"Other dietitians we spoke to agreed: there's no reason to voluntarily stop eating entire food groups."
Again with the belabored “food group” thing. As for nutritional deficiencies, any poorly designed nutrition plan puts you at risk for this. Any well-designed nutrition plan doesn’t.
Pinning nutritional deficiencies on low-carb diets invokes several logical fallacies. If you want to be sure you're in optimal ranges, run some basic lab work every three months, and make adjustments if need be, like I do with the majority of my clients. I have yet to see a single client end up with nutritional deficiencies even after long-term low carb or ketogenic nutrition plans.
Impossible to sustain long term? Almost every single person I’ve ever spoken with on a well-designed ketogenic diet would vehemently disagree. My apologies for another n=1 anecdote, but I’ve been on a ketogenic diet for over two years straight, and it’s far easier to maintain than my previous higher carb, lower fat diet.
Appetite is completely controlled, cravings are about zero for anything other than steak, energy and workout performance are way better than they used to be.
I used to have to eat every few hours or I would be starving, cranky, and be completely unable to focus on anything. My days had to revolve around meal planning. Now I can go as long as I want without eating, even workout after an 18-hour fast and feel great.
And guess what? Every one of my clients on a keto diet says the exact same thing. Most of them tell me they never want to go back to their old way of eating, because once they got the hang of this way of eating, its way easier than anything else they’ve done.
This is continuously echoed throughout any good book or blog you will read on the subject, and the profound appetite regulating aspect (which is one of the reasons most diets fail) is continuously documented in published research. So much for impossible to sustain.
“While health professionals advise against doing what LeBron did, there are ways you can take elements of LeBron's low-carb approach and make a healthy diet out of it.
Armul gave us some sample "LeBron diet" meals that also incorporate the type of healthy grains and dairy that dietitians say you should never cut out entirely.”
This might be the funniest part of the entire article.
Torey’s modification to LeBron’s diet for non super-athletes without a team of experts is almost the exact opposite of the original diet. She basically laid out a generic, high-carb/low-fat diet, barely short of dichotomous to every concept LeBron invoked.
I won’t bore you with the entire Food Pyramid based meal plan, but here’s an example of one of the meals:
Option 1: Veggie omelet with a side of turkey bacon, fresh fruit, and sweet potato hash browns.
Option 2: 100% whole-grain or sprouted wheat toast topped with peanut butter or almond butter, banana, and side of Greek yogurt with blueberries or other sliced fruit.
Option 3: Egg sandwich with 100% whole-grain muffin, avocado and salsa, and a smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit and low-fat Greek yogurt.
Lunch and dinner are more of the same, embracing this distant theme from LeBron’s plan.
What “elements” did we keep here? Fruits and vegetables? Nice work. Congrats on that RD.
That's like me saying, because I like keto diets, "let me take this Vegan plan and just tweak it a bit for the average person, and add some bacon to breakfast, a bunless burger with a fried egg on top at lunch, and a big ass porterhouse for dinner with a side salad".
"Lots of grains, fruits, and veggies left on the table babe, don't you fucking walk away"
In summary, the point that I'd love to see people walk away with, is that numerous ways exist to use food as a tool for fat loss, performance, muscle gain, and overall health improvement.
I love ketogenic diets, but I don't think that's the only way. It absolutely isn't for some people. And, conversely, I think vegetarian diets are fucking stupid, for any and all reasons you can throw at me (see Lierre Keith’s “The Vegetarian Myth” for a good science based review).
But can you do all of the beneficial things I mentioned above while following a well-designed vegetarian or even vegan nutrition plan?
Sure, people do it all the time, and I hope they all live to be 200 years old; shorter lines at my butcher for Rib-Eyes. And yet, some people come apart at the seams after a couple of months. It all comes down to the individual's response to a given plan, and how well the plan is designed.
Oh, and tell your Mom to stop calling me.
Now nobody can email me about a misleading title.