[COMPETITION: This list features a competition. See the bonus item at the end of the list for details.] I’m as guilty as the next man when it comes to canonizing our ancestors—in fact, probably more guilty than most if this list, this list, and this list are any indication. And perhaps it is no small wonder when it comes to diet, that so many of us look to the past to find answers: after all, our own governments failed us when they began promoting the modern diet (you know . . . the one that made us all fat!)
See Also: Top 10 Craziest Diets Ever
But as tempting as it is to find these answers in the past, we are not living in the past. Just as we don’t seek to find the best way to build our houses from the ancient homes of the Greeks, we shouldn’t be looking at cavemen to find the perfect diet. In fact, I would posit that the perfect diet is not even a diet at all!
10 Ditch The Diets
This is probably the single most important item on this list. From this moment, delete all diets from your life. No more keto, no more paleo, no more veganism, no more vegetarianism, no more weight watchers, no more Jenny Craig, and on and on and on. Every time you go on a diet, you statistically gain 11 pounds for the effort (after the diet fails: and it always does.)
Why does this happen? The physiologically reason is that diets tend to restrict nutrients you need (weight watchers: no fat; keto: no carbs), and your body does a nutrient catch up when your diet fails (though new research now indicates that stomach bacteria may have a big part to play in this). And psychologically we fail because the diet is ordering you not to have something you really want. When the diet ends, your entire mind and body begin to work against you. This can cause a snowball effect of bad habits which makes things even worse. This, obviously, is the binge / purge form of modern dieting.
9 Ditch The Exercise
Don’t have a melt-down! I don’t meant to ditch all exercise. But intense and prolonged exercise? Dump it. At least for now. Remember that old phrase “work up an appetite”? In other words: exercise to get hungry. This is the natural consequence of intensely working out and it is also the reason that when we join the gym to lose weight, we are recommended diets involving 6 or even more meals per day to compensate: but those are usually meals comprised of meagre nutrients and lots of fillers (vegetables mainly).
So why go through the pain? Don’t. Ditch the gym and bring exercise into your daily life as a part of living: walk to the store for milk, park further away from the office door, dance around your kitchen when no one is looking. As you get older, being more nimble and flexible is really important. Focus there, not on sweat pouring down your brow before you chow down on a salad that does nothing for your hunger at all. If you look at it objectively, this “gym->salad” cycle is a form of voluntary torture.
8 Eat Three Meals
This is conventional wisdom and follows logically from rejecting the 6+ meals a day thing. Eat three meals a day. I know cavemen only ate when they could (which was not daily) and that breakfast is a modern invention, but that doesn’t mean three square meals should be anathema. In addition to this weird idea that you need to basically graze throughout the day like a cow, there is even a bizarre myth floating around that eating so many hours before bed will make you fat. How ridiculous! Calories don’t change because of the position of the hands on the clock. Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and eat well at each meal.
Basically common sense says to have one hearty meal and two smaller meals a day. For most of us that looks like a small breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a big dinner. Some European countries (though they are becoming fewer in number) have their main meal at lunch time. Oh, and if you are a Catholic in most of the world (except America), don’t forget: no meat on Fridays!
7 Don’t Snack
This is pretty obvious right? And much of this list is, but that goes to show how bad things have become that we need to even write a list that tells you not to eat more food than you need. Snacking is, in almost all cases, about passing the time or alleviating boredom. A busy person doesn’t eat snacks unless he is trying to adhere to a gym routine that demands six meals a day or is obeying the government’s advice on eating up to 10 pieces of fruit and vegetables a day.
What bizarre advice: with no caveats whatsoever, a government committee decreed that we should eat 10 fruits or vegetables a day. Ludicrous. Have some vegetables with your meal and a bit of fruit in your dessert and that’s it. Until refrigeration was invented for mass transportation of food around the world, there were entire nations who had no notion of most of the fruit and vegetables we have today. Children in England had their minds blown when they saw bananas for the first time after wartime rationing.
6 Keep It Real
Try to keep the food natural. Here’s a good way to put it: if God made it, it’s good to go. Food from nature is your best choice. One gimmicky way to look at this (which is surprisingly accurate actually) is to outlaw anything in the center aisles of the supermarket. On the outskirts you usually have the fresh food, and in the middle are the shelves of chips, cookies, cakes, and other delectable poisons. Supermarkets are actually designed that way on purpose to give the illusion when you enter that they are selling fresh, healthy goods. The real coup of the supermarket villains was combining the farmers market with the dry goods store.
I dare you to do an experiment and see if you can go an entire week without venturing into the dark recesses of the middle aisles. Eat entirely from the edges. And here’s food for thought: if we all did this (hint: before the 1930s we did,) how much plastic waste would there be in our homes? Governments are busy banning straws and plastic shopping bags when it is the entire supermarket concept they should be banning! I guess supermarket chains have too much money to offer governments for them to do the genuinely right thing rather than the “visibly right” thing. Ah . . . government virtuousness.
5 Cook At Home
Try to be part of the cooking process. If you contribute to the process of preparing your meals, you are (provably) less hungry, and more likely to eat better. And it goes without saying, you will find the whole “keep it real” rule far easier to follow. If you cook the food you know what’s in the food.
Additionally, you will obviously need to eat out from time to time. No problem: just choose meals that match the advice here as closely as possible and you will be fine. You can even have dessert if you feel like it; but if you are not home cooking, I’d suggest you keep the non-nutritive foods to every other meal out.
4 Fats And Oils
Fat was the biggest victim of the new governmental dietary plans of the 1960s and 1970s. Because of bad studies, it was determined that animal fat in particular was absolutely terrible. So much so that even synthetic fats were recommended over natural fats and companies like McDonalds switched from cooking their fries in beef tallow to cooking in trans-fats! We now know, of course, that they couldn’t have done a worse thing!
Even though we now understand how wrong this advice was, animal fats are still off the menu (probably due to vegan or vegetarian lobbying and the mainstream media promoting anything that is abnormal for clicks). But if you can, buy meat cuts that are high in their natural fats, and favor fish like salmon with naturally high fish oil. It is not only better for your brain (particularly if you are a child) but it is more delicious and more satiating; and that, in turn, keeps you full for longer. The anti-animal-fat crusade has led to what could well be the single worst piece of dietary advice ever inflicted upon man.
3 Proteins and Carbohydrates
Humans are meat-eating creatures. Our stomachs match those of the other meat eaters, and our brains allowed us to develop the requisite tools for the important task of chopping up animals for yums. However, some people prefer a non-meat diet due to religious or philosophical reasons. Regardless of whether you eat the normal human diet or a vegetable-based diet, protein is essential and should comprise a significant portion of your calories. And, as mentioned above, even better if the protein is laced in fat.
Your main meal of the day should typically comprise a large cut of meat or fish (or a protein substitute) with a generous amount of vegetables and accompaniments to enhance the taste and pleasure of the meal. Forget measuring or weighing food, forget counts of 6 or 8 or 10 portions a day. If you love lettuce, fill the plate with lettuce. If you love carrots: ditto.
And this is also true of potatoes and starches though some caution is needed while you transition back to real eating. Starches, like these, should preferably not dominate the meal—though on occasion they will such as with pasta. But generally, if you are eating whole food, you don’t need to worry yourself about carbohydrate vs protein ratios or weights, and as a rough guide, one small potato is the correct quantity for one person.
A correct portion size doesn’t need measuring. Just take a standard dinner plate and leave a good inch around the rim and don’t fill the plate like a mountain. If you do that, and if you don’t go back for seconds, you will maintain a healthy weight for your body. If you are overweight, this advice will allow your body to slowly restore itself to normal but it is important not to fret through the process. Natural weight loss is slow weight loss. Just focus on enjoying the food you are eating.
This is probably also a good time to point out that you should portion such things as sugar in the same way you would portion alcohol. Consider it to be an addictive substance that needs moderation (or total abstinence if you are unable to moderate). So while all the advice here is generally unrestrictive, sugar should be counted not as food but as a stimulant. It is no less addictive than alcohol and should be treated with the same caution.
If you really want to: cheat. It’s not really cheating if you’re not in a competition. When you lie on your deathbed, no one is going to tally up the times you ate a chocolate bar and condemn you to the fiery pits of hell for it. Truthfully, a large part of the reason we fail on diets is because we can’t stand the severity of dietary restriction. It is certainly better to buy one candy bar and eat it today, than starve yourself of candy, spend every waking moment thinking about it, and then gorge yourself on five of them in one go. What is the point of a healthy diet if you can never enjoy the benefits that come from good health due to a constant gnawing sense of desire for that which is forbidden.
My aim in writing this list is to help you take the guilt out of the food you eat, and to get you on the path to enjoying one of the great pleasures that life has to give us. So, to that end, I’ll leave you with this Biblical exhortation: “Eat, and drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.”
Because this list is all about food it makes sense to give away my favorite cook book: Gordon Ramsay’s Home Cooking. It is a cook book I go back to time and again for various staple recipes. Everyone needs Gordon Ramsay in their kitchen! The commenter, by the end of the day, with the highest upvotes for their witty and relevant comment, will have a free copy sent to them. All commenters are included, regardless of where they live.
For more lists about diet, check out 10 Bizarre Modern Diets You Won’t Believe Exist, and 10 Amazing Ways We Study The Diets Of Our Ancestors.
Jamie is the owner and chief-editor of Listverse. He spends his time working on the site, doing research for new lists, and collecting oddities. He is fascinated with all things historic, creepy, and bizarre.