Fans of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche have often claimed he was ahead of time. And even those of us who don’t agree with his theory of man vs. superman would probably admit that he was on to something when he wrote about the importance of proper diet.
For those who aren’t too familiar with him outside of philosophy, it may come as surprise that one of his lesser-known accomplishments was getting on the healthy lifestyle bandwagon way before it ever became popular. In 1888, in a chapter entitled “Why I Am So Clever,” the philosopher claimed that he grew up eating “very badly” and was amazed at the difference healthy food choices made in both his mind and body.
Not only was he one of the first critics of coffee, which he claimed “spread darkness,” but he was, per author Matt Fitzgerald: “the first to to proclaim that nothing was more important than one’s own health.” In addition to this, Nietzsche was on a quest that many of us who take diet seriously are on as well: he was looking for the best diet for maximum health.
While we can only speculate what Nietzsche would have done had he lived today, it’s possible to imagine him getting out of the philosophy genre all together and becoming a wellness guru. As someone who lived in fear of poverty, he probably would’ve found that the wellness gig paid a lot better than philosophy. But he also would’ve had a lot of competition.
A quick trip to any bookstore shows a plethora of books all proclaiming to have found the optimal eating plan: the Atkins diet, the Zone diet, the Paleo diet, vegan diets—the list goes on and on.
To say that people are highly sensitive about their diets and food choices is an understatement. (Out of all the posts I ever written—including ones on sex and race—the one that attracted the most negative comments was about so-called “health food,” which science suggests may not be all that healthy, or at least not the superfood many think it is.) As a member of the mind/body community for 15 years and counting, it often seems that many of us are quick to jump on the latest food trend. In fact, I first learned about raw food diets via that community.
However, all these plans can leave the average person feeling overwhelmed and confused. At the very least the sheer number of these “ideal” plans suggests there really isn’t a single right way for most of us. Realizing some people consider a single food a superfood while others avoid it at all costs can make many of us—especially those of us who aren’t registered dietitians and just want to eat well—throw our hands up in frustration.
In his new book, “Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Cored of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us,” sports and nutrition writer Matt Fitzgerald examines some of these trends. The book is chock full of interesting trivia including the information about Nietzsche, and it asks the question: What is the “ideal” eating plan for the majority of us?
In a nutshell, there isn’t one.
Overall, eating a lot of veggies, fruits, high-quality fats, meat and seafood (if you’re not a vegetarian) seems to be the way to go. However, this isn’t the same as saying we all need to adhere to a specific plan.
Going back to Nietzsche for a moment, he eventually came to the conclusion—mainly from trial and error and trying a variety of eating plans including a high-fat, low-carb diet and vegetarianism—that one plan didn’t work for everyone. In the end, he declared that we all need to find what works best for ourselves. He argued that we become ourselves by finding out who we like and who we don’t, what our talents are and weaknesses are, and by what foods agree with us and which do not.
In my case, it’s taken a lifetime of trying various diet plans to finally become what Fitzgerald calls a “food agnostic.”
As a food agnostic, I don’t adhere to any one particular plan. Sometimes I eat vegan and sometimes I go for raw food.
Given that there’s a history of diabetes in my family, I know I have to keep carbs—even so-called good carbs that come from whole grains—in check. And I know that eating a bunch of processed, refined food doesn’t work for me either.
However, just keeping this basic framework in mind is amazingly easy to adhere to and helps me make good choices.
Perhaps more importantly, I no longer waste a lot of time, energy, and money chasing after the so-called ideal plan.
As a life-long epicure, I strongly believe that eating good food is one of life’s best pleasures. Often, when we strictly adhere to a rigid plan, we tend to forget this. Plus, a lot of the pleasure we get from eating is psychological. It’s hard to be happy about what we eat when we obsess about every carb and wonder if a particular food is “allowed” or “forbidden” on a particular plan.
It’s nice to know we can be healthy and enjoy our food.
And to those of us who have a specific plan that seems to work, that’s great. However, please don’t try to convert me. We aren’t the same, so why should our eating plans be identical?
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Evan Yerburgh