Does being lean equal living a healthy life?

PART 1 of Living a healthy lifestyle

Leading a healthy lifestyle is on everyone's lips but what does it really mean? Most people tend to equate being healthy with being lean and fit. And this might be true in some cases but definitely not in every case. The way we look on the outside does not tell how we feel or look on the inside. We can be lean but still feed our body with unhealthy food. Let me show you based on two popular diets, how getting a lean body and being healthy are two totally different things.

Being healthy means to provide your body with nutritious food he can work with.

If it fits your macros (IIFYM)

Counting your macro-nutrients (if you don't know what that is, you'll find a good explanation on justget.fit) is very common way of eating, especially in the fitness industry. It basically means, that you chose your food according to their macro nutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) and if you hit your goals (mostly low carb, high protein --> see the restriction?), you can eat whatever you like. This may sound great and very flexible, which in a way it definitely is. It can also help people with eating disorders, such as binge eating, to get some control into their diet. But in most cases it's just a free ticket to eat a lot of sh***.

In order to achieve their protein targets, people tend to buy things like protein bars, protein wraps, protein bread, low carb french dressing, sugar free (but artificially sweetened) ice cream, protein ice cream etc. This is far away from being healthy or nourishing. All those so called "healthy" foods are loaded with artificial ingredients and do not provide any nutrients for our body to use.

As you can see on the picture on the right, the protein ice cream contains artificial sweetener (erythritol) and other non natural ingredients. The nana ice cream on the other hand is made just with three ingredients our body can work with. So what is healthier? Spamming our body with a mix of artificial and processed nutrients just to get a higher amount of protein or sticking to real food?

As you can see, the protein ice cream contains artificial sweetener, protein powder and other non-real food. The nana ice cream on the other hand has just three ingredients our body can work with.

Paleo

The Paleo diet is growing rapidly and a lot of Crossfit athletes follow this diet. It basically proclaims that we should eat the way our ancestors have eaten. Therefore you get to eat unprocessed animal products such as meat and eggs (dairy products are on the not to list), vegetables and fruits and unrefined fats such as nuts, olive and coconut oil. At first this looks healthy - no processed food, lots of vegetables and fruits, no refined oils. But let's have a closer look at what else is on the not to eat list:

  • Potatoes
  • Grains
  • Legumes

Carbohydrates - an athletes best friend!

This means you cut out all the complex carbohydrates from your diet but somehow get a free pass to eat as much meat and other animal food as you like. Combining this with a very intense workout for sure will get you a lean body - but what happens inside? I'm not a doctor or anatomy specialist, but somehow common sense and a basic understanding how your body works will tell you that this diet might not be as healthy as it says.

Low carb

For those of you who follow me for a while, know that over the years I shifted from a carbo-phobe to a low carb critic. Keeping it simple, carbs are our fuel, they provide us with energy and make sure we can do what we do. Especially during intense workouts, carbohydrates are our friend. Jürg Hösli, a Swiss nutrition scientist, puts it that way:

We don’t use our car without gas, however that’s exactly what we do with our body
— Jürg Hösli, 2016

I'm not saying that we all should indulge in sweets, white bread and other simple carbohydrates. But including complex carbohydrates in our diet is nourishing for our body and therefore part of a healthy lifestyle.

High in saturated fat

Another part of the Paleo diet which made me think about its health factor is the high amount of saturated fat and cholesterol. Lots of animal products, even if not processed, contain high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol which in the long run plays a big role in clogging our arteries. You might get a lean body whilst being on a paleo diet, but you are not seeing what is happening inside your body. (There are two documentaries I've watched lately "What the health", "Forks over Knives" and they let me rethink how I see animal products).

Lean = Healthy?

These statements are my opinion and I'm sure lots of people will argue the opposite. Also the above mentioned movies are quite controversial and I don't agree with everything they say (sugar has no impact on diabetes - really?) But my goal today is to activate your critical thinking when it comes to nutrition and that not everything is as it seems.

Next time you see those lean athletes, question their diet first before deciding whether they live in a healthy body or not.

Being healthy means to harmonize your physical with your mental health

I'm well aware that not only the way you feed your body has an influence on your health but also the way you think about food. This is a topic I will cover in another part of the living a healthy life series. But for now let me just say this (and I'm still working on it myself)

Don’t let food dictate your life rather nourish your body to live.

Have a wonderful week,
Dominique