‘Diet’ is a funny word. When we talk of an animal’s diet, we’re referring to what they do consume. A giant panda’s diet consists almost entirely of bamboo. A frog’s diet consists mostly of insects. Gorillas eat a varied diet of fruit, leaves, seeds, and bugs. So why when we talk of human diets are they almost always diets of exclusion?
Human diets are defined by what you cannot eat: Low-fat. Low-carb. Gluten-free. Paleo. Vegetarian. Vegan. We are obsessed with identifying what not to consume, as though that is more important than identifying what we should consume. As a matter of practicality this is very efficient: it is straightforward to list what you can’t eat, and rather endless to list what you can. However it creates a mindset of avoidance that, while encouraging healthy choices day by day, paints food as an adversary to be managed, rather than a source of nourishment to be revered.
The availability of food that is bad for you is a modern problem to be sure, and one that must be dealt with. Had early humans ever encountered a Twinkie tree, they would have been wise to set up camp around it. Perhaps rather than vilifying the bad foods, we should focus more on praising the good ones. Which is why I propose a new take on the human diet:
Pay more attention to what you do eat than what you don’t eat.
The jury is out on whether eggs are good for you. And meat. And gluten. And butter. But there are some things we know with reasonable certainty:
Broccoli — good!
Chocolate cake — not as good
Bananas — good!
Four strips of bacon every morning? Maybe just every other.
So…eat the good stuff! At least some good stuff. Have a vegetable with every meal. Snack on a banana or an apple before you reach for the chips. The culture of avoidance we have created is just not sustainable. It makes for an experience of deprivation — of wanting what you can’t have, and not appreciating all the amazing things you can have.
The best part is that focusing on the good stuff is a win-win. First of all, you’re eating good stuff! Your body is a machine fueled by food, and it is getting the nourishment that it needs. You wouldn’t put diesel in a car designed for unleaded, and this is no different. Second, the more good stuff you eat the less bad stuff you’ll have room for. The real problems happen when you fill up on junk and none of the good stuff finds its way in.
So I say eat that chocolate cake. And if you want a burger and fries, go for it! Drink a Coke if you’re in the mood. Just eat some vegetables too.