The Healthy Food Test
When I first started actively bodybuilding, I had figured almost everything out: how often to train, what exercises to do, how many calories I should be eating, what percentage of those calories should be protein, what percentage should be fat, carbs, and so on. There was only one big piece missing: WHAT the hell should I actually be eating??
I had a basic understanding of what “healthy” was, in the sense that everyone knows chicken breast is good and pizza is evil. But beyond that, I was pretty much in the dark.
So I decided to start by examining the diets of the dudes that I wanted to look like: bodybuilders. What do they eat? Turns out, it’s a lot of chicken, peanut butter, brown rice, and protein shakes. That made a lot of sense, except for one thing: peanut butter. Having listened to the bullshit that floats around the general populous as “health advice” I always thought peanut butter was the devil and almond butter was Jesus incarnate. I guess nobody told the bodybuilders.
The further down the rabbit hole of what’s “healthy” and what’s “unhealthy,” I only became more confused. Eventually, after some trial and error and a very lengthy Numbers spreadsheet listing every potential healthy food, I came upon some clarity.
I devised a simple mental exercise that anybody can use to determine whether or not a food is (reasonably) healthy. If you never want to count calories for the rest of your life (although I think you probably should, depending on your goals), I promise you can use this test and maintain a healthy physique. Here it is:
First, I start with the food in question. For this example, let’s use bananas. There are a lot of conflicting opinions out there on bananas, (They’re bad, they have too much sugar! They’re good for you, they’re a fruit!) so we’ll use the test to get to the bottom of it.
Next, I imagine having a conversation with a friend that I haven’t seen in some time. Said friend has…gained a considerable amount of weight. And we’re not talking five or ten pounds here, either. We’re talking 40, 50, 60 pounds of fat. Anyway, we’re chatting along, asking about each other’s families, work, etc. Then the conversation turns to diet…
“Well, as you can see, I’m not quite as lean as I used to be!” says my friend.
“What changed? Have you stopped exercising? Started eating different foods?” I ask.
“Yeah, I have started eating differently” he says. “I’ve changed one thing and one thing only. I’ve started eating a SHIT ton of BANANAS. Just can’t seem to put the damned things down.”
“Huh?” I manage. “You got fat eating…bananas.”
“That’s right, dude. I know they’re bad for you and all, but I’m straight ADDICTED.”
And here comes the answer to the test: if you start scratching your head, thinking that that couldn’t possibly make sense, then…DING DING DING! You are correct! That food is okay to eat. Eating a “shit ton” (his words, not mine) of bananas isn’t going to make you fat.
Let’s try it with other fruits. Blueberries. “I got fat from adding a ton of blueberries back into my diet.” No dice. Blueberries get a pass.
Lean chicken? Pass. Asparagus? Pass. Cheeseburgers? Boom. Culprit identified. Beer? No, no honey.
If you can imagine having a conversation with a friend who has gained some weight, and they tell you that it’s because of the massive amounts of cheeseburgers they’ve been eating, and that makes perfect sense in your brain, then you know to lay off the Red Robin.
Same thing goes for these staples: French Fries. No good. Potato Chips. Nope, basically french fries. Pizza. (Come on, you didn’t think pizza was going to help you lose weight, did you?)
So there it is: a simple way to get a good handle on whether or not something’s gonna do you dirty. Now, is this test perfect? No. Is fitness and health a lot more complex and nuanced than how I’m making it seem? Yes, of course. Would it be possible for someone to get fat by eating too many bananas. Technically yes, absolutely. Is it likely to happen? Nah.
BUT, is this a simple way to get a good grasp on whether or not something is GENERALLY okay for you? Definitely. My point with this test is to highlight the fact that I think all of us, deep down, have a pretty well-calibrated compass when it comes to instinctively knowing what’s good for us and what isn’t. It doesn’t take a genius to tell you “pizza bad” and “blueberries good.” The problem is that we’ve been hit with WAY too much information about health and fitness, much of it conflicting. (Low carb! High carb! Go Keto! Go Paleo! Fat makes you fat! Don’t go swimming until 30 minutes after you’ve eaten that hot dog!) It’s hard to sort out the gold form the bullshit.
But I’m here to tell you to listen to your gut, trust your instincts. You already know the truth, deep down. You just have to find it. And if you need more help, you know where to find me.