Whenever someone tells me how confused they are about diet—which is pretty much every day of my life—this is what I tell them to do. It’s the simplest, easiest “intervention” you can do. It doesn’t require counting grams, calories, ounces. It doesn’t require that you evaluate the pros and cons of high fat, low fat, paleo, vegetarian, raw food, high protein or any of that stuff.
In fact, it’s so simple it’s hard to believe it works as well as it does.
But it does work. Probably more powerfully than any diet program and certainly easier to sustain for the rest of your life.
So here’s the deal. Every morsel that goes into your mouth has to pass one test, and one test only.
It has to be real food.
OK, I can almost hear some of you saying, “I wonder what he means by “real food”?”
Good question. We all know that broccoli and almonds are real food, and we all know that Twinkies and Corn Flakes aren’t. But most other foods fall in between.
So here’s the rule: If you’re not sure if it’s “real food” or not, it’s probably not. Don’t eat it. Don’t give it the “benefit of the doubt”. If it comes in a box, if it has ingredients you don’t recognize except from chemistry 101, if it looks like it could live on the shelf for a couple of years, don’t eat it. Period.
I realize there are exceptions and some decent “real” foods might be tossed aside, but I’d rather you err on the side of safety and clean eating. I want you to eat from what I call the Jonny Bowden Four Food Groups: Food you could hunt, fish, gather or pluck.
I don’t care what or how much you eat, as long as it passes this single test: Is it real? Is it food your great grandmother would recognize as food? (Hint: Great grandma would have no idea what to make of “Lunchables”. Or a box of juice. Or a frozen dinner, even the supposedly “healthy” kind like Amy’s. Sorry.)
I don’t even care if you eat dessert. Raw food desserts are beyond luscious, especially if you like the taste of coconut, and even though they’re sweet and delicious, they’re still made with real food, so they get a green light.
You get where I’m going here? This is not a diet. It’s a “pre-diet”. You can always figure out the proportions of protein, fat, and carbs later on. You can always figure out the timing of meals later on. All those things are details. Will fine tuning make a difference? Sure. But right now, let’s save the fine tuning for the “advanced course”. We’re working here with basics—basics that will make an enormous difference in how you feel and how you look.
Real food is the first step. And allow me to let you in on a secret—sometimes a first step is all you need.
In 12 step programs like AA, there are a whole lotta people who got sober without going beyond the 1st step (“Admitted I was powerless over alcohol”.) They may never get to the amends part or the inventory part, but they still get sober because that first step is so powerful.
Real food is your first step. It might even wind up being your only step, which would still be OK because by eating nothing but real food, you wind up eliminating half the junk in the American diet.