Michael Blevins is a coach, athlete, and consultant. Trainer for the films Man of Steel, 300: Rise of an Empire, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, he’s also a competitor in the sports of cycling, running, triathlon, weightlifting, and CrossFit. He’s based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend explaining the ‘organic arms race’ of the white upper class America, something that I had apparently never considered in my white privilege. I’ll sum it up as easily as I can: As the world’s markets grow closer, foods that were only afforded to the rich become cheap enough for even peasants – which, of course drives the need for newer, better, more rare food items so that the rich may always buy ‘above’ the poor.
Take bread: once a food of the common person, it was found that refining the grain made it into a rich, white, softly-textured delicacy. The extra time afforded in processing priced out all but the elite, leaving the rest with ‘only’ brown bread – until, later in the industrial age of processing, the “white stuff” became available to all, and then, perhaps by a miracle our advanced knowledge of health uncovered how terrible refined bread was for the human animal (it’s surprising, by the way, how little evidence for this there is).
The price on ‘whole grain’ jumped as it was now thought of and marketed as a health food – and today we’re sold breads with ‘ancient grains’ and superb artisanal fermentation at higher prices, little added benefit, and a perpetuated delusion that ‘whole-grain’ and handmade are synonymous with health.
We can chase similar narratives with terms like “organic”, “grass-fed”, and “gluten-free” all the way down to the fucking “localvore” movement, but they will all follow the same path: once available at Wal-Mart you can assure yourself that the next greatest version will be publicly mystified and available only to those willing to pay a premium.
On the flipside, we’re shown the ingredients to a Pop Tart and told to quit pretending that they are healthy. There are a few problems with this, the first being: who the fuck said they were healthy? The second is built off the assumptions that we’ll read the ingredients list and automatically be disgusted because we don’t understand chemistry. And, of course, sugar’s now being branded the new tobacco, with news outlets pointing out that in the 1960s, the sugar industry funded research that downplayed the risks of sugar and highlighted the hazards of fat. The truth is, of course, that every food group lobbies: grain and dairy very much included.
Elitism in food is silly. It’s a rat race of marketing hype and egotism. It is not in and of itself difficult to eat well and fuel both performance, longevity, and a robust social life, until “experts” start condemning and preaching from the rafters because they don’t like the idea of a certain food, or they want to sell “their” way of eating in order to justify their own neurosis. In any other field this is called bullshit, but in nutrition we call them experts.
Context is king
Most misconceptions about “flexible dieting” come from seeing high-level athletes use certain foods because of their simplicity or efficacy at certain periods of training or even to just make life a little more enjoyable. This doesn’t affect health negatively because usually high performing athletes also consume far more food in volume, which increases exponentially their exposure to micronutrient density. Therefore the supposed “empty calories” are far from empty because their purpose is for macro-nutrition, not micro-nutrition.
Most foods the general public holds in high esteem are low in macro and caloric nutrition, but somewhat dense in micronutrients and minerals. This tells us nothing of what is “healthy” as it lacks context, only how ridiculously polarized our general knowledge of nutrition can be. It’s worth noting at this point that there is a huge difference between foods that do “very little” for you and foods that are actually harmful: if a food is actually found to be harmful or dose dependent-acutely toxic it will most likely be considered for a ban by the FDA. This doesn’t mean that foods approved are regarded as healthy but they certainly shouldn’t be feared.
The presumed formula of nutritious foods being equal to performance is actually unproven: in fact large doses of vitamins and minerals intra-effort is flat out wrong, assimilation of nutrition during efforts and for recovery (ie; performance) purposes tends to be increased with specific macronutrient dense foods that are low in fiber and low in fat (of which fat tends to be the most nutrient dense food), a position that is antithetical to the “high quality food is the most important factor for performance” crowd that seems to be getting louder.
Promote the (insert diet here) wherever you see fit, just recognise that in doing so you are a professional ‘crying wolf’, and we all know how that ends.