In Defense of the Real Food Diet: Just Don’t Go Paula Deen on The Butter

I finally had the chance to read Michael Pollan’s books In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Both books reaffirmed my general diet habits which focus on eating real food from all food groups while trying to manage portion control.

I certainly have not always been an advocate of “real food.” Like many children of the 80s, I grew up in a household where margarine trumped butter and “Bac-os” were a salad standard. Looking into my parents’ refrigerator 30 years later, it’s still a cornucopia of diet food: lo-cal, lo-fat, hodgepodges of chemicals masquerading for other things, like bacon. The year is 2012 and my father is currently on Nutrisystem.

In recent years I had my fair share of typical American dietary habits, believing that low-fat and low-calorie snacks would help me stave off the pounds. But I now realize that it was all bullshit. Snackwell cookies never did me any favors. Nor did dividing my eggs so that an omelet included 3 whites and only 1 yolk – or using “egg beaters.” None of it works. The chemicals mess with your hormones, quite possibly making people fatter. I believe calorie and fat deprivation just makes our bodies imbalanced.

At almost 33 I am in the best shape of my life, and I am eating real butter, real ice cream, and lots of homemade thick, grainy bread. I cook with olive oil and don’t shy away from the “fat” in avocados. I just don’t overdo it. Here’s what I mean.

I don’t put butter on my corn. It’s fresh and local and it doesn’t need a thing.

I don’t eat anything deep-fried.

Most of my snacks and desserts utilize fruit and a freezer. I make homemade ice pops that taste like ice cream, using only bananas, strawberries, and organic dark chocolate chips.

I do still use skim milk. Whole milk tastes awesome, but I’ve never minded skim and don’t think I’m missing any fat there. I also prefer Truvia to real sugar in my coffee. That’s just a taste thing for me.

Most importantly, I don’t gorge myself. I try not to eat insane portions. I’d rather eat several snacks throughout the day than show up to dinner famished. It’s a shame that my grandmother still scolds people for snacking close to dinnertime – it’s really not a bad thing to eat a few almonds or a granola bar so you won’t eat the whole bread basket.

But the main reason I can eat this way and stay in good shape is by exercising. A lot. And hard. Plus living in the city forces me to walk and bike everywhere.

Pollan says, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” When he says food, he refers to bacon not bac-os. And butter not “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” It’s better to eat and enjoy a small cup of real ice cream than down a pint of low-fat fro-yo with the belief that you are doing yourself a favor. Trust me, I used to do that and I was never happy with my body.

But the real proof will be in the full-fat pudding, and that is my annual blood work later this summer. Last year, despite what I believed was super healthy living, I had higher than normal cholesterol and blood sugar. When the doctor suggested I eat better and exercise more I was appalled, feeling like I was one of the healthiest and most active people I knew. (He also suggested curbing my appetite by drinking Diet Coke, so I’m not saying his advice is golden). However, I will look forward to seeing if the improved exterior is matched by an more efficient and balanced interior.

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