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A Comprehensive Approach to Nutrition

Updated: May 18, 2021

I am reading Peter Thiel's "Zero to One" right now and he mentions looking for secrets in certain areas as a place for innovation. What is nature keeping a secret and what are people keeping a secret? One place he mentions secrecy is in academia, and believe it or not he points to nutrition. Physics has been around as an established science forever and we know more about the physics of the stars than we do about our own nutrition. Hence, nutrition may be holding some secrets.

It seems quite obvious that no one can agree upon a comprehensive approach to nutrition. No one in the sciences can and no one in the public domain can either. Each new week there is a new diet being branded as the best way to do (insert something that can be achieved easily). All of these diets seem to miss the mark. How can people make reasonable nutrition decisions when they get contradictory info everywhere they look?

It doesn’t need to be that way. We can take a principled approach to make informed decisions and not leave us victim to the newest set of fraudulent marketing schemes.

When it really comes down to it nutrition is all about energy. Consuming energy in the form of food to keep us alive. Thousands of years ago it used to be hard to get food, which is why most humans were skinny relative to today, because they simply couldn’t eat all the time. We have the opposite problem these days. We have no shortage of food and the most easily available forms of food are extremely calorie dense.

Nutrition can easily be understood from a simple energy balance equation. If you consume more energy (in the form of food) than you expend (in the form of exercise, regular bodily processes to keep you alive, etc.) then you will store excess energy (in the form of fat, or even muscle in some circumstances). This is your typical weight gain scenario. However, most advice I see in the nutrition sphere seems to distract people from this simple truth. Yes, there is more to healthy nutrition, but to me this seems like the most principled starting point. You have to understand this.

When talking about healthy nutrition decisions I think we have to first focus on body weight and composition. Most unwanted effects of poor health can be largely attributed to being overweight and lack of exercise. The focus of this post is the former. Directly influencing your body composition to keep you at a healthy weight (different for each individual) will solve a large portion of health related problems. So, it stands to reason that are biggest focus should be on improving our body composition.

A lot of nutrition advice tends to focus on what you are eating. I think this is important, but not as important as how much you are eating. You can still overeat on all the right” things, and therefore you are still overweight. If you control how much you eat in relation to how much energy you tend to expend you can start to specifically make positive body composition changes. Some will say, "yeah you can lose weight by only eating sugar, but that’s not healthy.” While this is partially true, I am only concerned about calorie consumption as the first order of business. Also, it will likely be super hard to eat the appropriate amount of calories only from sugar, or only from fat, or only from protein for that matter. Your biology and environment are a self-regulating process to this in a sense.

Once, and only once you start to find the appropriate energy balance equation to get and keep you at a healthy body composition, can you really start to worry about what you eat. Most people, and no attack on them because they are being conditioned to, focus on the reverse. You can consume all the Vitamin D, CBD oil, or micronutrients you want, but if your energy balance isn’t right you will still be overweight, and still have to face the negative consequences of that.

There is a lot more that can be said in regards to nutrition, but that’s where I think our problem begins, and this lets people sell advice that have no business selling advice. What we need is a comprehensive and universal approach that can work for most people most of the time. That is what I attempted to lay out here. Finding and maintaining a healthy body composition is going to do more for your health than any nutrition program telling you what to eat. The biggest part of finding and maintaining a healthy body composition is to find the right balance between how much energy you are consuming to how much you are expending. Most people, because most people are overweight, need to error on the side of consuming less and expending more.

The matter of best nutrition practices really comes down to this equation of energy balance. Yes, some other things have their place, but let’s make sure we’re not missing the forest from the trees.

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