The word really isn't "versus", but "compared to" doesn't make as punctual or distinctive an article title.
27 years ago, I changed my diet from the Standard American Diet "SAD" to a healthier diet and one that would help me lose weight. Was it nutrient-rich? No, not really, but it was most certainly closer to nutrient-rich healthy eating than ever before.
Today, looking back to that time, I would have called myself, a weight loss only "dieter". I really wasn't thinking health, performance or longevity; All that mattered was being as lean as possible as a competitive bodybuilder, and having as little fat on my body. And, I was willing do whatever it took to to lose body fat.
My diet consisted (off season not withstanding) of the typical fitness diet that you learn about in all the muscle and fitness magazines, such as:
- Chicken, fish
- A complex carbohydrate
- Side of vegetables
When not dieting, I would go right back to the SAD.
After a few years of eating that way, I learned about the detrimental effects of eating animal products and became a vegetarian, actually vegan. I had tired of the rigors of being a bodybuilder, and being basically a yo yo "dieter" for that matter, and learned that simple healthy eating combined with an active lifestyle, would enable me to stay lean with much less effort, so I made the switch to a healthier diet.
I didn't really know what healthy eating really meant, but not eating animal products seemed like a great place to start.
Eventually, no longer consuming animal products was not the issue. I was all the healthier for it, but after some very impressive initial results moving to a healthier diet, over time, I began to gain weight. Not because I wasn't eating animal products, but because I was now eating "healthier" foods that weren't genuinely healthy.
In retrospect, I started eating a half baked healthy diet, not quite the standard American diet, but now just a healthier version of it and devoid of dieting. Truth is, pinning my weight gain all on my diet would be misleading. I was also getting older, more focused on work, less on working out, and expending immense amounts of personal energy. By the time I realized that I was gaining weight there were some bigger issues at play, albeit the quality of the food I was eating was a big one.
The food issue was that I was eating too much and eating foods that also contained too much added sodium, sugar, oil and other chemicals that were never supposed to be in my body to begin with.
Too much stress + low personal energy + the overconsumption of "healthy" foods laden with added sugar, salt, oil and chemicals = weight gain, even if you are working out.
Which leads me to the focus of this article.
After years of correcting my course, aligning and improving my lifestyle for balance and health, and having traveled the path from the standard American diet, to weight loss only dieting and then spending years in the realm eating healthier as a vegetarian and vegan, where I was eating many foods that were high in added sodium, oil, sugar, cooked in various ways that did not protect the nutrient quality; I finally realized the difference between plant-based, nutrient rich healthy eating, and the world of half-baked healthy diets.
The difference between half baked healthy diets (which can include the idea of going vegetarian or vegan) that focus in on only one aspect of healthy eating (and at times make more out of it than it needs to be), and nutrient-rich healthy eating is this:
When you are engaged in eating nutrient-rich, you are more a "nutritarian" than a "vegetarian", meaning; you seek out foods that are the most rich in nutrients, do not contain those substances that your body does not need like added sodium, oils and sugar, saturated fats, cholesterol etc, at least 90% of the time or more. You also aim to eat nutrient-rich foods in a way that enable you eat the most volume for the least amount of calories, depending on your needs, and in great tasting ways!
Free from all the problems that are created from half baked healthy diets that are most certainly healthier as compared to weight loss only diets (in most cases), and the standard American diet, but not the healthiest way to eat by a long shot; nutrient rich healthy eating shows how to eat for health.
Healthy eating has many definitions, such as gluten free, low glyemic, vegetarian, vegan, etc… but once you start eating "nutrient rich", healthy eating gets defined and the truth is, you don't even need to be vegan or vegetarian if you don't want to, or want to maintain a near vegan diet where you eat small amount of animal products for any of a variety of reasons.
Eating is not a religion, at least not the way we promote it hear at nutrientrich.com. Although when each of us makes decisions about our eating style, there are many things that get factored in, in addition to the eating style itself, like protecting animals and the environment. Anybody eating today who is not factoring these two issues in, is not helping the planet and we all know it's in a state of crisis. So keep this in mind.
But for the sake of this article, I simply want to point out the that there is a big difference in terms of health, weight and personal performance, when you begin making the switch from your previous usual standard American diet, weight loss only diet, or half baked healthy diet, where you may not be eating animal foods, but are still including vast amounts of salt, refined sugars, and oils, which is not a genuinely healthy diet.
A nutrient rich eating style can be vegan, but not all vegan eating styles are nutrient rich.
I learned this recently while out on the road traveling. I have been traveling to several of my most cherished healthy lifestyle conferences where I have many good friends and associates also promoting healthy eating. Interestingly, these are conferences that are often organized around the concept of eating vegan or vegetarian. Since not eating animal foods leads to many other changes in the diet and is such an impact full decision personally and environmentally, the vegan and vegetarian community is large and the reason why many conferences appeal to people making this change.
I go to these conferences because I love this community, its a big part of where I learned how to eat healthy and the information is fantastic. But one thing I have learned. After a few years away from these conferences, while I was completing a book, a time during which I had made the switch to nutrient rich healthy eating; nutrient rich healthy eating is healthier than simply not eating meat or eating plant based.
Not eating meat may be one aspect of plant based healthy eating style, but there are many more, including how you organize your food pyramid, whether or not you eat predominantly vegetable based or starch based, the added salt, oil and sugar content of the foods you are eating, how the food is prepared, whether or not yea eat when you are hungry and more…
I recently ran a test (something I regularly do to see how my body reacts) by eating foods that were simply vegan and paying less attention to some of the attributes above, just to see what would happen and exercise some some other skills of dietary flexibility which are good to have in social situations and when traveling in a world where you can't often meet your ideal preferences. The result, was weight gain, swollen lips, acute colds, and mild headaches.
Moral of the story?
Once you start eating for health (a genuinely nutrient rich healthy eating diet style) going backwards is not easy or even as pleasure able as you might think. Although I have enjoyed all the foods I've eaten recently, I need no dicipline to clean up my act and get back to the healthiest eating style available: nutrient-rich.
This is not a matter of semantics. It's a matter of mindset and whether or not you are actually eating for healthy, or simply eating healthier. Healthier is good, genuinely healthy is best.
Learn how to eat nutrient-rich in the greatest tasting ways and you will have learned healthy eating for life.