Sunday, May 3, 2009

Berardi's Seven Rules Of Highly Effective Dieters

Since reading Skwigg's latest blog post on "Intuitive Eating 2.0" ( I've been obsessed with finding out as much as I can about John Berardi's approach to diet and healthy weight maintenance. As described by Skwigg, it almost sounds too good to be true: no weighing, no measuring, no obsessing over macronutrient ratios ... in fact, no obsessing. Period.

There are, however, some rules to be followed. Seven of them. (Of course, seven. Seven chakras. Seven archetypes. Seven brothers. Seven dwarves. It's always seven, except when it's three or ten. Why is that? If I ever come up with a program it will include Three Principles, Seven Rules, and Twelve Steps or possibly Stages. This stuff has resonance, plainly.)
They are as follows:

1. Eat every 2-3 hours, between 5-8 times per day.
2. Eat complete lean protein at each meal.
3. Eat fruits and/or vegetables at each food meal.
4. Except for your workout and post-workout drinks/meals, your carbs should come from fruits and vegetables.
5. 25-35% of your energy intake should come from fat, with your fat intake split equally between saturates (e.g. animal fat), monounsaturates (e.g., olive oil), and polyunsaturates (e.g. flax oil, salmon oil).
6. Don't drink your calories.
7. Eat mostly whole foods (except workout and post-workout drinks).

According to Berardi, if you're 90 percent compliant with these seven rules, you'll probably be able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and body composition without having to count calories or mess around with macronutrient ratios. It's not that that stuff doesn't matter, but it only comes into play if you're already following the seven rules and you still don't have the body you want. In other words, master the fundamentals first, then refine as needed. If you're still at the stage of things where you're skipping breakfast, having a salad for lunch, and eating three bowls of ice cream after dinner, it certainly isn't going to hurt you to go on something like the Zone diet or the Body for Life diet, but why not make things simple for yourself?

Okay, I take that back. Some people need more structure than others. For those folks, a plan that prescribes a certain number of meals per day, and a certain number of calories at each meal, with a certain percentage of those calories coming from fat, protein and carbs, is going to be what works best. Too much freedom can be paralyzing, or rather, it can lead to its own form of obsession. Who wants to spend a lot of time agonizing over whether it's better to eat 5 moderate-sized meals or 8 tiny ones, or do all one's rule-breaking on a single day or spread it out over the course of the week? And with Memorial Day and the start of swimsuit season only a few weeks away, who wants to experiment with alternative approaches?

But even if you're a dieter who does better with a more structured approach Berardi's seven rules are useful if for no other reason than that they'll help you evaluate the gazillions of different programs that are out there, and tweak them to make them more nutritionally sound and effective. Weight Watchers, for instance, is a program that can easily be made Berardi-compliant, and so is the Atkins diet. The Slim-Fast diet ("a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and a sensible dinner!"), not so much.

Really, though, the Berardi rules speak to those of us who are sick of structure in our diets. Call us post-structuralists. No, please don't :-D As diet veterans we understand that a complete laissez-faire approach won't work for us--if it did, we'd never have gone on a diet in the first place. We know we need some rules, but we're looking to keep it to a minimum. Seven is just about doable, especially if we only have to follow them 90 percent of the time.

Personally, I don't think there are necessarily even seven rules. I think liquid calories are fine, as long as you understand they are calories and treat them accordingly. If a smoothie is all you can handle first thing in the morning I don't see any problem with having that as your breakfast, assuming it's nutritionally balanced and satisfying. I also think it's possible to maintain a healthy body composition while (gasp!) having the occasional apple all by itself, without any lean protein.

Of course that's what the serpent told Eve, and look how that turned out. So maybe you should listen to Berardi and not me :)

Seven. It's the magic number.