Our philosophy at Physicians Healthy Weight Center has always been to acknowledge human nature and work with it, rather than try to fight against it. Humans have all sorts of quirky tendencies, and we've learned that denying their existence, or railing against them, is futile. Much better to study them, understand them, and channel them into healthy lifestyle choices.
One quirk of human nature, shared by other animals such as dogs, is something called “neophilia”. This sounds like a disease, but it actually just means “love of or enthusiasm for what is new or novel” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neophilia). There is nothing wrong with this tendency by itself, and in fact we can see how it helped our ancestors survive. Neophilia has driven humans to search out new lands, new food sources, etc., which helped our species thrive.
Another trait of human nature is the desire to search for simple solutions to problems, and to fix problems as quickly as possible. This tendency also helped our ancestors survive, by helping them focus their attention on important challenges, and not waste time or energy, in solving a crisis or problem. Those who addressed problems quickly and effectively moved on to live another day.
Although we can imagine how these two tendencies helped our ancestors to survive, we also know how they can backfire. Neophilia, the love of new things, can lead us to fall prey to unscrupulous people who can take advantage of this quirk, and con us into buying products or systems which have no scientific basis, or may even be dangerous. Even if unscientific products or systems are not physically dangerous, they may be dangerous to our sense of self-esteem, our belief in ourselves that we can take charge of our lives and improve them for the better. When we fall for a scam, we become pessimistic, suspicious, and jaded. We also lose faith in ourselves, in our ability to change our lives for the better. These are tragic consequences. Neophilia can also make us abandon successful strategies which ARE working, and jump to something new, just because it is new. New is not always better.
The second human quirk, the tendency to search for a simple ‘magic pill’ to solve complex problems, can backfire as well. When we oversimplify a problem, and ignore subtle, complex issues, we never learn from the past, and never come up with real solutions. When we fall for a ‘magic pill’, we become frustrated and angry, once we realize that this is silly and ineffective. We have to avoid our overeager nature to try to find one simple solution to a more complex problem. The reality is that a healthy lifestyle is not achieved with one magic pill, but is achieved through specific, science-based strategies for healthy nutrition, activity, lifestyle, and a logical approach to deal with medical problems. The goal is to simplify without oversimplifying our strategies. So what can we do to channel our tendencies of neophilia (the love of new things) and our search for solutions to problems, into healthy lifestyle choices? It is not an easy task, but we must keep an open mind, with a reasonable degree of scientific skepticism at the same time.
We must do our best to try to interpret the science, and we must avoid any program which shuns science in favor of a pseudo-religious fervor. Without naming any programs, I'm sure you can all come up with names of extremist diets which demand rigid adherence and are trumpeted by pseudo-experts who claim to be near-messiahs when it comes to their "program." As tempting as it can be to have blind faith in those charismatic personalities, deep down we feel something isn't right. When a so-called expert is not open to listening to new research, is overly rigid in their diet and lifestyle advice, and is not allowing for individual variation from one person to another, you know you have spotted a problem.
Now, all that said, what do we do? The reality is that most research-based weight management professionals agree on most diet advice. Let me repeat that, because it surprises many people: most real experts agree on most major points of advice for diet, exercise, and lifestyle. One expert to another may vary slightly on their advice, but the differences are actually quite minimal. You will repeatedly hear calls for eating a good balance of whole foods, adequate protein, whole carbohydrate-containing foods that match your individual energy needs, and some degree of "good fats". There will be some minor variation between experts, in terms of the best ratio of protein to carb and fat, the type of fats, and protein sources, but over all, there is far more agreement than disagreement.
This brings us back to the new "American Viking Diet". Our tongue-in-cheek name refers to the fact that Vikings were actually not rigid in their food choices, as they adopted healthy foods when they ventured out around Europe and even into North America. Historically, Vikings did eat a diet pattern that was high in fish, local produce, which provided a diet of healthy protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They were obviously very active, with intense physical exertion during both farming and fighting. Archaeological and anthropologic studies have shown that Viking warriors had much healthier bodies than other people in that time period. “Most were unusually large; an examination of the muscle-attachment areas of their bones revealed extremely robust physiques....The tests indicated that the men ate, on average, more fish and shellfish than did Anglo-Saxons.” (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-viking-mystery-59648019/?no-ist ) A group of people known as the Pict, located in what is now Scotland, had a healthy diet that was very similar to the Viking diet. Their diet included: fish such as salmon, shellfish, milk products, grass-fed pastoral meat and wild game, kale, cabbage, onions, carrots, leeks, wild garlic, nettles, watercress, peas, beans, turnips, beets, other vegetables, and whole grains such as flax, barley, rye, and wheat.
The modern Nordic diet has been the topic of research for over a decade, and something called the New Nordic Diet (NND) has been developed and studied in Nordic countries. Research has shown considerable benefit. Metabolic syndrome, blood pressure, weight management, and other health parameters may all improve with a Nordic diet.(http://sciencenordic.com/nordic-diet-lowers-cholesterol-%E2%80%93-even-without-weight-loss) The topic was addressed in multiple media outlets in 2014, and was the topic of Dr. Arya Sharma's blog post in January. (http://www.drsharma.ca/anti-inflammatory-effects-of-a-healthy-nordic-diet)
In the SYSDIET study, subjects ate either a control diet or the ‘healthy Nordic diet”, which consisted of whole-grains, fruits such as berries, vegetables, rapeseed oil, three fish meals per week, and low-fat dairy products, and avoidance of sugar-sweetened products. The control group was told to eat low-fiber cereal products, limit fish to the ‘usual’ consumption level, and use full-fat dairy fat–based spreads. Biopsies and gene analysis were then performed, which suggested that the healthy NND created an ‘anti-inflammatory’ effect.
So what is our diet advice, Beth's "American Viking Diet"? We have always recommended the same basic healthy diet pattern: adequate amounts of good quality protein, balanced amounts of good carbohydrates, and emphasis on high quality fats, without eating too many calories for our needs. You could compare this in some ways to the Mediterranean diet, the anti-inflammatory diet, the Zone Diet, or the South Beach Diet. As I said earlier, most educated nutrition experts have wide agreement in their advice, and this is reflected in the common threads of all these diets.
Our "American Viking Diet" addresses those two parts of human nature: the love of something new, and the desire to have a simple system to help us solve problems. Stay tuned for more details on our diet, recipes, and more.
One more note - my Mom and Dad, my own personal Vikings, could not be more excited about this project! Mom wanted to make sure herring and sardines were on the plan, and Dad wanted to make sure Codfish and salmon were on the menu. They are indeed - with American flourishes, like a touch of maple syrup on the salmon, a nod to our American roots, too!
Call us to learn more, and check out our website: HealthyWeightCenter.com
We offer private, personalized 1:1 visits in person, and now 'virtually' online! Watch for our upcoming group classes.
Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, pp. 49–61. Fergus Kelly,Early Irish Farming: a study based mainly on the law-texts of the 7th and 8th centuries AD (School of Celtic Studies/DAIS, Dublin, 2000. ISBN 1-85500-180-2)