Second Guessing Restrictive Diets For Healthy, Active Folks

Brad Kearns

Regular listeners to the B.rad podcast know that I’ve been rethinking some of the foundational principles of the ancestral health movement this year, particularly the rationale and benefits of restrictive diets for folks who are healthy and active. I’ve been on an experiment lasting seven months and counting to eat more carbs, more total calories, and virtually eliminate intermittent fasting from my daily routine. Instead, I start each day with a quick hit of dried fruit before my Morning Exercise Routine, and then a huge bowl of fresh fruit and a huge high-protein B.rad Superfuel smoothie. I feel great, I weigh the same with the same body composition, so the experiment is quickly turning into a permanent shift in my dietary mindset and practices. 

Jay Feldman of the Energy Balance podcast was a big catalyst for me to launch my experiment. Listen to our three interviews as well as my four-part series on Energy Balance reflections. Other thought leaders like Dr. Tommy Wood, Dr. Ron Sinha of the Meta Health Podcast, Mark Bell, Mike Mutzel, Robb Wolf, Gabby Reece, Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, and many others are also rethinking the role of restrictive eating strategies, instead emphasizing the importance of prioritizing protein and muscle mass as the key to aging gracefully. I also appreciate the big picture insight from my interview with Dr. Robert Lustig, author of Metabolical, that if you simply eliminate processed foods from your diet, you are not going to get fat. 

One of the big concerns here is that the stress mechanisms that kick into gear when doing fasting or keto are the same ones we use for fitness performance and recovery. It becomes clear that if you stack stressors like restrictive eating, a devoted fitness regimen, and the overall stress of hectic modern life, it’s very possible to get out of balance and overstressed. We are not helped by the messaging in the mainstream diet and fitness industries that has been promoting the struggle and suffer approach for decades, instead of simply respecting the importance of having a firm stress-rest balance in your life, and energy balance in the body. 

But can fasting still be really good for you, and what about all that sugar in fruit? Well, many people are surprised to learn that the healthier you are, the less reason you have to fast. The same goes for low-carb (and other forms of restrictive) diets: the healthier you are, and especially the more active you are, the less you need to go out of your way to intermittent fast or restrict carb intake.  

Still, people have been touting the benefits of fasting for a while now, with increasing enthusiasm—our bodies work most efficiently in a fasted state! It boosts alertness, energy, mood, and cognitive function! Autophagy! Awesome limitless health benefits for the body! However, reflecting on the necessity of fasting and how it really affects our bodies has made me realize our collective mindset on it, as well as other hormetic stressors, have been in need of some serious context, re-framing, and re-thinking. 

Considering the fact that we do not live in the same world as our ancestors, it seems silly to try to replicate all of the same behavior when the environment has changed considerably. Stress is not something we need to induce in our own bodies, not when stress is such a constant in the current human experience—and this includes psychological stress from rumination, consuming nutrient-deficient food or causing metabolic disruption, consuming plant toxins causing gut and autoimmune issues, not moving or exercising enough, exercising too much, and having stressful work circumstances and interpersonal relationships. 

When you look at all the external factors you have to deal with on a daily basis, do you really feel like throwing added stress in there by fasting or following a low-carb diet (or both?!). Rethinking “health” practices like fasting and low-carb is especially important to the people who need to be extra careful about not putting their bodies under more stress—athletes, people with thyroid issues or adrenal fatigue, and especially women (many women online have shared their experiences with going low-carb and how it can had a serious effect on their hormones and health).

Consider ditching these stress-inducing practices to minimize the need for stress hormones to release energy from storage and instead have more energy available for peak performance, energy, cognitive function, and stable mood and appetite. My decision to consume fruit and a nutrient-rich Superfuel smoothie with grassfed whey and creatine instead of fasting has led to noticeable changes in my energy levels and recovery post-workout. It has also made me double down on my realization that for most people, especially active, fit types, adding even more stress is pretty unnecessary (even actively harmful to your health!). Then there is the fact that fruit is awesome—delicious, nutritious, and easily digestible sources of carbs—so when you don’t consume it, you’re missing out. The many varieties of fruit offer so many different benefits, but in general, research shows that eating fruit lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevents some types of cancer, lowers your risk of eye and digestive problems, and can even have a positive effect on your blood sugar.

If you avoid fruit because of concerns about excess sugar, easy conversion to body fat, or new concerns about uric acid buildup, realize that the criticism of sugar is largely focused on refined sugar, not whole fruit. And the people at risk are those who are inactive, eat too much processed food, and have metabolic damage and dysfunction. 

A bowl of fresh, seasonal berries is an entirely different thing from a candy bar (to start, one is actually food). I’m also not saying to go eat a ton of dates, a couple bananas, a pint of cherries, and a mango in one sitting, but rather to consider what you’re missing out on when you don’t eat fruit. I’m really interested in examining how there has definitely been some vilification of fruit or at least some fear or hesitancy around it in the ancestral health community. I have contributed to this perspective in my communication, and personally restricted fruit for many years due to concerns about excess sugar intake. I’m now going to call bullshit on myself—a highly active athlete striving for peak performance, with excellent metabolic health and body composition. As I say at the outset of this video presenting my new morning eating routine, “Can someone please tell me why this bowl of fruit is unhealthy?” It seems silly to marginalize fruit in light of the popularity of assorted keto desserts and low-carb or gluten free cookies, muffins, donuts, you name it. These desserts, while delicious I’m sure, are still processed foods (gluten free or not), and as Mark Bell and I discussed during a recent podcast episode, something like a fruit protein shake or a fruit and yogurt bowl mixed with a scoop of protein powder is a far more nutritious way of satisfying any hunger or sugar cravings.

If you follow a restrictive diet and fast and are already healthy and fit, consider rethinking that choice—could your body actually use some extra calories and more carbs, or maybe just some fruit? If you have been consuming more calories or eating differently lately and want to share your experience, or if you’ve created any good smoothie recipes using my new Superfuel protein supplement with grassfed whey and creatine, please send us an email to share!  





Brad Kearns
Brad Kearns
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