Nearly every week there’s a new story making the headlines: ‘fat makes you fat!’, ‘high fat diets make you live longer!’, ‘vegan diet linked to longevity!’, ‘The carnivore diet will make you lose weight!’. It can be confusing to know what to believe, because health and fitness advice constantly changes. That’s why we reached out to a nutritionist and personal trainer, to discover the main ways advice has changed over the years.
Let’s start at the beginning
Our ancestors were hunter gatherers who hunted wild animals and gathered plant foods for sustenance. They often went through periods of famine, due to seasonality or having an unsuccessful hunt. This would then be met with periods of feasting, in which food was eating in abundance. Back in ancestral times, do you think there was nutrition and fitness advice? Of course not. Food was for survival, and physical activity an essential part of that.
Flash forward to the present day, we have more access to food than ever before. Our food environment has been coined a ‘food swamp’ by experts, due to the sheer vastness of food we have constant access to. Overeating is now a bigger global problem than undernutrition: more people are dying from eating too much than those dying from not eating enough. As obesity rates began to increase throughout the 1970s, more and more nutritionists, trainers, scientists and food companies came out with ways to stay healthy. This essentially created the health and fitness industry, skewing facts and misinterpreting data to meet their agenda, to ultimately sell to the people in need of a solution.
1970 was the beginning of diets and gyms. People were told to move more, because less people were active in their daily lives, despite the low rates of obesity, initiating the beginning of gym culture. In the 1970-90s it was all group sports and classes, at home workouts, stationary bikes and weight lifting - it was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s prime!
Food companies began mass-producing food and quick fix weight loss methods became all the rage. Think Slimfast, diet pills, the grapefruit diet and good old starvation. The belief was that you should eat as little as possible, and move as much as possible.
In the early 2000s, when the obesity epidemic was in full swing, nutrition advice was all about calorie counting. More research had been conducted and health experts were getting a better idea of how weight is gained. Weight Watchers was the most popular diet, focusing on a point system to count calories and lose weight. Fitness continued to grow in popularity, in line with the growing obesity rates (the irony) and the attention was all about increasing your energy expenditure as much as possible.
In more recent years, nutrition and fitness advice has changed. We’re favoring shorter, more intense workouts that can be added into our work day, we’re putting an emphasis on recovery, with high tech options like massage guns and cryotherapy and we’re using technology to track our every moment. Now the advice is less on moving as much as possible and more on moving enough and doing it regularly.
In terms of nutrition, there have been big changes. Diet foods and companies have been kicked to the curb, overtaken by diet ‘approaches’ like intermittent fasting, keto and intuitive eating. People don’t want to be told to eat less anymore, they want better options, rather than sacrificing their happiness. This is in part due to the changing face of the media: it’s less size zero models and more body acceptance, natural curves and nourishing your body.
As you can see, nutrition and fitness advice has changed extensively over the years. Being cognizant of the ever-changing advice will hopefully help you to differentiate between trends and truths.