May 3, 2012 posted by

SAD to MAD: The Non-Diet Diet

As many of you know I’m a dietary lab rat. I’ve tested almost every diet known to man in the name of research but, mainly, my go-to plan when I’ve got to get into peak shape is the non-diet. The non-diet is our Utopian version of the Standard American Diet (SAD) that we give away with every Beachbody fitness program. The overall goal being to create a new template for America: the Modern American Diet, that some might call MAD.

The SAD diet is what’s become of nutrition in this country under the watch of the USDA and Big Food, which is basically by-products of GMO corn and soy and meat and dairy so toxic it has to be rendered practically devoid of nutrients before it’s safe to eat. A while back I commented on the new USDA “food pyramid”, citing that the issue isn’t that it’s too complicated but that most of what American’s eat isn’t on the pyramid at all! The SAD diet, the primary contributor to the most expensive health epidemic in history, is made up almost entirely of stuff that wouldn’t be food in the natural world.

In contrast the MAD diet is, well, food. It’s plants, grains (sorry Cavemen), nuts, seeds, and the occasional animal product from something that wasn’t raised in a dark prison cell and fed toxic garbage. When you eat real food you don’t have to worry too much about calories and such because it’s somewhat self regulating since it’s fiber filled, nutrient dense, and hasn’t been laden with chemicals designed to make you crave more: the direct opposite of what you find in 95% of most supermarkets. You eat based on feel and performance and with a little experience (or guidance) you’ll learn what works best and when. When someone on the SAD diet commits to this transition it will feel magical—like alchemy when, in fact, it’s exactly the opposite.

At this point you might note that Beachbody offers a different nutrition plan with every program. And while you would be correct in a sense, all of these are variations on the same theme; trying to get our customers to swap junk for real food to the point where they don’t need any type of nutrition plan and can eat based on feel. The entry points are different, the strategies vary, but our end result is always the same; you know how to feed your body so that it performs its best.

In my day-to-day life I feel great almost all the time. I sleep well, exercise a ton, have plenty of energy and stay pretty darn healthy. I was joking during my last dietary foray that the only time that I don’t feel good is when I’m trying a new diet. But I’ve still got to do it. Not only does it greatly aid my job it’s been my MO since I was a teenager so why would I stop? If a diet or supplement hits the market that is truly going to alter the planet I’m damn well going to be one of the first to know about it. So a-testing I will go.

The catalyst for this post is my recent experimentations with a taper diet. I’ve re-shuffled this a couple of times, and it’s getting better, but each attempt ends up causing a regression in my own fitness (small but noticeable) because I tweak until it goes awry. If you don’t know the point where something goes off the rails you’re never sure how to standardize your recommendations. So after a month of offbeat eating its time to get back to what I know brings everything back to homeostasis; the MAD diet. Or , ya know, just eating.

On this blog I’ve cited examples where I use my regular diet, slightly streamlined, to go from everyday weight to competition weight (always slightly under optimal health weight, which should have some extra body fat for reserve). At the end of any Beachbody plan that should be your goal: to understand your body’s relationship with food well enough to eat based on how you feel and get maximum results. Which, when you think about it, shouldn’t seem all the MAD.


  • Well said! Michael Pollan would be proud!

  • I agree it's well said. However, I'm always left with the same impression after reading things like this: I sure wish I was given some practical suggestions for eating MAD. If 95% of grocery stores have crap-filled food, then how in the world am I supposed to decipher the 5%? Where else should I buy food if not from grocery stores? I'd just love some practical suggestions apart from saying "Well, look at the P90X nutrition guide." The ingredients called for in the Beachbody program recipes are ingredients customers buy at grocery stores. Who's to say it's not a part of the 95% filled with chemicals to make us crave more food?

  • Do you not buy into the grain arguments by the "cavemen" folks, or do you just not care?

  • Do you not buy into the grain arguments from the "cavemen" folks, or do you just not care?

  • The grain argument is hogwash based on scientific evidence, however, I do agree that some people could have an issue with phytic acid. In general I don't care is a good answer because Paleo eating is a solid diet plan (and almost every published diet is better than how most people eat) so whatever works for you, great. But the fact is that you don't need to get all fancy/anal with your diet plan. You just need to get crap out of your diet. For some reason that's too logical for the general public who always seem to want a gimmick or hook.

  • "When you eat real food you don’t have to worry too much about calories." LOL wut? I find the opposite approach works very well. IIFYM

  • The 95/5 thing isn't hard to figure out at the market. Some people say "shop the perimeter of the store" because that's where the fresh food is. Basically you want to avoid the bulk junk in boxes and bags. Things that have ingredients like "enriched" "fortified" "pasteurized" "added essential vitamins" which are all excuses for selling you garbage. We've written a ton of how to read food labels if you search this blog and the BB newsletters. Another option is to buy food without labels because we don't label natural foods. As Tony once said about labels, "how many ingredients are in an apple? One." And in that one thing you have many of the things your body needs to be healthy. Nature is pretty cool this way.

  • "When you eat real food you don’t have to worry too much about calories."The reason is fiber, which is self limiting. It's virtually impossible to calorically overeat veggies and fruits in their natural state. You can get away with it for a short period if time but your body will rebel and regulate over time.

  • Patrick Higgins – A new Straight Dope is like Christmas! I've been reading about Paleo but those people seem to take themselves way too seriously. Probably why they are mostly Crossfitters. I like to keep an open mind.

  • No ingredients labeled on beer either. Coincidence? I think not.

  • Sorry this comment is a little tangential to the theme of your post, but have you used the herb Comfrey for workout or injury recovery?

  • Interesting about the grains. Listening to Sisson and he'd have you think they were worse than cigarettes. The paleo people get on my nerves because I've had folks tell me the 5-7 servings of fruit I eat a day are going to make me fat because of the sugar. They Crossfit though so they know everything; I'm just a lowly Beachbody sheep.

  • Denis did a pretty good deconstruction of some of the said "science" used by Sission. Actually the science was fine but the interpretation was wrong–as in blatantly changing its meaning to support a cause. I guess you don't sell many books by being rational. Show me someone who's fat due to fruit. I've had plenty of people blame fruit but every time I'd looked at their diet in detail that's been the least of their problems. Crossfit's injury rate is higher than most NFL teams so unless that's a part of "forging elite fitness" they must not know everything.

  • Comfrey? As an ingestible? Why not just hit the anavar? Just as hard on the liver but at least you'll get results.

  • Could you possibly link Denis' deconstruction of the paleo grain argument? I'd love to have some ammo against the people who get onto me. And yes, I have been trying to tell people that it isn't the fruit that's the problem; it's the rest of their diet. I admit to liking the Crossfit games because they are awesome athletes. But for myself, I'll stick to the P90X2 and Asylums of the world. I love reading your stuff; it's great.

  • Go ask at The Real Fitness Nerd, blog or F/B page. We publish so much info it's hard to keep track of where it all is. Denis will know the studies off the top of his head. Crossfit games are rad but, as Hitler said, "When was the last time a Crossfitter even won them?" I guess they weren't so rad for a couple of friends of mine: one who blew out her shoulder doing handstand push-ups and the other who hurt her knee racing to 100 snatches, overcompensated, and then blew out both her knee and shoulder during the same set.

  • Huh seems funny that what Jack Lalane had been saying since the 50's is now some sort of epifany!! All these so called fitness guru's ( tony being the biggest) haven't invented anything new. Seems like everyone these days is getting rich off of people ignorance. It's all in the marketing right!??! I mean look how you've made tony into some sort of fitness god when infact he's not a certified trainer or a nutritionalist! You can argue this or that but in the end it's about money!!

  • Love how the author takes the time to respond to the comments, too many times comments go unanswered. Kudos!

  • Jim, would it really make a difference if Tony had a piece of paper saying he's qualified considering his rep? How much money he's making shouldnt matter as much as how many people he's helped changed lives. He's providing great motivation and health related nutrition to struggling people everywhere. Tony himself has said he never invited the wheel, just making it spin smoother (or something like that). Do you really go to each trainer and tell them they're not doing anything new? These guys here have done an exceptional job of helping thousands of people, they should be commended not put down.

  • Don't know about that, Jim. If this stuff was so simple the world wouldn't be getting fatter everyday, no matter how popular we get. Yes, Jack was correct but so is Tony. And while he is actually certified that is not the issue. Jack wasn't certified but what does that mean, really? I've learned much less in both school and many certificaton programs than I have by practicing and then preaching–and probably in what I learn in any given year at Beachbody. It's your commitment to the field that matters most. We are all committed and Tony, more than almost anyone, walks the talk. We've been given an opportunity here to touch a lot of people's lives and we're going to run with it as long as we can. I don't that qualifies us as sellouts since we were all doing the same thing as coaches, personal trainers, and nutritionist. In fact I was doing it long before I was paid to do it and will still be doing it long after I'm retired (should I ever retire, which is unlikely).

  • I've been reading about Paleo and Crossfit but they just seem to think theirs is the only choice and bash on everyone else. I use the diet guides from all my programs (P90X, X2, Insanity, Asylum) and like you're saying, I think I'm starting to be able to use them as just that: guides.I think all too often people, including myself, just blindly follow what others say. Up until a couple days ago I thought Agave Nectar was the answer to every sugar question in the world. Say what you want about Tony but the guy can do a lot more at his age that most people. Who cares if he's certified or not. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

  • Run into the white coat syndrome all the time. Some guy got a PhD in the 70s, hasn't followed the science since, and is now fat and dishing out antiquated advice. Tony's in his mid 50s doing front levers and free skiing mountains with Olympians. Who do you want learn about staying fit from?

  • Like I said I just think it is a shame that you or anyone else take advantage of people's ignorance just to get rich! You are no different than the ADA or the FDA in your misinformation on nutrition just to line your pockets.

  • I don't see how teaching is taking advantage of ignorance. As an educator are you saying I shouldn't be paid? I'm hardly rich. I used to do this for free (or for as little money as I could charge) but but the van I lived in was starting to fall apart so I sought out a larger audience.I'm fighting for you, and everyone else who's having their knowledge of basic things (like fitness and nutrition)withheld due to mass influence of a fucked-up corporate system that mandates schools have crap nutrition, allows Monsanto so sue governments for wanting to warm people about their products dangers and doesn't allow citizens to sue meat compananies for selling knowingly dangerous products. My enemies, if you want to turn this into black vs white, are the richest and most powerful companies in the world. So you're saying I should do this for free?

  • Tony even says in P90X that its just basic weightlifting 101. He never claims to have reinvented anything new. He helps hundreds of thousands of people who were confused or who had never worked out in their lives. I don't understand all the hate; Beachbody, Tony, Steve all these folks are here to help change lives. Relax. And thanks for the heads up Steve about the Real Fitness Nerd page on fb. I'm following it now. Lots of good stuff.

  • Also, what are you calling misinformation? We sell exercise and solid nutrition programs. When people come from other companies to ours and learn this we get comments like "what's the hook?" When we say we don't have one they ask how we sell our products without spin. Maybe selling things that straight up just work is antiquated but we're hanging in there.

  • How in the hell does a conversation about eating healthy food turn into a debate about me and how much money I make helping people? Good grief! I swear, where do people get off bashing things that help people? You can defend your beliefs based on your singular experience or you can open your mind to emerging scientific facts. If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times. One size does NOT fit all. If you want to eat bacon and do CrossFit and can stay healthy and injury free then all the power to you. If what you're doing isn't working and your evolved enough to notice, then it might not be a bad idea to try something new – and while you're at it leave other people who don't want your unsolicited advice alone.

  • What's the injury rate (frequency, severity, …) of P90X versus Insanity versus Asylum versus Crossfit? Thanks.

  • Wow – I can't believe the hate. All I know is that, for me, P90X worked wonders. Although I ran a lot (4 miles or so at a time) I was overweight. I loved junk (still do, but have given it up pretty much). I did P90X and enjoyed the intensity, followed the nutrition plan religiously (no alcohol for 90 days was tough!) and dropped about 40# from 190 to 150, a weight I've kept for over a year. Not visible abs but markedly leaner (visible abs would occur around 140 is my guess). I've since done Insanity (great fun) and now doing X2 (very different, but my core is awesome). I dropped my run time, with minimal running as it isn't part of the programs, from 9.5 minutes a mile to 7.5, just because I'm not hauling 40# around. Did a mud run – great fun and came in 19th overall, and 4 minutes ahead of the next guy my age (49). I had my physical and my doctor said I had neanderthal blood. From needing lipitor to blood lipids so good he said he'd never seen that improvement without drugs.I don't care if they make money. I got value for what I paid and I'm happy. I think the bottom line measure isn't who is making what, but does what they sell work, and the question in my case is YES. This isn't gimmicks, it is hard work. And it is a tool that helps some of us improve better than we ever thought possible.

  • I truly appreciate all of your comments and advice. I live by the "listen to your body" approach and it works. For those wondering how to shop in a grocery store for the 5% that is goo – Michi's Ladder might be a good reference for you. In general, I buy things that are local and unpackaged – fruit and veggies.

  • Unless your name is Socrates or Plato, anyone who teaches on this planet isn't inventing, they're INFORMING or TRAINING. Personally, if a concept has been around for years and nobody is smart enough to pay attention until someone figures out a way to make people pay attention, I say kudos to that person. They deserve whatever accolades they get. Not that I think any of this will just the mind of Internet trolls, but there ya go. 😉

  • The magical 5% tends to be the perimeter of the store. Fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy ect. And don't be so paranoid. That is why Beachbody often suggests eating organic.

  • Hi SteveFirst time I have ever read something by you – thanks for posting your comment, for all the inspiration and expertise you give us and as well, for all the time you dedicate to these posts and replies! I'm 52 and eat nutritiously; mostly vegan but I do allow some animal products (whey, eggs, parmesan cheese) if they are in some foods where I am. I also cleanse (I have used the Isagenix program). I am thrilled to hear beachbody is delving more and more into nutrition. When it becomes affordable for me to pay for, I will look into it!

  • For what it's worth on the comments about the trainers benefiting off of ignorance. That's one of the things I like best about BB trainers is that they all give credit where credit is due. They don't claim to have invented the wheel, they just put there spin on it.

  • I think it's good to search and try new and different things, and I've done a fair amount of that over the last four years. The last three weeks on the Ultimate Reset have been a vegan adventure, and my body responded the same way it does every time I buckle down and eliminate the junk: I lost a few pounds and found a lot of energy. Pretty sure I'll go back to paleo, because it has been the easiest and most effective thing for me over the years, but this has been really interesting and we now have a bunch of new recipes in our arsenal.

  • I wish the initiator of all the bullshit on the post, Jim, would come back and clarify how BB, its trainers, and advisers are tricking people and using misinformation. What's so misinformed about working out 5-6 days a week; eating fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats, and being happy? Just another internet tough guy who is probably jealous of others success while he sits around and mopes. Grow up.

  • I just want to clarify one thing on Paleo and Crossfit for those that are lumping the two together. Paleo and Crossfit are two independent things. From what I understand the Crossfit community actually used to subscribe to The Zone diet and then over the last few years shifted to Paleo. Paleo was not borne out of the Crossfit community nor vice versa. Even though the two have become intertwined of late just because you are Paleo does not mean you do Crossfit. I actually credit Tony Horton with introducing me to Paleo. I had never even heard of it until one day Tony made a recommendation on his Facebook page to go check out Mark Sisson's new book called the Primal Blueprint. I did so and I was hooked. I have never done Crossfit nor had any interest in doing so.I also do not force my ideas on anyone else that my way is the only right way to eat. I personally think a lot of that attitude comes from the Crossfit community. I only say this because in my experience I have known a number of Crossfitters that think Crossfit invented fitness. It therefore wouldn't surprise me that they would do the same thing with their chosen nutritional program.

  • A handful of years ago I stumbled upon something I thought was called PX90 or X90 or something like. At the time I was in my early 30's, fighting extreme ex-athlete, desk jockey "dad fat" causing by a crappy diet and drinking Mt. Dew like water. At 6'6" 270 and having multiple kidney stones, I was closing in on being a diabetic heart attack.My from stumbling upon X eventually found me stumbling upon The Straigh Dope. Over the years I've read Steve Edwards (almost religiously), run through the X, Asylum, and X2, and used those workouts as the basis for my training for running marathons, mountain biking, and adventure racing. There is NO WAY I would be where I am physically and mentally if it wasn't for the information and motivation presented to me by the Straight Dope, Tony Horton, and Beachbody. It's helped make me a healthier person and better role model for my kids, and those are two things that I could never put a price on.Keep up the great work and please keep passing along the fitness and nutrition insights. Trust me, it is very much appreciated.

  • Jay,Thanks! I wasn't meaning to imply that the two were mutually exclusive (Paleo/Crossfit) but what I had been seeing was the Crossfitters who were doing Paleo were stating it was the only way to go. I'm not completely informed about the whole thing but I think vilifying grains and agriculture in general is not something I agree with., I know very little. I was very interested in Paleo but some things that I read turn me off to it. I like to be flexible and have an open mind about all (reasonable) diet approaches.

  • Rickbrbn55,No worries. I wasn't responding specifically to you. I just saw several posts here lumping the two together and as a Paleo who is turned off by a lot of the Crossfit mentality it just always kind of irks me to get lumped into that group. I love Mark Sisson but acknowledge that he does come across pretty rough on his side of some of the issues so I'm not suggesting it is only coming from the Crossfit side. I think it's just very personal for Sisson just like it is for many Vegans, etc. and they err by going to the extreme. So much so that they their message can be lost on some. I agree that the vilifying that is done by any side of a diet argument is not productive. It is possible to have great results on a variety of diets and you have to find what works for you. The one constant being that you have to eliminate the sugary, processed junk.

  • Oh and just to respond to the person saying that he was told by Paleo followers that the fruit he was eating would make him fat. No one in their right mind would discourage you from eating fruit. The only time fruit intake is recommended to be reduced is if you have a fat to lose. If you are at a your ideal weight, then the Paleo diet is not going to tell you to restrict your fruit consumption.

  • Thanks Tony for helping me in my life of health it makes my world turn easier!

  • Thank you, Steve! Great post, as always!

  • Thank you, Steve! Great post, as always!

  • Jim – your comment is completely absurd. I don't know about you, but I don't personally have the time to develop 12 workout Programs and a nutrition program so I am happy to pay Steve, Tony, Carl and the rest of the great people at Beachbody to develop one for me, that I can do in my own home and not lose another 30-45 minutes a day having to waste time traveling to a gym. You are correct, exercise has been around for thousands of years and Tony nor Jack invented it, but Tony is doing something unique and helping people do it from there home with a program that is simple for anyone to follow. The results of thousands of people speak for themselves. I just wanted to thank all these people for changing my life around. beachbody, tony , Steve and Carl- thank you!

  • Jim – your comment is completely absurd. I don't know about you, but I don't personally have the time to develop 12 workout Programs and a nutrition program so I am happy to pay Steve, Tony, Carl and the rest of the great people at Beachbody to develop one for me, that I can do in my own home and not lose another 30-45 minutes a day having to waste time traveling to a gym. You are correct, exercise has been around for thousands of years and Tony nor Jack invented it, but Tony is doing something unique and helping people do it from there home with a program that is simple for anyone to follow. The results of thousands of people speak for themselves. I just wanted to thank all these people for changing my life around. beachbody, tony , Steve and Carl- thank you!

  • Steve,Kudos to you for tinkering with your fitness and nutrition. I just have one question for you. You mentioned this:"I’ve re-shuffled this a couple of times, and it’s getting better, but each attempt ends up causing a regression in my own fitness"How do you measure that? What do you test? Thanks.

  • Hello?!?

  • I don't measure. It's all by feel but it's pretty obvious. Where I feel it the most is recovery. That is the key to diet. When it's right you recover well.

  • So when you test nutritional and fitness methods on yourself, you only go by feel? Do you assess fitness by feel as well when testing others?Isn't it possible for someone to feel better while losing fitness? Or the reverse?

  • You could do it with others if you had access to ask them a lot of questions. I've been through this drill so much, with many many years of graphing and recording all data, that I know myself by now. With this experience I get often tell how others are doing with questioning but for test groups I always record as much data as possible. With diet, especially a performance diet, it's pretty easy as there are signs you look for. Yes, you often feel bad while you are gaining fitness but that is when your body composition is changing. For performance you can still gauge recovery by feel because when you're recovering well you always feel better.

  • OK, I see what you're saying.What do you to measure others' fitness, then?

  • Heaps of ways to to measure fitness so it depends what you're interested in. In P90X for the general pop we use a simple fit test to measure basic aspects of fitness. For cycling you can measure Blood lactate of VO2/max, which I've done, as well as taking power readings. For climbing I do a lot of graphing on fingerboards or campus sessions… anything systematic can be measured but you've got to account for everything, so measurements should be associated with notes so that when you look at the data you can have more clues to what went right and wrong.

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