Re-Assessing the Food Pyramid.

by Brad Pilon

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on the health benefits of different styles of eating.

From allergenic foods to anti-inflammatory foods, I’ve gone through most of the major theories.

And you know what I’ve found?

In terms of risk of chronic disease, inflammation, oxidative stress, and quality of life nothing beats simply eating less.

In fact, most diet styles from Vegetarian to Paleo can be extremely healthy, especially when combined with eating less (or at least not overeating).

So this begs the question – What the hell are we doing with these confusing ‘food pyramids’?

I mean really – do they help or do they simply confuse?

In my mind their main benefit seems to be their ability to ignore the giant pink elephant that is calorie intake.

So, I’m going to throw my hat into the ring and present what I think would be a food pyramid that would actually create a massive benefit in the health of a nation that would choose to adopt it.

(Please keep in mind this a work in progress and is meant for the general population – so elite athletes and many disease states would be excluded)

So here we go…the Pilon Pyramid:

In this example the number IN THE PYRAMID represents the AVERAGE number of meals taken per day, with a ‘meal’ being any food or drink consumed that meet a certain minimum caloric requirement, which would be dependent on the age category.

As an example 25+ years of age would have a meal being anything over 200 Calories, where as for the 2-15 range a meal couple be anything over 50 Calories (this is just a ‘guess’ as my expertise is NOT pediatrics or children’s nutrition).

Focusing on the adults, the basic plan would work like this, anything under 200 would be free and not count as a meal.

Anything over is a meal, so if you are going to go over and have a 400 Calories super-mocha-caramel-frappa-coffee you may as well have a sandwich because this is going to count as one of your meals.

The goal would be to greatly reduce ‘snacking’ and hidden calories, increasing time spent ‘not eating’ and cutting down on the overall calories an adult eats.

This plan would allow for all sorts of eating styles, from Eat Stop Eat, to Veganism to Paleo to you name it.

It graduates the frequent eating needs of infants into a less frequent style of eating for adults who have finished growing in height and have greatly reduced needs for frequent meals.

Obviously the idea is rough, but by focusing on meals we can focus on creative and constructive ways to address the actual problem (calories) while still being open to most major forms and styles of eating.

Pilons Pyramid1 Re Assessing the Food Pyramid.


Simple but effective?

(and again – a work in progress)

BP

{ 38 comments }

Tonja August 27, 2010 at 4:41 pm

A great number of unhealthy people eat only 1-3 meals per day. While reducing/eliminating overeating is of course important, the most important dietary factor for optimal health is increasing nutrient density. The more nutrition in each calorie, the more nourished the body becomes and the better it functions. When the body is well-nourished, it also is satisfied with less food, so reducing intake is not longer a struggle. Best overall book I’ve read on understanding and simplifying eating is “Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrman.”

Tyler August 27, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Good idea. This could actually work for people because it’s simple and elegant.

I think there needs to be a defined length of time between meals and snacks. If you ate something less than 200 calories every 15 minutes you would obviously be overeating and defeating the intent of having a pyramid. One hour may make sense.

Donna August 27, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Wow, Brad…so original! This is a whole new slant on the food pyramid. It made me think and I’m going to try it out. Thanks!

Lillea August 27, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I like this concept. Simple and flexible.

Angela August 27, 2010 at 5:18 pm

So, would there be a maximum number of calories per meal? Or if I maxed out on calories and had (God forbid! :) ) a Big Mac, large fries and the works, I should just stick to one meal a day?

Michael Lee August 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Yes I like this pyramid! I believe the USDA pyramid is based on government subsidies which is why grains are so high on the list.

Michael Lee August 27, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Oh….since a small bag of chips is 160 calories, does that mean I can have unlimited bags of chips throughout the day and not have it count towards the meal?

Paul Brewer-Jensen August 27, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Brad,

Yes, yes, and yes! As I get older (I am 44 now) I feel that I need fewer meals per day. I like to wait until my stomach is completely flushed empty before I toss more food into it. I also like to workout intensely with lots of gasping for air and lactic acid production on an empty stomach (no worries about vomiting that way). As a result, I have settled into a two meal per day pattern with an occasional one meal per day. I suspect that one meal days will become more frequent as I get older. I do not snack at all between meals. I drink only plain water inter meal.

So, I usually workout first thing in the morning and then have breakfast as the first meal and then a late lunch as the second and last meal of the day. Off days are more likely to be one meal days. Also, I like to eat largish satisfying meals. The frequent mini meal protocol seems like such a drag and a bother to me. I have better things to do with my time.

I will share this pyramid with my wife, and as a result of your coming up with said pyramid, I think that I will order your Eat Stop Eat ebook.

Thanks for your insights.

Paul

HArry August 27, 2010 at 6:37 pm

How is this method good at producting athletes or bodybuilder vs normal life people???

merci! Thx!
Harry ;-)

P August 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Interesting concept but a little confusing. The 1 – 3 meals/day for those over 25…makes sense. But here’s where I have a tough time:

“As an example 25+ years of age would have a meal being anything over 200 Calories, where as for the 2-15 range a meal couple be anything over 50 Calories (this is just a ‘guess’ as my expertise is NOT pediatrics or children’s nutrition).

“Focusing on the adults, the basic plan would work like this, anything under 200 would be free and not count as a meal.”

Using the idea of eating something <200 calories as not counting as a meal, that is where the problems begin for so many. The mini meals can add up to between 600 – 800 cal/day based on what some of the "eating experts" suggest.

I'd revise the pyramid to 1 – 3 servings of food, only, for +25yrs as one example. Kind of like the No S Diet approach…no snacks. And as Art Devany suggests (and I think you do too, Brad?), let your blood sugar clear out. With that, suggest the individual find his/her healthy caloric range…two main meals and mid-day light feeding? Balance it out within that plan accordingly according to your nutritional requirements.

Or did I misunderstand the intent of what you wrote?

Thanks!

owen August 27, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Giant pink elephant, that’s funny. How true, how true. I cannot praise you enough.

Cindy August 27, 2010 at 8:01 pm

i am surprised at the low number of meals for over 25 years.
I would think it is better to have smaller/ lower calorie meals (better portion control) than it is to digest bigger meals less frequently.
For many reasons some of being easier digestion, better blood sugar balance, energy release, hormone balance. i realize you believe in fasting, and eating less in general, but I would think that on eating days smaller more frequent meals would apply. i would think that if the average person saw your pyramid they may eat alot more than usual in a sitting knowing that they are eating less frequently. Just a thought

Jo August 27, 2010 at 8:20 pm

What about someone like me who grazes all day? I can pack alot of calories in my tiny (well under 200 cal) snacks…I don’t think they should be free…my middle is getting bigger by the day. On the bright side, I like and am working on TT exercises, but they are very hard, so I cannot do them for very long. But I am not giving up : ) However, my diet has gone out the window…I was doing so well before summer vacation, so I was glad to see your video today! It is time to re-commit!

Brad Pilon August 27, 2010 at 8:57 pm

keep in mind this includes drinks

If under 200 was also a meal, coffee would count as one of your meals…

Brad Pilon August 27, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I don’t really understand the question?

Brad Pilon August 27, 2010 at 9:00 pm

try it.

The point isn’t for you to have 10 bags of chips, it’s to allow you to have a bag of chips, a coffee, maybe a glass of milk or juice on top of your 1 to 3 meals.

if you had 16 bags of chips you would be at 1,600, so you would choose the 1 meal option…and keep it at hopeful under 1,000 calories..you’d still be at 2,600 kcals.

Brad Pilon August 27, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Exactly.

So if you started a 2,000 calorie breakfast…you’d opt for either no more meals or just a small one….

Brad Pilon August 27, 2010 at 9:03 pm

As odd as it sounds, I wonder if that even be possible… maybe for one day… would be an interesting experiment for sure.

B

volwalker August 27, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I understand the concept but my problem will always be eating too much in one meal. On average I eat 2 meals a day but they are really big and I am still gaining weight. I have been eating like this for so long that I do not even know what a “normal” size meal is supposed to look like anymore which is sad. This may sound really dumb but Brad, is a normal meal supposed to look like?

Brad Pilon August 27, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Tonja,

Imperial evidence doesn’t support the idea of nutrient density being more important then less calories. Obviously there has to be minimums that must be met, but simply adding more and more ‘nutrients’ is not the end all be all of health.
B

Brad Pilon August 27, 2010 at 9:19 pm

The control of the snacks is the one part I’m not sure how to control explain. They have to be allowed (otherwise no drinks), but some how need to be controlled…

nelson August 27, 2010 at 9:54 pm

great idead brad love the part about a free meal and how to count a meal if its 400 calories i feel like expluing this in my diet and see how it goes for me

Eugen August 28, 2010 at 3:35 am

Brad,

you wrote “imperial evidence”- did you mean “empirical evidence”?

Hilary August 28, 2010 at 3:57 am

I don’t really understand how this can be the answer to being overweight. I eat only two meals and one snack a day and am moderately active, yet I am deemed obese by the medical profession. At 5ft 2in, aged 58, I need to eat only about 1300 calories a day if I am to lose much weight. That could very easily be done in one meal leaving me to feel very deprived for the rest of the day and thus prone to give in to a binge temptation. I find that I can lose weight better if I don’t go long periods of time feeling starving hungry. I have tried ESE and it sounds really good, the science and everything, but I find it incredibly hard to get through 24 hours without food, especially if I am going out to work, I get weak and shakey and lose my concentration, after about 12 hours I lose the will to live.

eugeneil August 28, 2010 at 4:12 am

Brad,

you wrote “imperial evidence”, in your answer to Tonja.
Did you mean “empirical evidence”?

Lachlan August 28, 2010 at 6:27 am

Brad when are you going to get busy on phi-life again! Im hungry for more podcast banter.

Matt August 28, 2010 at 7:47 am

YES—-although I might first struggle to get my head around “1-3″ meals a day, Brad is certainly in the right ballpark for overall weight control when he is daring enough to speak to the “Elephant in the Living” room that most seem to walk around or simply ignore (Caloric Inatake). The basic math is there–and continuing to put extra calories into the body beyond what our BMR (Basal Metobolic rate–approx 1750-2000 cals/daily)at some point converts to “stored” fat. The body is a excellent “machine” at taking food and storing for later use. go with the rented storage locker as a good “fat storage” Anaology/Methapor—-Why rent a storage locker and put stuff in there–and pay and pay for it—when it is stuff you are not using and don’t need anyway? AND—How are you ever going to get rid of it? ha —-Time to take all that stuff to the DUMP–if you haven’t used it in 6 months—then you don’t need it? And paying to keep you “junk” somewhere else—wow–reflect on that for a moment. Take in only what you need–Calories–Calories–Calories 1750-2000 per day, and quit wasting your time and money on that “storage Locker” than everyone seems to be advocating. Materilism, consumerism–is Alive and well in America. Matt

Brad Pilon August 28, 2010 at 8:06 am

yep. sorry been trying to update through my iphone.

Brad Pilon August 28, 2010 at 8:07 am

The other thing I should point out is that with the 25+ it allows for as much as a 36 hour fast, if 1 meal were at 10 AM on day 1, and another meal was at 10 PM on day 2.

Lani Muelrath August 28, 2010 at 10:42 am

Keeping our eye on the fact that calories count is of huge importance, true.

Yet paramount is how to have sufficient satiety with a caloric consumption that is consistent with our body composition goals. Sticking strictly to calories fails over and over again. Satiety is a function of bulk and nutrition, bulk meaning the weight AND fibrous quality of a meal. It’s why a frappuchino as a “calorie count” meal – even though we all agree this is not “quality” nutrition- will work against us because the satiety factor is low. This has been proven in research – liquid calories such as this end up not cutting our calorie deficit, they only add to it.

Calorie density is key to success at being slim AND well-fed. Hunger wins every time.

Always love the way you share new ways of thinking Brad!

Lani
http://www.betterbodiesforbusywomen.com

Jason August 28, 2010 at 11:12 am

How about you eat when you start to feel a bit hungry? When you get hungry you either have 1 of your meals or you have an under 200 calorie feeding. This way there is some kind of control over when you’re eating. You could also simply wait a minimum amount of time before allowing yourself a feeding. You could choose to have 3 meals in a row and after that the rest of the day would only be meals under 200 calories when hungry.

Steve August 28, 2010 at 1:47 pm

@Hilary-

That is becuase the medicla profession insists on using BMI as its measuring stick. According to that, I am also overweight at 5 foot 6–even though I have a 33 inch waist and 12% bodyfat at age 56. In fact, just about every single running back and wide receiver in professional football is “obese” by that measure.

Try to get a body composition done by someone who knows what they’re doing before you accept te “oveweight” or “obese” label foisted on you by an imperfect diagnostc tool. Then, you can determine how much you feel you need to lose. The only way I would ever be under my proposed BMI would be for me to lose about 35 pounds. Short of cutting my leg off or regressing to m weiht when I was 10 years old, that will never happen–nor would I wan it to..

Elle Bieling August 29, 2010 at 10:03 am

Hi Brad,
Initially, I like your pyramid, but I can’t wait to see it progress. As the readers above note, it does have some issues, but at least the ‘pink elephant’ is addressed. The biggest step of all!!

I have been using ESE for several months, and I am 52 years young. I am very active, without being an exercise anorexic, am 5’2″ and 125 pounds. I am a holistic nurse who knows the wisdom of understanding your body, but including the powerful mind connection to overcome negativity and society’s barrage of wrong information. This is where ESE comes into play, I believe!

I cannot recall the time that I was better able to loose that last pesky 10 pounds. I find that I can easily do a 24 hour fast – I never go beyond that. 10 pounds came off me, doing this just 2-3 times a week. It took 2 months, but I had the ability to focus on my other passions, and never focused on any hunger. When I noticed the hunger, I would thank my body that it was detoxifying and becoming more healthy. I did the fast on work out days as well, on work days and any day at all. I just stayed with it and stayed positive in my outlook.

The one meal I had was in the evening, around 5 o’clock. I found that I would fill up easily, as my stomach was getting used to having less food. At first I pigged-out after the fast, but that was OK. I had to get it out of my system. That being the feeling that I was being deprived. However, I was never deprived, just getting healthy!!!

Thanks so much for your knowledge and being willing to step outside the box. The pink elephant can be destroyed. Keep coming up with your excellent insights – I am your best fan!! Thanks!

Anna @ Path to Fat Loss August 29, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Hey Brad, this is a very timely post. I just recently combined the elimination diet along with Eat Stop Eat and it works wonders! These are two very simple strategies and yet very powerful.

I definitely eliminated snacking out of my life awhile ago and my life is way simpler and I’m getting more results. I like the idea of your simple pyramid. Most people will benefit just by eliminating snacking.

Anna

ausnothome53 August 30, 2010 at 5:56 am

I have just begun with eatstopeat, and so far I have heard from any of you very healthy people ever mentioning having a beer. Now correct me if I have got it wrong, if I fast twice a week for 24 hrs each time I can live my life as it was before for the other five days. Ok maybe watching the obvious pitfalls. Please comment even lambast me for being such a pig! lol

Brad Pilon August 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm

One of the things I realized it that this pyramid isn’t really for us, as much as it is for future generations.

Obviously this is an easy out for me, but it’s based on a truth that for us, our unlearning will be an extremely difficult task, so I’m looking to new generations to help them set basic guidelines.

For some reason most of us look at ideas like this then see how we can ‘cheat the system’, whereas people seeing it for the first time may simply look at ways to implement it…so I’m thinking this is more of a ‘future’ idea then a ‘fix the present’ idea

Ken September 1, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Hi,

How about the effect fewer meals has on digestion?
My digestion works OK with 3 meals a day, but is struggling on 1-2 meals (one meal, one snack) a day.
I’m thinking I would feel better and less bloated if digestion was better!
Is it a matter if finding a happy medium?

Brad Pilon September 2, 2010 at 11:24 am

What are you measuring to rate ‘digestion’?

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