Ask a Health Coach: Is Eating Healthy Even Worth It?

eating healthyHey, folks. If you’ve ever wondered if watching what you eat is really worth it, you’ll want to check out today’s post. PHCI Coaching Director, Erin Power is here answering your questions about managing macros, weighing the pros and cons of meal prep, and the value of paying more for your food. We love getting your questions, so keep them coming in the comments below or head over to our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook Group.

Debbie asked:

“I don’t know what to eat anymore. I was following a strict macro split of 56% fat, 28% protein, and 16% carbs, but I’m worried that my protein is too high. My goals are to maintain my weight, build muscle, and control my blood sugar since I am pre-diabetic. I know higher protein isn’t good for diabetes as it converts to glucose and then you get an insulin dump and gain weight. Can you point me in the right direction?”

Feels stressful doesn’t it? All the measuring, weighting, counting, and adding — just to get your macros to line up and reach some magical equation that you’ve decided will make everything work out perfectly. Don’t get me wrong, I love that you’re committed to doing what you can to prevent diabetes and reverse your current diagnosis (I wish more people followed your lead here), but I have a hunch it’s sort of ruling your life right now. And it doesn’t have to.

There’s so much great information out there. Unfortunately, that makes it easy to get overwhelmed. Personally, I’ve always hated the fussy factor. That’s why my philosophy is “keep it simple.”

My advice is to ditch the food scale (as well as grains, sugars, and industrialized oils) and focus on eating real foods in the form of vegetables, low sugar fruits, animal proteins, and healthy fats. Start with a protein-forward breakfast like eggs and bacon and eat when you’re hungry, not when your macro-tracking app says you need to squeeze in ten more grams of protein.

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Sure, some people thrive on adding up their macros. They get a sense of control out of knowing exactly how much protein, fat, and carbohydrates they’re consuming. But if it’s causing you more stress, you’re actually working against your goals of inhibiting an insulin response.

Both physical and emotional stress1 can create changes in blood sugar, regardless of what you eat. The stress from constantly tracking and worrying about your macros causes your body to release cortisol and adrenaline, so it can access stored glucose because it thinks you’re in danger. In ancestral terms, your body thinks you’re being chased by a predator, so it pumps extra energy into your bloodstream.

If you’re not actually converting that glucose into energy, you’ll get a buildup of sugar in your bloodstream, and you’ll dump more insulin. Keep that up and you’ll be on the fast track to weight gain and a full-on diabetes diagnosis.

Okay, now to answer the other part of your question about muscle-building. Sure, protein helps increase muscle mass but you actually need to incorporate strength training if you want to see a real difference. It’s just one of the reasons “lift heavy things” is one of the cornerstones of the Primal Blueprint. When you put more stress (in this case, good stress) on your muscles, you create muscle fiber tears, which, once repaired, cause an increase in size and strength. Keep in mind that “heavy” is relative. Even bodyweight exercises like pushups, planks, pullups, and squats done two to three times a week will help you put on muscle.

JoAnn asked:

“Now that school has started again, I’m finding I have even less time to prep meals and snacks. What are good healthy convenience foods I can stock up on?”

Time management is a tough one this time of year. Especially when you’re busy working, parenting, and homeschooling all day. I get it though, it isn’t super convenient to sit down every week and plan out what you’re going to eat, then shop for ingredients, then prep those ingredients and create meals for you and your family.

It’s much easier to buy pre-packaged foods that go from the microwave to your mouth in two minutes flat. It’s easier to buy the giant Costco-size bag of popcorn and “healthy” chips. Don’t get me wrong, there are actually a few brands that go out of their way to use clean, minimally processed ingredients, but sadly, most of them don’t.

Most convenience foods are loaded with artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives – even the brands that have “low sugar” and “no trans fats” written right there on the front of the label. Problem is, although they’re hyped as healthy, these foods are full of ingredients your body doesn’t recognize, which can make you feel foggy, achy, cause you gain weight, and make you want to fall asleep before the kids finish their homework.

Which begs me to ask the question, what’s easier, hard boiling a dozen eggs or carrying around 15 extra pounds? Is throwing a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster more or less convenient than struggling to keep your eyes open after 7pm? Are those peanut butter crackers for when you’re feeling “snacky” worth the price of having chronically sore joints from systemic inflammation?

You say you don’t have time to prep foods. However, my guess is you also don’t have time to be sick, achy, or overweight. So, be smart about it. Following the hashtag #easypaleo on Instagram is a great place to start. Collect recipes that are healthy and easy to make, then stock your kitchen with staples like:

  • Frozen veggies and meat
  • Coconut milk
  • Ghee
  • Coconut aminos
  • Nut butters
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Coconut and almond flour

Robert asked:

“In an effort to cut down on our grocery bill, my wife and I are thinking about buying conventional meat and produce. Is it really worth it to spend more for products labeled organic and grass-fed or is it all just marketing?”

Since the pandemic started, the cost of groceries has skyrocketed2 with meat prices jumping as high as 20%, eggs increasing 10%, and fresh veggies going up 4%.Buy the organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised versions and those costs will be even higher.

So, is it worth it? I’ll break it down for you.

I have clients that only buy organic. I also have clients that, for financial reasons, have to go the conventional route. The thing is, in general, when you buy organic (or grass-fed beef in this case), you’re limiting your exposure to synthetic additives. Other than that, there’s no conclusive evidence that eating this way is better or healthier for you.

But we’re not really talking about nutrition here. We’re talking about produce covered in pesticides and fertilizers. Factory-farmed animals housed in poor conditions and fed grains pumped full of antibiotics. The main issue here is the impact these foods have on your overall health – not to mention the health of our planet.3

Ever heard the phrase, pay for it now or pay for it later? Sure, it can be costly to eat this way. It can also be costly to manage chronic gastrointestinal, neurological, endocrine, and respiratory conditions for the rest of your life.

So, whether or not it’s worth it to spend more is totally up to you Robert. My advice is to buy local or organic fruits and veggies when you can, especially ones that have been proven to contain higher levels of pesticides, like strawberries, spinach, apples, potatoes, cherries, and peaches. Same goes for beef and poultry. If you can, get in touch with a local butcher. There’s a good chance they can get you a better cut of meat at a more affordable price than you’d find at the grocery store.

What do you think? Have you found that it’s worth it to eat healthy? Tell me about it in the comments below.

About the Author

Erin Power is the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients regain a loving and trusting relationship with their bodies—while restoring their metabolic health, so they can lose fat and gain energy—via her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.

If you have a passion for health and wellness and a desire to help people like Erin does every day for her clients, consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. Learn the 3 simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in 6 months or less in this special info session hosted by PHCI co-founder Mark Sisson.

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11 thoughts on “Ask a Health Coach: Is Eating Healthy Even Worth It?”

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  1. This is great, Erin. Thank you. I definitely fall into the “tracking is stressful” camp and have found better mental and physical health from widening my lens and putting my efforts into listening to my body and making good choices moment to moment and day to day. I really try to avoid saying, “I should” and instead focus on doing what makes me feel healthy and energetic. Our body really does know best. We just need to clear the static away and listen.

  2. My family and I eat mostly conventionally grown meat and produce. I remain unconvinced that an entirely organic diet is worth the extra money, which can really add up. We do eat a lot of fresh vegetables and we always have. We generally avoid sweet corn and a few other things that are known to be heavily sprayed and/or modified. I should add that we rarely get sick. Might just be good genes, but I think all the fresh vegetables we eat helps.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I buy conventional produce if they’re not the heavily sprayed ones and buy organic for the highest pesticide produce for my kids, I don’t stress if they eat conventional apples sometimes but my daughter does have really severe eczema and a common thing I see is eating organic helps, but honestly her eczema is still getting worse and I’m on a foodstamps budget so buying them organic produce and grass fed ground beef ($4/lb) and chicken from trader joes (not organic but better quality and taste than regular grocery stores), results in my eating crappy walmart meat (their beef burgers are the cheapest beef per lb but taste so bad), and just eating a lot less in general. I am starting to wonder if it’s worth it. You hear so much scary stuff about pesticides on produce and now there’s plastic on produce too, I’m really not sure what the best choice is, but I didn’t care about organic produce a year or two ago and I ate more food back then, plus my children’s eczema was better than it is now. Over time I’ve found the best prices for organic/grass fed stuff but produce is still super expensive comparatively… I’m conflicted.

      1. Eczema can be caused by a variety of things. Your daughter’s problem might not be caused by what she eats. You might want to investigate other possibilities.

  3. Hey Mark,

    If you ever bring back ‘Dear Mark’ (hint hint please do!) I have a coffee question, several actually:

    1. How bad is drinking a cappuccino or latte everyday? I’m in Melbourne (coffee capital) and we have amazing quality coffee down here. Is a regular cappuccino really bad for me? They use excellent grass fed milk if that helps?

    2. Does beating the milk at that temperature harm or create a lot of adverse effects upon the milk and it’s protein/fat content?

    3. Which milk would you recommend for my partner who can’t do dairy? They have unsweetened almond and unsweetened organic soy- which is the least worst option?

    Cheers Mark, stay safe

    1. For your partner who can’t do dairy, I would recommend Laird’s Superfood Creamer….the original and turmeric flavors are excellent. I usually make a coffee with one of these creamers, a scoop of collagen and some MCT oil every morning in a blender. It’s like having a cappuccino without the dairy and the other stuff is great for your body too. I sometimes sprinkle some cinnamon on top when I use the original flavor. Take care….

  4. 2 options for Debbie. After counting for a while, she can probably approximate close enough. Also, could just focus on protein grams and minimizing carbs, it will be close enough and can be adjusted. There’s no magic formula. I say focus on protein because it’s too easy to short that.

    1. I agree that too much counting, weighing and measuring gets to be stressful. What a person eats shouldn’t be first and foremost in their thoughts 24/7. Minimizing sugar, starchy foods, and grain products in favor of sufficient animal protein, fresh vegetables, and whole fruit is usually sufficient for a healthful, nutritious diet. No need to get bogged down in all the scientific data (which typically gets reversed every few years anyway).

  5. I am so over trying to figure out how to eat. If it were simple, Mark would not have so many blog posts and there would not be an entire corner of the blogosphere devoted to health and nutrition. Ugg. The amount of information is overwhelming.

  6. Eating unprocessed and nutritionally rich meals isn’t about unnecessary, unscientific restriction. It’s about embracing the way humans are meant to eat and making intuitive, rational and delicious food choices every day. Even the occasional ‘treat’ meal fits easily into a balanced lifestyle.