What approach do you take to get people dialed in? Is the Zone’s 30-30-40 ratio a good baseline?
“I don’t believe there’s a one-size fits all approach to nutrition. The way that I dial things in is I try to understand where the person is. If they have what appears to be some metabolic derangement… like they’re carrying a lot of abdominal fat, sleep problems, inflamed joints, then I’m gonna suspect some really high insulin levels. I’m probably gonna recommend they start things off on the lower carb side. If somebody’s coming to me and they’re a CrossFit competitor and they’re trying to squeak the last few percentages of performance out of their bodies, then I’m gonna start them in a vastly different spot. Concepts in there are similar: reduce inflammation and gut irritation, and improve sleep, but it will look different for everyone.”
What flaws do you see with The Zone?
“Something to keep in mind with The Zone books is they’re going off what most athletic folks would recognize as a calorie restricted low-protein, moderate carb, low-fat diet. As it’s prescribed out of the box, it’s those parameters. In my experience, if the person is metabolically broken, the carbohydrate level is too high. If the person is athletic, it’s too few carbs, protein and calories. You also don’t have much of a mindset towards food quality. Obviously you could, but it’s not the primary driver.”
Why is it important to put quality first?
“What I was finding when I asked people to be hardcore strict paleo for 30 days was that a lot of people had low-grade auto-immune conditions. In an extreme case, there was a Navy pilot we worked with who had narcolepsy and was in danger of losing his flight status. We figured out narcolepsy is an auto-immune disease, had him eat paleo, and he reversed his condition. Even Barry Sears recommends that people fill 2/3 of the plate with veggies, 1/3 plate with protein, and a drizzle of oil. His base prescription is eyeball, intuitive. Not everybody needs to be 100% diligent, but for the people who need to be, it’s absolutely critical. You can’t weigh and measure your way out of an autoimmune disease.”
Do you ever condone weighing and measuring?
“If people can’t figure out the difference between a mouth and a vacuum cleaner, then we break out the measuring tools and scales. But the most effective food logging we’ve found was just simply taking a photograph of the meal. Tim Ferriss talks about this in his book The Four Hour Body. It’s the most effective way to keep anyone on any type of meal protocol. It deals with compliance, proportionality, quantity and it makes it easy for you to coach. You look at the picture and say, ‘Hey, a little bit smaller on the starchy carbs next time.’ It’s pretty easy.”
One thing people struggle with when switching to a paleo diet is the feeling they have to give up so much. How do you get people to try it?
“This is my greasy, used car salesman pitch: try it for 30 days. See if it’s worth the suffering.”
What about cheat days? Does paleo require 100% compliance?
“Monday through Friday I eat ‘strict paleo’ and use the weekends to kick my heels up. I’m the gluten nazi so when I kick my heels up it’s more like ice cream, chocolate, NorCal Margaritas vs. beer, pizza, and cookies. You can eat that stuff, but just know how it’s going to affect you. “
Do you think paleo is the only way?
“Well, the other argument is weigh and measure for 30 days. My suggestion is take 50% of your clients and run them through weighing and measuring and take the other 50% and have them do paleo and take photographs. See which one’s easier, which one gets better results, and which one is more manageable, and form your own opinion. Then it’s not my experience, or Greg Glassman’s, or Barry Sears’; it’s your own personal experience.”
Robb concludes, “My big motivator is just to help people. I encourage people to experiment and see what works for them. The little bit of investment that you put into what you’re eating should, at the end of your day, make your life better.”
As with so many other aspects of CrossFit, learn from the experts so that you can present your clients with the best possible options. Sort your way through the rhetoric to become a resource for your community.
Denise Choate, owner of CrossFit Modesto (and my mom!), sums it up: “If I’m only pushing people in one direction, then I’m an advocate, not a coach. I’m here to present the best practices and methods that still promote good health, but that will work best for them in THEIR life. They’re the ones who have to live it.”