Matt Fitzgerald: Diet Cults, Agnostic Eating & Weight Loss

Mark Kennedy
Founder of None to Run
January 24, 2023




Matt Fitzgerald is an author, certified sports nutritionist, runner and triathlete. He’s written for many publications including Bicycling, Maxim, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, Outside, Shape, Stuff, and Women’s Health.

I have a huge respect for Matt Fitzgerald. I’ve read four of his books (he’s written over 20!) and have modelled much of my approach to running and fueling for running from his advice.

To check out my previous interview with Matt, click here.

His book, The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition, provided much of the framework for my running app.

In this podcast episode, Matt and I discuss his latest book entitled “Diet Cults - The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us”.

In this podcast you will learn:

  • Exactly what is a diet cult.
  • Matt’s biggest surprises from writing and researching the book.
  • Why diet cults (paleo, atkins, vegan, etc.) are good (for some people).
  • Why the line of thinking and approach to the paelo diet may be flawed.
  • Despite recent media propaganda, the truth on exercises as it fits into the weight-loss equation.
  • Why carbs should be the “premium fuel” choice for runners.
  • Matt’s thoughts on Dr. Timothy Noakes’ recent drastic change in approach regarding diet recommendations.
  • Matt’s recommendations for healthy eating.

Links and resources mentioned in this podcast:

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Full Transcription

Mark: Welcome to the Healthynomics podcast, episode number 16 with Matt Fitzgerald. In this episode, we talk about exactly what is a diet cult; Matt’s biggest surprises from writing and researching his latest book, Diet Cults; why diet cults such as paleo, Atkins, and vegan are good for some people; why the line of thinking approach to the paleo diet might be flawed; despite recent media propaganda, the truth on exercise as it fits into weight loss; why carbs should be the premium fuel choice for runners; Matt’s thought on Dr. Timothy Noakes’ recent drastic change in approach regarding diet recommendations; and Matt’s recommendations for healthy living.The show notes for this episode will be held at Head over there if you’re interested in winning a copy of Matt’s new book, Diet Cults. I’ll be giving away two copies to anyone who leaves a comment in the blog.Lastly, before we get to the show, if you like this episode, or any other episode of the Healthynomics podcast, head on over to iTunes and leave a five-star review. Five-star reviews go a long way in helping other listeners find the podcast. Thanks very much, and let’s get to the interview.Mark: Hi, Matt. Welcome, and thanks so much for joining us today.Matt: It’s great to be with you.Mark: It’s great. I had you previously on the blog, not a podcast format, but I think it was last year, so it’s good to have you back on the site. I know everyone is looking forward to this interview when it comes out.Matt: Yeah. It’s funny; I’m so prolific that it’s only so long before I’ve got a new book and a new reason to get to talk to you again.Mark: It’s great. I’ve read a couple of your books, but I was a massive fan of the marathon fueling one, so much so that I used your book and I really hammered down my fueling for my last marathon, not this year but the year prior, and then actually developed an iPhone app. It was the app I wish I had training for my marathon, and a lot of the information and stuff I have to give credit to you, which helped me out a lot. That’s my background with your material.Matt: That’s great to know.Mark: Can you just give the listeners a bit of a background on you and where you grew up, education, and how you got into endurance sports and become a writer.Matt: Sure. My two big passions, I guess, are writing and running, and I got them both from my father, who is a writer. That’s his job. I grew up knowing that that was a normal thing or at least seemed normal. Same thing with the running. My dad ran his first marathon in ‘83, which was during the original running boom, but still, my dad was the only dad I knew among my friends or the neighborhood kids who ran marathons. That seemed normal, too.I thought, “Okay, I’ll give that a try as well.” I had no coordination, so any sport with a ball I was no good at, but I was good at the running. I’ve been running and writing really ever since I was nine, 10, 11 years old. Never really imagined putting the two things together.I went to college in the Philadelphia area, and then for no particular reason, a couple years after I graduated, moved to California and was just going to get the first writing job I could find, and it so happened that it was for a start-up triathlon magazine, basically. That opportunity led to every subsequent opportunity, and I’ve been really on that path ever since.Mark: Did you grow up out east?Matt: Yeah. I grew up in New Hampshire, mainly. Our family bounced around a little bit, but really, from first grade on I was in New Hampshire.Mark: Okay. You’ve done a few triathlons, as well, including an Iron Man. Is that correct?Matt: Yeah. I was a runner in high school, and then I was supposed to run in college. I picked my college largely because it had a good running program but kind of burned out and wound up not running there and then getting back into it in my mid-20s. That led into triathlon, and I was really into that for a number of years, as well.I would sort of divide the year in halves and focus on running in one half of the year and then multi-sport the other half, but I was always really a PR chaser. I guess it was my track running pedigree. I just was always trying to be faster on the clock. I just turned 43, so all my PRs are behind me. I still work out a ton, but I don’t race much anymore. It’s just a lifestyle for me now, but every now and then, I’ll stick my nose in something.Mark: That’s great. I’m the same. I just turned 40 this year. It’s funny; I wasn’t a crazy long distance runner growing up. I was sort of the opposite. I was sort of the ball sport guy that had good endurance but wasn’t, like, hanging out with the cross-country guys. I managed to break my half marathon PR a couple months ago. Because I wasn’t a prolific runner growing up, I might have a couple PBs, maybe, still left in me. We’ll see.Matt: You never want to just assume you don’t, you know?Mark: Yeah, exactly. I want to focus the bulk of our chat about . . . you’ve written how many books now, 15?Matt: It’s more than that, but I actually have lost count. I couldn’t tell you how many marathons I’ve run or how many books I’ve written.Mark: I love it. We’ll focus in on your latest book, which is entitled Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us. I’ve read most of the book, and I really, really loved it. It really resonated with me. First of all, can you explain to the listeners what, in your definition, is a diet cult?Matt: The essence of it, by my definition, a diet cult is any diet that is based on the false idea that there’s a single ideal diet for humans. If someone comes up with a diet that claims to be the best and no one follows it, I guess that doesn’t qualify as a diet cult. There has to be a community of like-minded believers surrounding it, a certain critical mass. The underlying essence is that false belief that this diet is better than any other or even the only right way for anyone to eat.Mark: How did you get the idea to write the book?Matt: In college, I was an English major. I was always going to be a writer, but I became very interested in sociology in college. I basically did minor in it. I only got into nutrition later, through sports. It’s something I’m very interested in, but when it comes down to it, I tend to be more interested in the sociology of diet and nutrition than in the biochemistry of it. I’m a soft science guy versus a hard science guy. I’m out there; I am a certified sports nutritionist, and I tell athletes what to eat for a living, in a sense. When you’re in that sort of role, inevitably, you’re going to come into conflict with people with competing philosophies of diet.Through that experience, I came to see that it’s not just that people disagree about the facts but that there’s a fundamental irrationality. It’s almost like people are looking at diet through these moralistic and identity-tinted lenses. You see very, very smart people saying incredibly dumb stuff about nutrition. It’s not a word I use lightly, but irrational. It really struck me. Why isn’t anyone talking about this, how people can’t think straight about food? I thought, well, here’s an opportunity. Maybe I’ll be the guy to point out the 300-pound elephant in the room. I got that metaphor wrong.Mark: Stir the pot a little bit.Matt: Yeah, exactly. That was the genesis of it.Mark: I like it. Did you have any big surprises when you started researching the book? In the writing process and when you finished the book, were there any big surprises, things that you were kind of like, “Huh, I didn’t expect that,” or “I didn’t expect to feel that way”?Matt: I really had my thesis in place before I even started. I wasn’t so much looking for an answer to a question. All my experience up to that point had taught me that this diet cult phenomenon exists, so my research was just about informing that idea and flushing it out. When I write a book, I want it to transform me. I want to learn. The message of this book is fundamentally novel.No one else has said this ever before, but I wanted this book to be different not just in its message but also in its form. I wanted people to look at the title and the subtitle and expect one thing and get another. Having read it, you can attest to it that I take readers on this journey. There’s a tidy, well-defined mission that I’m on, but I take the reader in surprising places to explore different facets of this diet cults phenomenon.Well, as the writer of the book, I went on that journey myself. Just as a for example, you have this whole chapter about what the Lewis and Clark expedition ate during their two-year transcontinental journey. I didn’t know any of that before I started writing the book. Those kinds of discoveries I experienced before passing them on to readers to experience.Mark: I like, in the book, at the start of each chapter, you highlight a different individual or guru within that particular diet cult, for instance, paleo or vegan or Atkins or whatever. Has there been any feedback—I’m assuming there has been—from people within those diet cult communities?Matt: Yeah. Overall, it’s been pretty encouraging. One thing I suspected from the get-go is the real bug-eyed, frothing mouthed, diet cult zealots who just drank the Kool Aid, they’re out there and they’re loud, but I don’t think they’re a majority. I knew that from the beginning. I felt like there was a silent majority of people who had more of a balanced, grounded perspective on diet. Since the book has been out more than a month, that has been borne out in the responses I get. There are a lot of people out there who, the whole agnostic healthy eating philosophy that I’m advocating, it resonates with them.What’s been encouraging is that a lot of people who have chosen a particular “diet cult” to follow, they kind of get it, too. They follow a particular diet, but that doesn’t mean they’ve really completely bought into the most extreme version of the doctrine. I’ve had vegans read the book and recommend it to others and bodybuilders who have their weird way of eating say, “This is a good book; people should read it.” That has been really encouraging. Predictably, there are the bug-eyed, frothing mouthed followers.Mark: They’re like, “We were waiting for this.”Matt: They hate it. It’s funny; they’ll say, “Everything you said about all the other diets is true, but what you said about my diet . . . “ Overall, it’s been fun, the feedback. I really am a writer first and an “expert” second, so I want to give people a fun, memorable reading experience. When I get that kind of response, that is really what tickles my fancy more than anything else.Mark: That’s great. It definitely resonated with me. I guess I’m similar to you. I don’t follow a particular diet, per se, and I am a runner. I definitely eat healthy, and my wife definitely likes to eat healthy, as well. This book really resonated with me, because there is no one right way to eat. Humans have definitely adapted, and you go into that in detail in your book. Anyway, it’s a good book, as you say, for all people, no matter what diet you follow.Shifting gears a bit—or perhaps not shifting gears—are diet cults perhaps good for some people, though, in some ways?Matt: Yeah, absolutely. I didn’t do this in order to surprise people, but that’s one of the surprises I had planned for people. I think most people, when they look at the title of the book and the cover, they’ll assume that it’s a chapter-by-chapter survey of popular diets where I trash each of them sequentially. “The paleo diet is bad for this reason. Veganism doesn’t work for that reason.” That’s not what I’m doing at all. I’m saying that most popular diets are perfectly healthy or at least can be if you approach them in a careful manner.That’s actually one of the first signs that none of them is, in fact, the only right way to eat. You could try a version of paleo and get great results and then become a vegan and get great results. It’s not as if anything goes with human nutrition; there are certain rules you can’t break without paying consequences, but we are nature’s ultimate omnivore. We can eat in a variety of distinct ways and be more or less equally healthy. That was kind of the point of the Lewis and Clark chapter of the book, where over the two years of that expedition, that crew of men ate in every conceivable way that humans could eat in 1805, and they were pretty much fine throughout that entire spectrum of different diets.Mark: I’m assuming you’re familiar with Rich Roll?Matt: Yes.Mark: The vegan ultra-endurance athlete. For those out there, he has a great book. I read his book. He’s a vegan. Although he’s got an extreme personality—he’s a former alcoholic; he’s fully recovered, but he’s got that kind of extreme personality. I see some of these diet cults, as you say, working well for those type of people who are just extreme in their personality, and they need those restrictions and guidelines to keep them in line.Matt: Yeah. It is very much personality based in terms of just being able to thrive on a restrictive diet and also in terms of which particular shtick appeals to you. If you’re male, you’re much more likely to respond to paleo versus veganism, not to insinuate anything about Rich’s masculinity. You know what I’m saying. There’s usually some kind of appeal.It’s not just personality, but it can also be group based. Crossfitters, if you get into Crossfit, you’re inevitably going to end up on the paleo diet, just because it’s part of the overall culture. In all kinds of different ways, we tend to eat like the people around us. We tend to adopt the same beliefs about what is and what is not a healthy way to eat just based on our milieu.Mark: Exactly. Talking about paleo, I want to talk about it a little bit here. You spend a chunk of your book writing about paleo. Why do you think so many people resonate with it?Matt: It’s really that golden ageism, for lack of a better term. There’s a very natural human tendency to view our time as being in a fallen state. There was paradise in the past, and we’ve lost it. It’s all gone wrong. People have been talking that way for as long as recorded history has existed. We’ve always felt like, “Oh man, the generation before ours had it great, and our generation doesn’t.”The version of the paleo diet we’re familiar with now is kind of a second-generation paleo diet. There was a guy named Walter Voegtlin who created the original. He wrote a book called The Stone Age Diet in the mid ‘70s. Of course, that was when the whole obesity epidemic was really gaining momentum in the US, Canada, I suppose, elsewhere. In that sense, dietetically, we really had lost our way with too much fast food and too many soft drinks. It was inevitable that someone would get that idea, given the natural golden age perspective that most people are susceptible.This guy, Walter Voegtlin, thought, “Okay, people should eat in a more natural way. We don’t eat naturally enough anymore,” and he took that idea to the ultimate extreme. Not that the way we ate in 1827 was good enough and now the way we eat in 1975 is no longer that good, but his idea was the way we ate in 10,000 B.C. was good enough and nothing else has been good enough since then. He was just flat wrong about that. The way the average person ate in any culture in 1827 was good enough. We really did only start to lose our way far after that.It’s funny; I have a chapter in the book about the raw food diet. The origins of the raw food diet go back to the 19th century, so it’s much older than the paleo thing, but it was exactly the same outlook that informed that diet. The raw diet came out shortly after Darwin came out with his theory of natural selection, and that influenced people who cared about diet back in the 19th century.You had this guy named Maximillian Bercher-Benner, the guy who actually invented muesli, his thought was, “Okay, if humans are just animals and all animals besides us eat only raw food, then humans should only eat raw food.” It’s exactly the same philosophy; he just had a different spin on it than the later paleo crowd did.Mark: Exactly. Those are great examples. You can’t go anywhere without hearing people talking about paleo and how we’ve got this genetic code. Like you talked about in the book, our genes adapt. We’re the most adaptable omnivore people on the planet, so I can see why people resonated with it, but it’s definitely flawed in my opinion, as well.Matt: It’s really based on an outdated model of evolution. If you’re a Darwinian fundamentalist and you think that Darwin himself figured it all out and we haven’t learned anything since then, then your idea is that evolution operates at this glacial pace, and it depends completely on random genetic mutations turning out to be favorable when circumstances change.For example, you add a new food to your diet. The idea is that this genetic leash we’re on is really, really short, and we’re just not adaptable at all, and we only adapt when a novel genetic mutation occurs and overtakes the species, because there’s a survival advantage associated with it.That whole model has just completely broken down. That is, certainly, a piece of the puzzle, but now we understand that there are all these epigenetic mechanisms that allow us to adapt to changes in our environment simply based on turning on and turning off genes that already exist within us. For example, one of the ways that humans have “evolved” a lot just within the last 100 years is that we’ve all gotten a lot taller. That is really based almost entirely on epigenetic adaptations. It hasn’t required any new mutations to occur. It’s been able to happen very, very quickly.There are even other mechanisms besides the epigenetic one that allow species to adapt to changes in diet even faster than that, literally in the space of three or four days. New research is showing that humans can adapt to drastic changes in diet.This idea that, as Loren Cordain said in his book, The Paleo Diet, there have only been 333 generations since the agricultural revolution, and that’s not nearly enough time for us to have adapted to the foods that have been introduced since then. It’s just not true at all.Mark: That’s so interesting. I love that aspect of your book. I definitely recommend people checking that section out. It’s a massive topic, but the fact that, over millions and millions of years, we’re the smartest animals on the planet and the fact that people think that we can’t adapt over the course of all that time, it seems flawed to me.Matt: The irony is that that’s all we’ve ever done as a species. In fact, it almost defines us. The reason we’re not chimpanzees is because we went out of our way to change our diet. That is where the split occurred. I just have this picture of Loren Cordain going back to that crucial moment where a chimpanzee left the trees and decided to make a go of it on the ground, and Loren Cordain saying, “No, no, don’t do it! You’re making a terrible mistake.”It’s silly, but that’s the point. It’s silly. Everything we are, civilization itself, is dependent on the fact that humans like to mess with their food. That is what we are, at our deepest essence as a species. That is what we are and that’s what we do. That doesn’t mean that every way we choose to mess with our food is good, but there’s no going back. It’s only forward.Mark: Yeah, exactly. Let’s shift gears a little bit and let’s talk about weight loss, because I really like that section of your book, as well. I think this is where, especially now, a lot of people get confused with the messages being put out there by the media and different research and twist on research. One minute, they’re told to exercise, and the next minute, they’re told exercise sucks for losing weight. If a good friend comes to you and wants your best advice on helping them lose 40 pounds, what do you say to them?Matt: There are two answers to that. One is I’m happy to give nuts and bolts advice to anyone who’s interested in losing weight, but also, a big picture message that I like to deliver, if there’s an opportunity, is that weight loss is all about motivation. We’re trapped in this mindset where we think it’s all about knowledge, that there’s this magic formula, there’s one way to lose weight that really works and a million and one ways that don’t. It’s all about discovering that one way that really works, and motivation is completely unnecessary because it just works. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that nothing could be simpler than the how of losing weight.I give the example in the book of a guy who just stopped eating lunch. He didn’t know anything about nutrition, really. He was a physicist. He thought, “Well, I eat 600-some odd calories in my lunch, so if I just eliminate that, I should lose 30 pounds in a month,” and he did, but how many people besides that guy actually have the motivation to do it?Again, the research shows that if you look at people who have actually succeeded in losing large amounts of weight and keeping it off, there’s no consistent pattern whatsoever in terms of the diets they choose. I’m talking about real-world success. People are all over the map. Some people do it on their own. Some people do it in group environments. Some people do it with liquid diets. Some people do it on high-fat diets. Whatever. You name it; it can be successful. The key is “are you determined to succeed”? If you truly are, you will. If you’re not, if you’re anything less than fully committed, it doesn’t matter which diet you choose. You’re going to fail.Mark: Yeah. What do you say in regard to the exercise aspect? You can probably lose weight on just diet alone. You can lose weight on just exercise alone. Is it best to use a combination of both?Matt: If your goal is to ping-pong back and forth . . . it depends how much weight you have to lose, but let’s say you’re 30 pounds overweight. If your goal is to lose 30 pounds, gain it back, lose it again, gain it back, lose it again, gain it back, then you can do that without exercise. What you simply cannot do without exercise is lose those 30 pounds and keep them off. We only have ourselves to blame, to a certain degree, for a lot of the magic wand types of diets that are out there, because we want to be fooled. We want to be told that it’s easier than it actually is.When you have all these diets that say, “Oh, if you just follow these six rules, you can lose weight without exercise,” it’s not true. You can lose the weight, but you cannot lose it permanently. You need to exercise. You absolutely do. It’s true to an extent that dietary changes are more effective in promoting initial weight loss than exercise alone, but again, pretty much no one succeeds in maintaining permanent weight loss unless they exercise and exercise a lot. Also, there are, as I point out in the book, a lot of people like me, who actually do lose a lot of weight without changing their diet, through exercise alone. I lost about 60 pounds. I actually was fat once.Mark: I can’t imagine that. I read that in the book, and I’ve seen pictures of you, and there are all these pictures of you running and doing triathlons, and I cannot picture that body with another 60 pounds on it.Matt: Those pictures exist, too. All I did was I was lifting weights at the time, and I decided to do a triathlon. Boom, lost 60 pounds. I didn’t change what I ate, and in fact, I ate more. That’s the problem with the science, the studies that claim to prove that exercise is ineffective for weight loss. If you look at the numbers, they’re barely doing anything. The numbers of calories they’re burning through exercise in a week, I do that in a day or probably even in my morning workout in one day. You have to be willing to exercise a lot, but what’s wrong with that?Mark: Exactly. I love it, but again, that’s another beast of a topic. As you said, for losing weight, you’ve got to have the motivation and you’ve got to exercise and you’ve got to make it a habit as well. That’s a big battle. Listen, I’ve got a lot of runners that listen to this podcast, so let’s talk a minute about fueling for performance. Again, there’s lots of chatter right now about eating fat, being fat adapted, not burning sugar, all this talk in the running community.Why is this line of thinking flawed, in your opinion? I know you’ve written a whole book on this, so don’t go into too much detail, but maybe give the listeners just a little bit, because I know, again, there are a lot of people in the endurance community wondering, “Should I not be sucking back GU gels and Gatorade anymore?”Matt: There are a few things that I’d like to get off my chest on that topic. One is the whole idea that we should burn as much fat and as little carbohydrate as possible as endurance athletes is based on the belief that carbohydrate is somehow inherently bad and this rather novel idea that fat is inherently good. It’s not really based on what is proven to work, either in the laboratory or in the real world, it’s just based on an ideology, just like, “Carbs are bad. Let’s see how we can just eliminate them from our lives as runners.” That’s really kind of a shoddy way to proceed, especially when it actually matters.A lot of these nutrition debates amount to navel gazing, precisely because a lot of things can work, but when it comes to performance and you care about every second, then you can really start to pay a price for just proceeding based on first principles that are value based and not empirically based. That’s the first thing to understand. Carbs are not bad. Fat is not good. They’re both good and bad. They just do different things.Another thing to understand is that there’s just an avalanche of research demonstrating the performance-enhancing effects of high-carbohydrate diets and also the use of ergogenic aids that contain carbs in training and competition. Geez Louise, there’s a lot of that, and there’s not a lot showing the inverse, that low carb, high fat is the way to go.I don’t know. You’ve only got one life. You can only be one athlete. Do you really want to make that experiment, to hope that, based on your ideological position on carbohydrate, that, “Yeah, I’m going to just drop the carbs and hope for the best”? Especially considering—and this is the third piece—that virtually every Olympic-level endurance athlete in the world is on a high-carb diet. This annoys me to no end.Same thing with the people who are all about high-intensity training and avoid junk miles. They look at the world’s greatest endurance athletes, who aren’t just the greatest now; they’re the greatest ever. There’s been this evolutionary process, this trial and error, where things that don’t work have been weeded out, and that’s true on the level of training. You cannot go to the Olympics as a runner in 2012 or 2016 by training wrong.Yet, you’ll have these clowns, most of whom come to the sport rather late. They didn’t run in high school. They didn’t run in college. They were usually lifting weights at this time, and then they decide, they look at the world’s greatest runners, and they’re like, “You’re doing it wrong. You have no idea what you’re doing.” Really? Now they’re doing the same thing with diet. “Man, congratulations. You just won the Boston Marathon, but you did it wrong.”Mark: Exactly. “You’re the best in the world, but you’re not that good.”Matt: If only you had eaten 60% fat and 20% protein, imagine. You would have won by 27 minutes and run the first sub-two-hour marathon.Mark: What happened, do you think, with the line of thinking with Dr. Timothy Noakes, who, for listeners, is a very well respected and world-renown exercise scientist based in South Africa? It seems like he totally changed his tune, that he actually recommends people rip pages out of his old 1985 book, The Lore of Running.Matt: That’s a weird one. I go back a ways with Tim Noakes. I have the greatest esteem for him. He’s changed the game on a lot of things for a long time, but I don’t know what’s going on. Again, I’m sure that the diet he’s promoting, or at least a version of it, can be perfectly healthy. I don’t want to savage the diet that he’s championing at this point, but it’s how he’s doing it.The really, for lack of a better word, unscientific way he’s communicating, it’s troubling to me. I don’t know what happened. The Tim Noakes I’m following on Twitter now is not the Tim Noakes I thought I knew. I don’t really have a good answer to that, but it’s just another example, as I say in the book—because I do mention him there—that you cannot be too smart or too knowledgeable to fall for a diet cult. We’re all susceptible.Mark: Yeah. Obviously, you know him personally and know the background a lot more than myself, but I certainly do a lot of reading, and his name comes up all the time as recommended reading in research and articles and so forth, and then lately, this is all I’ve been hearing about, how he changed his tune. I just wanted to ask you about that, because to me, I feel like you don’t see that that often, where people really go back on years of advice and go back and say, “Actually, you know what, I was wrong. You should do this.” In a way, it’s kind of refreshing, but you just sort of wonder where it all came from.Matt: That piece, again, I have nothing but respect for the willingness to change your mind, because that’s really not a classic diet cult characteristic. Your beliefs are articles of faith, and no matter what evidence is presented to you, you don’t change your mind. The thing is, that willingness to change one’s mind, that was the old Tim Noakes. That was the guy who changed his mind about carbs, but now he’s become a guy who I can’t imagine ever changing his mind.If some study comes out that appears to challenge his current beliefs, he’ll reflexively savage the credibility of the researchers who did it, I think, at times without knowing the first thing about them. “Oh, they’re just toadies of the grain industry,” or something. It’s like, really? That’s slanderous. That’s deeply troubling to me, some of the ad hominem attacks on people’s integrity, the double standard about if someone says something he likes, he’ll make sure to say, “Oh, and he’s at Harvard,” but if someone from Harvard says something he doesn’t like, he says, “See? You just cannot trust the group think of the big institutions these days.” Which is it?Mark: Exactly. With all that said, what is the diet that you recommend or some strategies that listeners can implement to improve their eating using this sort of agonistic approach that you recommend?Matt: Right. First thing is if you love your current diet, I am not trying to change it. Again, that is crucial. It’s worth stating, because the diet cult folks don’t care. No matter how good the results you’re getting on your current diet, if it’s not their diet, they want you to start over. That’s not what I’m doing.I’m trying to offer something for people who want to eat healthy but also want to eat for pleasure, want to eat in a way that is consistent with what’s familiar to them culturally, and people who are perhaps turned off by the arbitrariness of some of the diet cult rules or the sanctimoniousness of the way they preach their dogma or whatever. I’m one of those people. I want to eat healthy, but I just cannot hold my nose and drink the Gatorade—good Freudian slip there—drink the Kool Aid of any diet cult.Agnostic healthy eating, it’s really just based on mainstream nutrition science. That stuff has always been out there, and yes, mainstream nutrition scientists have been wrong about things in the past, but more or less, the guys at Harvard, this discipline has been around long enough where we know a thing or two. We know that eating vegetables is good, for example. We know that eating a lot of fried food is bad, basic stuff like that. The reason that the various formulations of these mainstream guidelines haven’t caught on is because, I think, they lack some of the virtues of the diet cults.The thing I like about the diet cults is that they motivate people to eat healthy. Belief is powerful, so if you believe that you’ve discovered the one true way to eat, that could be the thing. It’s not the diet itself; it’s just that belief that motivates you and also the community. You get to join a community of people who are eating like you, who believe what you believe.I wanted to take this middle-of-the-road, truly science backed set of guidelines about what you can and can’t get away with if you want to be healthy and just make them sexier, basically, just make the whole thing stickier. I felt like this thing needs a name, and I felt like agnostic healthy eating captures the essence of it. Hopefully, it’s the kind of thing that could gain currency, and if enough people will come to see themselves as agnostic healthy eaters, then people who are currently not eating all that healthy but want to and are turned off by the diet cults, they will see a visible alternative in agnostic healthy eating.There are plenty of people out there who eat that way already. I say, “Eat that way,” but it’s actually you can eat all kinds of different ways and be an agnostic healthy eater. They don’t see themselves that way. The cohort that I talk about in the book is elite endurance athletes.One of the cool things I get to do in my job is to ask the world’s best endurance athletes what they eat, and the vast, vast majority of them are agnostic healthy eaters. They’re not gluten free or vegan or high fat or you name it, they just eat, like . . . if it’s an Ethiopian runner, they eat like an Ethiopian. If it’s a British cyclist, they eat like a Brit. They maintain very, very high quality standards for their culturally familiar diet. I just wanted to attach a label to that, make the whole thing more visible, so that people could find it if they’re not attracted to diet cults.Mark: That’s great. People don’t need to be afraid of potatoes or rice. If you eat a bagel in the morning, go for it. Eat your bagel. There are lots of different ways to eat a healthy diet.Matt: Right.Mark: I like it. Just before we wrap up, I just want to ask you, get your thoughts . . . there are lots of cults beyond just nutrition in the health and fitness . . . are there any other cults out there, phenomena such as barefoot running, that sort of catch your attention and perhaps maybe a topic of a future book?Matt: Yeah. It’s funny you ask, Mark. My next book, which comes out in September, is called 80/20 Running. 80/20 means that, as a runner, you should do 80% of your training at low intensity, 20% at moderate to high intensities. Of course, you have a lot of people—they’re often the very same people who are promoting the high-fat diets or that sort of thing—they’re promoting a high-intensity based approach to training as a runner or a strength-based approach or a technique-based approach, all these things that elite athletes don’t do.Mark: It’s like, “Run a marathon but only run 20 kilometers per week,” or something like that.Matt: Yeah. Again, as I referred to before, it’s this idea that they look at the best runners and say, “You’re clueless. You have no idea what you’re doing. You’re doing it all wrong. I, who did not run in high school or college but I studied some physical therapy, I got a master’s degree in physical therapy or whatever, that qualifies me to say that we need to hit the reset button and all train like body builders for running.”It’s annoying. It’s really doing a big disservice to runners. If you ran at a high level in high school and college, you got the full [00:44:10] indoctrination. You know what works. There’s no elite athlete out there . . . it’s not because they’re afraid to try new things. They’re very ready to try new things. They just won’t try something that seems stupid and that defies all of their experience.You’re not going to see any elite who just quit . . . say they’re coached by Alberto Salazar and say, “Forget you, Alberto. I’m joining Crossfit Endurance.” That’s just not going to happen. You’ve got a lot of runners who started as adults and didn’t get that proper indoctrination who are being fooled. They don’t know.80/20 Running is really designed to stop the madness, say, “Time out,” just to really champion what we know works. What’s cool is that in the real world, high-level coaches and runners have known this since the 1960s, but finally, we’re really getting some solid scientific research that’s just proving it beyond a shadow of a doubt. This book is really designed to just be the last word to end the argument and to leave all the people who train runners with high-intensity interval training and little volume to have to look for other jobs.Mark: I like it. We look forward to seeing that book. You say September of this year?Matt: Yeah. September 2nd is the official pub date for that one.Mark: Perfect. We’ll keep an eye out for that. Before we close off here, because I’m a big fan of your work and your books, I want to give away a couple copies of your recent book, Diet Cults, to two listeners. If you’re listening, I’ll do the draw. If you enter your name over at, enter a comment at the bottom of the blog post there. If you want to ask a question or just put any comment in there, or your thoughts on the interview. Enter your comment before July 11th, 2014, and I’ll send you a copy of Matt’s book should you be the winner.Matt: Awesome.Mark: Matt, where can people stay in touch with you, with what you’re up to online? Are you on Twitter, Facebook? Do you have a website? Where are you?Matt: Yeah. My website is, and my Twitter handle is @MattFitWriter.Mark: Perfect. I’ll make to put links to those in the show notes. Listen, Matt, thanks very much for your time and expertise, and we wish you all the best.Matt: I enjoyed chatting with you.

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