I talk a lot about treadmills and exercise, and with good reason. Americans are getting more sedentary every year and it’s literally killing us. Obesity has become an unstoppable epidemic in the United States. If you don’t believe me just check out that nice chart on the right. It’s no coincidence that similar charts exist that show the number of calories in our diets and the amount of time we spend being inactive. But rather than beat the same drum about exercise and activity, I want to talk about the real reason America is so fat and what you can do about it.

The major culprit in American obesity is the government, specifically the USDA. Their guidelines alone have caused more physical harm to Americans than any wars or terrorist attacks. Starting in 1913, the USDA released dietary guidelines that they updated ever few decades. These guidelines culminated in 1979 with the release of “Foods” and here’s what it looked like:

You’ll notice a few things. First, Vegetables and Fruits are the same category. So you could, in theory, have four servings of fruit each day and satisfy your needs apparently. It also called for four or more servings of breads and grains. And that’s not to mention that massive amounts of milk they advised us to drink. Take a look at that obesity chart again. When did it start to skyrocket? Shortly after 1979 actually.

But the real damage was done in 1992 with the famous Food Pyramid. This is what everyone ages 15-30 was taught growing up for the most part. It’s also what their parents were taught. As a reminder, here’s the image that has probably killed more Americans than both World Wars combined:

The guidelines were to make the foundation of your diet bread, cereal, rice and pasta…6-11 servings a day in fact. And protein? Nah, it’s just 2-3 servings, as all protein items in this pyramid basically appear in the meat section (some in dairy). Now, how is this so bad? It based the American diet on carbohydrates, lots of them in fact. It also based the American diet squarely on processed foods, meaning foods that are not in their raw form. That means cereal, pasta and all processed grains really. It also made no mention of whole grains, the only grains worth a darn.

Now fast forward 20 years and look at what this diet has done to us. The average American man is 5’9″ and 195 lbs. The average American woman is 5’4″ and 166 lbs. A full one third of adults are obese. But guess what? It’s not their fault! Blame the USDA for these guidelines that have brought on not only the obesity epidemic but the epidemics of diabetes and heart disease. It’s like pumping bacon grease into your car’s fuel tank for 20 years and expecting it to still run fine. Not going to happen.

We have been fueling our bodies improperly for most of our lives. We’ve had “balanced” diets that we were told were good for us. It’s all a lie. A total, complete lie. Of course, chances are the USDA really just didn’t know any better. It’s hard to make the case they intentionally wanted to kill us all. After all, plenty of obese people are employed by the USDA, so they have been taking their own advice it seems.

But you’re probably wondering why any of this is important. After all, you just want to avoid becoming obese or drop the pounds if you already are overweight. Knowing that what you have been doing is bad is already self evident. What can be done about it? Or what should be done about it? Let me present the new and improved food pyramid you should be following:

new-food-pyramid

I contend that if the USDA had released this food pyramid in 1992, our obesity epidemic would be non-existent right now. Let me give a little explanation to this new food pyramid.

WATER: 8 servings

The foundation of your diet should be water. You should have more servings of water each day than of any other group. Period. 8 glasses of water is recommended. Soda, fruit juice, Gatorade or any other drink does not count. It must be pure, unadulterated water. And no mixing in powders or syrups for flavor. This alone would help millions of Americans with their weight because with that much water you will have more energy to be more active and will feel more full throughout the day and less prone to snacking on garbage.

VEGGIES: 5 servings

Here’s how it works. Eat three meals a day. Have a snack between breakfast and lunch and another between lunch and dinner. That’s five times a day you are eating. Include a vegetable each time. This should be the bedrock of nutrition for yourself. Vegetables essentially have no calories, no carbohydrates, no protein, no fat and no sugar. You’re pretty much eating vitamins and minerals, something you don’t find at nearly the same levels in any other food group. It’s also important to know what is and what is not a vegetable. Corn and potatoes are not vegetables. Green beans and peas are not vegetables. Some of the traditional and obvious ones are also some of the best. Spinach, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, onions, cauliflower, squash, celery and plenty of others are all great. You should be eating more vegetables than any other food.

LEGUMES: 5 servings

As with vegetables, eat legumes at every meal and as part of every snack. If that’s a bit much, you can go with two servings at dinner so you don’t have to put them in one of your snacks. What are legumes? They are super nutritious foods just like vegetables that you should be eating every day. They are primarily beans, lentils and peas. Unlike vegetables they also come packed with a bunch of protein which is great since other sources of protein tend to have a lot of fat. Rule of thumb? Eat some kind of bean with every meal. There are thousands of varieties out there if you look around. For a list of legumes, click here.

WHOLE GRAINS: 3-4 servings

A lot of people have talked about “low carb” diets. Most people get their carbohydrates primarily from fruit and grains. Low carb diets tend to eliminate these from your diet. The only problem is the body (especially brain) need glucose, so you can’t eliminate them entirely. Carbohydrates are also the best source of energy for the body, so you don’t want to cut them out completely. My rule is to simply have a serving of whole grains with each meal. Toast at breakfast, whole grain bread for a sandwich at lunch and maybe some whole grain pasta for dinner. The key is WHOLE grains, not just grains. White bread is processed and doesn’t use whole grains. Avoid it. Breakfast cereals are processed and usually are only partially made with whole grains. Avoid them. Pastries and treats that use flour rarely use whole grains. You want whole grains. And you want a serving with each meal.

MEAT: 3-4 servings

Meat is a great source of protein. Eggs also fall in this category even though they aren’t meat. You want, as you do with whole grains, a serving with each meal. I also like a beef jerky snack so it’s ok for four servings a day. Keep in mind that not all meats are created equal. I would only have red meat as one serving each day. Try fish and poultry for your other servings. Don’t make a habit of getting highly processed meats like sausage or bacon. The closer you can get to pure, simple meat (try shopping at a butcher’s shop) the better.

FRUIT: 2 servings a day

Fruit contains fructose, a form of sugar, and if you want to get fat, eat a lot of fruit. For years the USDA grouped fruit with vegetables which was a horrible thing to do. We really shouldn’t be eating a lot of fruit. Think back to 500 years ago. How much fruit did our ancestors eat? Only what was in season, right? Now you can have any fruit at any time which gives us access to more than our body really wants or needs. Fortunately fruit comes with a good amount of fiber to counteract all that sugar, but some of the highest foods on the glycemic index are fruits (looking at you watermelon and pineapple). I think fruits make great snacks and rather than eat them with my meals I find it easier to snack on an apple or banana. But 2 servings a day is definitely adequate.

DAIRY: 2 servings a day

Here’s some trivia for you: how many adult animals consume dairy? Just one, humans. All animals stop drinking their mother’s milk as infants. Humans stop nursing from their mother by around a year old. At that point our bodies naturally try to become lactose intolerant, but we don’t let them. We keep feeding milk to our children so that they never develop lactose intolerance (some do as you know). It’s in our biology to not continue to consume dairy into adulthood. This is why previous USDA guidelines to drink a lot of milk were so awful. Dairy should be rarely consumed, and there are other sources of calcium and protein, the two main things we get from dairy. Dairy also comes with a lot of fat, so keep that in mind. Try to severely limit your dairy intake as much as possible.

SWEETS, SUGARS & PROCESSED FOODS: 1 serving a day

No one is saying you have to give up sweet treats you love. Just limit them to one per day. Pick your treat and just eat that one. I like donuts and ice cream. Sometimes I go for candy or junk food like a Twinkie. Whatever you choose, just eat one per day, that’s it. This includes all processed foods, white bread and all that. Your liver does not like processed foods. It does not like tons of sugar. And if your liver isn’t happy, you’re going to get fat. Just how it works. Because this has become the primary food group for so many Americans, obesity has become the problem it is. Think of how many of us survive on fast food and junk food. Think how many drink more soda than water. It’s a problem and it has to stop.

For the general American population, these guidelines alone will drastically improve your health and well being. However, for those who count every calorie and all that, there are some things you can count and keep track of that will help you optimize these guidelines.

The average woman weighs 166 lbs. To maintain that weight, she must consume 2,400 calories each day. The average man weighs 195 lbs. To maintain that weight, he must consume 2,800 calories a day. So for starters, the 2,000 calorie diet is a good rule of thumb. If you are at a healthy weight it will keep you there. If you are over weight it will get you down to a healthy weight over time. So if you are counting calories, try to never count higher than 2,000 on any given day.

But not all calories are created equal. 1g of fat has twice as many calories as 1g of carbohydrates or 1g of protein. So how you get those calories matters. Following my new food pyramid above should help you get healthy ratios. But if you want really precise numbers, here’s a formula for you to follow.

If you are trying to maintain a healthy weight, your calories should be 45% carbohydrates, 35% protein and 20% fat. If you are trying to lose weight, you should be at 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% fat. What does that mean exactly? 1g of protein and carbohydrates has about 4 calories. 1g of fat has about 9 calories. So assuming you are going for a 2,000 calorie diet, if you are maintaining weight, then:

45% of 2,000 = 900 calories from carbs. 4 calories per gram, so 900/4 = 225g of carbs.
35% of 2,000 = 700 calories from protein. 4 calories per gram, so 700/4 = 175g of protein.
20% of 2,000 = 400 calories from fat. 9 calories per gram, so 400/9 = 44g of fat.

If you are in a healthy weight range and want to maintain it, go for 225g of carbs, 175 g of protein and 44g of fat daily. This will put you at 2,000 calories and get you eating the right amounts of the right kinds of food. But what if you want to lose weight? Lower the carbs and raise the protein.

40% of 2,000 = 800 calories from carbs and proteins. 4 calories per gram, so 800/4 = 200g of carbs and 200g of protein daily. Stay with 44g of fat. To reach that goal, you will want to take less servings of whole grains and fruits and more of the legumes and meats. One apple has .3g of fat, .5g of protein and 25g of carbs. You’ll figure it out, just look at nutrition labels before eating anything. For fruits and veggies, just Google them and the search engine pulls up their nutrition info.

Hopefully you find this information helpful. Just remember, losing weight takes time. By including daily exercise, you can expect to lose 1 pound per week, or 4 pounds per month. After a year that would be 48 pounds. Cut back a few more calories and carbs and you can increase that rate. Just be patient with it. America got obese over the course of the last 30 years. It might take 30 more to rid us of this epidemic. But if you want to avoid becoming a statistic, follow these diet guidelines and enjoy life with a very low probability of developing diabetes.