For a quick summary of this review on Les Mills Nutrition, you can view the video below:
I received an e-mail from Les Mills on the 5th of September introducing their nutrition website. I sighed, rolled my eyes, and begrudgingly clicked on it expecting the typical low calorie, no red meat, high-carb, full of whole grains, yadda 1970s yadda preaching. Don’t get me wrong. I love Les Mills Bodyflow/Body Balance! I myself teach it. It’s just that I tend to separate my fitness media from my nutrition media sources, because they almost never coincide with what we at Modern Life Survivalist believe in.
To my great surprise, I find out that Les Mills Nutrition is advocating good FATS (including grass-fed butter), low carb (including low fructose), and grass-fed meat and products! Wow. Dr. Jackie Mills, the overseer of all Les Mills programs, now is talking about ketosis, or training the body to use up fats instead of sugars as primary fuel. She mentions the “hunter-gatherer” diet quite a few times, too. On their promo video for Les Mills Nutrition, the hook is getting us to disregard the lies we’ve been told and taught about nutrition. It is quite captivating, and it is right up my alley.
Here’s their promo video for Les Mills Nutrition:
Although the video is indeed quite captivating, the message might be too revolutionary for an audience with very diverse beliefs about nutrition. I personally do not know a single Les Mills instructor who eats the way I do. A lot of the health advocates around me are usually either low-fat/low-calorie/whole-grain–friendly eaters or vegans. They are very aware of this dissonance I’m sure but are providing this information to those who choose to stay on top of scientific research rather than follow dietary dogma of decades past.
Les Mills now says:
Our challenge to you is to actually think about what you eat and why you eat it. Many of us don’t realize our food choices are dictated by our history, economics and culture. We want you to think about the food your body actually needs and the food it can use best.
Our mission is to bring you the best of the new science and bust the old nutrition myths. We want to help you understand your body and mind, and provide the tools to create positive life-long changes. Join us on this journey and become part of a fitter, healthier planet.
It’s evident that Les Mills is trying to avoid labeling their diet, dropping these bombshells in the most gentle way possible. We are all aware of how revolutionary thinking can come off as crazy before people are ready to hear it. There was no mention of a name for this nutritional philosophy, but delving into the reading, the casual reader might pick up that this is a bit of a departure from the “healthy” nutritional norms they’ve always believed in. I affirm their strategically delicate approach in introducing this new philosophy. Labels can either draw people in or turn people off. Their campaign seems to be taking the approach of education rather than a sales (or sell out) approach, which I believe is in the good spirit of health and wellness.
LES MILLS NUTRITION VS. PALEO
Les Mills is clearly trying to steer clear of the stigma of fad diets. This is completely appropriate, as this type of eating has been around since the beginning of humankind. For almost a decade now, those of us in the know have labeled a similar-sounding nutritional and lifestyle philosophy as “Paleo.” Eating whole animals without skimming the fat and eating lots of vegetables, while partaking in virtually no grain and a far smaller amount of carbs, has been the way humans have eaten since humans set foot on this planet—or according to theory, until the more recent agricultural revolution started. (I say according to theory, because it could be that there have just been hunter-gatherer tribes and agricultural peoples living in the same eras—this coexistence has happened all the way up through the 20th century.) Agriculture indeed does enable a greater population of humans to live, and it allows us to have permanent settlements rather than constant migration based on sources of food. With the overproduction of grains from agriculture, however, there came migraines… along with a whole list of other modern ailments (including cancer). If you are unaware of the Paleo diet and its effects on the human body, please don’t take my word for it. I encourage you to find out the truth for yourself. A good place to start is the documentary (streaming on Netflix) called The Perfect Human Diet.
It may sound like the Paleo diet involves no grains or carbs at all—a very common misconception. Actually, most interpretations have something between 50 and 150 g of carbs a day (depending on your level of activity, athleticism, and health). Sources of good carbohydrates include sweet potatoes and starchy vegetables, as you will also learn from Les Mills Nutrition. Basically, the very few sources of carbohydrates that could be readily found by humans from before modern times. That didn’t include carrot cake!
GOOD FAT, BUT ONLY IN A SMALL AMOUNT?
Although Dr. Jackie talks a whole lot about good fats (yay!), the amount of fat that is in the Les Mills pyramid is way too small in comparison to the Paleo standard. Look at the infographic below. I know they’re not associating themselves with the Paleo movement, but we’ve already established that a comparison is appropriate.
The amount of fat Les Mills believes is good to have with your plate is a thumb size, while the meat is a handful, and the vegetables are double the protein, as seen on their food pyramid above and even their 21-day challenge. Some Paleo dieters eat this way, but the version we believe is the most accurate representation of that of hunter gatherers is a diet rich in fat.
Why is having a large amount of fat necessary? Fat is the most concentrated and highest source of energy, having 9 calories per gram. Whereas protein and carbs have only 4 calories per gram. Protein, although equal in the amount of calories per gram as carbohydrates, doesn’t get readily used for energy because it is used for mainly tissue repair. To lower your carbs while not increasing fat leaves you with very little calories. Calories are energy, and when you cut calories, you may lose weight, but you’ll also lower energy, so your body’s reaction will be to expend as little energy as possible and cut corners. With the Les Mills pyramid in place, the calories are lacking. This is bad, especially for a Les Mills instructor, who needs massive amounts of energy to keep on doing what they do!
Also, on the replace carbs with good fat tip, the original reason people starting eating so many carbs in the last few decades has been due to the demonization of fats. People naturally swapped fats for carbs when they were told that fats caused heart disease. We need to make a clean swap back to fats and really commit to using fats as our main source of energy! Also, we believe that the reason so many Paleo (and a whole brigade of ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s Atkins) dieters ultimately fail is because they do not get enough fat in their diets, and they go hungry.
I am happy however that even mainstream media sources, contrary to governmental sources, are now started to report that a high-fat, low-carb diet is ideal for losing weight and being healthier in general. However, when you go on a high-carb and low-fat diet, the protein intake must be moderate, not excessive. Otherwise, with a high-protein and low-carb diet with very little fat, a process called gluconeogenesis in our bodies will occur. This natural biological process occurs when excess protein that the body doesn’t use gets turned into glucose. The body is prevented from going into ketosis, or fat burning vs. sugar burning mode. Besides this, a high-protein diet produces more inflammation by increasing a number of toxins in the body, including 4-hydroxynonenal (HNE), acrolein, and glyoxal—all of which damage cells.
THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE
People are always talking about “lean protein,” even in the Paleo community. Les Mills also emphasizes lean meats in their diet plans. We at Modern Life would like to clarify that there is a caveat to this. The only time you should go for lean meats is when you do not know the source or diet of the animal or if you know that it is eating something other than what it is supposed to eat from nature (e.g., cows that eat grains or corn instead of grass). This is because fat is where a lot of toxins are stored. An animal eating grains easily becomes sick, and eating its fat will not be good for you. In this situation, Les Mills food advice on eating lean meats is an excellent idea, because we can’t always readily obtain grass-fed products.
Besides her emphasis on good natural fats, not going crazy on fruits, and cooking low temp among other things, Dr. Jackie Mills also talks about the negative effects of eating too much protein and the benefits we get from eating the fat from grass-fed cows. She also lists grass-fed beef and lamb at the very top of the good sources of high protein. They also report that a diet high in saturated fat actually doesn’t increase risk of heart disease. Amen. These are all things we agree on and are totally psyched about! However, the information I found in the 21-day challenge and previous materials portrays quite a different view.
To reiterate, the 21-day challenge video shows that red meat is limited and favor is given to lean poultry. More surprisingly, again, the good fats are only limited to a thumb size. Although the 21-day challenge is meant to only be a 3-week detox period, their pyramid for how you would supposedly eat after the challenge still shows a similar fat proportion. So I ask again: Where are we getting our energy?!
From other Les Mills material—this was from my BodyFlow release 63 booklet:
In the above statement from some older materials that addressed their nutritional philosophy at the time, Les Mills implied both that counting calories and eating low saturated fat/low salt matter. Although they haven’t addressed the benefits of salt on their new nutrition website, the rest of this information doesn’t quite match up with their current blog posts. Don’t get me wrong. Not that people aren’t allowed to change their views. We have definitely evolved in our own views as well. We’re all constantly seeking the truth, based on the most current of scientific research. That is the wonder and beauty of independent research not skewed by commercial and governmental interests. However, I think their readers might get confused if these changes in stance on calorie-counting and saturated fat consumption aren’t addressed clearly.
Les Mills has taken me by surprise, and I have the utmost respect for them for being ever-so brave with their latest nutritional education endeavors! Controversy can be good for a business, but food controversy is one of the most brutal fights I’ve witnessed. Nutrition is almost like a religion. People will fight and end relationships over the topic. This to me is an example of fighting the good fight and getting the truth out there, despite any foreseeable consequences! However, I do advise that they address the possible conflicting information they may have given out to the public in the past (or present). That way, long-time Les Mills followers and instructors hopefully will not get mixed up in an already confusing debate over nutrition!
If you haven’t read my other reviews of Les Mills, check them out below: