Everyone has an opinion about food—and in my opinion, everyone is making healthy eating way more complicated than it needs to be. The ancient Spartans didn’t obsess over calories, measure the exact macronutrient ratio of their diet, get on a scale, and take pictures in the mirror every day. or argue over which processed foods to avoid. They didn’t make indulgent dishes. They ate a simple but nutritious diet—whole foods grown and raised in the local countryside, prepared and cooked in traditional ways. A good mantra: Just eat real food.
While you may not have a local farm down the road to visit every day, you do have access to fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and eggs—the building blocks of a healthy diet. To become Spartan fit you must replace the “easy food,” the industrially processed foods, with whole ones. This change alone will sky rocket the nutrient density of your diet.
Just remember, real foods grow; they are not created in a ab. Real foods have names like “apple” not “Apple Jacks.” Real foods don’t come with a nutritional label. Make healthy eating simple by eating as close to the source as possible. I’m not going to tell you exactly what to eat. That’s your choice. But I will give you a few Spartan nutrition principles to guide your eating instead of planning out every meal down to the turnip.
#1: Processed Foods to Avoid
Processed foods to avoid—soda, candy, cookies, fast food, hot dogs, sugary cereals—aren’t just devoid of nutritional value; they are harmful, full of added sugars, sodium, trans-fats, antibiotics and a host of chemicals that may not be healthful over the long run.
#2: Eat Whole Foods, Especially Vegetables and Fruits
Next to your list of processed foods to avoid, keep your list of whole foods to eat. Eat food that your great-grandmother would recognize as food. Most people already have meat in their diets, and so I emphasize including way more plans. Raw fruits and vegetables will give you the energy and micronutrients you need. You also need protein and healthy fats, but plant foods provide energy and phytochemicals that are essential for good health.
#3: Eat Nothing Sometimes
It’s not the end of the world to miss a meal. I often train without food or water just to acclimate my body to harsher conditions. Plus there’s a wealth of scientific evidence that the occasional fast—say 16 to 24 hours—is beneficial. It’s probably no accident that so many cultural traditions around the world include some type of fasting.
#4: Drink Mostly Water
Almost any other beverage is full of sugars and calories that you don’t need. And you can swallow day’s worth of calories without even realizing it. Drink water instead of the sugary crap.
I don’t like dependence on any diet, including a “perfect” one. Hunter-gatherers adapted to their surroundings, and Spartans made do with what was available. Humans are opportunistic omnivores and that means we have more dietary flexibility than probably any other species on the planet. For most people, a little bit of this and that isn’t going to kill them. It’s foolish to think that one precise way of eating is ideal for everyone on the planet. Figure out what’s best for you, develop resilience and adapt. And just be glad you aren’t eating what Spartan warriors ate in their mess halls—a black broth made of pig’s blood, salt, and vinegar.