You know Dr. Mike—or Doctor Mike Varshavski—as the internet celebrity doctor who gained popularity for his combination of smarts and good looks. And now Dr. Mike is serving fans a helping of Nutrition 101, showing how he makes sense of nutrition and diet in his own life.
In a video on his ever-popular YouTube channel, Dr. Mike explains the basics of nutrition using a healthy-eating triangle of sorts. He boils that ever-vague term “healthy eating” down to intake of appropriate calories, appropriate macronutrients, and appropriate micronutrients. To truly eat healthy, Dr. Mike says, you need a balance of all of these things.
In case you need it boiled down even further, Dr. Mike explains calories as necessary energy your body needs to function, which is a much better way to look at it instead of an evil number to restrict.
Macronutrients are protein, fats, and carbs—which are also much needed in a well-rounded diet. You already know protein is essential, as it builds and repairs muscle, skin, bone, and blood in the body. But fat is also needed—and Dr. Mike says fats have gotten a “bad rep.” Fats give you energy, support cell growth, and protect your organs. They also help you absorb nutrients and helps you produce vital hormones. Now, Dr. Mike admits he personally isn’t a huge fan of carbs, aka fibers, starches, and sugars. He says while fibers like beans, whole grains, veggies, and fruits are top-notch, he strays aways from sugar and starches in his own diet.
Let’s move on to micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals. These are essential nutrients the body doesn’t make on its own and can only get from food. Dr. Mike explains being low on vitamins can negatively impact your energy levels, your immune system, and even your blood’s ability to clot. If you are low on minerals, your bones could be impacted or you could develop conditions like anemia.
“Something you have to know is that all diets are not created equal,” Dr. Mike says after explaining these three pillars. To display this fact and his “triangle” at work, Dr. Mike talks in extremes.
“There are two people in a given situation. They have the same maintenance calories and they are looking to lose weight,” Dr. Mike says. “Person A decides to follow the cookie diet, and they are going to aim to eat 1500 calories of cookies a day, which is 500 calories below their required maintenance. Person B is also going to be eating 1500 calories a day, but they are following the Mediterranean diet—basically a whole foods, plant-based diet.”
Now, Dr. Mike says the answer of who is following the “healthy” diet is clear. But the reason why is not as simple as it seems.
“Both people will actually lose weight. So you may say, If they are both losing weight, why is one worse than the other?” Dr. Mike says. “Go back to my little triangle I created.”
Basically, Dr. Mike explains while both are eating a caloric deficit, which will result in the desired weight loss, Person A is getting virtually no macronutrients or micronutrients. And that’s why weight isn’t a tell-all factor when it comes to someone’s health status.
So what should someone do to lose or gain weight in a healthy, sustainable way? It’s actually rather simple.
“If you are trying to lose weight or if you are underweight and want to gain weight, here’s what I recommend you do,” Dr. Mike says. “Calculate your maintenance calories. If you want to gain weight, add to the maintenance calories and eat that. If you want to lose weight, eat a little bit less than your maintenance calories and you’re going to be losing weight.”
Just remember to do eat those calories with macronutrients and micronutrients in mind. Dr. Mike recommends losing or gaining a pound a week maximum “because going into extremes can really mess with your body,” unless you are under the supervision of a nutritionist or doctor.
“Trust me, there is a lot of nuance when it comes to nutrition,” Dr. Mike says. “I didn’t want to bog this video down with controversy. In general, the field of nutrition research is an absolute mess. We’ll save that for the future. You got the basics.”
Katie Dupere is an editor and writer in New York City specializing in identity, internet culture, social good, lifestyle and beauty topics.
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