More on the Peasant Diet

After reading the latest post by Matt Stone titled Why Are Central Americans so Fat?, I wanted to clarify my usage of the term Peasant Diet. After discussing the high levels of obesity in Central America, he states:

I’m fully over my whole “I’ll just eat like the locals!” sentiments. Western food is awesome. There’s a reason why only peasants eat peasant diets. They suck.

And while peasant diets may be associated with leanness, I’m definitely not seeing it in Central America.

I’m a fan of the Peasant Diet and I often agree with Matt Stone, so I want to reconcile the difference. In my post Designing a Modern Peasant Diet, I made the distinction between a peasant and a poor person.

When I think of a poor person today and imagine their diet, I see a lot of processed foods. They are likely to be overweight or even obese. The foods are highly flavorful, calorie dense and hyper-palatable. However, when I imagine a peasant I see a diet of boring staples. The foods are low in flavor and have a low calorie density.

Of course, I was describing an American poor person. However, the problem I suspected was true in Central America was confirmed to be true.

They are consuming a large amount of industrial seed oils. This would be detrimental to healthy metabolism and it is a problem that would build over time, which is exactly what Matt Stone is seeing in Central America. His article also outlines a few other possible causes, but dietary fats are the one I want to address for my Modern Peasant Diet.

Hard-boiled eggs by Lisa Williams

Cooking Methods

When making potatoes or legumes, I am boiling or using a pressure cooker. Most of the time, I do not add any fat. If I do add fat, I use butter or coconut oil, both saturated. Probably the bulk of my fats come from dairy. Also saturated.

I usually boil my eggs. When I bake chicken, I do my best to remove excess fat before consuming it.

My strong hunch is that on days when I do a Peasant Diet, my fat intake – even at a higher caloric level – is lower than the average Central American. And my PUFA intake is trace compared to theirs.

Following a Modern Peasant Diet several meals a week has helped me lean out and maintain that leanness with minimal planning, effort, or money. It is also possible that cycling in a few palatable meals a week (which I refer to as World Cuisine in The POWS Food Pyramid post) helps me maintain a higher metabolism than someone following a Peasant approach all the time for weeks, months or years.


Add yours

  1. With your level of self-monitoring I wonder if you could just use an app like Yazio or Myfitnesspal to log macros daily, based on formula by Alan Aragon or someone. I bet you’d be lean as well. You’d just choose your target bodyweight, eat like a person you want to be based on your current LBM and wanted BF% and in the end you’d get there. Certainly sounds simpler than your complicated pyramid with so many confounding factors you can’t possibly know the cause for leanness, especially with meals saved in app and ability to guesstimate portions.

    I think Matt Stone generally doesn’t believe in any preference towards any food and resulting restriction. If we accept food intake is regulated centrally, any reaction to forced calorie restriction lies on a continuum. Extreme cases=bodybuilder after contest or fat whale after her 66th diet attempt. But less pronounced cases of dieting just mean slower rebound weight gain and less of a negative compensatory response. That doesn’t make the intervention good in my book.
    I guess the problem lies in accepting we don’t have a solution now, except sleep and infrequent resistance training. There is super effective bariatric surgery that actually isn’t about smaller stomach but rather not completely known effect on microbiome. Reversal of DM2 is 80%, but it’s a surgery with it’s own risks. If we could replicate the effect in a pill…other than that science attacked the obesity problem from all sides but there is no solution without side effects yet, which is why we stick to calorie restriction even though it works in about 5% cases long term, if that. Btw kids that have let’s say 3rd degree obesity, with all help they get, all dietary and movement, psychiatrist, pharmacologic etc. intervention, will never get better than 2nd grade obesity long term during their lifetime.

  2. @Ondrej – Actually I am not a tracker at all. In another post on this site I reject Quantified Self. The purpose of the peasant diet and the POWS Pyramid is to provide systems that allow me to accomplish my goals with minimal planning.

    I think my frame work is simple, because most of the food is either high in volume or protein or lower in palatibility.

    If a week goes by where I feel I’ve gained, I can just be more peasant or more old school bodybuilder until I like what I see. I haven’t even weighed myself in 13 months. Visual is enough.

  3. @Ondrej – My guess is the failure of other diets is due to use of too many modern foods and having the dieter feel hunger. Tricking the body with potatoes, legumes and high protein staples into not being hungry is a way to win. Getting away from foods designed by food chemists is a method to accomplish that method.

  4. Well, congrats, Stephan Guyenet or Ari Whitten seem to agree. I gravitate more towards Matt Stone because my current circumstances don’t allow me to modify my surroundings for my diet to become POWS or a variation on that theme. I will be exposed to other foods and will eat them.

  5. @Ondrej – And just to be clear, my strategy is not to be strict or come close to 100% compliance. It isn’t necessary. For me it is about picking off a several meals a week. Get them right and the rest of the week matters far less. A savings account approach.

    Another thing I have not discussed is that I want to explore more is how I get full much quicker on World Cuisine dishes than I used to. And I stay full longer. Not sure why eating peasant for breakfast is changing my response to “normal” lunches.

  6. Mas- I have had a great deal of success implementing all I have learned from your recent comeback. I”m doing well on set food “restrictions” or challenges of only doing 1 food like the potato hack or choosing just 3 foods for 1 day or 2 and a different set of foods another.
    This is helping me build willpower and bringing mindfulness to my eating since I can quickly say no to a food or random snacks since its very black and white that its not on my list.
    Do you have any foods you would recommend for such a 1-2 day challenge? I,e Potatoes- Eggs- Beans. Banna- full fat yogurt-lentils.. etc.. Loving the incorporation of peasant foods as my staples.

  7. @Zander – Potatoes seem perfect. Maybe sweet potatoes. That many beans could wreck your gut unless you have worked up to very high fiber levels. Yogurt might work, but I don’t think it would have the satiety.

    This guy is doing an ice cream diet. 🙂

  8. @Mas- I think you are right about beans- I seem to do really well on lentils that have been soaked for 1-2 days and then cooked thoroughly. A combination of potatoes, sweet potatoes, Japanese yams, and Japanese sweet potatoes has also been perfect for me. I actually dont think I have every responded to a food as well as I do with Japense yams- I seem to drop fat quickly with them and they perfectly satisfy any cravings on both the sweet and savory side.

  9. @MAS, just wanted to +1 your thoughts on Matt Stone’s post. I eat similarly to you and had the same thoughts.

    Have you seen this study that (vaguely) supports the idea of working in palatable/high-calorie meals/days?
    Fig 2 is particularly interesting (CR=normal calorie restriction, CSD=calorie “shifting” to particular days):

  10. @Dan – That is interesting and makes me think back to my POWS post and how I gave props to the Old School Bodybuilders.

    What I forgot to mention in that post was how this group was constantly cycling calories. Higher for growth, less for getting lean. Lifting days vs cardio days vs rest days. They tweaked their calories to get big and ripped. I’ve always felt there was some wisdom in cycling that we may not fully understand.

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