For 67-straight days this summer, LeBron James didn’t eat sugar, carbs, or dairy.
The results were profound. He says he lost “a ton of weight,” and a jarring Instagram photo of “Skinny LeBron” looking thin in the face became the biggest NBA story of the dog days of August.
While the diet might be responsible for a leaner, quicker, more terrifying LeBron James, experts from the health world are sceptical.
“This is not something as a dietitian I would advocate for,” Joy Dubost, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Business Insider, “I don’t believe, nor does the science support, that you have to eliminate certain food groups to be healthier or lose weight.”
The diet appears to be a modified approach to a traditional paleo diet, according to Dubost. The paleo diet, which NBA players like Ray Allen have adopted in recent years, calls for the elimination of processed foods, grains, sugars, and even legumes. It’s sometimes called the “caveman diet” since it advocates for people eating like humans did thousands of years ago.
You lose weight on the paleo diet because you inherently consume fewer calories. Cutting calories by eliminating entire food groups results in the type of weight loss we’ve seen from LeBron, but it also deprives your body of healthy sources of nutrients.
“When you start excluding dairy and whole grains, those are all very nutrient-rich sources that provide important vitamins and minerals into the diet. And when you start restricting that, particularly for a length of time, you can run the risk of nutrient deficiency,” Dubost said.
It takes significant planning and resources to get the nutrients you need while refusing to eat grains, sugars, and dairy. LeBron has every resource in the world at his disposal. He has a team of people making sure he’s getting the nutrients he needs. Normal people don’t, which makes trying to mimic a diet like LeBron’s difficult.
“LeBron James will walk into a restaurant and they’re going to do whatever they can to accomodate him. He’s going to have personal chefs and personal nutritionists,” Dubost said.
“Your everyday person will not get that.”
Alissa Rumsey, a clinical dietitian at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, agrees.
“I personally don’t believe in completely cutting out all grains and dairy, that some in moderation is fine and can provide you with fibre, protein and a variety of vitamins/minerals,” she told Business Insider, “I find that any ‘diet’ that cuts out complete food groups is not one that people can follow in the long term.”
This was never a long-term diet plan for LeBron. He said he originally only planned to go on the diet for a month, but keep going for 67 days because he felt so good. Even Ray Allen, whose summer paleo diet last year reportedly influenced LeBron, immediately ramped up his consumption of carbs once the season rolled around.
LeBron can get away with this diet in the short-term because he’s surrounded by experts, he has the resources to do it right, and he’s one of the best athletes ever. For you and me … not so much.
“For the normal, everyday person this is too extreme,” Dubost says, “If you’re going to follow this approach or want to follow it, I’d really encourage anybody to meet with a dietitian.”
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