I think Tony Robbins is an incredible person. An absolute force for good, and a leader that has skills to lead a COUNTRY. He has had an outsized effect on my mindset, and in turn my life. There are few people I admire more than Tony.
That said, this doesn’t make him always right. Nor is it a prerequisite that you must have 100% alignment with someone in order to receive value from them. Far from it – there are people who are 99% wrong and/or uninformed on most things in life, but the 1% they get right could change your life. Never write someone off because you don’t see eye-to-eye on certain things.
I say this, because I fundamentally disagree with two aspects of Tony Robbins’ framework for life – Religion and Diet. That’s OK. I’m agnostic when it comes to religion, so his references to god just fall to the floor, but I can still appreciate his heart when making those references.
When it comes to his view on optimal nutrition though, the issue I take here is the enormous effect he can and is having on this through diet interventions. Again, his heart is in the right place, but his logic seems sketchy at best.
For me, the robust science and evolutionary evidence must come before the trust you have in a person. Always. More on this in a moment…
Tony’s Alkaline Diet
Whilst it’s not obvious on Tony’s personal diet, you would assume it is close to this, a ‘high-akaline’ diet, designed by Dr Gundry & Mark Hyman. https://www.tonyrobbins.com/health-vitality/sustainable-health-diet/ *
Here’s a 10 day ‘detox’ vibe of his principles he positions:
This concept of ‘alkalising’ your body has been a big theme of his books from decades ago – I remember reading Awaken The Giant Within and following this approach (whilst hating it). He used to recommend fruit smoothies in the morning, but then retracted this to have a veg smoothie instead – due to ‘acid profile’.
The alkaline diet promotes the false idea that it is possible to change blood pH with diet. This is untrue, and major changes in blood pH could even be life-threatening. No research has shown that the alkaline diet can raise blood pH.
So, out of the gate, I take issue with the underlying mechanism promoted by Tony and his empire.
His diet format works because it’s REAL FOOD, does not exclude animal based food groups (EU dairy, Fish, Eggs, and clean Free Range/Grass Fed Beef), encourages the elimination of Seed Oils, Added Sugars and Grains. He also suggests limiting Fruit to seasonal, local and fresh consumption… and to be treated as a dessert.
Furthermore, Tony recommends supplements… which you shouldn’t need if your diet format was considered optimal for human health. Clearly gaps form when they take the more vegetarian extreme of his promoted diet format.
It’s important to note he’s been on the same page (mostly) for decades – in the 80-90’s when Saturated Fat was the ‘killer’ and THE cause of Heart Disease (robustly debunked). That dogma has been so strong, that the world gave up trying to challenge it… even though the actual science to support this idea was so incredibly weak, and only based on loose observations initiated by the egomaniac Ancel Keys that was in the pocket of P&G etc with Seed Oils.
Tony built his nutritional principles during this time, and was not immune to the strongly stated (but wrong) dogma. Luckily, the science is coming out now to correct the worlds gross misunderstanding on Sat Fat & Cholesterol – which Pharma, Healthcare and Food will resist with all their might.
Many Non-Science Claims
Some of his 10 Day Diet Challenge points are laughable:
- Do not eat carbs and proteins together; eat green vegetables/salad with proteins or with carbs; do not combine fats with proteins.
- Balanced body chemistry and maintaining a proper ratio between acid and alkaline foods in your diet are of vital importance to maintaining your health.
- Create your ideal food pyramid: 70% of your diet should be live foods, 10% plant-based proteins or quality fish, 10% carbohydrates and 10% quality oils.
- Keep your total daily fat intake below 25% (i.e., fewer than 25% of the calories you ingest should be fat, ideally less).
- Limit total protein intake to 5-6% per day; it should come from plant-based sources, which are more efficient and have more antioxidants, fiber and minerals.
- The China Study, lead researcher Dr. T. Colin Campbell found that cancer was consistently promoted by casein (The worlds worst ‘study’, no causation, only observation with massive bias and data massaging)
The Result of Flawed Nutritional Dogma
I’m a strong believer that people do the best they can with what they got. If the status quo and common held beliefs are dominant and unquestioned, I understand how people (including scientists) can unknowingly build a career off of flawed ideas.
It would serve people to understand the history of our scientific endeavours, including egomaniacs such as Ancel Keys that set in motion a nutritional dogma that was not then, nor now substantiated – that Sat Fat, the foodstuff that has always been in the human diet, should be avoided. Nina Teicholz does a great job of decoding Ancel Keys’ life work.
Or Dr Denis Burkitt who invented the need for Fibre by suggesting the reason African Hospitals don’t see the chronic issues UK Hospitals see is because of eating more fibre. That’s it. The fibre hypothesis got launched, with very little clinical evidence to suggest Fibre is a heath prompting aspect of diet. It’s indigestible nothingness for god sakes. The science is yet to prove that there is a prophylactic benefit of Fibre.
Unfortunately, this unfounded bias is everywhere in nutrition. Incredible amounts of money trying to prove things, but cannot. That however does not stop you hearing these messages over and over again.
As Einstein positioned – we must be willing to prove ourselves wrong, in order to be more right. He is famous for giving the same exam paper to his students between 1st and 2nd year. When challenged about this, he said “yes, the paper is the same. The questions are the same, but the answers are now different. That’s science” (paraphrased).
Science is about attempting to disprove your hypothesis. Not to try and force your hypothesis to be true. Unfortunately we most see the latter in nutritional science – especially around reinforcing the current institutional, industry and pharmaceutical dogma on how ‘modern’ humans should eat and medicate.
The Product Of The Unchallenged Worldview
Lastly, Tony Robbins grew up and built his brand during a time when Fruit & Veg rule mainstream opinion. TBH, this opinion is still largely in tact:
- We need lots of Plant Antioxidants – truth: Antioxidants simply create a stressor, that elevates our own antioxidant (Glutathione). You can raise Glutathione through exercise, hot/cold/sun exposure, swimming outdoors, and eating animal-based foods. Plus, you can reduce your need for antioxidants by having a diet and lifestyle that does not chronically inflame and oxidise.
- We need Fibre to be Healthy – truth: The health benefits of Fibre are unsubstantiated. In many cases, the elimination is what brings rest-bite for those struggling with GI issues. Fibre’s primary value seems to be the slowing down of glucose metabolism and blood sugar spikes – hence it being a bad idea to have fruit juice.
- Fruit & Veg are high in Nutrients – truth: Fruit and veg are not nearly as high in human-required micronutrients as unprocessed animal foods are, and in some cases are completely absent of essential nutrients. Plant proteins are incomplete, there is insufficient saturated and omega 3 fats, and plant micronutrients are often less bioavailable than animal sources.
- Saturated Fat & Cholesterol is Bad For You – truth: This is simply not true, as reiterated again in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Listen to Dr Nadir Ali, Dave Feldman, and read this article on the healthy truth about Cholesterol.
- We Need Phytonutrients – truth: There is no clear beneficial evidence on most of the main phytonutrients. In actual fact, there are several that we know are challenging for humans in chronic doses – Lectins, Gluten, Oxalates, Isoflavones, Trypsin Inhibitors etc. We can achieve the same stressors and benefits with other lifestyle and nutrition factors, without the side effects and collateral damage. We must consider the net-effect when eating a x food – do the suggested pros outweigh the cons?
- Plants have Medicinal Value – truth: This seems to hold water, especially considering the use of plant medicines for many thousands of years. A lot more science is needed to prove these medical benefits, such as that from CBD. However, it is very different to acutely use a plant for its medical value versus majoring your diet on fruit and veg – this does not stack up on any scientific or evolutionary measure.
So How Is Tony Crushing It?!
Nutrition is a big part of wellness, but in isolation is pretty useless. A human appropriate diet needs to be coupled with healthy movement, a healthy physique, strong purpose and optimism, strong community and connection, quality rest and sleep, and a non-stressed growth mindset.
It’s combined effect that creates energy, enjoyment, wellness and the raw material in which to shape a fulfilling and productive life.
And let’s be clear. Tony does EVERYTHING – cryotherapy, mindfulness, meditation, plunge pools, Wim Hof breathing, rebounding, sauna, extreme purpose, strong social bonds, making a huge difference, exercise, and engages with many many experimental procedures. His nutrition is only part of his wide ranging wellness strategy.
I’m not suggesting he has a poor diet – far from it. It’s clean, unprocessed and real. He practices intermittent fasting. He gets in animal based proteins and fats. He mostly eliminates seed oils, added sugars and refined carbs (corn and grain). He also supplements with the best products in the market.
The issue is, for us mere mortals, is that his promoted diet format is not as nutrient-dense as it is eluding to, comes with side effects, is unlikely sustainable due to low satisfaction, and will create deficiencies unless paired with careful supplementation. Even then, I question it’s long-term health benefits.
Moreover, the underlying premise is flawed. Which throws the whole thing into question.
How Can He Be Wrong?
Tony has his nutritional beliefs, built in the 80-90’s, that has now formed as a foundation on which ALL of his content and branding stands upon – this Alkaline hypothesis. It’s not just his old books – it’s every audio program, it’s his sprawling internet content, it’s his supplements, it’s his event content. Try and reformulate his brand by taking one of the key legs away… that’s a HUGE endeavour.
A major pivot would be near on impossible. Small shifts in the right direction however seem possible, and there is evidence Tony and his team are doing this.
P.S. Tony has and does promote Anthony William (Medical Medium) – whose books are about Celery Juice Diets, Alkalising the body, and receiving ‘messages from above’ on how humans should eat!… Anthony claims he doesn’t need science to prove his ideas. 😫
Will Tony Ever Pivot Nutritionally?
Tony has pivoted from morning fruit smoothies. He owned up to getting mercury poisoning due to too much fish. He dabbled in Veganism and then pulled away due to health reasons. He has taken on board Dr Gundry’s Lectin-avoidance ideas. He has had the likes to Dave Asprey tour with him at his UPW events.
Dave Asprey is the Bulletproof Coffee guy, who is massive in the space of animal fats and low carb for optimal health. There’s no way Tony is allowing this guy to tour with him and hasn’t incorporated some of his ideas into the mix personally.
That, and the Hyman-Gundry diet format that Tony is now positioning on his site places animal-products including beef into the mix… which is a step in the right direction.
Plus, the evidence is mounting at a fast clip on the value of low carb animal-based diets in resolving metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance – the two fundamentals behind our chronic disease health epidemic.
Tony will not be able to position against this science forever – the question for his business is when to embrace what we now know about the human metabolism and the obvious value in focussing a diet on animal fats and proteins?
Let’s watch this space. I too felt his ideas were gospel, until I got clued up and was willing to be wrong…
How To Critically Evaluate Nutritional Promises
Real Science and Evolution first. Then evaluate your trust in the person delivering the message. Always.
As best you can, try and evaluate Nutritional Ideas in this order:
- Is it evolutionarily consistent?
- What does human biology tell us about how the body works?
- Look for Interventional studies that have strong causative evidence
- How do you actually feel and perform long-term with said change?
- Are there strong observational findings that have controlled for confounding variables?
- Is there meta-analyses of quality trials in this specific area?
- and lastly… do you trust the person making the diet recommendation?
I wish more people applied this weighting and priority. Instead, they do it backwards… placing most of their trust and faith in those in positions of influence and authority, as well as assuming the Status Quo must be right, because everyone thinks it. (1) – (6) are mostly absent in people’s assessment of what to believe nutritionally.
I get it. Nutritional Dogma is like religion. It’s like me trying to convince a devout Christian that God doesn’t exist… because there is not one scrap of scientific evidence to back up their illogical claims or religious text. As in, it’s practically impossible. The layperson has beliefs about fruit, veg and saturated fat that are as strongly held as religious beliefs. That’s the reality we are dealing with.
It’s time to start thinking more critically, and being more sceptical of the information that is spoon fed to us via mainstream and social media.
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Pivots from Plant-Based to Animal-Based:
- Lierre Keith – Ep 123: The unsettling nutritional truths of Veganism
- Dr. Paul Saladino – Ep 77: We get all our nutritional needs from Animal-Foods
- Elliot Overton – Ep 91: Oxalate Poisoning & Dumping
- Rebekah Farmer – Ep 121: Freedom from Debilitating Chronic Disease
- Bryan Gohl – Ep 127: From chronic joint and GI pain, to thriving on Carnivore
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