Editor’s note: As we enter 2023, we’re running a series of stories in Star Culture on diet and nutrition, navigating eating healthier amid rising food costs and advice on making sustainable choices.
You don’t have to be an NFL fan to know that Tom Brady is good at his job.
The only question up for debate, it seems, is whether the 45-year-old is merely the all-time best NFL quarterback or, instead, the best athlete in the entire history of American sports.
As such, it makes perfect sense that folks are interested in the secrets to his success, all of which he shares in “The TB12 Method,” a book that explains his fitness and diet regimen. And, since it’s the time of year when a lot of us think about trying to eat better food, I decided to check out the diet and see if what works for the star athlete might also work for me.
I skimmed through about 200 pages of philosophy, exercises and sidebars in which he offers “step-by-step” instructions on “developing a water routine,” until I got to chapter eight — nutrition. It opens with some quite reasonable and sensible guidelines that involve eating as much “real,” fresh, seasonal, organic and local food as possible, as well as the advice that we should eat mostly plants. Essential fatty acids, such as those found in sardines, wild game and various nuts are also on the menu.
Now, I’m not going to claim that it’s dead simple to eat this way but, what I can say is this: So far, this isn’t actually all that far off my current diet. Nor is it all that different than much of the advice I’ve heard from registered dietitians over the years.
Brady’s book includes shopping lists, as well as a dozen recipes and other genuinely handy resources, such as how to read a label.
But then you turn the page and get into the “foods to limit” section, which includes dairy, unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, salt, alcohol, caffeine and nightshades — a family of vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant and white potatoes, that some believe causes inflammation, despite a lack of peer-reviewed research to back that up.
I’m out. Often, I try out a diet and write about the experience to see if it’s sustainable for the average person, but I don’t think this is, so I’m not going to attempt a diet that comes between me and my morning espresso. Not to mention my salted tomatoes.
“It’s probably going to be unrealistic for most people,” said Kyle Ganson, assistant professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. “First of all, Tom Brady is obviously extremely wealthy and has enough money for a dietitian and people who can shop for him and cook his food. I would think that the diet he proposes would be challenging for the average person.”
To be fair to Brady, he says “limit” — not “eliminate.” He also writes that moderation is key, half measures are better than no measures and, most importantly, you get the sense that he is not recommending this diet for anyone and everyone.
The TB12 method is specifically designed to help his body recover from the weekly trauma he experiences on the field. Those of us who aren’t being tackled every Sunday can probably risk a few foods that won’t provide the optimal nutrition for someone trying to heal.
But that isn’t going to stop readers from focusing on the “don’t” list of foods. And that’s something that’s been shown to lead to serious problems. Ganson, who does research on disordered eating and how it’s connected to diets like intermittent fasting and other “bio-hacking” regimens, said that, generally-speaking, unrealistic diets can lead to body dysmorphia, a condition that’s on the rise among men.
“I think it’s probably targeted towards young men and boys, in particular, athletes or aspiring athletes,” said Ganson. “Again, I’m speaking from a social work perspective, but this is a group that’s particularly vulnerable and it might lead them to other challenging or risky behaviours around food and exercise.”
“If it’s not being taken up by an elite athlete or someone with discretionary expenses, someone who can’t afford it might up the ante and exercise more or restrict their diet in other, more dangerous, ways,” Ganson added.
What makes the TB12 method so expensive? It’s not the sardines. Or even the organic vegetables. It’s the TB12 supplements he sells. There are capsules designed to help you perform, recover, sleep and boost your immunity. In case that’s not enough, you could also order up protein shakes or dairy-free, gluten free, soy-free, non-GMO protein bars. Need more? Try out some wellness bundles and hydration kits.
Most of us don’t need hydration kits to help us build a water strategy. We just need a glass and some tap water. TB12 isn’t really meant for us, though. Any aspiring athlete who can’t afford the whole kit, though, might not be able to really appreciate Brady’s advice that half measures are also very good.
And that’s where things can go wrong. Ganson said that, for men, disordered eating can fly under the radar because the behaviours are often valorized as desirable masculine traits.
“An interesting thought experiment would be to try to imagine if Tom Brady was a woman instead of the best football player of all time,” said Ganson.
More people, Ganson suggests, would be more likely to scrutinize a diet’s restrictiveness if it was being sold by a woman, thanks to all the research that’s connected disordered eating in women to diet culture.
Instead, we associate this extreme eating regimen with becoming the best athlete in the history of American sports.
Brady suggests this diet isn’t for everyone. The question is really whether or not it’d work for anyone who isn’t in the running for best athlete of all-time?
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