Do You Really Need to Eat Chicken and Broccoli?

It started with an article called The Most Dangerous Diets Ever when I used to direct a large wellness site. The post included dieting methods like “The Tapeworm Diet” (which is exactly what it sounds like), “The Cookie Diet,” and the forgotten “Prolinn Diet” (a nice mix of starvation + slaughterhouse byproducts). It was a sobering reminder of all the crazy diets that have come, gone, and been reincarnated with new twists.

In the first week, more than 4 million people clicked through the post. On one hand, part of me felt like we succeeded. On the other hand, my growing frustration shifted to something much bigger: Are any of these articles really helping you improve your diet?

Sure, you could say that not reaching for a tapeworm or cabbage soup is a win, but I’m not sure that anyone who chooses those options feels like they’ve found the perfect way to eat. Instead, they’re just trying to get small wins, even if it means taking a short-term loss in enjoyment from eating.

The frustration and guilt I experienced from that article changed my career (I left my job shortly after) and the way I wanted to help people. Just as importantly, it made me rethink which diets are really dangerous.

And, rather than starting with the obvious, I started to wonder if a timeless staple — chicken and broccoli — was a part of the problem.

If your diet only consists of chicken and broccoli, it should be because that’s your choice. Not because you believe bland foods are the only way to a better body and improved health.

What Is The Chicken And Broccoli Diet And Why The Craze?

It’s not as much a “diet” as it is a mentality of what you must eat in order to be healthy. As you’ll see, when you survey diet coaches, RD’s, and nutritionists, the majority point to “chicken and broccoli” as being a staple of a healthy diet.

Why is eating chicken and broccoli seen as the picture of health? On the surface, there are many obvious and fair reasons. Skinless chicken breast is lean meat that is a good source of lean protein. And, when it comes to vegetables, the “broccoli diet” approach is as old as time. Need a vegetable? Just add broccoli.

The combination is high protein, low fat, low carb, and not very caloric. It’s the reason why it became the staple of old-school bodybuilding diets because that combination helps control body fat when substituted for multiple meals per day.

It became a craze because it works…technically. If you eat chicken and broccoli multiple times per day it can help you lose weight and insert “healthier” options into your diet.

But, if following a healthy diet was as simple as pressing the “chicken broccoli” easy button, then no one would ever struggle with their weight.

The reality is that following a diet (any diet!) is incredibly difficult. Research has compared 4 popular diets and found that on each one, the longer you were on the diet the harder it was to follow the diet.

It didn’t matter if it was high protein, low fat, low carb, or some variation of a balanced approach.

And some of that is the result of a chicken and broccoli mentality. If you believe that eating a limited number of foods — and options that you might, admittedly, find less-than-desirable —then burnout is very likely to happen and weight loss won’t last.

Why Dietary Ends Don’t Justify Dieting Means

Let’s return to the idea of “dangerous diets.” It’s fascinating to think about because even though many of them are seemingly crazy (honestly, who wants a tapeworm?), people are still willing to give these diets a try.

The desire to lose weight, build muscle, or live longer is such a powerful end-goal that we’re willing to go the farthest lengths to try almost anything to achieve the results we desire.

There are three important factors to keep in mind when considering your own diet.

  1. Chasing a goal gives us a rush. We know that the anticipation of something gives us a bigger shot of dopamine than the end result. It’s why it’s important to enjoy the journey, but also something to keep in mind when selecting diets. The idea of getting fast results (with higher cost or discomfort) will charge your brain with feel-good chemicals that can blind you from what the actual experience will be like.
  2. Diet culture is messing with your perception. If you’re willing to eat (or more appropriately, not eat) almost anything to lose weight, then some prior experience must have made extreme scenarios appear doable. Hold this thought for a moment because it’s incredibly important. 
  3. Don’t take the quick weight-loss bait. Just remember, if it sounds too good to be true or extremely temporary, then it’s unlikely to give you the results you want. Or, it’ll be all smoke and mirrors. If your goal is to lose fat, you don’t need to lose 10 pounds really quickly only to gain it back just as fast. This does far more damage than we can begin to explain. (Yeah, we’re looking at all those 7-day cleanse diets.)

For a moment, let’s revisit point #2 about the current diet culture. Your willingness to pursue extremes might be the result of the nutritional institution of unfair diets.

big plate with one tiny pea on it being stabbed by fork

What’s an “unfair diet?” Any plan that instills the belief that healthy eating must be:

  1. Limiting or restrictive
  2. Unenjoyable
  3. Bland and flavorless
  4. Inflexible
  5. Shifting from one extreme to another

While many coaches scoff at the juice cleanses and cabbage soup diets of the world (myself included), are these really that much worse than “healthy” plans that result in you losing your mind, binging, thinking your body is broken, or believing that a good diet is impossible to maintain?

It’s easy to see how both are a problem, but when you grab the tapeworm, at least you have a sense that you’re going to an extreme. When you follow the “never eat dessert” diet, you’re building a belief that health requires long-term sacrifices that don’t feel sustainable.

It doesn’t have to be a black-and-white decision between extremes.

The Unofficial Great Diet Experiment

What happens when you ask a nutrition expert to put together “the perfect human diet?” You might be surprised.

To get a sense of what is shaping your opinion of “healthy diets,” I ran an experiment. I reached out to diet and nutrition coaches with social media followings (combined) of at least 50,000 people. Admittedly, some were credentialed RD’s, others had nutrition certifications, and others fell into an unclear category of expertise.

The goal was to understand how people position the foods you should be eating. I wanted the coaches’ opinions on the type of diet they would create for a client, and I provided some very specific guidelines.

The final tally of contributors included: 3 RD’s, 2 people with a master’s in science, 3 “nutrition coaches” with varying levels of certifications, and 2 diet coaches who worked with bodybuilders and physique competitors.

I purposely avoided experts I’ve worked with before. After all, I didn’t want any experimenter bias interfering with my selections. [Translation: if I know how someone will respond, what’s the point in asking.]

Each person received the following email:

Hey, [insert name here],

I’m writing an article where I’m collecting the thoughts of some influencers in the world of health and fitness. Here’s the hypothetical scenario I’d like you to troubleshoot: if you could put together your version of the healthiest, most sustainable and enjoyable diet, what would you recommend?

Your individual answer may or may not be used. In your response, please highlight the primary goal of the diet. (For instance, it could be for general health, fat loss, muscle gain, sports performance, or any other specified goal.) Feel free to be as detailed as you want, and be sure to design for enjoyment but without sacrificing results. Thanks for your time and consideration

The Perfect Human Diet (And Why It’s F*cked)

I received 10 responses, and all of the contributors decided to create “the perfect human diet” designed for fat loss.

I reviewed all of their diets and pooled together common responses. These included:

  • 80 percent of the respondents included “chicken and broccoli” in at least 2 meals per day
  • 100 percent avoided bread, dairy, or grains of any type.
  • 100 percent did not include any type of dessert, even a small allowance such as a piece of chocolate or even a non-dessert like a bowl of cereal.
  • 100 percent included protein shakes, meal replacement bars, or powders
  • 70 percent did not allow for any condiments or dressings other than olive oil.
  • 50 percent did not include any starch, not even natural options like potatoes.
  • 0 percent of respondents recommended white rice (a crushing blow to my rice-loving ways)

This very informal survey (yeah, I admit it’s not exactly a peer-reviewed meta-analysis) pointed me towards a very simple conclusion:

Most diet plans—and the experts creating them—consider “The perfect human diet” to not be very human.

The growing diet battle isn’t just about helping people identify healthy foods. It’s about meeting people where they are, creating sustainable plans, and helping people see that some freedom in a diet plan can help them believe they can stick to the plan for the long term.

Most people know what is good for them and what isn’t.

Sure, more education can help offset confusing food marketing, but the expert’s job isn’t to make the simple act of eating seem so difficult to follow.

The perceived lack of variety and freedom is a big reason why so many people are unable to sustain better eating habits and maintain a healthy body weight.

Undoing Unfair Diets: How to Fix Your Diet

Part of me wonders how many experts understand how to cater their vault of knowledge into realistic practices and habits that still deliver great results.

Many people know the basics or even more complicated aspects of nutrition science; but, they don’t know (or choose not to take the personalized path) to help people build a plan around foods they could enjoy.

These experts are still stuck in a “clean eating” mindset, where the idea of good foods versus bad foods dominates the conversation.

They blindly suggest a low-carb diet (keto diet), hop on the intermittent fasting bandwagon, or try another weight loss diet trend without fully understanding the individual’s needs and lifestyle.

nutritionist talking to client

While I’ll admit any diet should consist of less processed foods, more fruits and vegetables, and sources of protein, the black-and-white mindset is the foundation of what is wrong with most diet plans.

You don’t need to go cold-turkey on most foods. You can eat pasta, potatoes, rice, and dessert and still be healthy and lean.

There are limits to dietary freedom. Building a diet around Pop-Tarts, ice cream, and pizza as long as it “fits your macros” isn’t the best use of macronutrient science.

Instead of building a plan around those foods, find a way to fit them into your life around everything else.

Building the “You” Diet

The healthiest diet is the one that considers both the foods you should be eating for nutritious reasons—proteins (meat/chicken/eggs/fish/plant sources), fats (oils, nuts, dairy sources, avocados, seeds), and carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, rice, potatoes, grains)—and the food items that you enjoy and need to add for the sake of pleasure and mental sanity.

If your diet only consists of chicken and broccoli, it should be because that’s your choice. Not because you believe bland foods are the only way to a better body and improved health.

If you stop fearing foods, you’ll eventually see how many different plans can be a good solution, without having to break the bank (or your sanity) trying to be healthy.

A little less stress and a lot more understanding will go a long way towards not only making your diet more enjoyable and something you can follow for the long run.

Simplify Your Eating

Need help with your diet? What to eat, when to eat, and realistic tips to make it easier to snack, enjoy, and still lose weight? Find out how you can have your meal plans (and workouts) personalized with Born Fitness coaching.


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