We all want the best for ourselves, right?! We take the time to research the best car or the best school to send our kids to. We look at reviews on websites before committing to purchasing a particular product. Similarly, there is no shortage of information suggesting “the best diet” for people. Oftentimes, this is followed by the tag line “lose 10 pounds in 10 days.”
Perhaps you saw the headline for this article and thought I would be writing to encourage you to do Keto, or to go plant-based, or to consider the cabbage soup diet (yes…that’s a thing). I am here to tell you that the answer is none of those things necessarily. My answer for what is the best diet: the one that is most sustainable for you. Unfortunately, that won’t make the front cover of a magazine…because it isn’t attached to a product that someone can make money off of…and it doesn’t have fancy rules and/or restrictions.
Personally, I am not even a fan of the word “diet”, as it has come to have a somewhat negative connotation. For example, when you Google “diet defined”, the second part of the definition reads: “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.” On the other hand, the first part of the definition reads, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” which is generally what I am referring to when I use the word “diet”. However, since people often hear “diet” and think of the definition which suggests restriction, I instead prefer to use the term/phrase “nutritional approach”. In this article, I will discuss some key principles you should have in mind when choosing a nutritional approach for yourself.
One of the first key elements when choosing a nutritional approach is to consider sustainability. Is this a way of eating that you can do for a lifetime? If you are a carb lover, don’t choose an eating pattern that is more Ketogenic. If you love a good steak, don’t choose something that is primarily plant based. By all means, if you love cabbage soup…have some…just don’t make that the only thing you eat all week. If you can’t picture yourself eating that way forever, then don’t choose that nutritional approach. You will likely find yourself to be more miserable.
Another key principle to have in mind is don’t jump into something that requires you to change everything all at once. This will likely lower your likelihood of success and possibly increase your chances of giving up. On the other hand, embrace a more gradual approach where you can build on some early successes. For some guidance, check out the Infographic I referred to in recent weeks in my articles on protein, carbohydrates, and fats (all now located in the blog section of my website). Ideally, you would be selecting most of your foods from the “eat more” column, with less of what you eat coming from the “eat some”, and only on occasion eating the “eat less” foods. Again, this is not something you even need to jump into full force with right away. Start with even just three of your breakfasts during the week containing foods predominantly from the “eat more” column. Maybe you even start with just trading out your usual carbohydrate at supper with one from the “eat more” column. Don’t underestimate the value of making even small changes and the positive impact they can have on your overall health.
Something that should cause you to question the healthiness of a particular nutritional approach is if it is overly restrictive, or cuts out food groups entirely. For example, the Keto diet is commonly associated with cutting out carbs, including fruit and certain vegetables. In doing so, you are also cutting out valuable sources of vitamins and minerals that are important to our body functioning at its best. A challenge commonly associated with those who choose a more plant-based approach is ensuring enough protein variety is consumed so as not to miss out on important amino acids. I understand people may take this approach for reasons that are very personal to them and I am OK with that. It is just important that if one is going to choose this nutritional approach for their life that they do the appropriate research to make sure they are consuming enough of what their body needs, namely protein. Lastly, the cabbage diet…yes, cabbage and other fermented foods are good for our health, especially our gut health, however in large quantities, they can make you quite uncomfortable. In addition, when you focus on consuming strictly one food, you are missing out on nutrients that are available in other foods.
“One of the first key elements when choosing a nutritional approach is to consider sustainability. Is this a way of eating that you can do for a lifetime?”
A key component to choosing the best nutritional approach for you is not necessarily looking at what you need to take out, but perhaps what you can add in. Maybe you don’t make any modifications to what you are eating just yet, and instead you add in some activity such as walking. Maybe you don’t swap out your fried chicken for supper, but you add in a serving of veggies or two. Maybe you aren’t ready to modify your activity level or your nutrition, but strive to improve your hydration and drink more water. Or, maybe you focus on going from 5-6 hours of sleep per night to getting 7-9 hours.
One last suggestion I will make is to focus on the long game. Stop looking for the next “4 week” or “8 week” fix. Generally speaking, the faster you lose the weight, the more likely it is to come back. On the other hand, those that play the long game, often experience long-term, lasting results. Put simply…would you rather lose 10 pounds quickly? Or, would you rather lose 10 pounds that stays off forever? Case in point…look at those on the Biggest Loser who were placed on restrictive, aggressive plans and yes, they lost a tremendous amount of weight in a very short time. However, only very few were able to keep it off and many rebounded and gained some (if not all) of the weight back.
In closing, there is no one best nutritional approach out there except the one that works for you. One key element it does require is the willingness to change. If you want something different for yourself, you have to do something different. Notice I didn’t say “completely alter who you are.” I love pizza…it’s one of my favorite food groups. I still enjoy it pretty much weekly, just in a smaller portion. I also love ice cream…another one of my favorite food groups! I still enjoy it often but in smaller portions. However, because I want my body and mind to function at its best, I have added in more nutrient dense foods that support those goals. Eating well a great majority of the time means that the small portions of pizza and/or ice cream that I eat during the week don’t take away from me accomplishing my goals and actually help me get closer to them because I never feel like I am missing out.
If you would like some personalized guidance or direction, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Author: Dr. Candice Dutko
This article was featured by Panorama in their November issue.