It's Time To Stop Searching For The Perfect Diet
Stop wasting your time searching for the perfect diet!
Eat fruit. Fruit makes you fat. Coffee has antioxidants. Coffee is bad for you. Drink red wine. All alcohol is bad. Eat breakfast. Fast. Go vegan. Eat tons of fatty meat. Eat six small meals per day. Three squares is best. Carbs are good only at breakfast. Carbs are best before bed. Carbs are the devil.
Nutrition is so confusing! If you’ve been relying on science — or your best friend’s ex-boyfriend’s nephew’s bro-science — to help you nail down “the perfect diet”, don’t hold your breath. It doesn’t exist and never will.
How can I be so sure on this point? Story time!
I tried going vegan once. A friend of mine did it. She lost weight and felt great. There’s a plethora of research saying that meat is bad.
It didn’t go well for me. I was hungry, gassy, anemic, and could barely get out of bed. My body likes protein. More specifically, I feel great when a sizeable percentage of my calories comes from animal-based protein. When I don’t get enough protein, everything and everyone around me suffers.
If I’ve learned anything about nutrition thus far in my career, it’s that everyone’s needs are unique. The way that each individual body processes and responds to food is slightly different, making “the perfect diet” an impossibility.
There are four reasons that we’ll never find the perfect diet:
You have unique genetics…so do I…so does he…so does she. If your ancestors hail from China, you might do well with a higher-carbohydrate diet (think rice). If your genetic background is Norwegian, you may be able to digest dairy better than someone whose ancestors came from the islands of the south Pacific. She may be built trim and athletic, while he is stocky and predisposed to easy weight gain.
Point: Genetics don’t necessarily determine your health outcomes, but your genes do play a significant role in everything from the distribution of taste buds on your tongue, to how you digest food, to the way your body stores excess calories.
Different stages call for different diets. Common sense would say that an adult’s diet should be different than an infant’s, which should be different from a toddler’s, which should be different than a teenager’s. So why do we keep searching for the perfect diet for everyone?
Point: Chances are good that what works for you right now, won’t work next year…or in 10 years. Diets keep us in a close-minded perspective. Be open to change when your body says “I need something different now”.
Lifestyles differ. What works to keep me fit and healthy won’t necessarily work for you: I like eating 3 square meals per day. No matter how hard I try, I can’t eat 6 or 8 or 27 small meals…you, on the other hand, might be a snacker who would do great on a 6-meal-a-day plan. My work hours are 9 to 5…you might work night shift. Meal prepping never worked for me because I like variety in my meals…but it might work for you if you tend to be a more regimented person. I have a child…you may have none…or you may have eight of those lovely time-sucks. I’m married…you may be single…or perhaps you’re a polygamist. I’m an early riser and prefer a morning workout…you may be a night owl and despise anything beyond drinking coffee in the mornings.
Point: all of these lifestyle factors affect whether or not a diet plan will work long-term for you!
Your bugs are different than mine. I’m talking about gut bugs…your microbiome. The most current research clearly shows that the gut microbiome plays a critical role in health and weight management. But no two people have the same distribution and/or species of gut bugs. Your individual microbiome affects everything from your ability to digest certain foods to your likelihood of losing weight on any given diet.
Point: If your gut bugs don’t like the diet you’ve chosen, you may not do as well as the model who sold you the diet…who happens to have gut bugs that love raw broccoli and boiled chicken.
The perfect diet is a fantasy. What now?
The perfect diet doesn’t exist. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you can stop wasting time and money on the next pill, gadget, gizmo, or “revolutionary” weight loss program. The good news is that there are some pretty solid dietary principles that seem to be true across the board.
Here are 10 dietary principles that are most likely true for everyone:
1. Eating beyond your body’s calorie needs causes fat gain. I don’t care if you’re Paleo, keto, Ornish, or South Beach…if you are eating more calories than your body needs, you will gain weight. Everyone’s calorie needs are different. No one knows with exact certainty how many calories they need every day. But it’s a sure bet that if you’re overeating, you’re going to gain weight.
2. Eating too much is bad…but so is eating too little. Starving yourself causes a negative domino effect for hormones that eventually leads to lowered metabolism and weight regain.
3. Adding more vegetables and fruits to your plate improves health. When someone wants to know “the trick”, or the one “secret” that will help them more than any other…I tell them to eat more vegetables. You can’t go wrong when you add more vibrantly-colored plants to your plate.
4. Water doesn’t make you fat. Drinking calorie-laden beverages (yes, even the zero-calorie “diet” drinks) will. Humans are biologically designed to drink - you guessed it - plain old boring water.
5. Processed foods are bad for us. Period. Don’t be duped by that candy bar masquerading as high-protein granola bar, or those keto muffins, or that high-fiber cereal. Processed crap is processed crap, and our bodies are simply not designed to operate well on large amounts of these convenience foods.
6. Unrefined foods are better than refined. I’m talking mostly about grains here, but this applies to other foods that we tend to mess with as well. Examples? Eating corn on the cob is better than eating corn chips. Steel cut oats are better than those sugar-loaded maple oatmeal packets. A whole apple is better than drinking a glass of apple juice. Eating a whole potato is healthier than eating potato chips. Quinoa trumps pasta. Pretty common-sense stuff, right?
7. Anything consumed in excess can be bad for you. We all know that eating too many cupcakes is bad. But too much of almost anything can be bad. Drinking too much water at one time can kill you almost instantly. Eating three heads of broccoli will probably make you feel crappy (pun intended). Getting too little protein is bad, but so is eating too much. Perspective.
8. Exercise (i.e. movement of the body) is good for us. Mind you I didn’t proclaim what kind of exercise is “best”. As with food, tolerance to different types of exercise varies from person to person. But, without a doubt, being sedentary is bad for the human body.
9. You cannot out-exercise your fork. It would take the average woman nearly an hour of jogging to burn off a single slice of pizza. I don’t know about you, but I can down about three slices of pizza without even taking a breath between. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that exercise will save you from poor eating habits…or that it will allow you to overindulge at will. I’ve tried it. Doesn’t work.
10. Rest, relaxation, and sleep are necessary for good health and a healthy weight. Healthy living is more than just diet and exercise. According to the American Psychological Association, stress is linked to the six leading causes of death in Americans: heart disease, cancer, accidents, lung problems, liver disease, and suicide. If you are chronically stressed and/or not getting enough sleep, you are more likely to be overweight, and you’re also more likely to die…so do as you would your toddler and give yourself a “time out”…and maybe a nap!
For more ways to get healthy without dieting, check out this post.
I hope you enjoyed this post and thank you for reading!
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Blog Author: Kelly Bailey, IIN certified holistic nutrition coach, and NPTI certified personal trainer
Learn more about the author here.