I have been on a health journey for over 10 years now. I would say a journey is a very accurate description. I have tried almost every diet out there, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, whole 30, paleo, ketogentic and more. All have which taught me a great deal about myself and my body.
The topic of dieting can be such a passionate yet confusing conversation. It seems like they all contradict each other in some way. One says to stay away from meat, another says carbs are the enemy. Just looking at all the diet and nutritional books at the store or library can make one loose hope very quickly.
Disclaimer: I am not a dietitian or healthcare practitioner. If you have any major healthcare concerns talk to your doctor. This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition.
So the question is, what is the healthiest diet?
The answer lies in these 3 questions:
- Does the diet provide you with all the nutrients your body needs?
- Does it make you feel energetic and strong?
- Will you be able to stick to it long term?
This all depends on the individual. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a perfect diet for everyone. As you browse the bookstores or library, you can see so many people passionately write about how their eating plan is the best and why. It’s convincing! That’s because they found what works for them. They found what makes them feel great. And they want to share it with others.
Each eating plan that I have tried, taught me something about my body. When I was a vegetarian, I found out that my body thrives on a copious amount of vegetables. I feel absolutely amazing when I chug down my 6 cups of blended spinach. However, my body was lacking good fats and enough protein. And then there is the whole social aspect I loathed. I hated that others had to abide by my choice of food (or at least go out of their way to offer me an alternative.)
Paleo was great for awhile. And I love how the Paleo desserts don’t make my blood sugar go crazy! But for my body, I lost too much weight on it. And even though I was eating quite a bit of meat, I felt weak, as if I was lacking something. Not to mention, the cost! Goodness! It was a hefty bill that my family simply could not afford. So back to my beloved beans it was!
I found out super quickly when I went on the Ketogenic diet that my body can not handle that much fat and protein. Despite what others and even my husband has experienced, I gained 8 pounds in just 5 days and felt so bad that my husband thought for a minute he was going to have to take me to the hospital. I severely underestimated the “Keto flu.” Besides for me, it’s just super unrealistic and very extreme. It reminded me of my brief raw vegan days only on the opposite side of the pendulum. There is no way I’m going to go the rest of my life without eating carbs. Unless I medically have to…umm no thank you.
I want to share all of this to say, it is a journey. But there are a couple of things that can get you started. Just remember, not only do you need something that fits your nutritional demands but also your family and lifestyle.
I did notice with all the diets that I have tried, there are a few things that are similar.
- First, cut out the junk. I’m just talking about donuts and candy. I’m saying all processed foods (white flour, sugar, processed meats, anything that has words in the ingredients that you can’t pronounce etc.). Have you ever noticed that all the diet documentaries compare each other with the American Standard Diet? Honestly I would love to see a documentary that compares a vegetarian diet to a Paleo or a Mediterranean to a Ketogenic diet. If you eliminate the junk, you will automatically feel better. It doesn’t matter what plan you are on.
- Second, eat lots of veggies. You really can’t go wrong with veggies. They are filled with vitamins and minerals. They are especially loaded with potassium which has so many functions in your body I can’t even begin to explain. Try to aim for 7-10 cups a day to get the nutrients you need. Try them in various forms or just blend a bunch up and chug them down if you absolutely just can’t stand them. It’s okay if you hate them. They don’t have feelings.
- Thirdly, eat for health not for weight loss. When your body starts functioning as it should, you will feel better and your body will shed what it doesn’t need. This is a touchy subject I know. But if you look at food as a way to control your weight and not for your health, you will never keep the excess weight off. Sometimes just the pure stress of dieting causes weight gain. Not to mention the fact our society thinks that a size 2 is a picture of health. It’s simply not true. God made everyone different. There is no such thing as one size fits all. But that can be a whole other article within itself so I will spare you the rant.
Everything else is based on your individual needs and lifestyle. If you are a very physically active person, you will need a different nutrition profile as someone with a desk job. If you are pregnant or nursing, that puts you in a different category all together. As you cut out the junk, you will be able to listen to what your body is trying to communicate to you.
Consider your current issues and find what you can do through your diet to improve them. I have family members with Celiac disease, Hypothyroidism, Diabetes, Heart disease…the list goes on and on. Each of these issues can be improved by doing various things with one’s diet. For example, for a Celiac, a gluten free diet is essential. If you have Diabetes, a low carb sugar free diet is needed. My poor Hubby’s body just can’t handle carbs very well. He gets really swollen and stiff all over. He has learned this over the years of trial and error.
Some find going on an elimination diet helpful. Elimination diet is where you remove everything that can cause inflammation or a histamine reaction and slowly add it back in to see if how your body responds. The Whole 30 is a type of elimination diet.
The Whole 30 can be a great start but to many who are used to a processed foods diet (Standard American Diet a.k.a SAD) it can be quite overwhelming. When I encourage people to clean up their diet, I tell them to take it slow and focus on one thing at a time. But, some people have that extreme, go cold turkey mentality (I totally get it, I am that way.) For people like this, a Whole 30 diet would be a great fit.
For everyone else, slow and steady wins the race. The goal is to eat whole foods the way God intended them to be. This means when you grab a bag of green beans out of the freezer section of the grocery store, the ingredients should just say “green beans”, not “green beans, dextrose, maltodextrin, salt, yeast extract artificial and natural flavors.”
By gradually eliminating the junk and gradually adding in the good stuff, will be a more sustainable plan. The first month cut out all sodas and only drink water and non-sweetened herbal teas and/or coffee. For most people this is a huge challenge within itself. But if you are only focusing on one thing at a time, its not so overwhelming.
Here is a list of things you can do one thing at a time to eventually eat a really clean diet. Pick a time frame of when to add another challenge in. Continue with your previous challenge as you make new ones. I like to use 1 month because its enough time to adjust to the new challenge while still making permanent habits from the old ones.
One Month Challenges:
- Eat 3 cups of veggies everyday (increase each month until you get to 7-10 cups)
- Only eat desserts once a week (gradually decrease each month or find healthier desserts)
- Cut out all fast food
- Avoid nitrate filled bacon and deli meat
- Don’t eat anything with added sugar
- Eliminate all sodas and/or “sports drinks”
- Drink 6-8 cups of water each day
- Remove all chips and/or salty snacks
Here are a few swaps you can make to help:
- Salty chips———> Air popped popcorn with real butter and sea salt, salted nuts or organic corn chips (only corn, salt and sunflower seed or avocado oil in the ingredients)
- Desserts————-> Whole food desserts like paleo desserts (small amounts, there is no excuse to binge on desserts, even if its healthier ones) and fruit
- Store bought white bread———> Homemade soaked or sprouted whole grain bread or paleo bread or Ezekiel bread if you don’t want to make it
- Red Bull or other energy drinks——–> Coffee, black tea (without sugar-liquid stevia or small amounts of other natural sweeteners are okay)
- Canned soup———> Homemade soups (freeze for convenience)
- American cheese—–> Grass-fed cheese or avocado
- Deli meat——–> precooked meats like cut up chicken breast or tuna salad/ chicken salad
These are just a few. I encourage you to check out my recipes. They are all made using whole food ingredients. And I try to keep them as simple and as cost effective as possible.
So the conclusion to this long article (sorry there is just so much to say!) What is the best diet to follow? The answer is….
We are not to be slaves to a diet book. One size never fits all. Don’t be afraid to customize. And have fun discovering what works for you!