There are a lot of “diets” out there. You’ll find articles and research indicating some food you’re eating will make you sick, fat, and/or diabetic, or that another food is the holy grail of health. You can find a diet for every health condition under the sun – for diabetes, rheumatism, obesity, irritable bowl syndrome, autoimmune disorders, for skin health, heart health, to lower cholesterol, for fertility, and even some that claim to reduce cellulite.
For every article that indicates you should be eating a particular food, you can almost assuredly find an article that indicates you should not.
Often the recommendations or criticisms of particular diets are contradictory. Red meat causes cancer. Juicing is good for weight loss. Gluten is bad for you. Raw vegan diets are the best way to go. Red meat is safe if it’s sustainably sourced. Eating a “Paleo” or “Primal” diet is best for your body because it follows what our bodies are evolutionarily designed to eat. Juicing spikes insulin levels and counteracts weight loss. Some people tolerate gluten better than others. Raw vegan diets are not the most nutrient dense diets. You should take vitamins every day. Drink plenty of water. Plant based diets are best for the environment. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Avoid sugar. Avoid carbs. Avoid fat. Eat enough protein but not too much.
You can find articles, calculators, and recommendations for the amount of calories you should be eating for your age, gender, activity level and goals. You’ll see that research indicates very low calorie diets (VLCD) of 1200 calories or less per day quickly and effectively reduce body weight. Because of this, many people feel that 1200 or less calories is appropriate for their own weight loss goals. Often it is overlooked or omitted that these VLCD are not recommended for the average person with weight loss goals because the hormone response to a VLCD can actually cause weight gain (healthy hormone profiles are disturbed by a VLCD). Very low calorie diets should only ever be adopted under a physician’s recommendation and supervision.
Are you confused yet?
Sometimes we put ourselves into a box and limit ourselves to certain foods. We can be paralyzed with the amount of information, floundering, trying fad diets that don’t work, or not eating entire groups of food. (Of course there are situations in which you should not eat particular foods, such as with allergies or intolerances.) This limitation can cause unnecessary stress, which can in turn counteract your weight loss efforts, disrupt your life, and even disrupt your relationships. Food should not be so confusing.
So what should you eat?
This will be different from person to person. Your age, gender, activity level, tolerances, preferences, and cultural background will all contribute to the foods that you will feel most comfortable eating. The real answer to the “what should I eat” question is another question: “What do you feel best eating?”
Now is a perfect time to become more in tune to your body. Listen to and feel what your body is telling you, particularly after meals. Do you feel bloated or tired after eating a certain food? Does a particular food upset your digestive system? Do you feel energized, nourished and sustained by the food you are eating? Below is a list of tips that should help you discover what foods work best for you, with a few general rules about what foods should (almost) always be included.
1. Keep track of what your body is telling you after meals.
Write down how you feel physically and emotionally after meals. Are you stressed and bloated? Sleepy? Still hungry? Keep track of your responses to certain foods (being sure to include what food you ate) to understand what your body responds best to. You should not feel bloated, gassy, or have an upset stomach after meals. You should feel full, satisfied, and energized.
2. How do you feel between meals?
This one you may or may not need to physically track on paper, but it definitely worthy of paying attention to. Are you bloated? Tired? Dizzy? Grumpy?
It is very common for people to feel tired or sluggish between meals, and their energy is brought back up only when they eat again (not related to sleep). Just because it is common, however, does not mean it is normal. Fueling yourself with the proper food at meal times is essential for blood sugar regulation and control which will help keep up your energy levels through out the day rather than just around meal time.
3. Do your food limitations stress you out?
Sometimes we follow a particular diet because we think it is the healthiest way to eat, but excluding certain foods causes a high level of stress – especially in self-inflicted restrictions, rather than those of necessity. I’m not saying that someone who has a gluten allergy should eat gluten because eliminating it causes stress. I am saying if there is no real medical/health reason to exclude that food, then maybe it would be worth reducing your stress by including that food again.
This recommendation should be taken only if there is not a medical necessity, there is no addiction present, and the inclusion of the food would not cause a negative lifestyle change. Please, don’t go bingeing on fast food because its more convenient and “less stressful” to have someone else cook your food.
4. Do you still enjoy life?
Let’s face it: food is at the center of most celebrations. Food is social. We celebrate graduations, weddings, birthdays, accomplishments and other milestones by going out to eat or throwing a party centered around a meal. If you exclude yourself from celebrations because you know the food there won’t “fit into your diet,” you are excluding yourself from valuable, important interactions with friends and family. Those interactions are a vital part of your health as well – don’t exclude yourself simply because of food. Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed with fear of eating a food that “isn’t in your diet.” Of course, make good choices when you can, choosing healthy, wholesome and nourishing foods, but it’s okay to be a human being and enjoy time celebrating with loved ones over a delicious meal.
Food sustains life, but food shouldn’t consume your life. Find a way of eating that works with your lifestyle rather than against it and nourish your body to the best of your ability.