Paleo, Whole30, Mediterranean, Atkins… the list goes on. It’s confusing! How does a person even know where to begin in selecting a diet to get them to their goal??
When trying to select a diet for yourself, I have 3 recommendations to help lead you in the right direction:
#1 – Change your definition of “diet”
According to the dictionary, the word diet means:
1. the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. “a vegetarian diet”
Often when I hear the word diet, people are referring to #2 + #3… the idea of being restricted. When I say “change your definition of diet” this is exactly why. The first definition, talking about the kinds of food that a person HABITUALLY eats, is the new definition I would recommend getting put in to your head first.
Think of your diet as a collection of habits that allow you to perform at a level you desire and bring you to your goals. The biggest difference between the first definition and the other two is the removal of the word restriction. I can’t say that I know of anyone that really enjoys to be restricted…
By shifting your mindset from restriction to abundance, a super cool thing happens… achieving your goal becomes more enjoyable, easier to adhere to, and will provide life lasting results. Like I said, it has to do with a collection of habits that lead you from point A to point B. We are creatures of habit so when we actually change our habits, it is something that will last until we decided to change our habits again.
The shift in viewing a diet as a list of restrictions versus a collection of habits brings us to my second recommendation to finding the best diet for you…
#2 – Create changes that are comfortable enough to be sustainable but uncomfortable enough to elicit a desired change
One of the biggest reasons why people fail restrictive diets is because the changes they have made from their “norm” are too mentally uncomfortable for them to actually be able to maintain the changes. Think elimination diets… This is when an entire food group is eliminated like lets say dairy.
Do elimination diets hold their place in this world? Absolutely! They work really well to determine allergies or foods that provide discomfort to people. As a means to weight loss however, they can be too difficult to maintain in the long run.
This is where that original definition of diet comes in…. the kinds of food a person habitually eats. Let’s say you habitually eat a higher carb and fat diet. To begin to introduce more protein would be challenging at first however if done in small incremental steps, it becomes something that can be done day after day. Working to a more well-rounded diet by slowly balancing ratios of macronutrients will take time but will also provide lasting results.
By only making small changes to someones current collection of food habits allows people to stay close enough to their comfort zone but get out of it just enough to make the necessary changes. The other super awesome thing about staying close to your comfort zone in regards to nutrition is that…
#3 – Foods are palatable and enjoyable
Gone are the days of getting sent a meal plan to eat EXACTLY what the coach says no matter how much you eat a certain food on the list. (They are likely still around but not something you’ll find nutrition coaching with me)
When I discussed staying close enough to a current comfort zone the types of foods plays a large factor. Ensuring that foods are palatable and enjoyable to the person trying to shift the collection of habits is going to have large importance in the adherence.
Let’s say I super love white potatoes. I eat them with every meal. Are they a carbohydrate option? Absolutely. Could a better option be a sweet potato? Absolutely!
A minor shift from a white potato to a sweet potato one meal a day will offer me more variety in the colors I am eating which means I am getting more nutrients that I hadn’t been getting with the white potato. Would I still be eating just as many carbohydrates as before? Yes. But the big difference here is that the quality of the food is increasing.
Small changes to discover new foods that are higher in nutrient density will drastically improve someones body. There is something to be said about a body that is fed the needed nutrients and minerals as opposed to JUST the needed macros and/or calories.
Nutrition is complex. Allowing a certain restrictive diet to oversimply the necessary steps to get your from point A to point B will absolutely lead to frustration, low adherence, and potentially little to no results.
Rather than making it extremely difficult and restrictive, changing your mindset about what a diet actually is can be a game changer in itself. Small changes made over time will lead to dramatic changes.
As you can probably tell, there is no one best diet. There are too many factors in regards to nutrition such as budget, culture, availability, taste preferences… the list goes on. The best diet is the one that makes you feel the best physically AND emotionally.