Sit back and get comfortable, because I am about to reveal to you the perfect diet.
Let me start by saying I hate “diets.” Diets don’t work. Eating patterns and lifestyle habits are a slightly different story, but if it is telling you exactly how to eat or restricting you in any way that is not normal for you, then I’m not a fan. Diet mentality is a huge problem, but that conversation is for another day. Today I’m talking more along the lines of lifestyle diets.
Another thing I highly dislike when people, whether it be a patient or stranger or friend, ask me “oh you’re a dietitian, so what should I eat?”
Well, Mr. or Mrs. X… you are asking me to answer a question in a simple sentence that is really a quite complex topic. It’s as if there is one right answer and I am supposed to be able to recite it on demand. Bye.
I must admit though–despite my frustration with “diets” and people asking me how to eat on the spot, I do find myself, very often, getting lost in thought about the “perfect” or “best” way to eat. As an aspiring nutrition professional, I sometimes feel like I should have the answer.
What is the “right” way to eat to build muscle? What is the “best” way to eat to live to be 100+ years old? What is the “optimal” eating pattern that all people should follow?
The truth is, it is easy to get caught up in these questions, but the answer is simple. THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER.
We do endless research to try to answer these questions. We uncover strong evidence about one thing, just to find out several years later that there is strong evidence for the exact opposite thing. There’s the paleo eating pattern, or there’s veganism; then intermittent fasting or “small frequent meals” (and so on) and they all claim to be the best way to eat/live and show you the scientific evidence to support it, but yet somehow they all just kind of clash with each other. It’s confusing! SO CONFUSING! If it’s confusing to me, someone who has dedicated my life to studying this stuff, I can only imagine how confusing it is to the rest of the world. (Or, maybe it’s less confusing because they know less overall? You know like that saying: the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know… ignorance is bliss…? Anyway…)
So you want to know what I think? I think it’s okay to not know the answer. After all, every single body is different. Every person has a different lifestyle, a different goal, a different body type, a different GENETIC MAKEUP. Why in the world would we try to distill nutrition down to one size fits all? It makes no sense to do that. I mean… do we really think that we can outsmart the intricacy of the human body? We know A LOT about how they work but honestly, we probably only just uncovered the tip of the iceberg. Yes, research is important and tells us important things, gives us evidence to back up certain claims, but even the strongest evidence has a few participants in the study who didn’t fit the “conclusion” and research is not foolproof.
The best diet is this: whatever you feel is the most satisfying, energizing combination of foods for YOU. It doesn’t have to be the same as Kourtney Kardashian or the fitness model you idolize. They have different needs than you. You shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t go a whole day without carbs or if you don’t like gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo friendly desserts. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can justify a diet full of French fries and milkshakes as ideal because it is “the best for you.” You’re smarter than that. There are still some general guidelines, like eating more whole foods and healthy fat, and balance. But a healthy diet is going to look very different on two different people.
If you are frustrated with this answer and still feel lost, here is my advice. Start with getting to know yourself and your body. Listen to your hunger and fullness cues. Pay attention to how your body feels after you eat certain foods. Keep your own personal health goals in mind. Adjust accordingly. Each eating occasion is a chance to fuel your body with nutrients to keep you functioning at the highest level. Think of it that way. Which foods are going to help you feel your best, achieve your goals? This answer will be different for different people, so be true to yourself and really familiarize yourself with how your body responds to different things. It’s an ongoing and evolving process. Your body changes over time too. I am still trying to figure out what works and doesn’t work for me. What used to work doesn’t work quite the same now. That’s the beauty of it all in my opinion, it’s a process. If you’re still lost and confused, consult the help of a professional (shameless plug for dietitians). There is no shame in getting that extra little support, and they might be able to work directly with you to help you fill in the gaps.
So in short, diets suck and listen to your body. Happy Friday.