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Deciphering Diet Trends: What's Right for Me?

April 10, 2014

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Atkins. South Beach.  Jenny Craig. Weight Watchers. Gluten-free. Vegan. Vegetarian. That one my best friend is doing.

I don’t know about you, but for me all of these different diets, trends, and fads make my head spin.  And with all of the celebrity-endorsed books, it can be easy to fall prey to the age-old, “I’ll have what she’s/he’s having.”

While it’s important not to succumb to societal pressure to look a certain way, it is crucial for your health and overall well-being that you understand different dietary theories so that you can better understand your body and its needs.

I spent a long time navigating the “I’ll have what she’s having” diet, comparing the food on my plate and in my lunch box to what my peers were having.  My mind would be filled with questions like, “She has a salad every day for lunch and looks awesome, so should I be having a salad every day for lunch?” 

There’s no question that salad and veggies are good for you, but a sandwich on whole grain bread with a side salad and fruit can also be very good for you, while also diversifying your nutrients, which is incredibly important.  In fact, unless you suffer from a food allergy or sensitivity, I am a huge proponent of the idea that all things in moderation are good for you. Not only is mixing it up beneficial for your waistline, but trying new things and not restricting “bad” foods can have a positive impact on your mentality as well. And yes, “all things” includes treats and the occasional indulgence!

So let’s get to the point: diets don’t work.  What does work is a healthy, balanced, and well-rounded lifestyle full of love, passion, and, of course, the fuel that makes it all run, food. Knowing and understanding your body is crucial for your personal health success. Now, the big question is how do you get there?

  1. Keep a food-mood journal. Keep track of what you’re eating, when, and how you feel immediately after you eat it and how you feel a few hours after you eat it.  Don’t count the calories.  If you’re eating whole, nutritious food you don’t need to. Do this for at least one week (although I recommend longer) and see if there are any patterns.  Do you feel bloated every time you have milk or a yogurt? Or maybe every day at 3 you’re mindlessly grabbing a package of cookies from the break room. Also track how much sleep you’re getting, as this could play a huge role in your mental state as well as how sensitive your body is to certain foods.  Make adjustments based on your needs and continue testing. Eventually, you’ll have the {INSERT NAME HERE] lifestyle plan.
  2. Assess your lifestyle. Do you exercise regularly or are you sedentary most of the time? Your activity level will greatly impact the foods that you need to sustain energy throughout the day. I recommend trying to get at least 30 minutes of activity or movement every day. Did you know that in addition to the weight management benefits, exercise is an all-natural mood and energy booster? 
  3. Listen to your body. During the cold months, our bodies beg for hearty meals like warm soup, filling carbohydrates, and perhaps more meats and cheeses.  In the summer months, we crave more raw foods, like fresh fruit and salads. If your body is asking you for something, be sure to honor it.  For example, when I start to feel under the weather, I need something with more sustenance and crave a salty flavor.  So, I’ll whip a batch of these sweet potato fries or this healthy lentil stew to feel satisfied.
  4. Fearlessly trust your body. Once you begin paying attention to your food, exercising regularly, and listening to your body, you need to truly trust that your body knows what it’s doing.  If your body is saying no to exercise and yes to chocolate one day, that’s okay. It knows what it can handle, and it knows when to stop. In addition to noticing what you might consider “bad cravings”, take notice of the times that your body is asking you for nourishing, healthy food. We often focus on the times that we’re craving less than ideal food, but if we focus on the moments that we crave healthful nutrients, we might be surprised how often it is. Remember that nothing should be considered “good” or “bad.” However, if you’re constantly craving white bread and milk chocolate fudge chunk cookies, it might be time to assess the other parts of your life that could be affecting these types of cravings. Ask yourself if all things are in balance.
  5. Stop comparing yourself. It’s okay if your friend is having a salad and you want a sandwich. What’s working for them and their healthy lifestyle routine likely isn’t the same thing that works for you. You have created your own mold that’s perfect for you and you alone. It’s always fun to share tips though, so having a buddy in deciphering your perfect diets could be a fun way to exchange recipes and learn something new!

I know that tending to your health is an overwhelming process, but by reading this and thinking about it, you are taking the first steps towards leading a healthier more fulfilling life where food nourishes your mind, body, and soul.

What do you do to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Share your tips in the comments below!