Many when starting their fitness journey start thinking and researching how they should diet. While it is true that many people, in order to lose weight, need to start following some sort of nutrition plan, it is hard to determine what diet is best, what is a load of BS, and what is setting you up for success.
Let’s think of some “popular” diets out there right now and define them:
The premise behind the Paleo diet is high protein/low carb- mimicking the diets of our ancestors who hunted for meat and scavenged for fruits/vegetables as their main diet sources. The people behind this phenomenon say that we should eat like our ancestors to be as healthy as possible. But over the last 10,000 years, our genetics as humans have drastically evolved. Meaning, we can now eat a lot of foods that our hunter/gatherer ancestors could not. Almost all foods nowadays are vastly different than our ancestors were able to get ahold of.
The Whole 30 is a fad diet lasting 30 days emphasizing eating “whole” foods while eliminating sugar, alcohol, grains, soy, dairy and more. The idea here is to essentially reset your body and help you figure out which foods might be making you sick, bloated, tired etc. While that idea is nice in theory, the idea of this diet is to give you food freedom- but the premise behind it is ELIMINATING EVERYTHING. This is just setting you up for disordered eating- fearing foods, and limiting your intake to a handful of “approved” foods.
Eating “clean” has the same sort of premise as the first two diets- limiting processed foods and eating more whole, minimally processed or refined foods. The problem behind clean eating is that everyone has a different definition. Are grapes clean? Some would say yes, because they are a fruit. But wait! Are they organic? Because others would say only organic food items are clean. The implication that if you are not eating “clean” you are otherwise eating Dirty or unhealthy, is food-shaming. Use of the phrase “Clean Eating” is set up to judge foods into categories, and the people that eat them. You are either clean, or dirty. Good, or bad. Food cannot be inherently “good” or “bad”. So stop with the labels.
One of my least favorite “diets” is a cleanse, or a detox. For examples sake, let’s choose a juice cleanse. A juice cleanse can last a few days to several weeks in which the person only consumes fruit or vegetable juices and abstain from any other food sources. Now while this type of diet might produce short term weight loss (caused mostly from loss of water) the weight loss is likely to be temporary- and once you start to eat normally again you will regain the weight. Not to mention, our bodies were designed to detox themselves. – It’s called your liver and kidneys.
The Keto Diet is another diet that slashes the carbs you’re eating while instead filling up on fats. The Keto Diet claims you should aim for 20 carbs per day. Do you know how many carbs are in an apple? 25 carbs. That’s right- on the Keto Diet you can’t even eat an apple- which most would argue is a pretty healthy food. Since our bodies preferentially use carbs as our main energy source, cutting them so drastically in this diet means less energy. Our bodies will therefore turn to the glucose in our muscles for an energy source. The real reason this diet won’t work- it’s too extreme. It’s unsustainable.
Eating Vegan. I’m not here to argue with anyone’s beliefs. If someone is vegan because they do not believe in eating animals or animal products, that is a different thing. To become vegan to be healthier, is another. Iron, Zinc, calcium are only a few of the essential nutrients that are lacking in a typical vegan, vegetable only diet. Vegan diets simply do not supply the body with all the necessary nutrients they need. One example: Vitamin B12 (which is found deficient in 83% of vegans) is commonly found in salmon, tuna, beef, milk etc. and deficiencies in this can lead to fatigue, weakness, anemia.
The common denominator in all these diets is that for the average person, they are not sustainable. Most people will not be able to go the rest of their lives eating ZERO carbs. Most people won’t be able to swear off ALL processed foods for the rest of their life. While some of these diets do help form healthy eating habits- like sticking to mainly “healthy” foods, minimally processed, and learning to make good choices—the all or nothing approach these diets have are what the problem is.
To say you will never eat a carb again is ridiculous. To say you will never have another processed food again is far fetched. To take a more balanced approach, choose mostly whole, nutrient dense foods, with the occasional treat or processed food is more believable. (and is PERFECTLY OKAY!)
Exclusive diets never work in the long haul. Unless of course there is a medical reason why you can’t eat a certain food, like an allergy- you shouldn’t have to vow something off for the rest of your life. Moderation is king. Enjoy less nutrient dense foods, less of the times than you enjoy the more nutritious foods. But don’t vow yourself to never eat over 20 carbs again on a given day. You are setting yourself up for failure and disappointment, and that is no way to go on a fitness journey.