It never ceases to amaze me how much time and consideration people invest in choosing a car or mobile phone. At the point of purchase you know EXACTLY what you need in terms of speed, space, cost, functionality, brand, colour and can describe the whole specification effortlessly.
Yet when it comes to choosing a diet it’s a very different story, it’s rarely approached with the degree of research, objectivity and rationality it deserves. Many people simply outsource the task, follow the crowd or do what is most convenient and will bring the quickest results.
Imagine buying a car because it was the only one available, yes it means you instantly have a vehicle but after a few trips out you discover it’s a manual gear box and you’re used to driving an automatic, it’s double the size of your previous car and doesn’t have parking sensors, fuel usage is expensive and acceleration capacity is poor… can you tell I know very little about cars and can’t parallel park to save my life! So you find yourself stuck with a difficult to drive, expensive and sluggish car that will soon begin to drive you nuts.
Decisions about owning stuff require careful consideration. Meanwhile you neglect the needs of the most important thing you’ll ever own which is your body.
Often when people embark on a diet either for fat loss or health they skip the needs assessment and information accumulation, both of which are vital in terms of figuring out if the diet is right for them. Many people simply want the fastest route to fat loss or worst still opt for one that worked for someone else. There are some individual needs that might not be catered for, similar to the reason Matt rarely lets me drive his car, I have special driving needs 🙂
Just like choosing a car or mobile phone there are some key components that will likely work for everyone but there are also important nutrition details that will ensure it’s right for you.
Where possible I avoid an overly prescriptive approach when it comes to coaching and never use the term ‘diet’ as my role is to guide clients towards what will become an optimal nutrition model for them. I do this by obtaining a snapshot of their current health and nutrient status, review their lifestyle, consider ethical preferences and their health history.
We have a similar approach on Fitter 16, we make recommendations and offer tools to guide people to understand and then adapt these healthy principles to fit with their lifestyle, routine and personal preferences.
So if you’re confused, overwhelmed and trying to figure out the best diet for you here’s 5 key steps to help you kickstart that process:
Step 1 – Achieve Easy Energy Balance
The best approach guides you towards a state of effortless, sustainable energy balance. Not eating to too much AND not too little. Well what a minefield that can be.
Some diets focus on calorie counting, others eliminate food groups or macronutrients. Some just eliminate food as we know it and have you living on shakes and bars instead.
Whilst these may succeed in creating an energy deficit they’re hugely unsustainable and will likely cause nutrient deficiencies (more on that in point 2) and your body will begin to fight to conserve energy by making you feel tired, demotivated and more inclined to be sedentary which makes maintaining results pretty impossible as your energy expenditure (and possibly lean body mass) declines you have to eat even LESS to keep dropping weight.
The more onerous the task of creating a energy deficit becomes the more you’re likely to find it develops into an added stressor, drains you of vital brain power that should be reserved for making better decisions across your day including what to have breakfast. Overwhelm and mental exhaustion are a fast track towards opening of a bottle wine or box of chocolates so could easily begin to drive the process of a diet failing you.
I have good news, there are simpler ways. Our first line approach is to eat more vegetables creating a natural reduction in calories. If you fill your plate with ratatouille, courgetti, slaw, roasted vegetables and salads you consume a high volume of food that’s micronutrient rich yet low in terms of energy density. You’d be surprised how creative we are with our veggies too.
Another helpful step is reducing hyper-palatable foods, it’s one of the reasons we suggest limiting flour, refined sugars and processed foods. The food industry are well aware of the taste and texture combinations that light up the reward centres in the brain and override natural appetite mechanisms. Our bodies have mechanisms in place to help us eat as per our needs and a wholefoods, home cooked diet can still be tasty and naturally be more satiating allowing you to intuitively create a better energy balance.
The same goes for relying exercise and using that as a means of controlling energy balance and calorie expenditure. This is not a long term solution (what happens if you get injured or busy at work?) In fact it often begins to increase appetite and the speed at which you eat making it tough to know if you’re genuinely full and have consumed enough. Getting stuck into a cycle of over indulging followed by over exercising is also pretty destructive mentally, physically and maybe even socially as you’re always in the gym!
If you’re fighting to achieve energy balance it becomes difficult trying to fit all the exercise, cooking, calorie tracking into your day alongside other daily responsibilities. Stress is an energy demanding process and your brain begins to demand that you face plant into a pack of biscuits.
It helps to not overwhelm yourself initially in so consuming a wholefoods diet, sleeping sufficiently and just moving across your day is a really great place to start figuring all this out. Prioritise these including more steps, taking the stairs, household chores, DIY, walking to work or walking the kids to school (i.e. also nailing your daily responsibilities) add in a few structured exercise sessions when you feel on top of things and a healthy body composition becomes so much easier to achieve and most importantly sustain.
Point 2 – Optimise Your Nutrient Status
The diet you choose MUST optimise your nutrient status. Our health is tested daily by our fast paced lifestyles and environmental challenges. The simplest way to look at this is the fact that you’re really just a bunch of cells and this makes nutrition a pretty easy task in terms of establishing your fundamental needs.
Just like you cells need to do “jobs” and communicate with one another to know what tasks should be prioritised. Each one needs it’s own smart phone with a high speed internet connection and it’s located in the membrane that surrounds the cell. The balance of fats determines if your cells have a 4G or 0G. The omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are integral to effective communication, along with the right balance of monounsaturated, saturated fats and cholesterol which all provide stability and antioxidant protection to the cell membrane.
Cells also require oxygen which is carried by red blood cells around the body. Red blood cell maturation in the bone marrow requires several nutrients that many people find themselves lacking on certain diets including iron, B12, folate and zinc.
The batteries of your cells (mitochondria) require vitamins and minerals to transform food into energy. Imagine serving up a salad and just plonking a whole avocado, bunch of carrots and uncooked beetroot in a bowl, everything needs to peeled, chopped and prepped. It’s the same for your macronutrients (proteins, carbs and fats) they are transformed by chemical reactions and the enzymes and processes that make this happen need nutrients to function.
The list goes on but I’ll finish on thyroid, well known for it’s role in governing the speed at which your body can utilise calories, it also requires a long list of nutrients including iodine, selenium, vitamin A and zinc, not to mention lifestyle habits including exercise and minimising stress.
Point 3 – Support Gut and Immune System Function
From the off here at Fitter Food we have discussed the important of choosing a dietary approach approach that supports gut and immune system function.
Research increasingly supports how important these really are as the connections between key systems in the body are further established. Something referred to as neuroendocrine-immune interactions have been identified which means your state of mind can trigger inflammatory processes and disrupt the balance of hormones in the body. Similarly an inflammatory response or infection in the body will impact cognitive function, potentially causing mood disorders and also suppress cortisol, lead to insulin resistance and the impact goes on.
The small intestine not only has the largest mass of immune cells within the body but it also contains metabolic hormones knowns as incretins which are involved in the production of insulin and therefore regulating glucose levels in the body.
Autoimmunity and chronic inflammatory diseases like cancer, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease all involve some form of immune dysregulation so you’re keen on preventing and limiting your risk you REALLY need to adopt a nutritional model that ensures your gastrointestinal system (and it’s cells) and immune system (also compromised of cells) have all their basic vitamins, minerals and antioxidant needs. Our gut bugs don’t seem too keen on processed food but they do like quality cocoa (dark chocolate YES!), coffee and aged cheese so there’s some good news.
Point 4 – Align Your Diet With Your Ethical Preferences
Whatever approach you decide upon it needs to fit with your ethical preferences. It’s important to note that your choice about not eating versus eating animal products should not be based on a documentary, peer pressure or someone guilt tripping you into the process. I tend to observe this the most with vegan, paleo and low carb diets.
Carbs aside for now, not all farming and food sourcing is equal. I’ve come across terrible interpretations of a vegan diet and terrible interpretations of a Paleo diet. From a sustainability perspective both have potential to negatively impact our environment, destroy natural habitats and the impact the ecosystem by creating a reliance on farming and all the pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics that come with it.
Myself and other practitioners tend to see some people are better adapted to a diet that includes some fish and animal products whilst others are fine on a plant based diet. Educate yourself about your nutrient needs, ensure you make decisions based on what works for YOU not someone else and do some regular blood tests to keep an eye on everything mentioned above (complete blood count, thyroid, omega 3:6 balance, digestive health and iron/ferritin status). If eliminating major food groups you may need to supplement.
In the meantime everyone should be making a move towards local, seasonal, ethically reared animals and sustainably sourced food, supporting the farmers and growers who strive to make a difference whether you’re buying eggs or kale.
Back to carbs – see point 1, any macronutrient in excess will lead to weight gain.
Point 5 – Go Beyond Food and Exercise
Last but definitely not least. You need to think beyond food.
The fact that you’re reading this might be because you are genuinely confused by what exactly is the best diet for you, however, it’s also possible you’re looking for a distractions as there are at least 10 low hanging fruits dangling right in front of your face right now.
There might be massive inconsistencies as you swing between eating nutritiously and excess of some form over the weekend. Maybe there’s not enough fruit and vegetables, possibly too much or too little exercise, not enough quality sleep or maybe too much alcohol and recreational drugs going on.
Before you invest more time researching any more diets, supplements and fat loss solutions all the above needs sorting out first.
However, change on a small scale like nutrition and exercise needs to be preceded by change on a greater scale. Your relationships, home environment, work environment might be working against you. You may have needs that are not being met including financial security and good social and emotional health.
You may lack a sense of purpose.
It’s a little chicken and egg too as some sound nutrition, daily movement and plenty of sleep are key to you being able to think straight and get to the root cause of the problem.
Developing a strong mindset is a combination of all the above and remember you need protein, especially first thing in the day, to have the raw ingredients to make with good decisions and have healthy amounts of brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine that get you motivated to do some food prep, get to the gym and ditch that “look forward to” crutch (e.g. wine, chocolate, cheese, social media, gambling, booze, Xmas…).
My Perfect Diet
So what’s my perfect diet? It’s one that gives me the following…
- Relatively consistent energy.
- Balanced mood health.
- Keeps my joints healthy and pain free.
- Allows me to focus and keep a clear head.
- Keeps my skin clear – I suffered from acne as a teen and my skin is prone to breakouts.
- Has meals which are quick, easy, tasty and convenient. I enjoy cooking but I’m also busy and need to prep a number of meals in 5 minutes or less, I’m a pro at whipping up a stir fry, salad, omelettes, smoothie or nutritious snack. Developing your Fav 5 is something we coach on Fitter 16.
You might have been hoping for something more precise or an insight into what I actually eat but really to figure this out for yourself you need three things – some guidance, tools including recipes and to just get started.
If you want to work with us Fitter 16 provides a guided elimination diets with easy guidance on energy balance and quick recipes. We’ve covered the above so that you just need to tinker and find your sweet spot whilst tackling those bigger questions on your journey.
For further support please check out:
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