‘Tis the season for resolutions—do yours include going on a diet?
I personally dislike the expression “going on a diet”—it implies that you’ll eventually go off the diet (and probably go right back to the not-so-good habits that got you overweight to begin with).
And as Garfield said, diet really is just “diet” with a “t” added to it.
But “diet” can also mean “eating style,” and that’s how I’m using it below.
I often get asked what the best way to eat is: Vegan? Vegetarian? Keto? Paleo? Low-carb? No-carb? Low-fat? No-fat? There are so many contenders, and each one claims to be THE ONE WAY to find health and happiness and immortality (well, practically).
As a health coach, I can’t answer that for you—you have to find out for yourself: no one eating style suits everyone on the planet.
One person’s food may be another one’s poison. Some thrive on being vegan; others may feel better with a small amount of animal products in their lives. Some can handle gluten; others cannot. Some digest dairy without trouble; others report all kinds of problems with it.
To complicate matters further, an eating style that served you as a teenager will likely need to be shifted as you become an adult, then an older adult, then a senior.
There is, in fact, no silver bullet—no one answer for all and forever.
WAIT! That’s not an excuse to throw your hands up and head for the drive-through!
There are a few recommendations that I believe apply no matter what eating style you’re trying on:
- Avoid any eating style that completely eschews a macronutrient group: you need protein, fat, and carbohydrates for energy (calories) and for other functions in your body. Notice I didn’t say “food group”—that’s because protein, fat, and carbohydrates are found in plant foods as well as animal foods. (So yes, it really is time to stop asking vegetarians and vegans where they get their protein: that question is as tired as “Where are you going to college?” for high school seniors and “What are you majoring in?” for college freshmen.)
- Focus on eating styles that focus on micronutrients: vitamins and minerals may only be needed in tiny amounts, but our bodies absolutely cannot make full use of the macronutrients without these tiny powerhouses. This means really pile on the vegetables and, perhaps to a lesser degree, fruits.
- Get plenty of water and fiber. (And guess what? Fruits and veggies can be good sources of both!)
- Avoid highly-processed foods and stick to whole foods cooked at home. Check out previous columns on demystifying food labels: Part 1 and Part 2.
- If you’re trying on a new eating style, track your food and how you feel: this doesn’t mean weigh and measure everything (including yourself); this means really think about what you ate and how you felt—physically, mentally, and emotionally—an hour later, a half-day later, a week later. Feel great? Keep it up (and remember that in a few years, this may change). Feel lousy? Make some changes to what you’re eating and keep tracking how you feel. If you want to see the sort of food journal I’m describing, you can find a template on my website.
In terms of making resolutions, particularly around weight loss, my recommendations are:
- Don’t think about food as inherently “good” or “bad;” instead, think about better and worse choices. Quitting any favorite-but-clearly-not-good-choice foods cold turkey is possible for some people; for others, it simply triggers a craving for it. Consider making a better choice 50% of the time, then 75%, then 80%, then 90%. For example, if you want something sweet after dinner and you normally eat ice cream, choose ice cream one day and a piece of fruit the next. After a week or so, choose the fruit three out of four days, then four out of five days,
- Instead of giving up “bad choice foods,” consider adding in better choices, which can have the effect of crowding out the less nutritious ones. If you are in the habit of paying attention to how full you feel when eating, adding a small green salad with vinaigrette before lunch and dinner can fill you up so that you eat fewer French fries. Drinking a glass of water before each meal can reduce the number of soft drinks you down,
- Fill at least one half of your plate at lunch and dinner with a rainbow of vegetables, raw or cooked (French fries don’t count, neither do veggies drowning in sauces and/or cheese). Like savory breakfasts? Fill half your breakfast plate with veggies, too.
- Perhaps most importantly, BE PREPARED: the healthy choice must be the easy choice every single time, whether we’re talking about a quick breakfast, an emergency snack, or a simple weeknight dinner.
Ann Arbor’s Liza Baker, a WLAA health columnist, is a full-time Integrative Nutrition® health coach, cookbook author, part-time consultant, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four. Liza lives in a half-empty nest in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and exercise, SOLE/SOUL food and social justice. You can get a taste of her work at https://simply-healthcoaching.comand join the (Sorta) Secret Sisterhood, her membership site for women over 40, at https://simply-healthcoaching.com/membership.