I try to avoid using the word “diet.” It’s become such a dirty word in our culture, and conjures up memories of fasts, cleanses, and avoiding things that we really enjoy. The first definition of “diet” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is this: “food and drink regularly provided or consumed.”
Bottom line: a diet is whatever you are eating at any given time to fuel your body. As humans, we love to categorize our lives. Diets are no exception, and, of course, we want to choose the best diet for ourselves. But what is the “best” diet? There is so much information out there – Paleo, vegetarian, low carb, low sugar, high protein, high fat, low fat, etc. It’s just plain overwhelming! How do you decide what to eat?
Think about the last time you tried to change your diet by following a book, website, etc. How long did it last? Regimented diets are hard to follow because we find ourselves in a constant state of deprivation. Maybe you are avoiding certain food groups, sugary foods, or added fat – whatever it is:
avoidance = no fun = cheating on your diet = bad relationship with food
A large meta-analysis looking at the effectiveness of several common diets was published in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. What did it reveal? It doesn’t matter if you follow a low-fat or low-carb diet, or eat frozen, pre-portioned meals. The best diet isn’t nutritionally superior; it is the one the individual can follow. Also, you better exercise regularly!
A great diet is often one that doesn’t fall into a particular category. The best diet does two things: it is sustainable for YOU for a long time (think years) and promotes YOUR physical and mental health.
For a moment, stop thinking about how much carb, fat, and protein you need, or how much chocolate you can have when you follow a good diet. This stuff is relevant, but before we talk about the details, we need to focus on the big picture.
Mindful eating: be aware of what, when, and how you eat. Being a mindful eater is all about listening to your hunger signals. Stop eating on autopilot – this is when we consume too much junk and not enough of the good stuff. Writing down what you eat for a few days (or a few weeks) is a great way to start cultivating a mindful eating lifestyle.
Minimally-processed foods and beverages: focus on eating the stuff that does not come in a bag, box, or can. Your main meals should always contain the Two Ps – Produce (fruits and veggies) and Protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, dairy, soy). You can add starchy foods too, just remember, they should be the least processed version of whatever you are choosing. For example, pick wild or brown rice instead of Rice-a-roni; a baked potato instead of instant mashed potatoes. The Two Fs are also important – Fat and fluid. Think of fat as the key to flavor – add a little with every meal. However, don’t overprocess your own food by soaking it in oils or animal fat (deep frying!). When it comes to fluid, drink up, and most of your beverages should be water.
Moderation: embrace the fact that you are not going to be perfect 100% of the time. This is ok! If you allow yourself a few treats every week as part of your diet, you will enjoy them, embrace them, and rid yourself of the shame and guilt that comes from eating a chocolate bar behind closed doors. How do you practice moderation? Be mindful about your eating habits!