This is a topic that keeps crossing my path and has become of immediate relevance to me as well as I experiment with different foods and methods of eating.
Taking the first steps in making a dietary or lifestyle change can feel slow and challenging. I know from my own experience of experiencing the inundation of conflicting and confusing health information out there on what is the BEST diet and how much, what, and when you should eat. It’s enough to want to just give up and pass on the responsibility of figuring out what’s right for your body to some figure out in the media who has the most stylish presentation of nutrition and fitness information or is shouting and touting the loudest.
Truth is, uncovering the best, most successful diet is 100% on you. Why? Because you are completely biochemically and genetically individual from every other human being on the planet and what keeps your neighbor strong & fit (physically and mentally) may leave you a sputtering, malfunctioning mess. This is because we don’t all come with the same environmental or stress factors, metabolic capacity, digestive enzymes, or genetic predisposition for certain food intolerance and sensitivities (just to name a few variables) within the same time and space.
I say all of this because I think it’s dangerous and limiting to assign yourself to any particular dietary dogma (strict veganism, Paleo, raw vegan, high carb, low carb, etc). Eating one way for the rest of your life isn’t practical nor do I think it sounds fun or appealing! Certain diets and foods are called upon for different times of life, i.e. the needs of a growing teenage boy in terms of macro-nutrients and nutrient density are much different than say that of a new mother or elderly individual. Also, our bodies are constantly changing as our cells turnover and we are renewing our tissues over time which is why it is so critical that what we try to put the most nutrient dense, quality foods into our systems as well as listen to our body’s signals for what it needs nutritionally.
First of all: It is important to start wading into the many resources of reliable nutrition information. Look at blogs for examples of how to eat throughout a day and search around for recipes and simple meal ideas. Look at individual’s credentials and education and try not to get caught up into the web of people whose information is black and white, my way or the highway. Right now I’m having a love affair with Paul Chek’s info and I highly recommend checking out this article in light of this discussion: What Diet is Right for You?
-To start, your diet should be based around whole, unprocessed foods. This means most living foods (i.e. fresh fruits and vegetables), fresh meat/fish/eggs/poultry, whole grains (rice, quinoa, oats, etc), nuts and seeds, and dairy. This is the basic palette of a whole foods diet, which avoids added sugars, refined oils (grapeseed/canola/soybean/corn/safflower/vegetable oils), additives (MSG, thickeners, stabilizers), chemical sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose), artificial colors, dyes and flavors. Essentially, try your best to do away with anything boxed or packaged in plastic that could sit on a shelf without going bad.
-Identify any allergies or food intolerances if you feel you are having symptoms and eliminate problematic foods (such as dairy or gluten containing grains). Start off eating this way and you will be well on your way to attaining your fitness and health goals. From the place of eliminating processed foods and focusing on whole, fresh ones, you can reach a place of clarity and health where you can start to fine tune your diet to what feels right in regards to quantity of protein, fats, and carbohydrates as well as quality (looking into what to buy organic, seasonally, and locally). One step at a time!
Finally, some tips on how much you should eat.
Basically, calorie counting is irrelevant to me and I never, ever, do it. This is because my body’s demand for nutrition varies on many variables on a day by day basis-it’s not logical to restrict oneself to a calorie count under this principle. Also, a calorie is not a calorie in the sense of nutrient density. 1 tbs of coconut oil delivers more nutrition and health giving properties in 100 calories than a Nabisco 100 calorie snack pack. Calories matter at the point of someone consuming in excess beyond their nutritional needs (an excess of anything of nutritive value results in the accumulation of fat or other health complications) but the hope is that the individual won’t come to this point when they are including nutrient dense foods in their diet which leads to greater satiety (ever notice how you can keep eating bowl after bowl of cereal but a plate balanced with say, a steak, sweet potato, and broccoli is not something you could continue to take seconds on?). Here are my tips:
1. It is of my belief that the body will achieve balance on all levels when eating a nutrient dense diet. Excess weight, hormonal imbalances, and various disease can be symptoms of this not being the case. If you are eating what your body can identify (i.e. a non chemical, whole unprocessed food), you are able to turn on the internal awareness of how much of that food to eat.
2. Do not calorie count and focus on eating a high volume of plant foods (lots of veggies!), lower your sugar intake, and eat quality fats and protein. If you are just starting out in creating a more health conscious lifestyle, using a service such as fitday.com or Cronometer can be helpful in getting an idea if you are eating too much or too little and how you are reaching your nutrition goals, but this shouldn’t be something to rely on for the long term.
3. Eating more nutrient dense foods also sometimes means you may find over time you require a smaller volume of food (again, revisit the experience of eating a plate of pasta versus one with fat, protein, and unrefined/complex carbohydrate).
4. When deciding to eat: ask yourself- is my brain functioning on all four cylinders? Do I have energy to complete my tasks at hand? If the answer is no, eat. This takes time and practice and is a skill I personally am trying to master (tuning into true signs of hunger). Hunger is a pleasant feeling in a way-it differentiates from a craving in that it can be satiated by whole foods and is not specific (you are hungry if you are willing to fill up on healthful foods vs. the nagging feeling for sweets).
5. Check in with yourself every two weeks. Address what you are eating for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner and be honest with how it is working for you. If it doesn’t feel good, change it! Make a diary or log in your brain what foods make you feel good and what gives you digestive distress or other undesirable symptoms.