It gets tiring doesn’t it?
From going on one diet type and then learning in some study that it’s bad for you because our ancestors didn’t eat like that, or the industrial revolution changed our eating habits from what they should be or because food quality isn’t as good as it used to be, or that we should go back to basics, or that humans aren’t made to eat meat only vegetables and the latest being that our ancestors would had lived during periods of feast and fasting and therefore we should allow some fasting in our diets…I could go on!
I could talk about every single diet out there and variations of it because I’ve literally looked at it and during my bodybuilding days, tried just about everything!
So what’s the best, most effective nutrition basis out there?
In my experience there is no optimal diet, what works for one person doesn’t work for the next because the human body is very complex; there is an individual’s genetics and their environment to consider – combined it is called “epigenetics” – and this plays a big role in how our genes are expressed.
Then there is the cultural, social and emotional individuality of a person’s sphere of influence. In nutrition we call it the social determinants of health and it is very powerful to notice what our influences are and how this affects our food choice and food preferences.
There is also the emerging research that is constantly contradicting one diet to the next, on research paper claiming ketogenic diets are the way to heal all illnesses while another saying it’s very detrimental due to ketoacidosis.
So what do you apply to yourself? What’s a good way to get back to basics and simplify the bombardment of information?
As someone who has done ketogenic diets, intermittent fasting, 24 hour fasting, cleanses, calorie counting, macronutrient tracking, carb cycling…basically you name it and I’ve done it. I can say there are some key learnings and 3 rules I have come to live by.
So what have I learned and what are my rules?
Firstly you need to consider any underlying chronic health issues such as diabetes, gall bladder issues, coeliac, intolerances and the like. If you need to eat more often due to blood sugar, eat lower fat due to gall bladder issues then you have to consider this first and foremost because in that case keto diets or fasting diets will cause more harm than good.
Secondly if you find any sort of diet torturous and hard to stick to…DON’T’ DO IT. Simple. Food is a big part of our social norm and culture, we celebrate by eating together and we enjoy the act of eating. If sticking to a diet you don’t like interferes with your social and cultural practices then chances are you will drop the diet and indulge in what you were denying yourself. This is exactly how unhealthy relationships with food develop and it can really affect your mental health as well.
Get back to basics. For me these rules are:
1. Eat REAL Food
You’ve heard this a lot I’m sure. What’s “REAL” food? It’s lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and good quality protein and natural fats and a variety of them. Gets lots of colourful fruit and vegetables in your diet every day. Buy in bulk if you need to at the markets and make a salad every day or steamed vegetables as a starting point. Fibre in vegetables and protein is what keeps you full and are the only foods that give you all the vitamins, minerals and amino acids that you need to be healthy. When you don’t eat fresh food your body looks for the nutrients it’s missing and that’s how you overeat. Just getting this step right goes a long way into eliminating every single other aspect of other diets and what they are aiming to achieve.
2. Eat Organic
I know it might seem like over kill but in my opinion (and may I add it’s just my opinion of course) eating organic fruit, vegetables and produce will eliminate the fear you see in the media regarding unethical farming practices, toxicity due to heavy pesticide and glyphosate use and genetic modification issues. This is a big topic in itself but from the research and understanding I have gained over the 5+ years of strict dedication to nutrition, I always advocate the support of ethical farming practices such as vegetables and produce with minimal (or free of) antibiotic, hormones, heavy pesticides and unethical treatment, and non genetically modified food. Free range eggs, grass fed beef, organic low pesticide and real fruit and vegetables is a must for me and I think it goes a long way in reducing toxicity in your body.
3. Follow your hunger cues
Eat if you’re hungry, listen to your body when you’re full and don’t eat if you’re not hungry. A lot of people don’t like to eat breakfast and I used to think this was very bad for you but I’ve come to realise that fasting can be very beneficial and it is good to allow the digestive system to fully digest and repair during an overnight fast and if you still need to continue repairing and digesting in the morning then it’s good to wait and eat when you feel ready. This is not the same as doing juice fasts or the like, this is simply listening to your body’s real hunger cues for hunger and fullness. You will find you can eat more intuitively if you eat only when hungry and stop when full than force breakfast or force a meal when you’re just not feeling it. You may also find you have some days when you eat more and other days when you eat less, overall you will balance yourself out and give your body what it needs when it asks.
For me personally I add a fourth but this is based on my personal food intolerances and this differs for everyone but I prefer to stay gluten and dairy free. I simply don’t digest gluten very well and I don’t do well eating bread, pasta, wheat based products and I also can only digest a small amount of dairy so I basically eliminate it in favour or other healthy fats like coconut oil, almond butter, avocado and fish.
So there you have it. It really is that simple. At the end of the day you need to meet your basal metabolic rate so your body can thrive and survive. Trying many different diets can be frustrating and lead to no results in the long term. Stick to the 3 rules and you will feel and look so much better and can look at the diet fads and not feel that you need to try it all. Start with the basic principles and experiment from there!