The Perfect Diet
From Atkins, Ketogenic, Macrobiotics, Palaeolithic, Raw Food, Superfoods, South beach, Vegetarian, Vegan, all the way to the Zone Diet. Which diet is the best? There is not a right answer. The question is probably the wrong one to ask anyway. The key question is why? Why do you want to go on a diet? What motivates you to do so? How do you describe your relationship with food? How do you feel in your body and in your own skin?
An Integrative Approach
As an integrative health coach, my focus is on primary foods and bio-individuality rather than any specific diet. (See more on primary foods and bioindividuality later.) We all know that there is no one perfect diet. A low carb/ keto diet may work wonderfully for an individual who is on this diet may experience a surge in energy levels and mental clarity. Paleo diet may not work so well for a vegan who is already thriving on plant-based diet. Some people are lucky that they can be happy and healthy without paying much attention to what they eat or drink. There are also people who can only feel good when they have total control over their diet and meticulously plan every single meal of the week.
All Diets Work (For A While)
Many diets work for as long as you can stick to the rules, and their effectiveness also depends on where your starting point is, physically, mentally and emotionally. When you are on a diet (literally any diet), you will likely remove a lot of sugar, highly processed and junk foods from your normal routine. Anyone could lose some weight and feel better just by eliminating these items. However, in the long run diets generally fail as we revert to our old lifestyles and eating habits.
Why Diets Don't Work
Sadly, most dieters gain back (or even more than) the weight they lose. Because our body is smarter than these one-size-fits-all diets. As you try to reduce your calorie intake and exercise like a warrior, weight loss happens because energy output is greater than energy input. As you continue to starve your body over weeks and weeks, you energy levels sag, you get hangry and your cravings grow into the size of a whale. Your body knows that you are under starvation and it will put you in a survival mode by becoming more efficient at conserving energy. It does so by lowering your metabolic rate, increasing your appetite and encouraging fat storage.
How long can you hold your breath under water? How about indefinitely? What a dumb question! Likewise, what makes us think that we can use our willpower to resist that piece of chocolate cake or French fries after a few days on a diet? There is nothing wrong with our willpower, just don't expect it to always overcome the powerful chemical signals produced by our body's biochemistry. Our body always does what it is supposed to do - keeping us alive and well for as long as possible.
Don't lose hope. There are many practical and sustainable ways to tackle the issue of weight management. It is about managing our environment and nudging our body in the right direction.
You Are the Expert
By going on a diet, you are delegating the responsibility of taking care of your body and your emotional needs. It is far easier to follow a standard meal plan, exercise regime, watch the scale and expect the same results as everyone else. Now is a good time to take ownership of this responsibility and pay attention to your body. You are the expert of your own body's needs because you have lived in this body for many years. Be kind to yourself, learn to love the one body you have and appreciate all the things you can do with it.
Follow Your Instincts
How about following your instincts, your unique body and your bio-individuality? What is your relationship and emotional connection with food? Be conscious of your feelings and cravings. Be intelligent and draw on the wisdom and advice from well-established dietary theories. Do experiment with different eating styles, as long as you listen to your body and figure out what works for you (or doesn't) in an authentic way.
A diet works when it doesn’t feel like a diet, when it turns into a lifestyle that is synchronised with you. Focus on your unique individual needs instead of any dietary theory.
Consider Your Bio-individuality
As you focus on your unique biology, think about your gender, age, culture, activities, and geography. Different genders respond differently to carbs, fats and protein. Men generally deal better with a higher protein intake whereas women generally need more carbs. Our dietary requirement changes as we go through adolescence, pregnancy, and menopause. As for our culture, each one of us is genetically predisposed to eat what our ancestors ate. If you are Chinese but grow up on a western diet, your body may still be more suited to eating soy, leafy vegetables, grains than dairy.
Your Needs Change Over Time
Our occupation and activities play a major role, consider how your dietary needs change from day to day depending on what you are doing. There are better days to go on a fast when you are on a regular and predictable timetable. It would be silly to go on an elimination diet during the Holidays or Chinese New Year. Think about what we eat seasonally, such as lighter foods, more salads and tropical fruits in the summer and heavier and heart-warming foods in the winter. Foods on special occasions generally connect us back to our childhood, heritage and culture. Remember, what works for you right now may also change as your life moves on.
Balancing Primary Foods
What are primary foods? In the Integrative Nutrition world, the foods that we put in our mouths are only secondary. Primary foods are what truly nourishes our lives on a deeper level, such as relationships, career, physical activities and spirituality. Many cultures practice fasting to limit secondary food, which helps us slow down and create more space for primary foods.
Secondary foods are obviously important but we often use food as a solution to problems with our primary foods. If you are going on a diet or following a dietary plan, also try to work on your primary foods such as nurture your relationships, try to love and respect the work that you do, and enjoy moving your body. Perhaps you can start small with a five-minute daily meditation, or practice mindful eating or just try to be present in the moment. Take the time to explore and find the right balance between primary and secondary foods.
Next up - I will be writing about deconstructing cravings. Watch this space.
Please feel free to provide any feedback on this article. Or get in touch if you are interested in a free health-consultation, which can be done in person or virtually.