What Is The Perfect Diet?
What Is The Perfect Diet?
By Shane Sauer
There are so many diets out there, and it seems that there’s always somebody who has had tremendous success with any one of them. Whether you’re watching the news, browsing through a bookstore, or standing in line at the grocery store, there’s always someone telling you which foods to eat (or not eat), when to eat them (or not eat them) and how much (or how little) of them to eat. So how do you know which diet is right for you?
Spoiler Alter! There isn’t a perfect diet.
Every body is different. That means your body can have unique responses to the food you eat. Because what works for one person might not work for another and vice versa, it’s important to know your options. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular diet trends out there.
What diets are out there?
The U.S. New & World Report identified 41 “best” diets in 2019! Even that is not an exhaustive list, but it’s more than enough for starters. Instead of going into great detail about each diet (click the links if you want that), let’s talk about the categories of diets out there.
Low-fat diets have been heavily promoted since the Seven Countries Study was first published in 1978. The largest epidemiological study of its time found a correlation between heart disease, cholesterol, and saturated fat. Born of this study were public policies that demonized saturated fat in the diet and in response created an industry of low-fat food options. Some of the modern diets that cater to this philosophy include the Macrobiotic, Ornish, and TLC diets.
As western society continued to get more and more obese, many began to question the policies that came from the Seven Countries Study. Debates about the methods and findings of the study began and are still ongoing. It was also observed that low-fat foods were made palatable by adding sugar, and in turn, sugar and carbohydrates became demonized. This left us with some of the most popular diet trends today like Atkins, Paleo, South Beach, MIND, and Whole30.
Low-calorie diets are essentially the definition of a diet. Basic physiology says that if you eat fewer calories than you expend, your body will get that energy from its stores and you’ll lose weight (although there is some complexity involved). While any style of eating can be applied here, the programs that specifically target this technique are Intermittent Fasting, Juice Cleanses, and Meal Replacements (like SlimFast).
Most of the diets that remain fall into this category. They encourage eating from all the different macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat). Where they differ is in the ratios of those macronutrients and what foods you should be getting them from. Diets in this category include the Mediterranean, Mayo Clinic, Zone, Dash, Alkaline, Flexitarian, etc.
The last category accounts for specialized diets that are needed to support a health issue or a moral standing. Examples of diets for specific health issues would include Gluten-Free (for Celiac’s disease), Low-Protein (for kidney disease), Ketogenic Diet (epilepsy), and a Diabetic diet. Vegetarian or Vegan would be diets based out of moral considerations rather than just health benefits.
OK, so how do I choose?
Now that you know what diets are available to you, the big question is which one is right for you? The simple answer, pick what speaks to you and experiment with it. But remember, there is no perfect diet. Here are some pros and cons to help your decision.
Low-Fat, Low-Carb, and Low-Calorie
Pros: Many people find great initial success on these diets for similar reasons. First, by cutting out a macronutrient, you are more than likely going to reduce your caloric intake. Second, having guidelines to follow means that you pay more attention to what you are doing.
Cons: Adhering to the strict rules of the system to be challenging. You might feel deprived or stressed from the effort. Eventually many people break the diet, fall back into old habits, and their body returns to where they started.
Pros: These diets provide the most food variety because they don’t eliminate any one macronutrient. They also offer guidelines to help you pay more attention to what you’re putting into your body.
Cons: Initial success is usually not as quick as other methods. Depending on the rules of the diet, you might miss some of your favorite foods or get stressed over the complexity. Eventually many people break the diet, fall back into old habits, and their body returns to where they started.
Pros: They allow people to express their morals and beliefs. They help people with specific diseases get better. Trying them can help healthy people identify sensitivities they might have to food.
Cons: They require education. Rather than following simple rules, you have to understand what you are doing to ensure you’re avoiding “harmful” substances and still getting proper nutrition. Because of this they can be very restrictive and adherence is difficult.
One thing to remember is that all diets have one con in common: the plateau. Your body is smart, and it will adapt to any diet that you try. As you reduce the calories you eat, your body becomes more efficient and requires fewer calories to function as it did before (if you want the details, check out this article). This causes the plateau. The only way to beat the plateau is to constantly tweak your routine.
Try a different approach
First, let’s move away from the concept of “going on a diet.” This implies a short-term plan requiring self-deprivation, hunger and misery. “Being on a diet” sounds like a temporary struggle to reach a predetermined goal. And once you’ve achieved that goal, you “get off” the diet. Eventually you’ll return to the state you were in before the diet. You will continue to yo-yo, losing weight and putting it right back on, without ever making any real progress.
Instead, think of healthy eating as a continuous lifestyle choice. Healthy eating as a way of life might not get you the quick results that fad diets promise, but it is by far the more sustainable approach. Healthy eating as a lifestyle is the tortoise, “going on a diet” is the hare. Here are two suggestions to help you get started:
In general, modern people are so busy we have lost of the habit of enjoying our meals. Because of this we are often unaware of what we are eating and why. Additionally, it allows us to eat too much food because there isn’t time to feel our natural fullness cues.
To do this, try timing how long it normally takes you to eat a meal. Then see if you can lengthen your meal time by adding a few extra minutes each day. The more time you give yourself to eat, the more you will be able to enjoy your food. You might also eat less because you will give yourself the time to actually feel full!
Be just a little better
No food is good or bad. Think of an unhealthy food. Now imagine that you are starving and there is no other food around; wouldn’t the unhealthy food be better than nothing? The healthiness of food lives on a continuum, some choices are better than others.
To put this into practice, jot down what you eat for a few days. Then, look back at that list to see if you have any constants, like a muffin for breakfast or a soda at lunch. Then replace that constant with something that might be a little better, like yogurt with granola or an unsweetened iced tea. Once you get that, take another step along the continuum or choose a different item to change.
The beauty of this approach is that it creates a lifestyle that perpetuates your health rather than creating swings. It also makes it easier to make minor adjustments to your routine to avoid the plateau. Lastly, if you are currently on or want to try any the diets above, you can still do them!
In summary, the closest thing to a perfect diet is the one you can stick to indefinitely. You can (and should) experiment with different eating strategies to find what works best for your body. But in the end, if you want to reap the healthy benefits of better eating, you need to change your habits. And the sustainable way to do that is slowly, with progressive steps.
If you’d like some help with your dietary choices and eating habits, consider getting a nutritional coach. At MATRIX, we offer a yearlong program that keeps you accountable, teaches you how to make better choices, and builds a healthy lifestyle. You can click here for more information.