Juicing, paleo, Atkins, vegan, raw, IIFYM, intermittent fasting—the list of popular diets seems to be only ever increasing. One week it’s all the rage to eat only high-carb, low-fat foods with minimal protein so as not to potentially harm your kidneys, the next it’s all about butter, eggs, cheese, and steak. How are you supposed to know what’s right and what’s wrong? How can you possibly tell what’s a passing fad and what really works? The answer is kind of confusing: they are all equally effective and ineffective.
Yes, the world of nutrition does seem to be a slippery snake that’s hard to pin down; ever moving, changing, and adapting according to the latest research. However, have you noticed that almost all of them that make it to household-name status help people lose weight? Seemingly, the same amount of people manage to drop their stubborn, unwanted belly-fat by living off bacon and coconut oil as those who only stick to potatoes, fruit, and beans.
The reason for this is that different approaches work for different people. Someone may thrive on a high-fat diet while others couldn’t bear the thought of abolishing their morning porridge. The so-called ‘right’ diet is the one that works for you in terms of your goals, your lifestyle, and your preferences. Highly active people who exercise frequently and have a job that involves a lot of movement will most likely find that more carbohydrates keeps them alert and energetic. Those who are more sedentary and can only make it to the gym two or three times a week might want to limit their carbohydrates.
Your Nutrition Has to Be Highly Personalized
The only meaningful similarity to any effective diet is overall caloric intake. If you want to build muscle and gain weight, then you’ll need to eat more calories than you’re burning. If you want to shed some fat and lose weight, then you’ll need to eat less calories than you’re burning. Each new way of eating that enters the spotlight claiming to be the holy grail of diets works by controlling the amount of calories you take in.
- Atkins: High-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate: protein is an extremely satiating macronutrient and so by including it in abundance the individual feels less hungry and therefore, eats less.
- Paleo: Focus on natural foods: fruit and vegetables are both high in fiber, another filling and satisfying component of food which helps control hunger levels. The diet also tends to involve eating more high-protein foods than normal. The combination of these both cause the individual to eat less overall.
- Vegan: No animal products: naturally a high fiber diet and so, causes you to eat less.
- Intermittent fasting: Restricted eating window: less time to eat and so, you eat less.
And so on and so forth. Once you break down the mechanisms behind each style of eating, the answer is all the same.
What does this mean?
This means that you have a lot more freedom with your eating than you probably thought. As there’s no secret to achieving your goal, you can adapt it to exactly how you want to eat. If you want to eat more carbs, then you can. If you want to eat more fat, then you can. If you want to avoid all meat, go for it. If you want to live off only gummy bears, sure thing. OK; maybe not the last one, but the point still stands.
Photo by Bev Childress
Obviously, you also need to think about your health, which means eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals is important. Yet, your diet can be (and should be) unique to you. When you look at the details and past all of the marketing messages, everything becomes a lot clearer and you can become a lot happier, safe in the knowledge that having that brownie won’t cause you to gain 10 pounds or eating some rice won’t turn off your fat-burning capabilities.
The best diet is the one that supports your goals and works long-term, not just for summer or in the lead up to a holiday. At the end of the day, you need to do you—whatever that is.