By: Bryan Ball
I think if we took a census on how many times we use the word “diet” in a negative context, it would outshine most of our generation’s favorite swear words. When people talk of diets, they are usually focusing on the restrictions. Some examples of diets include Paleo. Ketogenic, Vegan, Vegetarian (including the various sub-species of vegetarianism such as lacto, lacto-ovo, and ovo), whole 30, and many others that are labeled by their lack of a nutrient. “Low-carb”, “low-fat” “low-sugar”, and so on until eventually we are just left with water. I think sometimes we are so overwhelmed with all the labels of different eating patterns and the “do’s and don’ts” of dieting that we forget two essential things.
First, diets are simply different eating patterns. Which with 7 billion people in the world these vary from person to person. Patterns are dependent on a person’s job, hobbies, location in the world, culture, financial situation, and hundreds of other factors that prevent there being one perfect eating pattern for all mankind. Many people are affected by foods differently just by their genetics. This is why some people can have a very healthy lifestyle and physique with large amounts of carbs in their diet while others need more restriction. The importance is finding the best for you.
Second, we lose sight of the bigger goal, which is to develop healthy, long-term habits for a better lifestyle. A diet, especially the stricter ones, shouldn’t necessarily be a permanent way of eating. Whole 30’s diet is based on a cleansing process, not a long-term diet plan. That is because our bodies need all three of the essential macronutrients of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. While restriction of some of these factors does lead to physical change and sometimes-improved health for the moment, the body will starve of that macronutrient and need replenishing. This isn’t to say that these diets don’t work or are dangerous, but when working toward a healthier lifestyle, it is important to know the effects of nutrients on your body.
Looking at the example of the lack carbohydrates in diets such as Paleo, Ketogenic, and other diets, while these do help you cut on water weight due to carbohydrates’ (or glucose) absorbent properties, and replace your fuel source with fat. Your body still uses carbohydrates as its first source of daily living. Some people find that they have less energy on these diets or feel hungry often; this again is because some people are different at a genetic and metabolic level and how people process different macronutrients varies from person to person.
The Ketogenic diet plan is defined as a low carb, moderate protein, and high-fat diet which puts the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis.
When the body is in a state of ketosis, the liver produced ketones which become the main energy source for the body. In this program, the goal is not to cut out carbohydrates completely but to have an exact limit of how many grams you may have a day.
The Paleo diet, on the other hand, is less focused on the metabolic processes and more on what is believed our bodies should be able to handle. The Paleo diet is a nutritional approach that focuses on eating only foods that are high in nutrients, unprocessed, and based on the foods that were available and eaten by humans in Paleolithic times. The main idea behind the Paleo diet is that if humans were not able to consume things from agriculture thousands of years ago or before the domestication of animals and modern food processing existed, then humans should not consume these types of foods today because the human body is not adapted to them. This is a more sever look specifically on grains and anything involving agriculture which brings a greater restraint on the foods available.
The positive of these diets is that because they ask for a high demand of meat and vegetables, people who usually have a low intake of these two food groups find themselves eating more of them than usual, building better habits of snacking on natural ingredients and increasing consumption of whole foods. The increase in protein intake also is great for recovery if an individual is an active athlete.
However, people sometimes begin to “carb-shame” and preach that carbohydrates are the cause of love handles and the keeper of belly fat, but there are very good carbohydrates. When eaten in moderation, they can help improve energy levels and athletic performance. Most people often forget that bread isn’t the only carb – vegetables and fruits are carbohydrates as well. When planned out with workouts, foods like oatmeal, sweet potato, and quinoa are all sources of what we dub as “good carbs”. The key to understanding the difference between good and bad carbs is fiber. Good carbs are high in fiber, which is a nutrient that does wonders for the body. It helps prevent spikes in blood sugar, lowers blood sugars, and similar to protein, fiber is a nutrient that makes you feel satiated quicker and longer as well as helps with digestion. The only way to get fiber is through eating plant foods or supplementation.
Bad carbs earn the title of “bad” reasons other than its lack of fiber. The main concern is added sugars and refined grains. This comes from the processing of most white bread and processed carbs like pastries, bagels, cookies, muffins, or any other carbohydrate that has additives or mostly comprised of simple sugars.
So when you start a new diet that has very specific food restrictions, do not take the diet’s rules as the holy text, but understand how all foods affect your body personally. When you start to change your diet, it will not be as easy as dropping all your bad habits overnight. After years of being fed artificial sweeteners and processed foods, we have in a way become “addicts” to sugars, trans-fat, and sodium. To make your way to clean eating, start slowly and well equipped. Here are five tips to help you start you nutrition transition:
- Ask friends and family about their experiences with various diets.
Whether they are vegan or only eat venison, they are trying new ways to eat, cook, and time how they are getting their nutrients. Ask others their likes and dislikes of diets they have tried and how long they have stayed with them.
- Choose ONE thing!
Just because you are eating clean doesn’t mean you have to cut out everything cold turkey. The key is to slowly lessen the number of sugars, (bad) fats, and other harmful nutrients that you normally consume. An example of this could be taking out snacks and foods such as soda, chips, large meals, candy, high-calorie coffee drinks, etc.
You don’t have to abandon your favorite treat, but pick one you can live without to start the process.
- Track your food then STOP!
Nothing will open your eyes more to the consumption of empty calories than actually tracking them. Tracking calories for a short period is incredibly useful in getting perspective of how much one serving of a particular food truly is and how small things add up throughout the day.
While tracking is a great way to stay accountable and watch your progress, for some it can become a mental hindrance. Some people who live by eating exactly the amount of calories they are allotted don’t allow themselves to eat more calories even if their body needs it.
- Try different diets for a month at a time.
Having personally tried various diets including keto, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, and whole 30 I have found unique take-aways from each one. However, one can’t simply try a diet for a week and expect to feel or see changes in the body. It will take at minimum a month for the body to change metabolically with the new diet. By doing this, you can quickly and efficiently try different diets until you find one that works best for you.
- LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!
The most important thing, no matter what your diet says, is to listen to your body and how it feels when changing your food consumption. No matter how hip or popular a diet may be or how well it has worked for others, this doesn’t mean that it is best for your body. If you find yourself suffering from a lack of energy or if you find it more difficult to recover from physical activity look closely at your food intake and see what the source may be.
When trying new eating patterns it is important to always remember the bigger goal. It’s not just the 15lbs your trying to lose for summer. It is losing that weight, keeping it off, and using whatever lessons you learned along the way to make lifelong habits. Diets are here to help you improve you and are not law, but guidelines. Find the ones that work best for your body, schedule, and what is most sustainable.