In a world where contradictory diet styles exist and we are constantly bombarded with advice (often unsolicited) on nutrition, how do we even begin to improve the way we eat? Since I embarked on my personal healthy living journey 11 years ago, I have come across a number of dietary approaches. Many I experimented with, some guidelines I still adhere to and a handful simply don't work for my lifestyle. Aside from expanding my own knowledge base, a key lesson which I picked up along the way is this: There is no universal "perfect diet".
Educate yourself about different dietary approaches – and experiment. There are no rules when it comes to eating
Given that our bodies are each made up of millions of cells, our dietary needs unsurprisingly differ. While your best friend may thrive on a plant-based diet, you might find that regularly eating animal products energizes you. Your husband may prefer eating three larger meals, whereas grazing on smaller portions throughout the day appeals to you more. In fact, our own bodies are constantly evolving which means so will our dietary needs. What might have worked for you as a teenager may no longer produce the same results. Although the idea that one's metabolism slows down after age 30 has been perpetuated for generations, this notion is not exactly true. While your metabolism might marginally slow down with age, the difficulty to lose weight later in life ultimately boils down to your body not needing as much food as when you were younger. Due to various lifestyle choices and age, your hormonal activity has certainly changed. As a result, your body responds differently to certain foods. Your activity levels as a grown-up might be significantly less compared to your younger years. Due to toxins accumulated both from the outside world and substances you've consumed over the years, your digestive system may also have altered.
Although the "perfect diet" is not the same for everyone, fortunately, you just need to focus on yourself to get the right answers. Educate yourself about different dietary approaches – and experiment. There are no rules when it comes to eating, just guidelines that may or may not work for you. If a particular style of eating leaves you feeling worse off than when you started, chalk it up as an error and try something new.
Reserve judgment when somebody tells you about his/her dietary choices and instead respect that it's what works for them currently.
When evaluating your diet, consider a few points:
Ease: Are you able to follow the diet without feeling overwhelmed? Are the suggested foods easily available and/or easy to make?
Sustainability: Can you see yourself following this style of eating in the long run? Does it include all food groups?
Safety: Is it safe to follow especially in terms of calorie allowance? Especially if you are following a weight loss diet, ensure you are eating enough calories to avoid losing muscle mass & wrecking havoc to your hormone levels (and menstruation if you're a female).
Health implications: Is your diet providing you with the right amount of nutrients to function optimally and reduce your risk of illness?
Satiety: Do you enjoy what you're eating? Do you end a meal feeling satisfied? Are your cravings under control?
Psychological impact: How is your relationship with food? Does your diet leave you thinking about food all day long? Do you experience the urge to binge? Do you decline social invites due to fear of 'messing up'? If you answered yes to any of these, consider it a red flag.
In your quest for the "perfect diet", please keep respect as the foundation of your journey. Reserve judgment when somebody tells you about his/her dietary choices and instead respect that it's what works for them currently. And most importantly, respect your body. It serves you day in and day out so respect it enough to fuel it optimally. Do your research, experiment, listen to how your body responds and tailor accordingly!