Low Carb, Low Fat, Low Calorie, South Beach, Atkins, Grapefruit, Cabbage, Detox, Paleo… the list goes on. It seems like everyone is trying to eat right, and there is a line of people just waiting to tell you exactly what “right” is. And for every diet you find, there’s someone who swears by it. Someone who will convince you that it – whatever “it” is – is the prefect diet. They’ll tell you that you’re guaranteed to lose weight, lose inches, have more energy, sleep better, and overall feel better; and they won’t be lying to you. The catch is, they won’t be right either.
That well-meaning friend, co-worker, yoga instructor, or whomever is trying to convince you that this diet is The One is not trying to trick you. They’re so passionate about this diet because it worked for them. They lost all the weight, inches, and whatever else they’re promising you that you’ll lose too. But there’s just one problem: you’re not them.
The reason there are so many diets out there is because people are different. There is no perfect diet for everyone. If there was, people wouldn’t keep coming up with new ones. Some people get lethargic if they eat red meat. Others have long-lasting energy from the iron and protein. Some people thrive on fiber-rich diets. Others find it causes them gastric distress. Some people feel queasy if they drink a glass of milk every day. Others find that they just can’t make it through the day without it. So if there is no perfect guideline you can follow, how are you supposed to know what works for you and what doesn’t? You try.
It sounds easy. I mean, you eat food every day, right? And we all know how we feel after eating anything deep-fried for dinner, so surely it’s not that big of a leap. But actually discovering what your body needs requires us to do something we’re not used to doing in our fast-paced, never-wait, instant-gratification society. We have to be patient, and pay attention. We have to actually notice that we’re for some reason always starving by the time 10:00 rolls around, and even though we were fine with a bowl a cereal as a kid, consider that maybe our bodies have changed since then and try fruit, or eggs, or yogurt until we find something that works for our bodies now. We have to recognize that that salad we’ve been eating for lunch in an attempt to cut calories has been leaving us feeling low-energy and struggling to get through the rest of the work day. Or that the spicy chips we’re snacking on in the afternoon are giving us heartburn by the time we get home at night.
Putting two and two together isn’t always easy. Frequently, feeling better (or worse) as a result of what we’re eating isn’t an immediate process. And sometimes, it’s not straightforward either. Maybe that salad is leaving you low energy, so you add sliced steak on top and now you’re not shedding pounds like you’d hoped. Trying salmon instead could give you the energy you need while still being something your body metabolizes well. Maybe you feel great after lunch every day and you attribute it to the soup you’ve been eating, but it’s actually that mid-morning cup of coffee kicking in a little late.
And even once you figure out what works for you, actually sticking to it may be just as hard. Sure, you know now that those ribs for lunch are going to leaving you feeling greasy and dull-witted the rest of the day, but the morning was so stressful that when lunch time rolls around and your co-worker suggests the barbecue joint down the street, you agree. So how do you avoid that? Planning ahead. Studies show that we are far better equipped to make good choices about our food if we make them in advance. Once you know what works for you, schedule lunch the day before and have something brought in to the office. Get something that’s going to satisfy you, while leaving you bright-eyes and bushy-tailed for the rest of the day. Have snacks brought in for the afternoon so you won’t be tempted to head over to the new cupcake shop that just opened up across the street later.
Will there be times that you don’t make the best choices? Of course, and that’s okay. Finding out what’s best for you and planning accordingly isn’t about never choosing what sounds good in the moment. It’s about giving your body and mind the nutrition they need for you to be the best, happiest, and most productive you that you can be.