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There is a mountain of information to wade through when you’re looking at adopting a new way of eating. There are so many contradictory theories and what is considered a balanced diet changes from one generation to the next.
What’s hot and what’s not is often more a function of fad than it is of science. We’re all so used to our sacred nutritional cows being killed from one diet era to another. What was true last year is false this year. What was once considered healthy is now “secretly” killing you. It’s nearly impossible to make a choice with any confidence that we’re doing the right thing.
Well, I’m going to tell you something that might blow your mind. Something that may be considered taboo in the orthodox dietary circles of paleo, vegan, keto, or whatever the next end-all-be-all nutritional mash-up is. That is this: All diets work.
Whoa. All? How is that possible? They can’t all work!
If you are currently eating indiscriminately — that is, eating without regularly paying much attention to any outcome besides satisfying your hunger — just about any intervention will be a positive one. It might not get you all the way to your end goal, but the first point in a three-point turn is just as important as the third.
By reducing or eliminating just about anything you know is not good for you (sugar, alcohol, bread, pre-packaged food), you’ll change. For the better. These are all unnecessary and empty sources of calories void of almost any nutritional value. Without any one (or more) of them, you reduce not only needless inputs of calories, but also positively affect your body’s hormonal balance, and likely start consuming something better for you in their place
Even starting to eat foods that you currently don’t eat, like fresh vegetables, fruit, or home cooked meals, without committing to any restriction, you’ll change for the better. It’s very difficult to add foods to your diet without substituting them for other foods. With that, the simple psychological action of choosing healthier options will open your eyes to unhealthy choices you’re making in other areas and healthy options you could replace them with.
Change is the first important step, and in this case, any diet works. I don’t mean that if you started eating kale salads exclusively that you would want to do that forever. I do mean that the change will likely improve just about every marker for health—weight, blood pressure, fasting glucose to name a few, and inflammation—in the near term. Once those changes begin, you’ll be able to adapt and continue to build a healthier and more balanced diet.
The problem most people face when they begin a diet is the looming pressure of a complete overhaul. It is often what keeps you from starting or ultimately results in your quitting if you do start. By beginning with a change you can live with, you’ll improve your health, eliminate cravings in at least one area of your life (they do dissipate, I promise!), and maybe most importantly, become a different person who can make even healthier choices.
You may not be able to imagine yourself as the person who eats a healthy diet as a lifestyle, but that’s only from who you are today. By making small changes, you create a path you can follow, each new choice building on the ones you’ve committed to and achieved.
How to choose a diet in 3 simple questions
What are your goals?
Do you want to lose weight? Lower your cholesterol? Reduce inflammation? Perform better in your workouts? From each one of these goals, you can likely extract one change you know would make a difference.
Your weight can be affected by the elimination of almost anything you know isn’t healthy—sugar, bread, alcohol, processed foods, etc.
To improve your cholesterol profile, you might cut out trans fat, like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, consume more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, walnuts, or flaxseeds, or get more fiber in your diet with oatmeal, beans, or apples.
Reducing inflammation can occur when you eliminate added sugar, eat fewer processed foods, and cut out industrial seed oils like canola and sunflower oil. It’s also supported when you eat more nutrient dense whole foods that contain antioxidants (like berries, beets, even dark chocolate).
Performing better in workouts may come from eating more high-quality protein, healthy fat, and fewer refined carbohydrates. Refined carbs can cause your blood sugar, and consequently your insulin levels, to spike. High levels of insulin can make you less insulin sensitive and rob you of quick access to stored glucose, making you sluggish and tired all through your day.
What are you starting with?
Do you have a specific health problem that needs addressing first? Are you pre-diabetic? Do you have high cholesterol? Is your weight affecting your heart?
Hone in on one or two choices that will give you the most bang for your buck in those areas, like eliminating added sugar or processed foods (food you buy in boxes).
What can you live with?
Ultimately, you need to make choices you can live with today. If you can’t bear them, you won’t follow through.
It’s perfectly fine to have a vision for where you want to end up. It’s great, as a matter of fact. It will help inspire you and inform the shorter term choices you’ll make in the near term as your stepping stones to that goal.
Make choices, however, that you know will move you forward in a way that will make you happy (and proud of your accomplishment) but also won’t leave you feeling desperate and deprived every time you sit down to eat.
Believe it or not, you still need to enjoy your food. It’s a very rare person who can eat food exclusively as fuel day in and day out. And believe it or not, you can eat well and enjoy your food. If you approach changing your diet stepwise, you can become friendly with your new choices rather than resenting them for robbing you of everything you once loved.
As you integrate them, you’ll discover that you actually like them more than you did when you started. You’ll become a different person in that respect, a person you might not have imagined you’d be when you began. From that new place, you can make more changes, changes that the old you may not have been able to bear but that the new you can tolerate with a greater sense of ease and purpose.
Changing your diet can be daunting. For some, the inspiration and hope it brings can come with anxiety and fear. That it’ll be too hard, that you won’t succeed. I won’t lie, there will be discomfort. There is discomfort in any change. Moving out of well-worn ruts requires energy you didn’t previously have to spend. It is not specific to dieting. But you can do it. You can handle discomfort.
Change does not have to be extremely painful. By adopting meaningful changes that represent what’s important to you and that you can live with, you will create a plan for yourself that will change your actions, your outlook, and your long-term health.