(and what you can do about it!)
Low Carb. High Carb. Low Fat. High Fat. Paleo. Whole30. Vegan. Keto. And on and on and on. There are SO MANY diets out there!
How do you know if the one you’ve chosen is right for you?
It can be tough. This post will help you decide.
Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of the one-size-fits-all diet mentality. I’ve found that most people do better over the long term with an individualized, flexible,and sustainable approach to eating. But, perhaps you were inspired to try a certain diet because you saw a co-worker get great results with it and you’ve been seeing it all over the headlines. Or maybe you have a certain diet that you adopted years ago, but now you’re not feeling that great and you’re wondering if it might be related to food.
Here’s the thing: nutrition is an evolving science. New studies come out daily, often with seemingly contradictory information. To avoid driving yourself insane by adjusting your habits to match the latest headline of what’s “healthy” this week, the key to long-term diet sanity and effectiveness is to tune in, get to know your own body, and be flexible enough to change over time.
Each of us is unique, and therefore each of us require an individualized approach to diet, movement, supplementation, and more. It’s up to you to figure out what works for YOU. We’ll cover later in this post
To avoid wasting time and effort (or even harming your health) on an approach that’s not right for you, use the following indicators to assess your current diet.
How’s Your Energy?
The right diet for you will give you sustained energy throughout the day, without the need to rely on stimulants like caffeine and sugar. Different macronutrient ratios work for different people. You may need higher carb, higher fat, or higher protein. If you don’t know, track your intake for a week and test out different ratios. A good (FREE) tracking app is My Fitness Pal. Start with 40% fat, 40% carbs, 20% protein and adjust from there. Pay attention to your energy throughout the day.
Are You Satisfied?
Are you constantly feeling deprived, and hungry, and always thinking about food? Do you have intense cravings for specific foods, such as sweets? The right diet for you will leave you feeling satisfied, not constantly thinking about your next meal or reaching for snacks an hour after you have a meal. Not being satisfied could be due to the amount of food, the quality of food, the micronutrients (or lack of), or the macronutrient ratio. Most people feel most satisfied when they have a mix of protein, fat, and carbs with each meal.
How is Your Digestion?
Your digestion can be a major indicator that a certain diet is not for you. “Normal” bowel function means that you’re having 1-3 bowel movements daily. They should be soft and well-formed. Check out the Bristol Stool Chart for more details. What you eat directly impacts your digestion.
If your stool frequency or consistency is off or if you’re experiencing a lot of gas, cramping, or bloating after meals, it’s an indication that your diet may not be a good fit for you. Oftentimes, this indicates an undetected food intolerance. Your digestion is at the root of your health, so it’s important to get this dialed in.
How’s Your Mood?
Feeling anxious, depressed, or blue? The gut is often referred to as the second brain because the health of the gut has a direct impact on neurotransmitter production and overall mood. Did you know that an estimated 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut?! In part, this is courtesy of your microbiome, the trillions of yeast and bacteria that live in the gut. The health of your microbiome is directly impacted by your diet (hint: gut bugs LOVE to feed on soluble fiber). Additionally, if your diet deprives you of essential nutrients, like B12 or Omega-3 fatty acids for instance, this could also lead to mood impairment. Similarly, if your diet contains anti-nutrients or other gut lining irritants, you may be harming your gut lining and impairing your ability to extract all the nutrition from your food.
Chronic Health Conditions
This could include many different things, such as allergies, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, thyroid conditions, chronic inflammation, and so much more. Often times, a key component of underlying inflammation and disruption stems from components in the diet that don’t work for your particular body. Sometimes, this could be gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, and other common allergens. Other times, it may be less common allergies, like nightshades, or something ‘random’, like green beans.
(Bonus) Health Markers, like your weight and blood markers.
Regular tracking of weight and certain blood markers over time can clue you in to health conditions that may be diet-related. For example, if you’re gaining weight without changes in your diet or exercise, there may be aspects to your diet that are affecting your blood sugar balance and the hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism, like insulin, ghrelin, leptin, and thyroid. Additionally, specific blood markers like hemoglobin A1C can clue you in to chronically high insulin levels, and hsC-Reactive Protein can give you an indication of inflammation levels-both of which may be diet related.
How to find what’s right for you.
If you went through this list and realized that your current diet may not be working for you, no need to stress! Finding what’s right for you is relatively straight-forward. In addition to the tips above, use the following exercises to get on the right track for YOUR biology.
Keep a Food & Mood Journal
This can begin to clue you into to symptoms you may be experiencing after eating certain foods. A Google search will give you a quick template from which you can DIY your own. I do this with all my clients when we begin our work together. It’s a great exercise to both create an awareness of what you’re actually eating throughout the day as well as provide you with insight into foods that may be causing symptoms.
Complete an Elimination Diet
If you want to take it a level deeper, and particularly if you’re experiencing a lot of health symptoms (fatigue, allergies, weight loss resistance, sleep issues, energy issues, etc.), you might consider at least a basic elimination diet. I have a free guide outlining the entire process, which you can download here. Honestly, I’d recommend everyone try an elimination diet at least once.
Get Back in Touch with Your Intuition
Due to the one-size-fits-all nature of many diets, and all the diet ‘rules’, it’s easy to get further and further away from the innate wisdom of our bodies. This can be a long process, but it can be helpful to get back in touch with what your body really craves and needs. One place to start is the book Intuitive Eating.