Does the perfect diet exist?

Leo and food

There are so many diets and diet fads out there. The advocates for these diets proclaim that their diet is better than the rest. However, I believe that the best diet is the one that is most suited to the individual. It is a diet that fits into the individual’s personal lifestyle and aligns with their health goals/needs.

Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that if you love chocolate, the foundation of your diet should be centred around chocolate. However, for the average person, in order to improve their health, (both physical and mental), their quality of life and body composition, it does not really matter how much protein, carbs and fats they are eating. What really matters is the type and quality of these nutrients.

Research shows that individuals who adhere to a diet that mostly consists of whole, minimally processed, nutrient rich foods such as meats, fish, eggs, dairy, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, whole grains, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats, tend to be healthier than those who don’t.

Humans have always eaten a wide variety of foods depending on where they lived in the world. This means we are adapted to eat all kinds of foods. This is clearly demonstrated by examining the traditional diets of various native tribes and ethnic groups throughout the world.

For example, the Arctic Inuit and African Masai ate traditional diets that were very high in fat and animal products with very few vegetables. This was due to their environments being too harsh to grow crops.

Conversely, the Kitavans in the South Pacific ate traditional diets that were low in animal fat, but very high in fats from coconut and fish/seafood, as well as carbs from vegetables, fruit and root vegetables.

Crazy differences here, yet all of these groups of people had minimal incidences of chronic disease that are driven and exacerbated by diet and lifestyle habits. Their diet’s were not the only contributing factor to this, but it certainly was a large factor. 

This is only possible because the human body is amazingly adaptable to a host of different dietary conditions. What all these traditional diets have in common is that they are based around minimally processed, nutrient dense foods. They also contain a balance between animal and plant based foods.

If you were to follow all of the claims that are made by all the different diet camps, you would starve. Simply because they all conflict with one another. However, the one thing that all of the diet camps do have in common, is that they make people more conscious of their food choices. Although they may focus on different macronutrient ratios, they all encourage the consumption of more whole foods and less processed foods. And that may be one of the most important nutrition interventions of all, regardless of the protein, carb, vegetable and fat breakdowns.

A healthy diet goes beyond what you put in your mouth

Food plays many different roles in our society, and has done so for thousands of years. These roles go far beyond physical health and nutrition. For example, food brings people together and we know social connection is important for our mental health. We can also form certain memories around food.

When assessing a person’s diet, while it is important to look at what the individual is eating, it is also important to address the array of factors that influence that person’s food choice.

Many factors dictate our food choices such as the amount of sleep we get, stress and mental health, cost, nutrition, health and body composition goals, variety, environment, culture/religion, taste, mindset, emotional state, memories surrounding a particular food and socio economic status.

What is the point of discussing this? Well, it is clear that the factors that compel us to make food choices go far beyond health and nutrition. This is why many fad/weight loss diets fail to give clients long lasting results because they do not take into account these considerations. Apart from them being unsustainable due to their complexity, difficulty of implementation and lack of caloric intake, they rarely address any of the factors that impact our food choices, therefore setting the person up for failure.

The context in which we consume food is sometimes more important than what we are actually putting in our mouths. For example, eating a pizza once in a while with good company is very different to consuming a pizza every time you come home stressed from work and don’t have time to cook a nutritious meal. One is happy and the other is grim.

There is more to health than diet and nutrition

While diet is very important to health, if you are obsessed about your diet and neglect the other factors that contribute to overall health, it is unlikely you will be healthy. I have seen if far too often where people obsess over their diet and follow a really strict diet regime, yet they still suffer from health issues because they are stressed, don’t have good quality sleep, don’t exercise enough and their relationships are a mess. Also, following their strict diet often causes them stress to maintain it and isolates them from others. This is an issue because social connection is a vital part of our health and food is often a vehicle to bring people together.

Food is awesome and should be enjoyed accordingly, therefore although the foundation of your diet should be whole-foods, there is always room to enjoy yourself on occasions like family dinners or birthdays. Save your “splurge” for these special occasions. 

Restrictive diets cause guilt around food

Following a restrictive diet creates food dogma where there is certain foods that are “acceptable/good” and food that is “unacceptable/bad.” This causes a lot of guilt when a person strays from the diet and eats unacceptable/bad foods. Feeling guilty after eating food is not healthy and is counter productive. It can cause unwanted stress and poor mental health. Like I mentioned above, in the context of a healthy diet, so called “unhealthy” food will not cause an issue. They only become an issue when consumed in excess and displace healthy foods in your diet. 

Why do people feel and look better when they change to these fad diets?

We all know that one person who changed their diet drastically and went paleo, vegan or on a juice detox. These people see good results that are noticed by friends and family. They then start to preach about how amazing their new diet is and how others should try it.

Firstly, just because something worked for your friend doesn’t mean it will work for you. There are examples of people following a wide range of different diets and are thriving, however just because that person is thriving on a specific diet, does not mean it will work for you. When it comes to nutrition, there is no one size fits all approach and a good diet is one that suits the individual best.

Secondly, many of these individuals feel and look great because they drastically change their diet from eating processed and unhealthy food, to a more whole-food, nutrient dense diet. Regardless of whether you go vegan or paleo, if you switch from a poor diet to a diet with more whole-foods and less processed foods, of course you will feel better.

However, these types of restrictive diets often cause issues for people in the long run because they are often not sustainable due to the fact that they may cause health issues such as extreme weight loss and nutrient deficiencies.

Wrap up

A one-size-fits-all “best diet” approach doesn’t work. Strictly following a list of “good” and “bad” or “allowed” and “not allowed” foods is problematic for most people. In the long-term, it’s tough to be consistent on a strict diet regime.

Sure, most people can follow it for weeks or months. Maybe even years. But decades? That’s unlikely. A good diet is flexible and sustainable, in order to suit the individual. It also doesn’t restrict certain foods or food groups. It permits the consumption of a wide variety of whole foods, both plant based and animal based, with some small indulgences along the way to keep on track and prevent binging.

A flexible and dynamic dietary approach is what I teach to all my clients through our one on one consults. If you want to know more about how to eat a balanced, healthy and sustainable diet, call Oak Health today or book an appointment online.