Every year in January, U.S. News & World Report releases their ranked list of “Best Diets”.
Every year in January, I read over this list, roll my eyes, and try not to let too much of me die inside.
While I could harp on my general opinion that they seem to be stuck in the 1990’s and have a strong aversion to any way of eating not backed by large organizations with deep pockets, instead I’ll share with you my main point of contention…
The entire notion of a “best diet” is ludicrous!
Allow me to elaborate a bit.
One reason that so many different diets work (at least for a while) for so many different people is because nearly every single one of them, for one reason or another, can be an improvement over how most Americans — and humans in general, lately — are eating.
Each diet has its own strengths and valuable concepts from which all of us can benefit, and many of them even have quite a bit in common — more than what we usually give them credit for (typing here to avoid ending that sentence with a preposition).
Here are a few examples:
- Our good friends the Vegans have a firm grasp on the fact that the way we are currently raising, slaughtering, and processing the animals we eat is really freaking bad for the animals, our environment, and our health.
- Our Paleo buddies understand that some of foods that a lot of us eat regularly — and have been told are “healthy” — may be playing a role not only in our expanding waistlines, but a host of other health problems, and that there’s so much more to optimal health than food and movement.
- Flexible dieters know that finding foods we enjoy — in the context of the nutritional needs that move us towards our goals — is critical to long term success, and that food is not a moral issue.
- The intermittent fasting camp get that it’s totally okay — and in some ways beneficial — to go hungry every once in a while.
- All those programs pushing shakes and pre-made meals have the convenience factor down.
- Weight Watchers is killing it when it comes to the value of being part of a community, and also knows a thing or two about simplicity in tracking compliance.
- Those in the keto/low-carb crowd gets that the war on fat is about as legitimate as the war on drugs, and that proper blood glucose management is critical not only for body composition but also for long term physical and mental health.
- The low-fat folk have proven to us that Hell is real, and that there is no God.
Not only does each of these diets have something unique to bring to the table, but all of them — when implemented properly — can result in a few common outcomes that make improving health and body composition a bit easier:
- Increased intake of protein, fiber, and healthy fats, which help us feel satisfied and encourage appropriate appetite signals.
- Emphasis on nutrient-dense foods that support the countless physiological processes that keep us healthy.
- Decreased intake of hyper-palatable foods — often highly engineered combinations of sugar, fat, salt, and contrasting textures — that promote overconsumption.
- Reduced exposure to foods and ingredients that contribute to chronic inflammation and disease.
- An overall awareness of the impact of what how we eat, move, and live on how we look, feel, and perform that results in ongoing investment in our health across many lifestyle factors.
So, if all of these diets have benefits, and can be much more similar than we’re often led to believe, then why is finding a diet that works for us as individuals so hard?
Well, that’s a tough question, and the answer involves not only nutrition but also behavior change, movement, stress management, sleep habits, and relationships.
For now, I’ll try to at least help you understand the food part of this equation.
While each of these diets may work for SOMEBODY, none of them work for EVERYBODY.
Those of us enjoying long term success with our eating habits often started with one (or many) of the diets listed above, and are continuously making adjustments based on how we look, feel, and perform.
Eating healthily is a skill, and there’s a learning curve.
That’s right, I used the word, “learn”.
You are going to have to work this, practice (consistently), and be willing to take mis-steps along the way.
Some of the things you’ll try will you move towards your goals, while others will do the opposite.
Also, what’s working for you now may no longer work for you a year (or even a month) from now.
It’s critical to understand and accept that finding the eating habits that work best for you may be a never ending process, and that nobody but you can tell you what you exactly what you should or should not eat.
Oh, and just like any other skill, getting really good at eating won’t make you happy.
However, the lessons you’ll learn about yourself, the people you’ll meet along the way, and the satisfaction of working hard towards achieving a specific goal probably won’t hurt.
Hope that helps! Have a most excellent day!