The other day I overheard a woman say to her friend “You HAVE to try the Keto diet! I’ve lost so much weight, and I feel great. Seriously, you have to do this!” Now, the Keto diet IS great for some issues (more on that later), and I appreciated her enthusiasm for sharing her success. But I wanted to lean in and say “Remember, you are two different women. You might not get the same results as your friend. Take some time to really look at the best way of eating for you!”
I didn’t interject my opinions into their conversation – after all, who likes to hear that a stranger has overheard their private business? But their exchange emphasized how important it is to help women understand, once and for all, that there is NO diet plan that will work for everyone.
Our bodies and our genetics are all so unique. I hear time and again how frustrated women are that the hot new diet that worked wonders for their friends doesn’t help them lose weight or feel better. Sometimes, they even gain weight, or feel worse than they did in the first place.
Women are finally starting to realize that there’s a lot more to weight loss than consuming less calories than you burn. And I talk to women all the time who know that the way they’ve been eating isn’t working. Whether they have weight to lose or are just tired of feeling lousy and run down, these women know it’s time to make some changes, but are often confused by all the choices. What is the best way to eat? Keto? Atkins? Mediterranean? Paleo? Raw? Vegan? Vegetarian?
Like the woman I overheard, people who have found a plan that works for them are quick to extol its virtues. They want their friends to feel as great as they do! But there is no magic plan that works for everyone. More important than following a specific plan is knowing your own body, its unique challenges, and the lifestyle you want to lead.
There are so many things to consider when looking at changing your eating patterns. Let’s talk about some of those things, and then I’ll give you three tips for healthy eating no matter which plan you choose!
What is a Diet Plan Anyway?
Diet is a loaded word for many women. They fear rigid limitations, deprivation and always being hungry. That’s why I use say “diet plan” or “eating patterns” when I talk to women. Eating well is more about your regular habits and patterns, not a short term “quick fix” to lose a couple of pounds. Short term “diets” might serve a purpose, but they rarely lead to sustainable weight loss or good health. My goal is to help women find the right diet plan for long term health and wellness.
Many of the diets touted in the media, by celebrities, and by your best friends these days are shifting towards more sustainable ways of eating, and that’s good news. That means there’s a wealth of information about a range of options, which can make finding the one that works for you just a little bit easier. US News & World Report evaluates the top popular diets each year and puts out a “best diets” list that details the plans experts deem most appropriate in a range of categories, including weight-loss, eating for diabetes, eating for heart health, and more.
Why Follow a Specific Plan? Can’t I Just Eat Healthy Foods?
Encouraging women to eat a healthy diet most of the time is my ultimate goal. But sometimes, that phrase is just a little too vague — there are so many views on what is healthy, and it can be confusing to sort them all out on your own.
And sometimes, we need a little mental nudge, or a list of rules to keep us on track. Eating can be so emotionally charged that left to our own devices, we’ll go off the rails in moments. That’s why so many people are looking for a structured diet plan to follow; they want someone else to walk them through the steps until they’ve learned to move forward on their own.
A familiar label for the way you eat also makes explaining what you’re doing to friends and families easier. Friends may encourage you to “live a little,” if you simply decline a sweet treat, but when you say “I follow the Mediterranean Diet” they smile and nod. They’ve heard of it, it’s familiar — in a way that simply eating healthy, sadly, is not.
Choosing a specific diet plan can also help you find resources to keep you moving forward. Cookbooks, recipes online, and even community support (online or in person) are available for many specific plans.
Finally, having clear “rules” is a great way to retrain your brain when it comes to eating. You won’t have to guess on whether you’re making a healthy choice – the plan lays it all out for you. You’ll know how much of something is okay, you’ll gain awareness of portion sizes, what contains added sugar, and so much more. Eventually, it will become your norm – but we all need a little help when we’re starting something new.
How Do I Choose the Right Plan for Myself?
Recent research has been exploring potential physiological reasons why a particular diet plan might work better for some than others. There are no clear findings in this area yet.
What some research in 2019 did determine, however, is that even identical twins respond to certain foods differently. That’s a pretty clear sign that what works for one person simply won’t work for another.
Results of a 12-month study published in February 2018 showed no significant difference in weight loss between a healthy low-fat diet and a healthy low-carbohydrates diet. The same study did not find an association between genotype pattern or baseline insulin secretion and dietary effects on weight loss. So there are still more questions than answers when it comes to determining the best diet plan for individuals.
While I am hopeful that research will eventually bring clear guidance for the best plans to recommend for specific patients, I also believe that results speak loudly. What that means is you might have to try a few different approaches before landing on the one best for you. And though genetics and hormonal balance certainly can play a role, there’s several other factors to pay attention to as well.
One main factor will be your ultimate goal. If the main force behind changing your eating habits is a desire to shed some unwanted pounds, you might choose a diet intended to help you do so quickly. And that’s fine, for a short period of time. But many of those diets are designed to be short-term, and if you want to keep weight off you have to learn how to eat to best maintain your success. As I said before, these “diets” are simply the way you eat on a regular basis. So which should you choose? That’s where it gets personal! Let’s look at some of the factors that can help you decide.
Related article: Eating is Not the Enemy: Repairing Your Relationship with Food
Consider Health Issues
Perhaps you have heart issues, and want to know how to best support your heart through your diet. Maybe hormonal balance is your primary concern. Maybe you have diabetes that you are trying to manage through diet rather than medication. Whatever your unique health concerns are, you can find a sustainable diet plan for your situation.
Do You Need a Rigid or Flexible Plan?
Are you the type who makes lists and checks things off as you go? Do you need a plan laid out for you, so all you have to do is follow instructions? Alternatively, does a rigid list of do’s and don’ts make you cringe? If something is forbidden, does that make you want it more? If anything is fair game, will you lose all self control? These are important questions and the answers can guide you towards the diet plan that will work for you.
How Much Time Do You Have?
So often I see women resolve to change their habits without really thinking about what will work best for their particular lifestyle. Some women may have ample time to shop for special ingredients and prepare dinners from scratch daily. Others are frantically running from task to task all day long, barely finding time to eat, never mind cooking. Being attentive to your typical pace will help guide you towards a diet plan you can stick to.
How Much Support Do You Need?
Some plans are all about group support, with meeting, online chats, and even mentors and coaches. Some women simply need to hold themselves accountable to someone else to meet their goals. If that’s you, look for a plan that incorporates these elements of support and encouragement.
3 Quick Tips for Healthy Eating on Any Diet Plan
There are so many diet plans out there, and when you start to focus on healthy eating, you’ll realize that the ones that work for most aren’t always that different from each other. There are a few key elements that any long-term, sustainable, healthy diet plan will incorporate. Here are three:
1. Increase Health By Decreasing Sugar Consumption
It probably won’t surprise you when I say a healthy diet should be low in added sugar. But I know that’s often easier said than done. You can thank the food industry for that! Sugar adds flavor, so it’s in almost everything — even foods you think are healthy!
When added sugar is in your bread, soup, salad dressing, and pasta sauce it’s all too easy to end up with way more than you think. The average American consumes more than 19 teaspoons of added sugar per day! That is well above the American Heart Association’s recommendations (6 for women, 9 for men).
To break the sugar habit, start reading labels closely. Don’t be fooled by low-fat labels — often, the fat is replaced by sugar. It’s also important to know how many aliases added sugar can use – they go well beyond the commonly recognized high fructose corn syrup! Agave, maple syrup, fruit juice concentrate, cane juice, dextrose, and sucrose are just a few – there are over 60 different names for added sugar!
2. A Healthy Diet Includes Plenty of Vegetables
If the idea of incorporating more vegetables into your plan makes you groan, it’s time to open your mind a little! Vegetables are the best source of the essential nutrients necessary to keep your body healthy and strong. Not only that, but vegetables are the best low calorie, filling snack there is! That means you can eat as many as you need to feel full and satisfied, regardless of what diet plan you are following.
Do you know how many amazing vegetables there are out there? And how many creative ways there are to prepare them? Eating more vegetables doesn’t have to mean eating the same salad for lunch every day. It’s best to eat a wide variety of veggies – so try some sweet potatoes, squash, beets, or brussels sprouts. And if salad or raw veggies aren’t your thing, try steaming, grilling, roasting, even spiralizing into noodles. Or add them to foods you already love, like mixing some broccoli in with your pasta, or adding mushrooms, onions and peppers to scrambled eggs. There are so many great possibilities!
3. Processed Foods Are Best Avoided
The more something is processed, the less nutrition it provides. Highly processed foods have actually been linked to weight gain and a whole host of other health issues including digestive health, immune system functioning, and cancer. Part of the problem may be that processed foods lack fiber, which is essential in keeping weight down. Whole foods, on the other hand, are naturally high in fiber.
Fruits and vegetables immediately come to mind when talking about whole foods, but there are so many other great options – beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, seafood, and whole grains, to name just a few. There’s plenty of variety, so even if your approach includes eating low-fat, or not eating meat or animal products, you can find whole foods that work for you.
Healthy Eating Can Be Easy When You Find the Diet Plan That Works for You!
I know that with all the information available, it can be really confusing to understand the best way to eat for weight loss and good health. Proponents of a particular plan can make it sound like the only way to find success — but that’s simply not true! The reality is that many of the current diet plans have merit, so it’s a matter of finding one that works for your body and lifestyle and your genetics. The more I work with my patients the more humbled I am at seeing how unique and different we are. What works well for me may not work well for you. When we begin to understand the right food plan for you everything begins to change. When you do, you’ll finally be able to meet the goals you set — and sustain them throughout a long and healthy life!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD