In today’s society, it’s so hard to navigate “which diet is right for you.”
We’ve got the lobbying communities of Paleo, Vegan, Raw, WFPB (whole food-plant based), Keto, IIFYM, vegetarian, carnivore, fruitarian, pescatarian, ovo-lacto, FODMAP, AI, pegan, low-carb, high-carb and the list goes on and on.
It’s important to realise a “diet” is just the way you eat, and not a calorie restricted diet per se.
Diets are also very personal, they’re ingrained into our identity. They’re united with family, culture, status, values, morals and ideals. They’re almost religious in that we are aligned with our diets, and we belong to a community that holds and reaffirms the same belief systems that we do.
“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” ~ Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
This is what creates the diet dogma – and adds additional stress, which is more detrimental to our health than which diet we follow or ascribe too.
Releasing this notion of martyrdom when it comes to our eating, being conscious and aware to not judge or condemn yourself of your diet isn’t serving you anymore.
We’re so afraid to let go of our dietary belief systems or detach from those communities that we identify with (vegan, paleo, keto groups etc.).
But being open-minded about exploring, experimenting and uncovering how you and your body responds to different principles of eating is where the advantage lies – not staying stagnant in one routine and just surviving.
The extreme judgment that people lay on each other–for themselves and others–for what diet they ascribe too is extremely toxic too.
It’s important to value other people’s decisions and also learn to release any negative thought patterns that arise when switching our own diets.
Personally, I know the biggest blockage for me when transitioning away from being a vegan/plant-based diet, was just the thought patterning.
I had to get over the idea (my belief) that “meat is evil,” even though I knew that incorporating some meat in my diet was what my body needed. It wasn’t a 0-100 transition, it was gradual, and I think that’s where a lot of people get stuck too. They throw the baby out with the bathwater and think when they go from one diet to another, that that’s it. All that old ideology and behaviours have to go. But there’s this other path, of just trying, gaining the knowledge, seeing how your body reacts and then compiling it all together to create the best and ideal way of eating for you – depending on what’s going on in your life, and respecting that transition.
Every few years a new popular diet “trend” or “fad” appears on the scene. (In 2018, we saw the ketogenic diet hit the mainstream).
And it’s confusing.
As a nutritionist, it’s confusing. As a consumer it’s confusing. As a parent, partner, friend, daughter, son – it’s confusing. We don’t know what we should be eating or what we should be encouraging those we love to eat either.
We’re getting told two opposing ideas at all times. The mainstream media and social media are sensationalising stories and transformations and we get sucked in. We think we should adopt what they suggest – because, they know best right?
We get intrigued because we want what they promise – weight loss, more energy, better blood markers, improved sleep, greater libido, muscle growth, and that’s fair.
We all want to look and feel our best.
I feel where the real magic lies is within you. And knowing how to connect with your body’s own internal wisdom and being conscious of how you feel when you eat a certain way.
Are you thriving and full of energy and glowing? Or are you feeling lethargic, tired and foggy?
We get sucked into the dogmatic environment of diets. Because each diet has a team of experts, they’re backed by science, and have celebrities and influencer’s endorsing them and books and podcasts promoting them.
It’s essentially a game of who can get your attention. Or which team is going to influence your eating styles and encourage you to adopt their dietary habits, as they say, “it’s the best way to eat.”
Each diet program also throws jabs at all the other diets.
The paleo community talk about the lack of vital nutrients such as B12, zinc and omega’s on a plant-based diet, and how it’s the way we’ve evolved to eat.
Then the vegan community talk about how eating meat contributes to degenerative diseases and cancer, and the terrible destruction it contributes to animals and the environment.
Then you’re in the middle like, “What?!” How am I meant to choose?
But what if they’re both right?
An interesting key to all this is the idea of cycling our diet.
Dr Dan Pompa coined the term “diet variation.” His research teaches us about cycling different diets at different times in your life, depending on what your internal wisdom (or intuition) is telling you.
Cycling weekly, monthly and seasonally, incorporating periods of feast and famine within these time frames and even changing the times you eat every day.
The science and rationality behind cycling diets, feasting and fasting makes sense. The human body is so damn adaptive. And it’s within this adaptation that we benefit from the hormonal changes.
We’ve evolved to go through all these phases, of eating different foods, or not eating at all, but we’re so far removed from this notion because we’ve always had access to whatever we want.
It’s only in the last few hundred years with the invention of electricity, home electronics, global economies and market trade that we now have a global food system and are blessed to be able to get whatever we desire at either the click of a few buttons or a trip to the supermarket or health store.
We’ve always been in an abundance of choice and food. Very few of us have ever actually gone without food for a day. We’re also creatures of habit so we tend to eat the same thing day in and day out.
But there are some issues with this approach:
This means we gain a certain nutrient profile, and the bacteria that live in our gut are products of these few foods. This diminishes bacterial diversity which ultimately can lower immunity. It’s like how our parents encouraged us to eat stuff off the ground – it exposes us to different microbes and builds our immune system. Bacteria are fed by what you put into your body.
So if you’ve consumed, a low-fat diet for the past 20 years, your bacteria are going to reflect that, having higher levels of Fermicutes that thrive and live off carbohydrates. Or if you eat predominantly fruit and grains, you’re probably going to have a high population of Candida, because that’s what they thrive off.
Cycling different eating principles strengthen the diversity of the microbiome, which is what we want – it’s called “alpha diversity.” This enables us to have a more robust microbiome and immune system, better equipped to handle varying environments, toxins and bacteria.
Because we’re consuming the same foods all the time. This is super prevalent in children, who due to their “fussy eating” will only eat certain foods and lack specific nutrients required for optimal health. But the same happens with adults, teenagers and the elderly. We all get stuck in our patterns, and we eat the same foods and only ever get one nutrition profile.
This is problematic as we may be surviving and doing okay, but we’re missing pieces to the puzzle. Our bodies are efficient and clever and can make do with what we’ve given it. It can synthesise certain nutrients from others, but there are also essential nutrients we need to get from foods and in high quantities.
For example, vegans – unless consuming adequate flaxseeds, walnuts and algae, and having the co-factors to convert ALA into EPA/DHA, may be lacking omega 3 fatty acids, required for a healthy brain and cellular function.
Ketogenic diets are lacking fibre, polyphenols, anti-oxidants and minerals. And it’s optimal and perfectly okay to eat like this for short-term periods – but not a prolonged period of time. Science is showing that it’s more ideal to change things up, hence “diet variation.”
We plateau in our goals, our body fat, muscle, and our energy. Our body adapts and we are no longer improving. This is a “ding ding ding” light bulb moment when its time to switch it up. Maybe we need to change from low-carb to high carb, or vegan to paleo. And following a seasonal cycle, of implementing that diet for 3-4 months, and then when you plateau again, re-assess and switch it up again.
Our bodies are reliant on one type of fuel. If it’s carbohydrates (which is more common), we’re unable to tap into our fat stores and utilise them as fuel, which is beneficial not only for weight loss but also detoxification, reducing inflammation, energy production and improved cognition.
It’s the same both ways. Cycling for periods of time is the way to reap the benefits of each fuel source, creating metabolic flexibility and making you an adaptation machine.
Basically, we get used to the same foods. This then can have us looking for “palette pleasure” which we tend to seek in processed and refined foods – providing our mouth and pleasure centre with an explosion. This can lead to non-ideal eating behaviours and tendencies, as we rely on these processed "mouth-exploding foods" to provide us pleasure.
Eating with the seasons decreases palette fatigue, as every few months, we’re introducing new species of fruit, vegetables, new herbs, spices and flavour profiles.
Eating seasonally is additionally beneficial to the microbiome and nutrient intake, supporting ideas 1 & 2, along with supporting the ecosystem and local farmers.
If you’re not sure what foods are seasonal in your state or area, check out: http://seasonalfoodguide.com or https://sustainabletable.org.au/all-things-ethical-eating/seasonal-produce-guide/ for Australia and https://www.seasonalfoodguide.org for the USA.
It’s all of them.
It’s being conscious and listening to your body.
Be honest with yourself and ask: How do I feel? What do I need? What is my body asking for?
At the same time, shy away from the dogmatic principles that have become conditioned in your mind.
It’s also very important to be patient.
Be patient with yourself and your body as you continue to discover how you need to nourish yourself. Constantly check in in every few days or months to see how you’re feeling.
We all want instant gratification, especially when it comes to health. We want to see and feel the results straight away, but it’s often a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight, so learning to love yourself and be patient and persistent is key.
As well as discovering what to eat, learning how to eat is just as important. We need to be in a non-stress state to properly digest and utilise nutrients.
Try to avoid eating when walking, sitting at the desk and working, when we’re driving, or mindlessly scrolling and watching TV. These are all yang, active actions, and we need to be in our yin, relaxed energy to digest.
It’s just as important when uncovering what to eat, that you check in to how you’re eating – chew your food, avoid liquids with meals, don’t rush and don’t stress – I know if there’s nothing for me to eat (for example when I fly), I just don’t eat. Because I know I’ll stress about what’s in the food, and that’s more detrimental to my health than skipping a meal and fasting.
We’re designed to cycle different modalities. This keeps our body working optimally, shocking it, forcing it to adapt and make us stronger, more resilient and well rounded. We benefit when we adapt.
No culture ever stayed in one diet principle for its entirety – we’re opportunists.
Ask yourself: Why am I doing these diets? Is it working for me? Am I doing it for myself? Or because everyone else is?
I know this first hand. You’re going to feel resistance to change because its that effort and energy that’s getting you outside of your comfort zone, and that never feels good.
But just know, by varying your diet and switching it up either weekly, monthly or seasonally, it’s going to enable you to be the most robust, healthy and thriving person you can be.
Eliza is the millennial nutritionist– a health, mindset and abundance enthusiast obsessed with helping millennial's experience living at a higher level.
Her relaxed new age approach and understanding of nutrition and wellness sees her empowering and coaching individuals to understand that their health is the ultimate asset.
Upon experiencing first hand the power and place of tonic herbalism and medicinal mushrooms in everyday life, Eliza’s become an adaptogen fangirl and feels their utilisation in today’s world is essential for abundance and wellbeing.