There are so many ‘diets’ or ways of eating available to us now it can seem like everybody is following a particular eating style. Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian, Pescatrian, Clean Eating, Raw… the list goes on. Today I want to talk about an important aspect of nutrition many people don’t understand when they initially come to see us at Feel Fresh Nutrition.
Oftentimes we see a client who comes to us with goals around energy, weight loss or fertility but they are already on a restrictive way of eating due to beliefs, ethics, or something they have read. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. At the heart of these more restrictive diets is the belief that food is powerful and can change your health. We fully support this sentiment.
The issue, however, is this leaves little scope for change, flexibility or help. It doesn’t allow for changes in your circumstances, hormones, finances or any number of factors that change on a daily basis. So today I want to present the idea that you have the freedom to choose at any moment in your life. The freedom to experiment and chop and change using different nutritional dogmas during different stages of your life.
The thing about conforming to one way of eating is that no two people are the same. We have different genetics, different energy needs and different goals. The most successful clients we have seen are those who get curious about their food choices and treat their bodies almost like an ongoing experiment to see what they need to thrive.
We aren’t here to tell you not to follow any one way of eating, more to keep an open mind. Overtime working with hundreds of clients, we’ve come to realise there is no one “right” way to eat and attaching morality to our food choices is at best unnecessary and at worst highly emotive and potentially damaging.
One person may have ethical obligations to a vegan diet. Do these ethical obligations come in second place because the latest research or paleo diet suggest that moderate amounts of animal protein are best for weight loss? No. Furthermore, it’s not any other person’s place to bully you or decide if you should be vegan, vegetarian or paleo. It’s our job as nutritionists to present facts and to guide you towards your own decisions.
Lately, we’ve had a huge influx of clients wanting to try a vegan diet for a myriad of reasons. Some because they’ve travelled and have become more environmentally conscious and want to reduce the effects of animal agriculture. Some because they’ve adopted a yogic lifestyle. Some because they want to include more plants into their diet and others because they want to lose weight.
Here at Feel Fresh Nutrition we support experimentation and believe that a well constructed vegan diet can be a viable option for those seeking it. This week we’ve written a big article explaining all the things you need to consider if you are a vegan, vegetarian or you are considering it. You can find it here.
The other point I would like to touch on is to truly evaluate what drives your dietary choices. Many of the vegan clients I see choose this lifestyle for ethical reasons and any body composition changes are a positive side effect. But for another group - and this also goes for our Paleo clients - the rules within the Vegan template allow for restrictive or disordered eating with a moral rationale.
It’s important to be honest with yourself and whether or not your nutrition choices are another way to manipulate and control your food. Long term this is not a happy place to be. If you have a history of restriction or disordered eating we empathise and encourage you to work with a trained professional - alongside us, especially if you want to try a restrictive diet for moral or ethical reasons.
The mental and emotional benefits.
Somewhere along the way we've overcomplicated the simple - and delicious - art of fuelling our bodies and enjoying not only the taste of the food we've selected but the company we choose to eat with. Initially we developed a system of calories. A simple energy in, energy out equation with little regard for the quality of the food choices we are making.
Now, we know that while overall energy consumption matters, the types of food we are consuming matter as well.
But, what if we've replaced calorie tracking with macronutrient obsession, or a dogmatic paleo or vegan diet? Ultimately it's the same thing. We are trying to control our food choices and in doing so, are giving the entire process more energy than it deserves.
What if the time we spent agonising over whether one piece of fruit is good or bad, we invested that time into our relationships and goals?
Self-awareness, Intuition and Experimentation.
These are the three keys to working towards your goals and figuring out what way of eating serves you best. We work with you to figure out if you need three meals a day or five. If you need to eat before you workout or if you don’t. You are the best interpreter of your own bio-feedback. That is, what your body is trying to tell you. We do not have a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter approach, because...well...we know you deserve more than that.
If we follow a strict diet with a set of rules, we often miss the subtle things our bodies tell us. We don't focus on hunger cues or fullness signals, or how we feel on certain foods. A prime example of this is ignoring bloating or undigested nuts and seeds in your stools when following a Paleo diet because nuts and seeds are “allowed” but grains are not.
Similarly, you may actually tolerate full fat dairy well - and there are many benefits to dairy as a whole food including calcium and fat soluble vitamins - but if we avoid all animal products as per a vegan philosophy, we never learn if dairy is a food that serves us.
The last factor to consider when making choices around your diet is that our bodies are really, really clever. Humans by nature are resistant creatures. We are programmed to back away or rebel from restriction. Especially if that restriction has been dictated to us. It's like being a petulant child and resisting bedtime because your parent has so decreed it.
Remember you have the power to chose what works for you. Don’t be afraid to say “this isn’t working for me right now” and experiment with something new. A helpful way to overcome the fears around dietary dogma is to look at what most styles of eating have in common. These are ideas we also fully encourage here at Feel Fresh Nutrition.
Comprise most of your diet from foods that are;
- "Very low glycemic load – low in sugar, flour and refined carbohydrates of all kinds.
- High in vegetables and fruits. The deeper the colors, the more variety, the better. This provides a high phytonutrient content protective against most diseases.
- Low in pesticides, antibiotics and hormones and probably no or low GMO foods.
- Have no chemicals, additives, preservatives, dyes, MSG, artificial sweeteners and other “Franken Chemicals” that you would never have in your pantry.
- Higher in good quality fats – omega 3 fats for all. And most camps advise good quality fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.
- Have adequate protein for appetite control and muscle synthesis, especially in the elderly.
- Ideally organic, local and fresh foods should be the majority of your diet if your budget allows.
- If animal products are consumed they should be sustainably raised or grass-fed.
- If you are eating fish you should choose low mercury and low toxin fish such as sardines, herring and anchovies or other small fish.
I really think everyone has spent too long fighting with each other about the best approach to diet. Paleo, vegetarian, vegans, should be getting together and fighting against the common ground we can agree on. Let's go fight in the cereal aisle or McDonalds.
Until this happens, embrace your right to change, evolve and choose what serves you best at any given time.
Thanks, from Team Feel Fresh Nutrition.