In my health coaching practice, I come across a wide variety of diets. From the die-hard vegans and vegetarians all the way to the strictly meat & potatoes type of client. It seems we all want to know what diet or eating style is the best. This is a tough question to answer as each way of eating has its pros and cons. We all have different tastes, lifestyles, blood types and ages which all play a factor in what is best for you. What works great for one person could be horrible for someone else. "One person's food is another person's poison."
During nutrition school, I actually experimented with all of these methods. One night my husband and I watched Forks Over Knives on Netflix and immediately the following day declared ourselves Vegan. Just like that, no planning or extra research involved. The problem with this was that I really didn't like any of the vegan foods. At the time, eating my veggies meant having a side of broccoli or asparagus with my meat. We went to our local health food store and spent over $200 on foods that I wasn't sure I would even want to eat. (Some of these are STILL in our pantry untouched). But we were determined. To say I was hungry is an understatement. During my month of being vegan, I was hungry more times than not. My problem was that I just jumped into this drastic change with no research or planning involved. Now I look back and think had we done it a little different, I probably would have been much more satisfied and actually enjoy it.
So then I decided that the vegan was too strict and I wasn't getting enough food so I changed to vegetarian. Well this was a problem as well. You can call yourself a vegetarian and still be extremely unhealthy. Lots of vegetarians assume if it doesn't have to do with an animal, then its totally fine to eat it. This is what I call the "Junk Food Vegetarian." If you think about it, almost all processed and junk food is technically considered vegetarian. So when you meet someone that is vegetarian but not quite healthy, this might be one of the problems. Vegetarian wasn't too bad, but I was consuming a large level of carbs in tons of bread and chips which wasn't doing much to help the muffin-top.
After a few weeks, I was starting to have dreams of hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. What was wrong with me? How can I be dreaming of red meat when I am completely vegetarian? Why do I want a hamburger while wearing my "Plant Strong" and my "Veggie Heaven" t-shirts? So upon further research on cravings, I realized that my body was trying to tell me something. That "something" was that I needed some animal protein in my diet.
So that led me to the completely opposite of extremes: Paleo. This is a dietary theory that includes animal proteins as well as fruits, vegetables, nuts and oils. It is based on eating similar to how the cavemen did many years ago. You know, like when they used to go out to hunt & gather their food. My problem with this is that for most people, hunting and gathering consists of everyone in your family deciding on an acceptable place for dinner and then driving through and taking it home. That kind of takes away the "hunt" part of it. I felt like I really needed to be doing some extreme cardio to support this way of eating. However, my idea of working out at that time was long walks, bike rides and yoga. I know that many people in the CrossFit world swear by this diet. I have checked out CrossFit and that is quite the workout that would actually seem to replicate the hunting aspect. So paleo seemed okay for me as I had enough energy, but I still didn't feel quite balanced.
There are so many different theories and books out there telling consumers that their way of eating is the ONLY way to eat. Its no wonder we are all confused. If you read about the Engine 2 Diet or anything by David Wolfe, you will immediately believe that you cannot eat another piece of meat for the rest of your years. For most people, this sounds down-right crazy and even scary. If you read anything by Dr. Cordain (the founder of Paleo) or Robb Wolf, you will be sold on eating like a caveman. And then there's hundreds of dietary theories that are mixes of all of these.
So what did I figure out after all this experimenting?
I found that I loved so many aspects of each of the theories but there was no one theory that I could live by the rest of my life. We all change as we age as well. A vegan diet might work great for me today, but in five years, it could actually turn unhealthy. We are constantly changing and need to be in tune with our bodies. This is how I counsel my clients. I don't recommend or swear by anything except the following:
EAT REAL, WHOLE FOOD
So whatever diet theory you want to experiment with, just make sure it includes real food and stay away from all the processed junk that is out there!
My mission as a Certified Health Coach is to make the world a happier, healthier place, one person, one meal at a time, with love and gratitude. I work to inspire others to live a life of prevention and overall wellness!