Changing your diet can be tough. No matter what your goal is, you will find that there are so many different approaches out there and every single one of them claims that they are the best. It can be confusing, frustrating and disheartening – the media telling you different things every day, and if you look it up online… Well, they all seem to think their way is the only way.
But do you really have to cut all carbohydrates? Should you eat less fat? Eat more vegetables and plant-based foods? What is flexible dieting and IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)? Is bread really bad for you? What about smoothies and juices – is it really better to juice those greens and vegetables? Should you eat breakfast or try intermittent fasting?
We are going to break it down to give you some simple, concise points to take with you so that when you look at your diet you know exactly how you can make improvements.
A diet consists of macronutrients (what you need a lot of: carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (what you need in small amounts: vitamins and minerals). Each one of these components are essential to your body and should be consumed in the correct proportions.
- Carbohydrate is the body’s immediate source of energy and is used throughout the initial phases of training.
- Protein is required to promote muscle development and growth.
- Fat provides the body with insulation, is a long-term energy source and is required for the manufacture of certain vitamins.
- Your micronutrients maintain your body and are vital in maintaining your health. Vitamins and minerals are found in all food types, particularly in fruit and vegetables.
Navigating the Sea of Diets
There are a lot of different diets and diet approaches out there. Low-carb, paleo, intermittent fasting, flexible dieting (IIFYM), ketogenic diets, low fat diets, and “clean eating” are only a few of them. It can be very difficult to understand which one you should choose. The thing is; it is highly individual. What works best for you might not be the best approach for someone else.
Many of the diets above have good, solid evidence from research studies. Why? Because the individuals in these studies consistently followed the diets they were prescribed.
For example, if you were to examine whether a diet is efficient for weight loss you give the participants dietary instructions and regular follow-ups to keep them consistent with the prescribed diet guidelines. This will result in them losing weight as long as they are a) in a calorific deficit and b) consistently following the specific dietary guidelines. Every diet works, as long as you can stick to it.
The best diet is the one you can maintain in the long run.
You need to reflect on what your preferences are and what your lifestyle allows you to do. For example, if you are married and have three children it might be difficult to track calories as you would need to weigh everything you are eating before you cook it – and make sure you do not eat more than what you measured. It is not impossible to track your calories as a parent, but there are better, more sustainable options out there for you.
Be cautious to completely remove certain foods from your diet (e.g. gluten, dairy products) just because your friends have stopped eating them or because someone on the TV said they are bad for you. If you suspect that a certain food is making you feel unwell, try to avoid eating it for a few weeks to see if it makes you feel better. It might also be worth visiting your GP for a blood test to see whether you could be allergic or have an intolerance towards this certain food.
Similarly, stay clear of quick fixes and fad diets. They tend to work in the beginning, but are increasingly difficult to follow long-term as they are usually quite extreme.
To make it easier to commit to a healthier diet, you might be better off beginning with smaller, more easily maintained changes instead of committing to a diet which involves making big or extreme changes to your current diet.
Even though there are so many diet approaches (or diets) available out there, most of them tend to have three common factors:
- They are all encouraging people to eat more vegetables,
- choose lean protein sources and increase protein intake, and
- eat less processed foods.
And these are essentially the first three changes we would recommend everyone to commit to when wishing to change your diet for the better.
This is how you successfully change your diet:
- Find out what you want to achieve and why.
- For a few days or up to one week, write down what you eat and when. This will increase your dietary awareness and you will realise where you can make improvements. Sometimes it is hard to realise how much – or little – you are eating, and writing down your food intake over a few days might give you an eye opener.
- Start by making no more than two-three minor changes to your current diet. Do you find it hard to figure out where to begin? Ask yourself these questions:
Are you eating enough food?
Do you eat enough vegetables?
Do you often buy lunch? If so, could you be prepared in a better way and start bringing a healthier lunch option to work?
Could you be eating more regularly throughout the day?
Do you eat a lot of sweets or crisps, and could you limit that to one night a week?
- After three-four weeks of successfully incorporating these small changes, reassess and decide where to focus your attention next. However, do not forget to stay on track with your previous changes!
If you still find it difficult to make specific changes to your current diet, you should aim for a colourful plate where a source of protein makes up 1/4th, a carb source 1/4th and greens/vegetables make up 1/2 of the plate. Alternatively, think of the protein source as being the size of your palm, carb source the size of 1-2 fists (depending on goal) and vegetables the size of 2 fists.
The Result Team