Vegetarians live longer and have lower cancer rates! Should I be vegetarian?
I heard paleo helps with weight loss. Should I go paleo?
I gained weight on a paleo diet. What do I do now?
I have Crohn’s disease. Will GAPS/SCD/FODMAPs help? (PS what do all these acronyms mean??)
Confused? No wonder. The amount of information circulating about “the right diet” is dizzying, and it’s enough to confuse anyone. But I have a secret for you: There is no one-size-fits-all approach. What works for you may not work for your neighbor, because you are your own set of genes, a unique blueprint determined by your ethnicity, ancestry, lifestyle, biochemistry. Your superfood could be your neighbor’s achilles heel.
So. How do you determine what’s right for you?
What is the Ideal Diet?
When I meet with a new client to gather information and health history, I ask his or her top 3 health concerns and goals. This is the first way to determine what to eat. Do you want to lose weight, control inflammation, balance hormones, reduce stress, sleep better, improve skin health? Pinpoint your health goals.
Secondly I ask about symptoms one is experiencing on a daily basis. Fatigue? Digestive issues, gas, bloating? Insomnia? (these are the top 3 by a landslide). Certain health conditions and symptoms will also determine what you should eat.
Typically I have anyone with digestive issues or hormone imbalance do a 30-60 day elimination diet, which kicks the gluten, dairy, and soy. These are the foods many people have trouble digesting or have reactions to, and they happen to the foods most people consume most often. Eating foods to which you have intolerances or don’t digest well creates inflammation, hormone imbalance, and digestive issues. For those with autoimmune disease or diagnosed digestive conditions like SIBO, Celiac, Crohn’s, or any inflammatory digestive issue, I’ll usually recommend an autoimmne paleo plan, which goes a step farther and eliminates foods high in anti-nutrients that irritate the gut lining. I say “typically” because this is a very individualized process. It depends on your level of motivation and what you can stick to without feeling overwhelmed or giving up.
There are several diets that encourage healing of the digestive tract (GAPS, low FODMAP, SCD), but in my experience, it depends on the specific condition.
Once you’ve completed your elimination diet, you’ll better know to which foods you react and which are OK, and that helps you curate your perfect diet. The base of everyone’s diet should be nutrient-rich veggies of all kinds, including leafy greens and starchy root veggies. Amounts of protein and fat depend on your goals and activity level. I recommend everyone include superfoods such as bone broth, fermented foods, spirulina, herbs, healing beverages.
Keep a food journal for a few weeks so you can pinpoint how certain foods affect you and how you are feeling during the day. I recommend everyone determine his/her daily calorie needs for weight loss, gain, or maintenance. One of the biggest pitfalls I see is thinking calories don’t matter because you’ve ditched processed foods, grains and dairy. Over-consume anything, even the most nutrient-dense foods, and you’ll gain weight or won’t meet your weight loss goals.
The short answer here is there is no one right diet for everyone. It depends on many different factors as well as your health goals. You can experiment with the elimination diet to determine your food sensitivities, and make sure to include plenty of veggies, organic proteins, wild fish, and good fats like olive oil, coconut oil, butter, ghee, avocado. Above all, enjoy your food! Learn how to be mindful of the way foods affect you. And don’t forget to include some treats once in a while. A little dark chocolate can improve anyone’s mood!
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. In addition to her coaching practice, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and kick nagging digestive issues for good. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.