I just worked with a client who’s ready to change her diet and needs guidance. She started, as so many of us do, with questions about what to cut out. “If I’m going to be making one big cut, what’s most important? Getting rid of carbs, getting rid of sugar or getting rid of dairy?”
Okay, let’s get into it.
First, I never start with what to give up. I’m not good at living my life from a deprivation model and don’t recommend it for sustainable lifestyle change. I start with what we should and can be eating. My diet works great for me, it wouldn’t work so great for other people. Your diet needs to work for you, in terms of satisfying your physical and emotional hungers, your budget, your food shopping/prep/cooking ability and desire and your health goals. That’s a tall order! It’s not one size fits all and that’s why we can get so caught up in the “shoulds” and confused about what healthful eating even means. And why I do the work that I do!
So, let’s look at best choices. Nutritional research can be murky: Big Food has a vested interest in creating many studies that minimize the risks or hype the benefits of their products, diets don’t exist in a vacuum and are tough to monitor, every person is different and dietary benefits are not necessarily transferable, etc etc. So I stick with the obvious. The agricultural revolution was recent. The need for 14 different varieties of Cheerios is VERY recent and is based entirely on selling Cheerios, not health. Those Cheerios + Ancient Grains is 100% marketing gimmick, 0% something your body needs. We human animals evolved eating whole foods so that’s what I recommend we stick with for the majority of our diet. Veggies, fruits, some whole grains if you want them, meat if you eat it, legumes if you tolerate them, dairy for some of us, eggs, etc. Of course I eat chocolate and bake banana bread and have access to strawberries in February which isn’t as nature intended, but those are closer to what keeps my body happiest than crackers, cereal and chips.
Then let’s look at what you like to eat. If cereal is the only breakfast option for you, can you do a whole foods-based granola or overnight oats? Those have inherent nutrients that cold cereal in a box just doesn’t have. If you have to have pastries or sweets, could you make your own with wholesome ingredients and maybe less sugar than the recipe calls for? Or try something like 2 ingredient pancakes instead of Bisquik? For lunch, is salad appetizing? Be honest! I am not usually jonesing for a salad in the winter, but I do love sauteed kale with meatballs. And a good stir fry. You can always get veggies into your diet without salad, you may just have to think outside the box a bit. Veggies provide so many nutrients that we really do need to make them a cornerstone of our diets. But you should be enjoying them! Add some butter (ahem, or bacon!), change up the way they’re prepared and don’t force yourself to eat something you “should” be eating if you don’t like it! The only green veggies my husband will eat are lettuce and broccoli. I don’t offer him spinach.
Finally let’s look at your life. Can you cook dinner most nights? After securing all the correct ingredients? Do you enjoy doing that enough to make it though without downing a bottle of wine during the process? How can you make the process easier for yourself? Many markets now offer pre-cut veggies, maybe that will help you eat more of them. I’m a huge fan of frozen veggies because it cuts down on prep time and food waste. Do you have a slow cooker or a pressure cooker? If you buy pre-made salads, will you bring them for lunch? Can you double a recipe for later in the week or to stick in the freezer for next month? I recently spoke with a mother of toddler twins who works full time and we laughed about the common suggestion of spending Sunday cooking for the week. She wants to hang with her kids on the weekends! YES, of course! So we talked about the best take out and prepared meal options because that’s the best choice for her life right now.
I didn’t really have a good answer for my client on what she should cut out. I did have a lot of suggestions about what she could actually eat. Turns out that filling her fridge with yummy appealing real whole foods is going curb some of the processed carbs and added sugars and low-fat dairy that isn’t doing her any good. Without feeling deprived.