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If One Diet Doesn’t Fit All…. What Fits You?

Finding your path to sane eating is worth the effort....

On the whole, we Americans are quick to jump on any new diet bandwagon. And, boy, do those bandwagons fly by. First we’re cutting down meats, then fats, now carbs, and….who knows what we’ll add or chop out next. As Michael Pollan has noted, once, overnight, thousands of bakeries faced closing as we reacted to the latest mass diet prescription. It’s easy to understand the appeal—we’ve got to find some way to outrun the candy, chips, mega-burgers, and fast food neon. Yet this fast-food surround, and the fixes that follow, blind us to important facts. One of those is: there really isn’t one right way for everyone to eat….what keeps one person nourished and fit may not work for every single other person.

This sensible, if overlooked, fact finds full support from the scientific community. Research repeatedly shows few outcome differences between diet types. The important factor seems to be staying the course with less overeating, no matter how that’s achieved. And more recently, research has delved into how certain body types seem to respond differently to varied diets. Some will lose more efficiently with a high-protein diet, some with high-complex-carbohydrate, etc.

A history of dieting, however, may steal your confidence in figuring out just what kind of eating nourishes you best. Relying on this expert, then the next, steers you toward promised solutions--solutions to problems you’ve supposedly created with your own bad choices. In the process, confidence in your own judgment erodes. Worse still, frequent dieting can confuse your sense of when you’re hungry, what you’re hungry for, and how much is really enough.

Many healthy diets exist. Remarkably different diets, the world over, have proven healthful and effective for varied individuals and groups. Truly, there is some eating pattern that will work well for you and your particular body, whether you need to lose weight or prevent gain. The term “eating pattern”, rather than “diet”, suggests a way of feeding yourself that becomes part of your life, rather than an unappealing, temporary something that you’ll skip off later (a pretty good recipe for regaining any weight you lose). Formulating an eating pattern that suits you marks a crucial early step in supporting your healthy weight. I frequently start here with clients and revise my workbook writings on the topic fairly often. Part II of this entry (look for it in two weeks) will expand on this.

A long dieting history--not to mention the media, and all that fattening food that makes you want more and more--confuses the issue so severely for some that they simply can’t begin to answer “What might work best for you?” In these cases, help from a nutritionist or diet coach can start the process. (It’s generally wise to avoid those who espouse one type of diet for everyone.)

On the other hand, many people do have a good sense of what works, if only they attend to that sense, trust what they know, and build from there. Here are some exploratory questions to ask yourself. Use them to begin defining that way of eating that you could learn to stay happy and healthy with for the long run.

1. What way of eating makes you feel best physically? Think about kinds of foods, amounts and frequency of meals.

2. Is there any type of prescribed diet (for example, Weight Watchers, South Beach, etc.) that you’ve tried before and mostly liked? Is there any part of that plan that didn’t work so well for you? Could you use this plan with modifications?

3. Are there diet trends or recommendations that you’ve tried to stick to but simply find too hard (for example, high protein, no white flour, etc.)

4. What eating habits make you feel good about yourself—and conversely, which make you feel out-of-control? Do you think others would find what you call “out-of-control” problematic? Are you too hard on yourself, or do you feel confident that your assessment is realistic?

5. Are there foods that cause you to overeat no matter what? Have you ever been able to eat them in moderation? Can you imagine ever doing so?

6. What lifestyle factors interfere with your eating the way you feel best (for example, no time to eat dinner at home)?

7. Do you have support for making changes you would like to make (helpful friends or spouse, OA group, therapist, etc.)?

Write down your responses. From there, write a “draft” version of an eating routine that would respect these considerations. This shouldn’t be some ideal scheme that you don’t think you’d ever be able to follow. While it might not resemble what you currently do, it should strike you as within the realm of possibility—something you could aspire to, work toward in small steps, or in larger ones with support. Something you can picture yourself living with, even if some bumps need smoothing out.

A steady stream of diet and nutrition information can offer some useful bits. However, we leave our own sense of what’s best for us, and what works for us, at our peril. Part of “Thin From Within” is strengthening our internal compass when it comes to our own care and feeding.