This is the biggest question I get asked as a personal trainer and nutrition coach: “what’s the best diet!?”
With so many types of diets out there, it can be really hard to figure out which one is the best. You can spend countless hours googling all the various points of view, researching the latest trends, and reading books by the top experts in the business. But at the end of the day, you may be feeling even more overwhelmed and confused than you did before.
So let’s talk it through! In this post, I’ll break down the definition of vegan, vegetarian, and paleo diets and share my thoughts on what I think the best diet is. And to take things a step further, I would love to challenge you with this: our habits and behaviors around food are deeply rooted. They’ve been passed down from our parents and reinforced by cultural norms, misleading advertisements, and pressures to look a certain way.
If you are struggling in your relationship with food please know that you are not alone. I am right here with you, facing my own battles too and cheering you on with so much love & compassion.
This post is simply here to guide you through a few practicals that may help you build a kinder, more loving relationship with your food (and ultimately your body).
Because above all, I care about you.
Changing Our Perspective
Good foods vs. bad foods — All of our lives we have been taught to put foods into “good” and “bad” categories. We learned, even as young kids, that things like apples, salads, and green beans are good while ice cream, chips, and cookies are bad. We were allowed to eat the bad foods if we did something good but had to punish ourselves with diets filled with the good stuff if we were too bad for too long.
Unfortunately, this way of making food choices can do a lot of damage to our emotional and mental state as adults. We can break the cycle by beginning to look at food from a nutritional point of view. You can ask yourself questions like this:
Will I feel good (emotionally, physically) after eating ______? How will eating ______ help sustain my energy and help me reach today’s work goals? Is eating/not eating ______ causing me more mental and emotional stress? Am I eating ______ just because everyone else around me is? Will I be depriving myself of nutrients by not eating ______? Am I even hungry?
Ah, questions like the ones above help reveal that making food choices is about so much more that just weighing the “good” vs the “bad.”
Personally, I have really struggled to change my mindset when it comes to the foods I eat. With good intentions, I held on too tightly to an internal list of do’s and don’ts when it came to eating. Now, I try to make food choices by looking at the nutritional value they hold and by choosing quality ingredients that leave me feeling energized, focused, and fuller longer, while still enjoying and savoring delicious “treats” with friends and family (I think brownies can be fun & celebratory without being “bad!!”). Changing my perspective and not labeling foods as “good” or “bad” has given me so much more freedom in making food choices and in reducing the stress and emotional baggage that can surround each meal.
All in all, I believe that foods are neutral and we have the unique ability to decide what role foods play in our lives. We give food the power to either build us up or tear us down.
Now onto the reason why you clicked this article in the first place… :)
What's The Best Diet
If you were looking for a straight forward answer, I am so sorry to disappoint! Every single one of us has a different set of stressors, goals, and nutritional needs and will naturally require a different way of eating. The foodie buzz words floating around social media today can provide a very limited and shallow view of what “healthy” looks like. I believe that being healthy is about more than just what we eat and weigh. Being healthy is about our thoughts, level of stress, quality of sleep, and the relationship we have with food and our body. And quite honestly, healthy is going to look different on every single one of us, which leads me to point #2!
01 | The best diet is the one that is best for you.
02 | The best diet is the one you’ll actually eat.
If you force yourself to eat salads all day everyday in the name of health but actually hate salads, you will be miserable and reluctant to adhere (which leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and blame). But if you love tossing up a pan of roasted veggies, trying new recipes from your favorite foodie blogger, or grabbing a mindful lunch with a friend at your favorite café — then do that! It’s time we rethink what healthy looks like and set ourselves up for success by eating the kinds of foods we actually crave and enjoy eating!
Ultimately, our bodies instinctively know what we need. We just need to learn how to tune in to them.
Easier said than done but your food cravings don’t lie!! Are you craving something salty? Hey girl, you might be dehydrated!! Is your sweet tooth going crazy? Your blood sugar is probably low! But before you reach for that sugary muffin, think about what your body is really craving. In this case, it’s most likely craving a high quality fat or nutrient rich complex-carbohydrate to fill you up and sustain your energy for a longer period of time. Put the muffin down and opt for a few avocado slices (I’m a huge sucker for avocado toast on sourdough bread, drizzled with a lil topping of olive oil!!). Am I making you hungry? :)
03 | The best diet doesn’t fall under one label.
Okay, here are some break downs of what it looks like to be vegetarian, vegan, paleo. Pay attention to the the things they all have in common…
A vegetarian diet is made up of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Gluten/wheat and dairy products are “allowed” but there is no meat consumption whatsoever. Some people choose to follow a vegetarian diet but eat fish, which would make them pescatarian.
A vegan diet is similar to that of a vegetarian but they take it one step further with zero consumption of all animal products. Simply put, vegans avoid everything that has a face! This can include cutting out things like eggs, honey, and all dairy products. Many vegetarians and vegans follow these diets because of religions and/or ethical convictions.
A paleo diet focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, high quality meats, nuts and seeds. It is rooted in the belief that we should eat what we originally ate as hunters and gathers in our early primal days on Earth. This diet avoids all gluten, dairy and refined-sugar products, along with beans, legumes, and corn. Some Paleo dieters allow starchy vegetables (like potatoes) while others do not. In the same light, some allow organic grass fed butter or ghee. The popular Ketogenic (Keto for short!) & Whole30 diets fall under this category but have additional sets of recommended guidelines.
So, what are the elements that all of these groups have in common!? Fruits and veggies!! I love that if you look at what these diets have in common, you’ll see that no group would ever argue that fruits and veggies need to go. You also won’t see any food category promoting the consumption of MORE sugar. If you take the best bits from every diet (lots of vegetables & fruit + lower sugar), you’ll have the foundation for a nutritional and fulfilling diet.
So what’s my personal food philosophy? It’s simple to follow & called JERF!!
JERF: Just Eat Real Food
For me, I am currently healing some gut issues. I’ve spent many years of trial and error, learning what foods make me feel like a million bucks and which ones cause me brain fog, headaches, and an upset stomach. Sugar and dairy are big triggers for me. If I eat too much sugar or dairy-based products my skin will break out and I’ll get a pretty intense case of brain fog. So as often as possible (the goal is never perfection), I turn to REAL FOODS!
I’m talking fresh, beautiful fruits and veggies where the only ingredient is literally the food itself. For example, the only ingredient in a carrot is a carrot. Pretty cool right!!! This is a wild contrast to the dozens and dozens of convoluted ingredients in the boxed, processed foods that fill our grocery stores today.
But I say all of this to say that you don’t just have to stick to one food diet. You can take the best parts from each diet (more fruits & veggies, less sugar!) and combine them into a food plan that works best for YOU, your body, your health & fitness goals, and your energy needs for the day.
And last but not least…
04 | The best diet is the one that actually makes you FEEL GOOD.
This final point is everything. Maybe you’re a vegan who is incredible at following the vegan diet but you are completely exhausted, depressed, and still can’t seem to lose the weight you wanted to lose when you started the diet. Or maybe you have tried every single diet out there — from Atkins to Weight Watchers to Keto — but feel emotionally defeated and no longer believe you are worthy of achieving your goals. Or maybe you eat so so so “healthy” but you’re completely obsessed with it and find it really hard to enjoy food or social gatherings when food is involved. My friend, if you feel this way please know that there is hope!!
I personally believe that food should make you feel good so that you can go out and do good. It should help you feel good enough and energized enough to go out and live each day with passion and purpose.
Truthfully, I desire to set myself free from diets and food labels so that I can serve and give and live the life I was put on this earth to live.
Eating and living well should not be as hard as we have made it to be. I believe that being healthy to be healthy should not be our main goal. I think that being healthy is a great thing to be because it can free us up to be our best selves and live our best lives as we serve and give love to others. (Again, let me just take a moment to re-emphasize that “healthy” looks different on every single person. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe or body weight to determine whether or not you are healthy).
Dear friend, you are so much more than the food you eat. But I know how overwhelming it can feel. If you’re anything like me, I bet you have found yourself asking these questions:
“Should I eat high-carb/low fat or low-carb/high fat? Should I stay away from all meats? Is the consumption of animal products causing an environmental crisis? Do fruits have too much sugar? Is Vegan better than Vegetarian? What’s all the buzz about Whole30, Keto, and Paleo diets? Does a gluten-free brownie make a brownie healthy? Do I have to buy only organic products to be healthy?!”
So many questions! Let’s move through them together…
But first, let’s open ourselves up to a *new* way of thinking:
Dear friend, I hope these words resonate with you. I hope they set you free from the food baggage you’ve been carrying for far too long (no judgement here — only love & grace!). And above all, I hope this post helps you feel supported and less alone in your food struggles.
I am in your corner always.
With love & light,
Your Trainer, - Madison