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What’s The Best Diet? Keto, Paleo, Vegan, or Gluten-Free?

The Biggest Question I Get Asked as a Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach

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 in the end, you might feel even more overwhelmed and confused than you did before!

Should you be eating high-carb/low fat or low-carb/high fat? Should you 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 you have to buy only organic products to be healthy? So many questions!

In this post, I’ll break down what it means to be vegan, vegetarian, and paleo and share my thoughts on what I think the best diet is. I’ll also shed some light on the relationship you might have with food and offer some practicals that might help you build a kinder, more positive relationship with your food. 

Changing Your Perspective 

Good foods vs. bad foods — All of our lives we have been taught to put foods into “good” and “bad” food 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.” 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 the emotional baggage that can surround each meal. Now onto the reason why you clicked this article title in the first place!! 

Healthy isn't just about what you're eating, it's also about what you're thinking and saying too!

What’s The Best Diet?

01 The best diet is the one that is best for you.

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 diet. 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 all of us, which leads me to point #2!

02 The best diet is the one you’ll actually eat.

If you force yourself to eat salad all day everyday in the name of health but actually hate salads, you will be miserable and will end up leaving your salad-only diet feeling pretty terrible about yourself. 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 cafe — 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! Our bodies 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 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?! Let’s move on before I leave to go cook up some avo toast!!

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 that they all have in common and we’ll circle back to that! 

  • 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. So basically, everything that has a face! This can include the avoidance of things like eggs, honey, and all dairy products. Many vegetarians and vegans follow these diets because of religions 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 popularly known Ketogenic (or Keto for short!) & Whole30 diets fall under this category, which their own specific set of guidelines to follow.

So, what’s the one thing that 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, you can create the diet that works best for you. 

So what’s my personal food philosophy? It’s simple, a it’s called 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 tummy. Sugar is a big trigger for me!! And so is dairy. But then again, a lot of non-dairy substitutes – like coconut milk – can also be tough on my stomach! But all in all, you can’t go wrong with REAL FOOD.

I’m talking fresh, beautiful veggies where the only ingredient is literally the food itself. Like, a carrot is just made up of carrot. Pretty cool right!!! This is a wild contrast to the dozens and dozens of ingredients that fill the boxed, processed foods lining most Western 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 each 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 loose the weight you got on the diet in the first place to lose. 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. I can see bits of myself in each one of these categories and I’m thinking you might too. 

Food should make you feel good so that you can go out and do good.

Good food should make you feel 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 personally believe that being healthy to be healthy should not be the main goal. I think that being healthy is a great thing to be because it can allow us to be our best selves and live our best lives and serve and give to others.

I hope these words resonate with you. And if they did, please share so in the comments below! What point resonated the most with you? While you take a moment to comment below, I’m gonna hit the kitchen and make two slices of avocado toast!!! See you in the next post, flamingo friends 🙂

With lots of love always & always,
Madison 

PS! Before you go, check out these 2 nutrition podcasts that I am currently loving: 

  • The Doctor’s Farmacy with Dr. Mark Hyman
    • Give this a listen if you are at all interested in the politics behind food consumption, regenerative farming & agriculture, and the science behind which foods are actually the best.
  • The Ultimate Health Podcast 
    • Listen to this if you want to hear a broad range of health views from a variety of professionals. This is a great podcast if you have food allergies, chronic illness, or are new in starting out on your health journey. One of my very favorites!! 

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