Last week, I noticed an Insta-celeb posting about a new diet he has designed for weight-loss and it’s called ‘The Sweet Potato Diet.’ This is when I realised that, with the help of marketing and advertising, we have truly taken the word “diet” to new extremes. It has become really, really fashionable to eat a diet that is gluten-free, dairy free, paleo, vegan, raw and the list goes on. The more you restrict your diet, the more trendy you are. And don’t get me started on how some people’s restrictions are simply a cover-up for eating disorders*. Oh, you’re dairy-free but you still eat fro-yo on Leg Day? Cool. Oh, you’re gluten-intolerant but you still allow yourself a granola bar after you’ve run an ultra-marathon and have “earned” the carbs? Sure. Picture that scene where your girlfriends look on in horror as you eat a piece of bread, as in “How could you put that poison into your sacred body?” Speaking as someone who has also demonized bread in the past and then realized that bread isn’t the enemy; all refined, processed foods are in fact the enemy! If the ingredients list is a mile long, it’s not really ‘real food’ is it? We have become obsessed with putting a label on our personal nutrition, branding it in a way that fits with our social image. This is something I have never advocated and will never support. Eat real food, eat foods that will nourish you and help you flourish, eat intuitively and only supplement if/when you need to.
The newest fad is ‘Flexitarian.’ This is defined as a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish. So… you have adopted quite an ordinary, regular approach to your nutrition then? Meat is not essential to our diets; protein is. We should all eat less meat and play our part to save our planet and her resources. There is no need to put a label on it and make it into some sexy, ultra-cool trend. Hashtags like #meatless are cool and help spread awareness of this new cause and how people can change their diet and still maintain healthy nutrition, all while contributing to environmental sustainability.
Veganism and plant-based nutrition have soared in popularity in recent years. For most people, veganism is a huge adjustment and it is very challenging to eat this way and still get enough protein in your diet. If you aren’t getting protein from meat, dairy or eggs, you need to find it from other sources. Many people turn to soy products but if consumed in great excess, soy can disrupt the reproductive hormones in women. Chickpeas, lentils, beans, quinoa and other vegan-friendly foods are high in protein but also high in carbohydrates. Nuts and seeds are high in protein but also high in fats. Vegans and vegetarians can often find themselves gaining weight because they eat more foods that are high in carbs or high in fats. The best approach is to make sure the majority of your diet comes from green, leafy, fibrous veggies dressed in healthy fats like avocado, extra-virgin olive oil and seeds. Check out Instagram for vegan food inspiration and tips on how to cook healthy, filling vegan meals. If you’re London-based, I recommend making a trip to Tibits, Ethos Foods or Wholefoods for some delicious vegan inspo.
Paleo is a diet that I tried for the good part of 6-8 months and ended up gaining weight because I was eating so much fat. Paleo is one of the most restrictive diets I have ever eaten. You cannot eat grains or dairy or any processed foods. All meals are made from scratch and all ingredients must be 100% natural. It’s very meat-heavy and the exclusion of beans, nightshades and many other foods can result in a diet that is deficient in fibre. This diet, if too low in carbohydrates, can disrupt the menstrual cycle in some women so proceed with caution. Or take the principles of paleo but don’t restrict too much! Some attributes of the paleo diet make sense, like not eating refined carbohydrates and grains, but other attributes like avoiding many fruits are not necessary if you’re extremely physically active. Fruit is not going to make you sick or fat.
Try not putting a label on your diet or the way you eat. Diet and food is very personal to the individual and we all have different nutrition needs based on our physical activity, physical and mental health and internal biology. Eat to achieve your goals, feel good, thrive and to maintain a strong, stable immune system.
*If you feel you may be struggling with an Eating Disorder, please contact BEAT who can offer you advice and support on 0808 801 0677.