Here’s a thought…if you asked random people in the street what their definition of a perfect diet is…
…what do you think they’d reply with?
…Paleo, Mediterranean-Style, Low Carb, Low Glycaemic Index, Low Fat, High Fat, High Protein, Vegetarian, Vegan, Intermittent fasting…the list could probably go on for several pages.
…but most likely you’ll get a lot of different answers…confused yet?
You see, the problem actually lies with the question…
It’s not Personalised: Who is this diet for? We all have different tastes, medical concerns, even experiences or emotional attachments with food that shape how we eat and what we choose. One size cannot fit all.
It lacks a Purpose: What is this diet change needed for? Body Composition (fat loss, lean muscle gain, weight stability?), treating a medical concern, sports performance etc.
It has no Timeframe: Diets almost always change over time according to goals (e.g get in better shape for their holiday).
So with those thing in mind, let’s ask a much better question…is there a perfect approach to YOUR diet?
The truth is, it sounds crazy but with enough support anyone can change their diet for the short term (YES anyone!) without making a single lifestyle modification. It’s the entire principle the dieting industry is based upon.
You eat this combination of foods, you take these supplements, you do these exercises and your body/nutrition problem is resolved.
How many times have you heard someone did that and were back to square one in no time?
Probably plenty of times.
Because short-term, dietary or even physical activity changes, don’t always lead to permanent changes in the long term, without the lifestyle changes that make them possible.
So what do you really need to think about?
Let’s imagine your main goal is to lose some body fat. If you’ve tried every diet going and nothing has worked, instead of looking at the next quick fix, take a look at the evidence for the long term, permanent weight loss.
What do people who have kept their weight off for long periods of time do?
The National Weight Control Registry is a great example of this. This was a 12-year longitudinal study that looked at the 4902 people who had lost at least 10% of their bodyweight and kept it off for at least 1 year (in fact, the average length of time was 6 years in these people). All participants were considered to be clinically obese (BMI greater than 30) or morbidly obese (BMI greater than 40).
Now, what the investigators found was quite interesting, the people used ALL sorts of different methods to get the weight off, everything from bariatric (weight loss) surgery, to diets in all different guises, some did a lot of exercise, others did a little.
What was amazing is the lifestyle changes that were common across the entire cohort:
I’ve listed them in what I consider to be order of importance and it might surprise you:
They Invested in Support – Real leaders in their own lives know when they can’t do something alone. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of intelligence and courage. Knowing where your weaknesses lie and having a willingness to approach someone for support, is a smart approach.
They Monitored their Body Composition Accurately and Diligently – Successful individuals with their weight management have a healthy relationship with the scale. They use it regularly according to their goals, they understand how it can help them, motivate them and keep them on track but they also understand its shortcomings and when their relationship with it is becoming more harmful than helpful.
They Track their Food Intake – or I prefer… ‘If you bite it, you write it’. Food Diaries have a couple of clear benefits: even doing it for a few days can show up glaringly obvious changes that you never even considered and secondly, it can help you stay on track. Whatever food plan you choose to follow, knowledge is power. Making smaller, more realistic changes and building a tailored nutrition plan that fits your needs and lifestyle is better than following some plan dreamt up by a diet guru!
They Made Time for Regular Exercise – I can hear some people already throwing up the excuses at this point…but no matter how small the starting point a regular exercise regime that fits your lifestyle has to feature somewhere. Whether that’s playing sport, hitting the gym or just walking at first, it has to begin and keep going. For a lifetime.
Seems too simple doesn’t it?
Despite what you might have read, improving your Nutrition doesn’t have to be. As a Dietitian, it’s my favoured approach with clients trying to manage their nutrition. Behavioural and lifestyle changes last a lifetime, quick fixes are just as they sound…a patch job.