One size fits all, right?
When it comes to nutrition, there's only one "right" way to eat, isn't there?
Well, aah, no.
While we have nutrition guidelines aimed at the population, they are very general for a reason. They avoid specifics so that everyone can follow a health-supporting way of eating, while taking into account their own individual needs. These needs vary due to age, gender, activity levels, allergies and intolerances, food preferences, time and workload constraints, as well as ethical, religious, cultural, financial and environmental considerations, Basically, there is no "right" answer - rather a lot of right answers that fit into this general guide to healthy eating.
So, what's the "right" way of eating for me?
While the latest fad diet may be tempting (especially when we hear stories on social media or from friends of how it's worked for them), this approach can be problematic for a few reasons.
One: fad diets have a very short-term focus, often on weight at the expense of long-term health. They lead us down the diet mentality pathway - a pathway that is 95% lined with failure paving stones (to extend that metaphor...!). While we are focussing on a certain weight as our goal, we can lose sight of the importance of gentle and sustainable changes that improve our health. This can lead to a repetitive pattern of dieting/weight loss/weight regain that can ultimately wreak havoc on our metabolism and overall health, not to mention our emotional wellbeing.
Two: many of these fad diets are highly restrictive and can eliminate whole food groups, leading to nutritional deficiencies. While it can be fairly straightforward to eliminate a whole food group from your diet, these food groups are separated for a reason. Each group contributes a range of nutrients, and if we eliminate a whole group, we significantly reduce our chances of getting the required amount of those nutrients in our diet. One example of this is the milk and milk products food group. If dairy products (or fortified non-dairy replacements in the case of an allergy or intolerance) are removed from our diets, then a major source of calcium is also removed, leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis later in life. Another example is a trend for severely limiting the amount of carbohydrates eaten, without differentiating between those carbs that have little nutritional value (highly processed and refined white flour foods) and those that are hugely important for our gut health and for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and may forms of cancer (wholegrains, I'm looking at you, you star).
Three: fad diets are a "one size fits all" approach. Just because a particular way of eating has helped someone, doesn't mean it will help everyone. If you want to overhaul your diet and improve your health, the best way to do that is to seek the advice of a qualified nutrition professional*. They will ask you a lot of questions about your current diet and lifestyle, look for any nutritional issues, take into account any existing health issues, and work with you to come up with achievable strategies that will address your concerns and fit into your lifestyle. All this will be based on the latest evidence, and undertaken in a collaborative and non-judgemental setting. In other words, specific and tailored nutrition advice, just for you.
Because, (to borrow from a popular cosmetics brand ad campaign) you're worth it.
* Dietitians, Registered Nutritionists, Associate Registered Nutritionists, and degree-qualified Nutritionists working towards Registration with the Nutrition Society of New Zealand are all examples of qualified nutrition professionals.