I’m an info junkie. I completely subscribe to Erasmus’ attitude: “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Every time I go to the bookstore, I’m always looking at the nutrition books: oooh! there’s one on Paleo that I haven’t looked at yet! Look- there’s one by so-and-so on fitness! (eye roll) Like I really need another book! Or magazine. Or article or website or podcast. Usually when we talk about TMI, it’s because someone just told us something we really didn’t need to hear (usually it’s something gross or waaay too personal). But TMI (too much information) can be a real problem, especially when it comes to something like weight loss, fitness or nutrition.
The health industry is a huge ever-evolving entity. There’s always a new study or a new gimmick hitting the internet. (I heard someone today mention the “taco diet.” Really?? A taco diet?!) While a river of free flowing information is a good thing, it can also turn into a flood that washes you away or at least your good intentions. If you tried to follow everyone’s advice, you wouldn’t get very far at all. In fact, it’d be kind of tough to eat your carbs in the morning to make sure you have time to burn them off and then to eat your carbs only in the evening so you don’t get an exaggerated insulin response by eating them in the morning. Yeah, you read those statements right; one school of thought advocates carbs in the morning and another advocates carbs in the evening. Nutrition and health are a lot like religion: there are a lot of them out there so you need to find the one that speaks to you and that’s the one you follow. That doesn’t mean the others are wrong or that yours is wrong; it really a matter of faith and finding the one that works for you.
My sister chooses to be vegetarian. It works for her and she has been following that for several years with great success. I however like being an omnivore and lately I’ve had a lot of good success with that. My sister eats more refined carbohydrates than I do and she doesn’t have any problems. I however do have problems when I eat too many refined carbs. They really don’t agree with me. She also eats a lot more cheese and dairy than I do and again has no problems. Dairy doesn’t like me very much, so I keep it to a minimum, mainly because I like it so much in my coffee and the occasional snack, but too much is not good for me.
I generally follow a Paleo/primal diet. Again, depending on who you listen to, my eating patterns could be considered Paleo (minimal processed foods) or primal (because there’s dairy in there!) but does it really matter what you call it? If I adhered to a strict Paleo philosophy, I might leave out the dairy altogether and probably a few other foods that I occasionally eat (like rice and a few other occasional anomalies). Others might say that I’m actually a primal eater, because I do include dairy and the occasional legumes and grain products. The important thing is that my way of eating works for me: I like it and my body seems to be healthier.
The hard part isn’t what I decide to call my “diet”; the hard part was deciding what to choose. (I really don’t think of it as a diet. To me, this is a permanent lifestyle change and the word “diet” implies it’s a temporary thing. Ooops! TMI!) There are a lot of diets and weight loss plans out there, literally bookshelves full of them! When you go through the health/ fitness/ nutrition section of the bookstore or library, you can easily been overwhelmed by information overload. Too much info jamming your brain’s servers! How do you know which one to pick?! Where do you even start?! This is why the weight loss industry is a booming industry: people start something, it doesn’t work for them (for whatever reason), so they ditch it and go on to the next one. Unfortunately for them, it usually means spending not only time but money on whatever approach failed for them. This not only puts money in the pockets of the weight loss industry, it breeds discouragement and frustration in the buyer. (Right now in my garage, I have boxes of Nutrisystem packaged foods that didn’t work for me that I still need to throw out!)
Just sorting through the various books and websites and programs can be a daunting task. This is why so many people opt for the simple solution: they ask a friend or relative what diet they are on. This has some advantages and disadvantages. Obviously one of the good things is that they now have a “diet buddy” and we all know it’s easier to lose weight/ exercise more if you have someone doing it with you for support and motivation. The not so good thing is that what works for them may not work for you. Like my earlier example with my sister’s vegetarianism: I tried that years ago when I was in college and in addition to getting a little anemic, I discovered I’m really pretty picky with my vegetables and all the grain and dairy products were really not good for me! (It’s kind of the opposite of what I eat now, actually!) So if you start on the same diet that your friend/ family member is on, and it doesn’t work for you, it can lead to increased frustration, confusion and disappointment: “what am I doing wrong? I’ve been on this diet for a month and lost 2 lbs- she’d lost ten by this time! I’m doing the same things! Why aren’t I losing weight?” It can lead to some drastic steps, like over exercising or undereating in an attempt to “make the diet work” when the plain simple truth might just be that that “diet plan” doesn’t work for you.
I think the first clue that a diet isn’t going to work is approaching it like a diet, with what Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls a “dieting mindset.” Approaching weight loss/ healthy living like it’s a diet means thinking of it as a temporary thing, and Elizabeth likes to say “I don’t work hard for temporary.” When I went looking for a healthier diet, I didn’t look at it as “how long will it take me to lose X lbs on this diet?”; I asked myself “is this something I can do for the rest of my life?” (Believe me, asking myself if I could live the rest of my life without eating all the bread & pasta I can devour in every day was a serious question for me!) I really think this is the best way to approach a new diet. If it’s not going to be something you can do every day for the foreseeable future and enjoy it, then DON’T DO IT! It will not work because waking up every morning to continue a lifestyle you hate is not worth it and you will eventually sabotage yourself. (I lived the life from hell already- spare yourself the pain!) If your new diet means eating kale and grilled chicken breast every day and you hate kale and chicken breast (YUCK!), then are you really going to keep doing it? Is there incentive to keep it up? More importantly, is it going to make you happy? When I started my new eating style, I ate a lot of chicken thighs and broccoli (really, I’m surprised I didn’t turn green!), but I really like chicken thighs and broccoli and I enjoyed eating it several times a week. It was in line with my health goals, I liked it, it made me happy and that was incentive enough to keep doing it over and over again. By contrast, I wanted to try a ketogenic diet. I’d heard a lot of good things about it and most people recognize it as a short term diet, so I figured I’d try it for few weeks and see if I got any benefit from it. DISASTER! I couldn’t even get into ketosis because I could not get past the “keto flu.” It was a horrible experience for me- I felt awful pretty much all of the time and once I realized what was going on, I stopped it. I have friends who do keto and love it and do great on it, but it’s definitely not for me.
Whatever new eating plan you decide on, those need to be some serious considerations. You need to choose something that you’ll enjoy doing and then make the adjustments over time. My mom was always giving me diet books that required me to make radical changes right away or eat/ make weird foods that would really just annoy me over time and then make another change to another weird food/ ingredient! I didn’t even try them because I know I’m going to be able to keep it up.
Another important thing you need to do when you start your new eating plan is to TRACK YOUR FOOD & FEELINGS! If you’ve never done this before and don’t know what it is, Elizabeth Benton has some great tracking ideas and templates on her site PrimalPotential.com. (I said it before and I’ll probably keep saying it: if you haven’t checked out her site, she’s got awesome ideas and most of them are free! I’m not affiliated- just a fan!) I personally use a DietMinder journal. They are available at MemoryMinder.com and Amazon. I like them because they are pre-formatted but still flexible. Use the pages you want and ignore the ones you don’t. But the bottom line for tracking is to write down what you eat and your response to it. Example: I used to eat a breakfast burrito in the morning about 7:30: tortilla, eggs, sausage & cheese. By 10:30, I was hungry and feeling kind of cruddy. On days when I just had sausage, I didn’t get hungry until around noon, and I didn’t feel all tired and drained. Conclusion: the burrito wasn’t working for me. I ditched the burrito. The same thing happened when I tried the keto diet: I looked at the last week after feeling completely awful and realized that my carbs were under 100 g (closer to 50-80) all of those days, but before that, when my carbs were over 100 g, I felt pretty good, and I realized what my problem was. Ditched the keto.
You should also weigh or take measurements, whichever you prefer. Our weight naturally fluctuates so I started out weighing every four to six weeks. Now I weigh weekly but I weigh every Friday morning about the same time in the same clothes, and if it is fluctuating, I don’t freak out. I also take measurements, because it shows me where I am losing inches (waist and hips are usually fat loss) and where I am building muscle (biceps). However you want to measure your gains and losses, make note of where you are starting from, track your food, track your feelings/ energy level (the DietMinder has a notes section) and then give it a few days, either a couple weeks or a month. If you are really not enjoying the changes, even if you are losing weight, it’s a big clue that it’s not a great plan for you and you should probably either make some changes or find a different plan.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the health/ nutrition/ fitness information out there and you need to be a savvy shopper. Look at what the diet or eating style entails. If you’re someone who loves making smoothies or eating kale and that’s what it requires, then go for it and don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t work. But you need to follow a few simple guidelines to give yourself the best opportunities for success: 1) track your food and progress; 2) make gradual changes to your eating/ exercise; 3) keep your eyes on your own work. You aren’t competing with anyone else and what works for your sister or your friends may not work for you.If it ends up not working for you, like my disastrous keto experiment-ugh!, then move on to find something else. This is your health we’re talking about so don’t jump on the nearest fad. Take some time and look at what’s out there, and even if you don’t find an actual “diet,” you can still make positive changes and you can still track those changes, and continue to make improvements. (It’s what I did until I heard about Paleo.) You are the one who decides what’s right for you. If you like your changes, and you are making good progress, then don’t let anyone dissuade you. Just tell them you’re on the “Insert Your Name Here” diet!