The Best Diet in the World

Now that I have your attention, let's talk diet!

But first, let's talk about what "diet" means. To many people, diet means a way to lose weight. In reality, "diet" simply means the kind of food a person habitually eats.  The latter is the definition I wish we'd all focus more on, and then we might not have to focus on the former. In fact, the focus on losing weight is actually making a lot of people even heavier (See below for a few links to studies on this). The ongoing cycle of weight loss and regain can also leave individuals prone to increased risk of high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, metabolic syndrome or gallbladder disease. But of course, being overweight or obese also increases the risk for many of these same issues. So what's a health-conscious person to do?

1. Focus on overall health (see my previous post titled What is Good Health). A narrow focus on weight or BMI can be counter-productive to our overall health. Look at the bigger picture and take into account your habitual diet, exercise, sleep, stress, cardiovascular health, recent lab values, etc. If you're taking good care of all the aspects of your health and getting regular medical check-ups, your weight isn't as important. Really.

2. Find a way of eating that meets your goals AND your lifestyle. An overly restrictive diet plan that requires tons of meal prep, the purchase of hard to find or prepare foods, or isolates you from your friends and family is not one that you're likely to sustain for a lifetime. Think about what you can imagine eating for YEARS AND DECADES, not days or months. Also, consider your goals. Are you training for a marathon or just trying to find more energy to chase your kids around all day? Do you want to lose weight or are you trying to develop better blood sugar control? Each of these will require a different way of eating.

3. What way of eating actually makes you feel good? Everyone is different. Some people are "grazers" and prefer to eat 5-6 small meals per day, while others find that something like intermittent fasting works well for them (e.g. 16 hours of no food, an 8 hour eating "window" daily). Some people function really well on a very low carbohydrate diet, while others can't make it through the day without a regular influx of carbs. The point is, there is NO ONE SINGLE WAY OF EATING THAT WORKS FOR EVERYONE. (Did I sound like I was shouting? Yes, kind of). This is incredibly important. There is so much hype and so much crazy "diet evangelism" (e.g. the "I lost some weight, I published a book and my diet is the best.") in this world. It can get confusing and hard to decipher all the conflicting information. But you don't need to worry about everyone else. Pay attention to how *you* feel. YOU DO YOU!

4. What does your doctor or healthcare team recommend for you and your specific body, health status, age and lifestyle? Notice I said *your* doctor. Not your mom, your aunt, your co-worker, your friend's cousin's daughter's best friend, Dr. Oz...  If you have diabetes or insulin resistance, you should follow a specific plan that makes sense, is based in science and will meet your needs. Or, if you have GI issues or food allergies, work with your dietitian on identifying trigger issues and develop a plan to avoid those. Heart disease? Look towards a lower fat plan and talk with your team about what works best in this case. Don't go it alone and don't self-diagnose. Your health is yours alone, and it's precious.

So what is the best diet in the world? The one that works for YOU.

-DR

p.s. If you want a list of good dietary plans that are well-balanced and sustainable, check out this review from US News and World Reports, http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-diets-overall.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21677272

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/obr.12255/full

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241770/

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Eat what you enjoy.

And enjoy what you eat.

What is Good Health?

The phrase "good health" or "healthy" are thrown around a lot in modern media and every day conversation. But what does this really mean? For (perhaps too) many, it's about being the "correct" weight or constantly striving to lose weight. For other people, "healthy" might mean lack of illness, which certainly sounds like a good thing. Or, healthy can mean that someone eats a very careful diet and buys only organic or non-GMO foods and never touches refined sugar. This sounds pretty good too. But is it a sign of good health? Not necessarily.

Let's unpack some of these concepts. Can health be boiled down to a single indicator like weight or BMI (body mass index)? Often, popular media and even medical professionals will focus on these metrics and then make recommendations based on the "need" to increase or decrease weight. Is this the right choice? Well, maybe. But not in isolation. Someone with a higher than normal BMI might also be very athletic and carrying a lot of muscle, so their weight and BMI aren't indicative of excessive fat mass or some of the health risks that go along with that. Someone with a very low weight or BMI may be suffering from a serious disease or malnutrition. One single number just doesn't tell us enough.

What about the person that eats "clean" (one of my least favorite terms)? Are they in great health? Maybe, and maybe not. Do we know what their blood sugar levels are? Is their cholesterol high? Do they have a family history of heart disease? Do they sit for hours and hours at a time or have very little physical activity?  Eating a diverse and balanced diet IS really important to good health, but food/diet alone also doesn't tell a particularly rich story.

Similarly, the person that exercises daily and takes a multivitamin and drinks 2 gallons of water each day sounds pretty healthy, right? And they might well be. But is their life filled with extreme stress? Are they hitting the fast food drive-through daily and not getting much sleep? That certainly isn't goin to lead to long-term good health.

The bottom line is that good health (and maintaining it) isn't a single number. It's not a diet plan. You can't outrun bad health or an over-stressed lifestyle. A true healthy lifestyle includes a focus on eating well, exercise and activity, stress reduction, regular medical care/assessments and proper sleep. Sometimes we'll have to sacrifice one or the other, because let's face it life gets crazy. But we should always remember that good health isn't defined or created by a single action or metric. It's integrative. It's cumulative. And it's important.