It's easy to find fad diets that promise miraculous results, and it's equally easy to find people to proclaim how this or that diet was the only thing that worked for them. Many of these diets are controversial. Some people swear by the diet that suggests different blood types should focus on different foods. Others are devoted to the low-carb diets such as the Zone Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Protein Power diet, and the Carbohydrate Addict's diet. Some people choose a vegetarian or vegan (no animal products at all including dairy and eggs) diet. There are countless others.
Maybe one of these diets will work for you. They all make interesting points and include healthy eating plans (not everybody agrees they are all healthy, but then again, not everybody agrees on anything).
The blood-type diets are all low in calories and high in natural, minimally processed foods. The low-carb diets make a good point: Refined carbohydrates tend to spike insulin levels, and in some people, insulin fluctuations seem to cause food binges and unusual weight gain.
For the last few decades, the common wisdom has been “carbs, carbs, and more carbs.” Now, the low-carb diets suggest that we need to get more protein back into our lives, and for some people, it's the answer to carbohydrate binges and can put a stop to massive weight gain.
Vegetarian and vegan diets have merit, too. Animal products have been associated with an increased risk of certain diseases, and many available animal products, from rich cheeses to marbled meats to the preservative-infused lunch meats we feed to our children, are high in saturated fat, calories, and, in the case of the cured meats, salt and preservatives, some of which are known carcinogens.
Vegetarians tend to eat more vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, and other healthy, unprocessed foods. That's certainly an improvement over lunch at the fast-food drive through (although more fast-food restaurants are serving healthier fare, by popular demand).
But if all the diets out there baffle you, you can feel comforted. They all boil down to a few simple rules that, when applied, will help just about anybody to reach and maintain a healthy weight, feel energized, and manage stress from a dietary perspective:
Whenever possible, eat food as close to its natural state as you can. Eat an orange instead of drinking orange juice, but drink orange juice instead of orange soda. Eat a broiled, free-range, organic chicken breast instead of a minced, shaped, breaded, fried chicken patty. Choose brown rice over white, old-fashioned oats over instant flavored oatmeal, instant oatmeal over a toaster pastry. Eat whole wheat bread or, better yet, sprouted wheat bread instead of plain white bread, and spread it with natural, organic peanut or almond butter.
Choose nutrient-dense foods instead of foods that are mostly empty calories. For example, dried fruit is more nutrient-dense than candy, broccoli and carrots with yogurt dip are more nutrient-dense than chips or popcorn, and freshly squeezed fruit or vegetable juice is more nutrient dense than soda. Less nutrient-dense food can be useful to help fill you up if it is low in calories and you are trying to lose weight (popcorn, for example, can help stave off hunger pangs, as long as you don't pour butter all over it).
Start and end the day with protein and complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbohydrates such as sugar.
Eat a hearty breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a light dinner, or if you aren't a breakfast person, a light breakfast, a hearty lunch, and a light dinner.
Foods that exacerbate the negative effects of stress in the body are those that are high in the following:
Fat, especially saturated fat
Foods that help to ease the negative effects of stress in the body include the following:
Vegetables, especially organic
Fruit, especially organic
Low-fat, organic or free-range protein sources such as fish, chicken, turkey, lean beef, soy products such as tofu and soy milk, low-fat dairy products, and legumes
Monounsaturated sources of fat such as olive oil and canola oil
Complex carbohydrates such as whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals
Stop before you are stuffed and don't eat more calories than you need.
Don't let more than about 30 percent of your calories come from fat, and try to eat fat mostly from sources that contain a higher proportion of monounsaturated fat (olive oil, canola oil, avocados, walnuts, and walnut oil) and omega-3 fatty acids (in fatty fish like salmon and tuna), rather than saturated fat (meat and dairy products), trans-fatty acids (in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated oils), and polyunsaturated fats (prevalent in many vegetable oils).
Rethinking the “Treat”
Some people eat pretty well some of the time but can't get over the notion that on special occasions or when they've had a hard day (and lately, most of them have seemed pretty hard), they deserve a treat. If you are one of those people, you can rethink the “treat” concept.
It is so easy to eat in response to stress. Many people do it. After all, don't you deserve it? Don't you deserve a treat?
Sure you do. But a treat doesn't have to be about food. A treat could be a movie, a day trip, a full hour of doing nothing, a visit to the salon, a game of golf in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday, letting yourself go to bed at 9:00 P.M. There is so much that is wonderful, fun, and rewarding in life that has nothing to do with food. So, get in the habit of thinking creatively about how to reward yourself.
Binging on any food, no matter how healthful the food itself, contributes to physical stress because the body isn't designed to process huge amounts of food at one time.
And if you just have to reward yourself with food, make it absolutely worth the indulgence. A little bit of something superb is a far more rewarding and sensual experience than a whole huge bunch of low-quality anything. A single piece of the highest quality imported chocolate, a thin slice of cake and a tiny cup of espresso from the best dessert café in town, a small but perfect filet mignon wrapped in the best bacon, or whatever your indulgence — savor every bite and don't do anything else while enjoying it. If the television is off, no one is talking to you, you aren't reading the newspaper, you are simply experiencing your treat, then that tiny bit will be plenty. You'll feel supremely satisfied. And so elegant, too!
Your Personal Eating Plan
How will you go about changing your ways (if they need changing)? Like anything else, you'll do it one step at a time. It may sound tedious, but if you get in the habit of keeping a food diary in which you write down every single thing you eat each day and how you were feeling when you ate it, you'll be surprised at how obvious your bad habits become. You might notice that when you are feeling stressed or insecure, you eat sugar, and that when you are feeling confident or calm, you eat really well. Keep at it until you feel in control of your eating habits; if you start to slip again, go right back to it.
Here is a sample food diary. Notice that food choices seem directly connected with mood. Yours may not be this obvious, but you'll probably see patterns after keeping the diary for a while.
Following is a sample food template for you to copy and use. Eat well and keep moving! You'll be feeling strong and stress-proof soon.