One of the most common questions I receive from patients at an initial session is about a meal plan or diet plan. Can I give them “my plan” or “THE plan”? My answer is disappointing at first for some. I don’t have a complete plan worked out for them at the initial session. I explain to them that determining a diet plan or meal plan depends on a variety of factors: 1) What are they currently eating? 2) What is their lifestyle and work schedule? 3) Are there any food allergies or foods they dislike? 4) How to do they feel after eating certain foods or food groups? 5) What is their energy like during the day? After determining these factors via a food and activity log, my patients and I begin to work on making changes incrementally, building new habits and patterns each week to create a healthier, sustainable lifestyle. The reason I do this is because I’ve learned something very important during my work with a variety of patients over the years: there is not one perfect diet for everyone. One size does not fit all.
We’re told by nutrition and diet experts, government officials, those interested in health and nutrition, and others who really have no health- or medical-related certification that we need to do all of these “things” to be healthy. We need to check off a set list of this or that to achieve ideal health. We Dietitians are even taught this to some degree in our coursework. But, at the end of the day, what I’ve experienced with my patients is that each person needs something different. I have vegan patients, Paleo patients, and patients on a variety of diet plans in between. And guess what? They all are feeling alive, energized and well. Why are there so many different diet books and plans and recommendations out there? Because most of these diets (and I emphasize most because I cannot safely and ethically recommend every diet out there) have worked for someone. They’ve allowed someone to learn and build better eating and lifestyle habits than what they had before. But, that doesn’t mean that any one diet will work the same way for everyone else.
So, what’s the key to determining what plan or diet works best for you? How do you achieve good health and lasting energy? My first recommendation would be to find a Registered Dietitian who takes your personal habits and lifestyle into account before handing you a diet or meal plan. He or she should take the time to listen to you, understand you and work with you while being sensitive to your individual needs. Any plan they give you should feel sustainable. What good are any diet changes if you resort back to old habits later? If you are feeling overwhelmed or discouraged with the diet changes, you may be taking it too fast, or it may simply not work for you. Change should be manageable and incremental in order for it to become habit–and ultimately your lifestyle. Most importantly, your Dietitian should empower you to take control of your diet, your habits, your life. Because diet is not really just about diet. It impacts almost every area of your life, so changing it usually involves adjusting other lifestyle patterns.
Take the time to determine what your personal needs are and to create a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. It’s OK to need or even want something different than the next person. None of us are the same, and the diet we follow should be a celebration of that uniqueness!