We've been told for decades to low-fat this, dairy-free that, low-carb this, gluten-free that. Oh, and that this way is the only way. I've got good news, sister. There is no single perfect way to eat. However, there is an ideal way to eat for your personal needs & desires. Let's map out how to do that.
Step 1: Consider your ethics & values.
Before we go anywhere, this needs to be assessed first. What you feel good about putting on your plate also needs to feel good in your heart. So in the context of food and diet, what do you support? Do you support local farmers? Do you support the consumption of meat? Or maybe just the consumption of meat if the animal has been humanely prepared? Do you support the consumption of GMO foods? What food companies do you feel good about purchasing from? Setting your ethical and moral values in the context of food will make it easier to stick with a diet that feels good to your soul.
Equally important are the values you have for yourself. Why do you value eating well? Why do you value fueling up with the good stuff? Why do you value finding a sustainable and healthy diet to support your life? Keep these values true to you. This is your "why" for prioritizing good food.
Step 2: Eat real, wholesome food in their least processed state.
This can universally be applied to any healthful diet, and dare I say, without much rebuttal. Whether you're vegan, fruitarian, vegetarian, paleo, ketogenic, whatever, the name of the game is always to eat real, natural food in its least processed state. In general, this means eating foods that consist of only one ingredient (aka, apple) or at least less than 3-5 total ingredients.
Step 3: Prioritize your micronutrients.
Most diets focus on "macronutrients", which are carbohydrates, proteins, or fats. While these are absolutely important factors to consider when designing Your Ideal Diet, we also can't forget the micronutrients. Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals, amino acids, trace elements, & other essential nutrients that help keep our body running smoothly. Types of micronutrients would be things like vitamin C, magnesium, copper, taurine, or bioflavonoids. Regardless of what diet you're consuming, you should make sure you're eating a wide variety of natural, wholesome foods to ensure you're getting all of your micronutrients. This is why restrictive diets that cut out major food groups can get you in trouble sometimes; you're limiting the variety in your diet, and therefore limiting the potential to getting some awesome micronutrients into your body.
Step 4: Re-connect with your appetite.
Ah, the lost voice of our true appetite. We're scary good at over-riding our natural, biological urge to eat when hungry and stop when full, but this is a huge piece in hacking Your Ideal Diet. If you've completely lost the connection to your appetite, how do you even know you're hungry? You'll likely feel an empty, almost tightening sensation in your stomach. You might be a little short-fused or fatigued. Food will be rampant on your mind. If it's a craving, you'll usually only be after one particular food. If you're hungry, even dry chicken breast will sound appetizing.
Then how do you know when to stop eating? Unfortunately, it is true that it takes about twenty minutes for your body to know you're full. Instead, eat until you just feel satisfied. The gnawing feeling in your stomach has dissipated and you're possibly less agitated or anxious. You feel calm, but not overly sleepy (that's usually an indication you ate too much or your food choices weren't right for you.) Remind yourself that you can always get more. Don't feel compelled to finish your plate, that's what leftovers are for!
Another tip for re-connecting with your appetite, stop eating like a starving animal, over the sink, shoveling food down your throat mindlessly. Again, awareness is key here! Crazed eating sucks for your digestion and sucks even worse for tapping into your natural appetite.
Step 5: Release yourself from diet dogma.
We've really been tainted by the diet industry when it comes down to how to actually eat well (and females get hit especially hard with this because, you know, "bikini bodies" and all...) We have somebody else's ideas on the best way to eat, but a lot of it is speculation and a whole lot of trial and error. Remember, there are very little universal truths when it comes to eating a healthful diet. Jumping on all the new techniques you might read about (carb cycling, intermittent fasting, carb back-loading, keto, fasted training, etc.) can keep you stuck in this doggy dog dogma. If you haven't mastered the basics of eating real, unprocessed foods, most of the time and haven't tapped into your natural appetite regulatory system, then messing with any advanced techniques are just gonna slow you down.
Don't follow dogma. Follow the basics, and follow what feels best for you.
Step 6: Just eat the food.
If food is consuming your life, it's not Your Ideal Diet. If you're constantly thinking about food, it's not Your Ideal Diet. If food is your enemy, it's not Your Ideal Diet. If you're not enjoying your food, it's not Your Ideal Diet. Repeat after me: food is good, food is good, food is good. Once you stop associating food or diet solely as a means to control your weight or appearance, it becomes a lot less crazy in your head. Keep it simple, baby. Eat ethically according to your personal values, prioritize real, wholesome food in its least processed state, vary your plate up to get a whole host of powerful micronutrients, move away from using food as an emotional crutch and bring awareness to what's going in your mouth, and release yourself from dirty diet dogma that's keeping you stuck in a bad relationship with food. Just eat the food. No need to make it emotional. No need to spiral out of control because you ate five cupcakes last night. Food isn't evil, food isn't a battle, food isn't a sin (nope, not even cupcakes). Just eat the food, but be conscious about it.