Vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, raw, paleo, keto, low carb, carnivore, omnivore.
Dietary theories. They’re like assholes – everyone’s got one and they all stink. Ok a bit dramatic, but you get my point 🙂
Has anyone else wasted countless hours obsessing over the ideal human diet (just me?) or spent a decade using their body as a lab rat for every hot new dietary theory under the sun? It’s been an exhausting endeavor but in the past few years I have finally, slowly, maybe, almost completely beat it into my head that there is no one way of eating that works for every person. No matter what the newest health trend is promising, and no matter how well it works for the people around you, there is no way that any specific set of rules will work for everyone. We are all completely unique humans with different body types, genetics and lifestyles that all blend together to create our very own bio-individuality (a fancy word that means no one else is like you). Keep in mind that any good coach, nutritionist, book or expert will emphasize understanding your unique needs over following any set of rules!
Here’s the problem with our culture – someone tries something new and it works for them, maybe really well and then they write a book about it and some other people try it and it works well for them too and this goes on and on until we have a group of people who believe that one way of doing something is the word of god. They tend to become closed off to evolving or accepting any other information, ignore signs and symptoms that this specific structure isn’t actually working for them and even shame people who aren’t doing exactly what they’re doing.
Ten years ago I would have told you that veganism is the perfect diet for all human beings and that we were never designed to consume animal products – (trust me, I had a lot of ‘proof’). For awhile veganism worked really well for me. Not only was it my diet, it was my lifestyle and even my identity. I loved being attached to this set of rules that told me what I could and couldn’t eat, I loved the idea that I was being kind and humane to animals and I loved that I had found something that gave me a sense of identity during a time when I was struggling to love (or even like) myself.
In the height of my veganism, I once had a friend look me in the eyes and say, ‘you’re only a vegan because it gives you a sense of control.’ I was SO offended, I mean blood boiling angry. No fucking way. I’m a vegan because I love animals and I care about my health and because humans have teeth that are designed for grinding plants, not raw meat! But as I have come to learn, feeling confronted by something often means there’s truth to it and there was. Yes, for a time, I did feel great on a vegan diet. But what was really key about the way I was eating was that I had eliminated almost all processed food, soda, alcohol and chemicals. I was consuming a lot more nutrient dense fruits and vegetables, fiber and a good helping of beneficial superfoods. So after many years on a standard American diet, anything different was going to make me feel like a million bucks.
The reality was, while following the rules gave me structure a lot of the time, it also meant I didn’t always make the best choices. If I went out to eat with friends and the only vegan option was French fries that was what I ate, I literally never said no to a vegan pastry because I was so grateful that it existed and I found myself dealing with blood sugar imbalances, brain fog and bloating from eating way more carbohydrates than my body cared to handle. I was confronted by the truth that, my friend was right, the reason I loved the black and white rules of veganism was because it gave me another level of control over an eating disorder I had battled for 10 years. Navigating that transformation was way more important – and way more difficult – than any food choices I was making.
Breaking up with veganism was not the end of my search for the perfect human diet but it was an important step in realizing that ‘experts’ only exist within a specific paradigm of experience and information.
The thing is we love labels and structure to help us make sense of things. When we want to lose weight or sleep better or have more energy, we start grasping at whatever new miracle program or quick fix someone is recommending to make all our dreams come true. We humans are not always great at navigating through the shades of gray and forging our own path to determine what works for us.
Of course you can learn from other people’s wisdom and experience and you can use clues from diagnostic tools as well as your ancestry and physiology. I’ve spend 15 years collecting information but the difference now is instead of taking other people’s experience and conviction as THE truth, I understand that it’s just the truth for them. I can try it on for size and then tailor it to the version that works best for me or maybe realize it’s not my style altogether.
I have found nothing more liberating on my journey than finally realizing that I am the only person who can figure out what foods and lifestyle choices do and don’t work for me. I eat intuitively, I eat what my body is craving, I don’t have a food identity and I don’t have ‘rules’. Even though 95% of the time my diet is gluten free, dairy free and organic, if I’m out to dinner or at a party and I want to eat whatever is put in front of me, I do it with no guilt. It’s fairly rare and I’m honest about how it makes me feel physically but I don’t spiral into any sort of shame or regret.
So if you are a vegan because you love animals, make the best choices within that diet to serve your body. And, be honest about how you feel. And, if sometimes you need to incorporate some animal protein because it really makes you feel nourished and balanced, you can put yourself before the animals without being an evil person.
If you heard that your mom’s hair dresser’s daughter lost 20 pounds eating oatmeal for breakfast every day but oatmeal makes you bloated, don’t eat it.
If your best friend’s brother’s buddy at the gym went keto and has never had more energy but eating low carb makes you lethargic, have the dang sweet potato.
Trust me when I tell you that you cannot bully your body into doing something that doesn’t work for it no matter how much of a miracle it is for someone else.
Navigating when and what and how to eat in the way that works best for us can take time and practice. This is where working with a coach is so valuable. The role of a health coach isn’t to tell you what to eat but to help you tune into your body’s needs and pay attention to the signals it’s sending you so you can learn to trust the most reliable expert – your very own gut. Real wellness is about taking care of your mind, body and spirit and living a life that reflects your values, your truth and the world you want to live in.
No matter where you are on your wellness adventure, I’ve got some simple tips to help you navigate the journey – read about my 8 universal truths for better health that transcend all dietary theories.