It seems like every year there’s a new diet trend. One that promises rapid weight loss, optimal health, and ease of implementation. But, we all know nutrition isn’t a one size fits all situation. We all differ in our nutritional needs and challenges. So, of all the plans that have come and gone, how do you know which is right for you? Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simple step by step way to choose the right nutrition plan for you? Well, guess what, now there is! Check out these 10 simple steps to choosing your ideal plan!
Consult a Pro
First things first, consult a pro! We’ve all seen the warnings on our fitness class DVDs and in the beginning of every nutrition plan book. And it’s easy to disregard it and write it off as some legal CYA statement. But you shouldn’t be so quick to ignore these warnings. It’s very important, especially if you have any health conditions, to consult with a pro. Check with your doctor before you begin any fitness or nutrition plan. And due to the lack of nutrition training required by most medical schools you may want to consult with a nutritionist as well. This is especially important if you’ve been skipping your annual physicals and other routine health tests. You could have an undiagnosed medical condition that would be exacerbated by a nutrition change. That isn’t a wise chance to take!
Consider Your Current Health & Symptoms
Even if you’re in ideal health and your doctor gives you the go ahead you may have an existing health condition that impacts your ability to implement a plan. Or there may be specific symptoms you’re trying to alleviate with you plan. For example, I’ve had my gall bladder removed and struggle to digest fat. So, a Keto diet isn’t really an option for me despite the fact that it claims to alleviate joint pain (which is a symptom I want to address). For this reason, a Paleo or Mediterranean diet may be best for me. Both help with joint pain and several other inconvenient symptoms I struggle with, but they’re better suited to my specific digestive sensitivities related to my current health.
A great way to evaluate this is to start a list of annoying symptoms you’re trying to address. Also, be sure to list any digestive challenges you notice and any connection you may notice between what you’re eating and your symptoms. For example, if you notice that you tend to have cravings, headaches, and fatigue if you eat a bagel for breakfast you might not want to choose a nutrition plan that encourages eating a lot of refined carbohydrates, it’s likely to exacerbate your symptoms. Further, a nutrition plan such as those mentioned above might be an excellent fit for you since they minimize eating things like bagels.
Do Your Research
So, you know you have some foods that just don’t agree with you or cause unwanted symptoms, but you have no idea what nutrition plan might help. That’s ok, you don’t need to know everything about every nutrition plan. Do a little research. You can use google or ask around to see what plans others might be following. Then do more digging. Read as much as you can about the nutrition plan you think would be best for you. Don’t choose a nutrition plan based on celebrity endorsement or anecdotal evidence. Some common nutrition plans you may want to look into are…
- Vegetarian / Plant Based (ovo-lacto, pesce, 0 animal products)
- The Whole 30
- The Zone
Of these, the one that promises the most symptom alleviation while being most sustainable and approachable is likely The Whole 30 in most regions. And it’s a great place to start for most people.
You may notice that I didn’t list “gluten-free” as a nutrition plan. That’s because it isn’t a nutrition plan. While a few listed above include a gluten-free component they are more extensive than that. Regardless of what Gwyneth Paltrow says, gluten-free isn’t for everyone. If you suspect you have a gluten intolerance, consider trying an elimination diet before choosing a long-term nutrition plan.
Check Out Availability
Availability is often the most overlooked component of choosing the ideal nutrition plan. But it’s very important. For both health and environmental reasons striving to incorporate as much local meat and produce as possible into your diet is best. Most foods loose nutritional value in transit making them less healthy and therefore offering less value to the plan you’ve chosen. For example, if you live in Arizona where fresh wild caught fish is less available, a Mediterranean diet might not be your best bet. And if you live in Alaska or even the Mid-West or New England area a raw foods diet isn’t likely a great idea (imagine how difficult it is to get fresh, local produce in the winter). That said, if you live in Southern California, lucky you, you can try almost any nutrition plan you can imagine!
A great way to consider availability is to check out what foods you could easily obtain from a local Co-Op, CSA or Farmer’s Market. Be sure to consider what’s available in cold winter months as well. Clearly not everything you eat will be local but taking availability into consideration is very important. Not only will it give you the best nutrition, but it’ll also help keep your new healthy plan affordable!
Evaluate Your Budget
Speaking of affordability, budget is a definite consideration in regard to choosing a nutrition plan. The idea that eating healthy is exorbitantly expensive is a myth. And I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time and energy working to debunk it. So, if you’re of the mindset that you simply can’t follow a healthy nutrition plan on a budget I’m here to tell you that isn’t true. That said, there are some plans that are far more expensive than others. This is particularly true for those that rely on foods that are imported or shipped over long distances which we’ve already covered in the availability section. But it is also true of nutrition plans that require specialty foods. For example, gluten-free and vegan products tend to be more expensive. This cost can be avoided by choosing whole food local alternatives (i.e. skip the gluten free bread and opt for a lettuce wrap instead). But there are instances where the expense can’t be avoided, and availability doesn’t bring down the cost. The most obvious example to me is the carnivore diet. This is a meat-based diet and if you aren’t a rancher and don’t eat offal (organ and typical waste meat) it might be out of your price range. The high quality meat required for this nutrition plan is often very expensive, eating it for every meal tends to be very expensive.
Time is one of the 2 most widely cited considerations in choosing a nutrition plan and also the second most referenced reason for not eating healthy after expense. So, don’t ignore the time factor in choosing a nutrition plan. Consider how long it will take to plan, shop, and meal prep for your new nutrition plan. Keep in mind that most healthy plans require more time than the standard American diet or simply grabbing take out or fast food. Regardless of what plan you choose you’re looking at a time investment but be realistic about the amount you have to invest. And seriously, it is an investment! The amount of time you spend on creating an optimal nutrition plan will pay off both financially and in time later. You’re likely to reap incredible health benefits that increase both your health and lifespan. That equates to more healthy years in the long run. Such a worthwhile investment.
Often when we start a nutrition plan, we go all in and take on too much. There are a few ways to minimize your time investment which we’ll discuss below in the “make a plan” section. But when you start to implement your plan be sure to consider how long it takes and keep in mind that with practice you’ll get faster.
Rally the Troops
The people around you will have a profound impact on the success of your plan, especially those you live with. Talking to those closest to you about your plan is imperative. They don’t have to agree with your plan, but their support would be beneficial. Having your loved ones on board provides accountability and keeps them from undermining your progress. That said, just because you discuss it up front doesn’t mean it will go perfectly. So, always create a back up plan for how you’ll handle family parties, eating out, and temptation.
I’ve found it very helpful to get everyone in my house to at least eat the same dinner I do. Afterall, if I’m already prepping and cooking healthy food for myself every day I might as well feed them the same. I don’t make different meals and I prefer not to eat something entirely different from my family. Plus, it isn’t really feasible for multiple people to be cooking at the same time. Sometimes I’ll prepare a side dish I don’t eat, like rice pilaf (a family favorite) but otherwise, we all eat the same thing. You may want to discuss this with your family, or you might simply start to try some new recipes. How you handle this really depends on what your family usually does when it comes to dinner. Since I love to cook and usually made the meals for my family, I just switched out the recipes and carried on with no discussion. But if someone else in your house usually cooks or you often grab restaurant food this noticeable change will require some discussion and buy in.
Make a Plan
Planning is an important part of creating a long term, sustainable nutrition change. Don’t be tempted to jump right in! Choose a day (or days) for meal planning, shopping, and prep.
When creating your meal plan be sure to consider how much time you can really spend in the kitchen. Don’t get over ambitious! Keeping breakfast, lunch, and snacks the same every day is a great way to transition to a new plan without overwhelm. If you like you can rotate between 2 different lunch options but be sure they’re both easy. Duplicating a couple meals and snacks makes prep easier and prevents decision fatigue. Another great idea to mix things up is eating leftovers for lunches.
When planning dinners try to keep your recipes simple, using familiar recipes. You’re sure to come across some sample recipes while doing your research. You don’t even have to try, it’s unavoidable. So, earmark a few you’d be interested in trying, but keep it simple. It’s normal to feel super excited and want to dive right in but in an effort to create a plan that’s sustainable it’s helpful to start slow. Choose some easy recipes to add to your plan first.
Finally, once you’ve chosen the plan you’re going to try and made a plan choose a date to get started. There is no need for this to be a Monday. The best thing to do is to start on the day you’ve chosen as your meal prep day or the day after. That way everything is fresh and ready to go!
Get your FREE intuitive eating guide to meal planning and prep to make this process easier!
Phase it in
Some meal plans such as The Whole 30 take an all-in approach. That doesn’t mean that you can’t start sampling recipes and making changes prior to your start date. Giving yourself time to get used to planning, shopping, and prepping and your family time to adjust to the new food and schedule will make a huge difference in the long run. Often this is the difference between success and failure.
Spend a month or so getting used to the changes and making your new plan a habit before diving in. Remember that your nutrition plan is a lifestyle change, not a crash diet. Spending some time creating firm and healthy habits will pay off!
Ditch the Scale
This might be the biggest, hardest, and most important step in choosing the right nutrition plan. There are a lot of things more important than weight or appearance, like most things! Weighing yourself regularly is likely to make you feel disheartened and frustrated. Most of the health benefits related to a healthy nutrition plan have nothing to do with weight or size. That said, looser fitting clothes is a better way to measure progress as the scale can be fickle, especially if you’re exercising too!
Be mindful of the symptoms you had before you changed your nutrition plan and keep track of how you’re feeling after making the switch. Don’t worry if you’re showing more symptoms in the first couple weeks (see a doctor if you’re concerned). Some foods cause serious withdrawals so when you change your diet you may feel worse initially.
Some common culprits are…
- Refined carbs
By the end of the first month following your new nutrition plan carefully you should see tremendous benefits. Your symptoms should start to dissipate, and you may even find that you feel better than you ever have. In addition, you may see improvement in chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. If your symptoms or conditions are worsening, you should reconsider your nutrition plan no matter how quickly you may be dropping weight.
Is it Sustainable?
Consistency is key in all aspects of nutrition. So, be sure to set yourself up for success by having a plan for sustainability. Most nutrition plans allow for a treat meal or day. And you can even consider implementing an 80 / 20 approach.
There is no reason you need to try to stick to your nutrition plan 100% of the time. Plus, trying to do that is likely to lead to failure. Plan your treats or your treat day ahead of time to ensure success and avoid feelings of guilt and shame.
The Right Nutrition Plan
Now is the perfect time to home in on making nutrition changes. Give yourself a couple months to get yourself and your family ready for the best chance at success. And for an even bigger advantage get your FREE Intuitive Eating Guide for Meal Planning and Prep. It includes everything you’ve seen in this article including how to track your symptoms and plan your treat day to ensure success!
Remember, the right nutrition plan is unique to each person! Take the time to discover what’s best for you!
What nutrition plan is of greatest interest to you?