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What do you think of when you hear the word “diet”? Chances are it is not a joyful image that comes to mind.
For most people, “diet” conjures up thoughts of deprivation and restriction, something we have to do or are punished with for the crime of overeating. Diets come and go, each gathering devotees while they are able to stick to the new regime. Inevitably, the diet fails to achieve the results the user was hoping for, and they seek out another with high hopes and expectations.
But no matter what you think about diets, we all have one. While restrictive diets that promote severe kilojoule deficits and eliminate a number of foods for no evidence-based reason are generally bad for both metabolism and mental health, it’s possible to have a “good” diet – one that’s right for you and the goals you have for your body.
We all eat a ‘diet’
A diet is simply a pattern of eating. Those who live around the Mediterranean have a well-known one, as do the Scandinavians. But whether you opt for meat and vegies most nights or have adopted fasting as a way of life, that’s a diet. The key to long-term success is to find a diet that doesn’t make you feel restricted or deprived; a diet that is sustainable and one that you ultimately enjoy and feel good eating every day.
The right diet supports good health
For you, “health” may translate into living a long life. It may mean doing all the things you want to each day. Or it may mean getting a clean bill of health when you visit your doctor. But whatever health means to you, the right diet will support it. Of all the dietary data we have available, there is no one-size-fits-all model for dietary patterns and health. Regimes such as fasting, plant-based eating, and Mediterranean diets are all associated with a range of positive health outcomes. The thing most popular dietary regimes have in common is that they include a lot more vegetables than the average Aussie eats each day. So whatever diet you choose, you will benefit from upping your vegie intakeincreasing your intake of good fats from extra virgin olive oil and a daily serve of nuts and seeds, and cutting back on processed snack foods including biscuits, cakes and pastries.
The right diet will support weight control
Whether or not we like to hear it, weight control is associated with a range of health benefits, and while it’s possible to be overweight and healthy, you have an increased risk of developing a number of lifestyle diseases if you are overweight. Discussions about body weight and diets often revolve around aesthetics or society’s obsession with thinness. But what’s more important when thinking about maintaining a healthy body weight is being able to do all the things we want to do as we get older – supporting healthy joints and mobility, travelling comfortably, keeping up with kids and grandkids, and not feeling tired and lethargic. This means the right diet is not such a bad idea.
The right diet will be sustainable
All diets, restrictive or otherwise, will work when they are followed. But the issue with most restrictive and fad diets is that they are rarely sustainable for the average person. The right diet will allow you to enjoy your favourite foods and drink; allow you to enjoy meals away from the home and will fit in with your lifestyle. Then your diet is no longer a short-term program but a pattern of eating that fits in with your lifestyle.
The right diet is not about deprivation
While the word diet is automatically assumed to mean a restrictive diet, this doesn’t have to be the case. The right diet will not be punishing or difficult to follow. It will not need you to be “on” or “off” it and it will not leave you hungry or craving sweet food. If the diet you follow is leaving you feeling any of these things, it may be time to seek a better option.
The right diet supports your best physical and mental self
When we shift our perception of our diet to a pattern of eating that supports us to be at our best both physically and mentally, suddenly the daily food choices we make have much more meaning. In a life filled with challenges, stress and general chaos, being able to fuel and nourish ourselves with foods that help us to perform, feel and look our best is a good thing. If that is what a diet can become for you, there are only benefits to finding and following the one that is right for you.
Susie Burrell is an accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist and holds a master in coaching psychology.