It’s the question I am asked whenever people learn I am a chef with a nutrition degree and specialty in food allergies. I have such and such allergy, what diet is best for me? I have such and such medical issue, which diet is best for me? I need to lose weight and I’ve tried everything, which diet is best for me?
I used to think it was just a problem in the US where we are fad diet crazed but after much international travel the past few years I find it is absolutely a global issue. People want a quick answer. People want a quick solution. So they look to diets. And the number one single piece of advice that I tell everyone is stop looking at diets. Look at a new lifestyle. It sounds so cliche but it is time and time again scientifically proven that for a healthy life, lower diabetes, lower heart disease, healthier organs a diet is the opposite of a solution, it is a problem. The only way of navigating through is with lifestyle changes.
Now, diets absolutely can serve a purpose. As someone who’s business is built on specialty diets for medically necessary reasons I can tell you they are helpful. BUT helpful in small doses, typically, to help combat a certain issue (unless you have a food allergy in which case you need to eliminate an entire food or group permanently). Battling with a cancer diagnosis, I find a keto diet to be helpful. Just finished surgery with anesthesia then a dairy free, gluten free vegan diet for 2-3 days helps knock out those medications. Need to lose weight for a surgery or do you have an event you want to lean down for then Whole 30, keto, atkins and weight watchers are all very effective. But again, let me reiterate that these diets unless medically necessary are useful only for one specific short term goal. And, unfortunately, for the quick weight loss diets of keto, atkins and weight watchers they are so restrictive that most people gain more weight back once they finish. And this is the most important point with diets is that they don’t work long term.
I could honestly talk about this topic for pages and pages and pages. Even as someone in the industry this is always a confusing topic because the research changes day to day. Eat this, not that. This is a miracle food one day and the next it gives you cancer. But there is one message that stays constant and has been proven year after year to be beneficial to a myriad of groups around the world. Balanced eating with the occasional treat, eating socially as opposed to a bar on the go, sitting down and making food a special time with friends and family as often as you can helps your body welcome, digest and absorb a balanced diet better.
Just yesterday US News and World Report listed the Mediterranean Diet as the best overall diet to follow. Which is somewhat misleading because it’s not a diet at all, it’s absolutely a lifestyle. I find this to be the easiest lifestyle plan to latch on to because there is no calorie counting, no forbidden foods, no diet author making you feel bad about eating something. It’s a way of plant based living that many european countries, especially Italians and Greeks have followed because that was just their life. Fish, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, eggs, poultry, extra virgin olive oil are all the stars of the meals. YUM! Meat, alcohol, sweets and dairy are all allowed but on more rare occasions. It’s cooking with whole ingredients. Processed foods are pushed to the side to make way for fresh, delicious, whole foods. And what is this lifestyle scientifically credited with?
- lowering cholesterol
- reducing the risk for dementia
- reducing the risk for memory loss
- reducing the risk for depression
- reducing the risk for cancer
- weight loss
- stronger bones
- longer life
Now what does this mean for you? It means getting back into the kitchen. You MUST cook. And as someone who does this for a living and often has no time to cook for my household I understand what it’s like to be busy. Want to know how I’m successful at eating this way?
- You must take some time to organize your eating for the week. For me that means thinking about what we have for breakfast and preparing something to last the week long on the weekends. Frittatas, overnight oats, cooking grains to quickly sauté with spinach and egg in the morning, hard boiling some eggs to slice over a bowl of reheated vegetables. These are all entirely do-able things but take a little planning!
- Do yourself the biggest favor and buy a pressure cooker. My personal favorite is the Instant Pot. Because I am not home during the day being able to quickly prep something, turn it on and then know that it will stay locked and warm until we arrive home in the evening is such a blessing. And, yes, it is far superior to a slow cooker for those of you wondering since you can saute inside the pot and then add your thinks and quickly cook them. It retains the integrity of the ingredients much more so you aren’t arriving home to a pot of mush.
- Try some new recipes! Let your family choose vegetarian and plant based recipes to help get them on board. Pick up some new cookbooks or check the website of your favorite instagram chef.
- To help you get started here are some recipes from my blog to jump start your Mediterranean Lifestyle:
The last piece of all of this is that no two bodies are the same. What might feel great for me might not feel great for you. So really listen to yourself and eat the way that feels right to you. Maybe you need more grains or less grains. Maybe fewer peppers and more zucchini. Maybe less citrus fruit and more berries. But ultimately we need to be better to ourselves. More sleep, more water, fewer diets that tell us you CAN’T have something and more lifestyles where we join with friends and share a meal and stories together. Doesn’t that sound better, after all?
Happy, Healthy (and Balanced!) Eating~
If you would like to read the article I reference above: