For whatever reason, you wonder if you’re not eating as healthily as you would like to. Perhaps you’ve noticed that you’ve gained some stubborn pounds, especially around your middle. Maybe your hair (or skin or nails) lacks the vitality and sheen it used to have. Maybe your doc has added a few prescriptions to your daily routine, something for high blood pressure or maybe for cholesterol.
Where to start? You’ve looked around the website or the internet and read about a lot of different diets. Some seem drastic and extremely different from what you’re used to: is that big a change really necessary?
The better question to ask is: how do YOU like to make change?
Are you an all-at-once kind of person? My father finally quit smoking after one offhand remark from his doctor, kept the half-smoked pack at home, and was never tempted to indulge again. He was an all-at-once kind of quitter: never tried and failed, never bargained his way down, just quit. (Later than was wise, but that’s always true with smokers quitting.) If this seems like your style, by all means, look around and find the eating plan that best covers your health concerns, or one that takes out many of the foods you’re eating now. Do your preparation—clean out your cupboard and take a shopping trip, and plan your start date. That was the way I planned my last Whole30 and in general is the way I stopped eating gluten and ice cream!
But a week into my Whole30, there was just one part that was too difficult: I really wanted coffee and I only liked it with dairy. So I bargained dairy back into my coffee, only into my coffee, and I kept the rest of the Whole30 clean. Besides bargaining, another motivation for partial compliance might be your rebel nature: “No one’s telling me I can’t have ANY chocolate at all!” Okay, then, better to figure out how you want to moderate your chocolate if giving it up completely feels too confining for you.
For those of you who don’t want to make the leap directly into the cold-water deep end of a diet change, but do want to clean up your diet, you might consider these 5 steps from “whatever I want” to a “healthy diet.”
One Step At A Time
Step One: Cultivate a sense of adventure! Nothing here is permanent, it’s all an experiment in which you will learn about your personal relationship with food and food’s relationship with your health.
Step Two: Eliminate fast food when you’re out, and at home avoid packaged food with more than two ingredients, or with any one ingredient that isn’t a food in and of itself. A bag of white rice is fine; Rice-A-Roni is not. Chocolate (made of chocolate and sugar) is okay, but a Snickers bar is not. This one simple step will eliminate so many potential toxins, my head swims just to think about it. Bizarre forms of sugar and MSG sneak into almost any packaged food. Even some foods that “seem healthy,” like protein bars or energy snacks, go by the wayside at this time.
Step Three: An even more important step toward health, and easy on your taste buds, is the elimination of vegetable and seed oils. No canola, soy, or safflower oils. No corn oil. You can easily fill those spaces in your pantry with oils of olive, coconut, avocado, and even palm if you like that (too strong for me, but healthy.) That was the easy part; the hard part is confronting this rule at restaurants. Everything deep fried and almost everything fried at all and most salad dressings sadly do not comply. Go for grilled foods, or ask them to fry your (eggs, fish, steak?) in butter or olive oil. Ask for olive oil and vinegar for your salad. (Yes, I realize it may not be pure olive oil, but it’s likely a step above the house dressing.) If it smells rancid, don’t eat it: salad is just fine eaten without dressing if need be.
Step Four: Make a place for a vegetable, raw or cooked, at each meal. Drink at least one full glass of water midway between meals, and half a glass with each meal. Enjoy up to a glass of wine with your evening meal.
Step Five: Ready for another big one? How big? Eliminate gluten (wheat, rye, barley and most oats) if you want to be careful. Eliminate all grains if you’re feeling wildly confident. Remember, it’s not forever, it’s just to see what happens.
One more step, step six: Wait at least 10 days to take the final step, it’s a bit challenging—eliminate dairy. All dairy, even butter and ghee, for a week.
After those six steps, it’s time for some decision-making.
Are you feeling a lot better? Great! If you’re a lot better but really missing –x– perhaps you can add it back in. I would suggest that most foods you took out in Steps 2 and 3 need to stay out, and I would insist that gluten needs to stay out for a total of six full weeks. But maybe butter, yogurt, or cheese can come back in. (When you re-introduce dairy items, the words "low fat" shall never enter your home or your mouth, right?) Or rice: time for sushi! Watch carefully as you re-introduce foods. Have them once and wait 24 hours; if all seems fine, have them a couple times a day for the next several days. If all continues fine, move on to the next returning food.
Are you feeling no better at all? You either need more time, some fine-tuning, or perhaps more foods eliminated, or an additional step besides making your diet healthy. Because you are now eating a healthy diet! Fine-tuning might include attending to the quality of your food: choose organic vegetables and protein sources; dairy, meat and eggs should come from pasture-free animals. If you have an auto-immune condition (known or unknown), the autoimmune diet SEE HERE might be the food plan you need to follow.
Other steps to consider include getting adequate sleep, handling stress effectively, and getting enough sunshine. Nutritional deficiencies or genetic challenges are also considerations.
Most people find these changes very sustainable, allowing—of course—for rare or occasional wedding cakes and celebratory glasses of beer.
What do you think, how is this working for you?