In this post, I will cover why I believe diets don’t work, and then talk about how I like to structure my meals to make sure my body is getting what it needs. So let’s get to it, should we?
Diets Don’t Work!
We’ve talked about how a vegan diet can be healthy if done correctly, but we never talked about what correctly or incorrectly means. I am not a fan of the vegan diet myself, in fact, I am not a fan of any diets at all.
Firstly let’s define vegan, a person who does not eat OR use animal products. There are a lot of debates in regards to the term vegan and what it means. I personally don’t think we need to fall into a certain category and therefore don’t like to categorise myself. We are all different, have different reasons behind our actions and who we are. With that being said, you can be vegan and eat Oreos, drink Coca-Cola, eat a whole bunch of processed fake meats and eat heavily oiled fries. Not consuming animal products does not automatically make you healthy. Some people don’t care about their health, they simply do it for the animals and the environment.
Now let’s define diet, a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons. Notice the keyword “restricts” used in the definition. This is why I am not a fan of diets and believe that diets don’t work. It’s not just an opinion, I know that for a fact. I often have people ask me “but why do you restrict yourself from this and that”. I honestly never feel like I am restricting and limiting myself or missing out on anything. Simply because I am not on a diet, small lifestyle changes and habits along with learning how to fuel my body got me to where I am today. My taste buds started to change along the way and I no longer crave foods that I used to crave before.
When I was younger I was misinformed, I would try a whole lot of different diets for various reasons. I wanted to lose body fat, other times I wanted to gain muscle mass, with various goals in mind I used to restrict myself from eating certain things. I have even gone to the extent of following bodybuilder type of diets, force-feeding myself plain rice and chicken for one meal, plain salmon, cucumber and tomato for another, having scrambled egg with sausages and so on. I thought this was a healthy diet because I was eating clean, no sauces, no seasoning and no oil, little did I know…
Even though I don’t do this now, I don’t judge people who are still following those type of diets, I once didn’t know what I know now and this is partly the reason why I started this blog. I wanted to share my journey and experiences to hopefully help someone with their goals and avoid the mistakes I did.
Whatever type of diet I tried, it lasted around 3 months at most, some people think it comes down to dedication but I think it comes down to the diets not being sustainable and realistic. You can’t restrict yourself for the rest of your life, you will hit a breaking point and go back to your normal eating habits sooner or later. This is what usually causes the yo-yo effect and in time this will wreck your body. What if you didn’t have to go on a diet in the first place?
Let’s take weight loss diets for example. You may last 3 months on a strict diet and loose 10kg, this is probably not the healthiest thing to do, especially following some of these mainstream diets online like the “protein diet”. You may now be happy with your weight or simply can’t stand being on a diet anymore so you decide to reward yourself and go back to eating as you usually would. Anything you achieved during your diet will go down the drain and you will most likely gain more weight than you initially lost because your organism will try to prepare for the next time you decide to go on a diet. You then repeat the process with no long-term success.
It’s not about dedication, it’s about how your body works. If you starve your body of calories, you will lose weight, but as soon as you go back to eating as you normally would, or even a tiny bit more calories than you did during the diet, your body will store all those extra calories as fat in preparation for next time you decide to shock your body and go on a diet. It’s similar to how bears store fat in preparation for winter.
Often you will hear people say, “I just can’t help it, I’m always hungry.” It again all comes down to understanding how your body works. You can feed your body 7,000 calories a day and still be hungry, but how is that even possible? If you are not feeding your body with the required nutrients it will always be hungry. No matter how many calories you consume, your body requires vitamins and minerals. You can satisfy your hunger with any food, but if you didn’t supply your body with what it needs, it will continue storing calories as fat for energy but still remain hungry. Take pasta for example. Eat a couple servings of a simple pasta dish and you will find that in 30 mins to an hour you will be hungry again, probably because it is a quickly digesting carbohydrate but there could be another factor, your body is simply hungry for other nutrients. This is what I mean by your body stays hungry if you don’t supply it with the right nutrients. Your body continues to store fat but unfortunately, winter never comes.
Healthy Eating Habits
Going forward, I will use the term “diet” in reference to “daily eating habits” rather than a restrictive type of eating as suggested by Google.
I have been eating a whole-foods plant-based diet since June 2017. It’s important to say that I didn’t do it overnight. I have had the desire for change and healthy eating before I even knew about veganism. After being put off consuming meat, mainly from force-feeding myself plain chicken and rice and being on a protein diet, I significantly reduced my meat intake. Soon after I decided to go vegetarian when I found out the health benefits of whole-foods plant-based eating.
Notice that I didn’t just jump straight into it as I knew that would have been unrealistic and wouldn’t have lasted long. Instead, I went vegetarian with the intention of cutting out dairy products out of my diet too. On May the 18th 2017, I shared my intentions with a few friends. I said that I would like to adopt a plant-based diet but firstly I would learn how to fuel my body properly and that I was eating only vegetarian.
It was only a month until I cut out all animal products from my diet, did I know how to properly fuel my body then? The answer is no, my diet wasn’t perfect, hell I would say my diet is still not perfect today, but what I know is that it is much better than what it used to be. Where I am today, is the result of all those little changes made gradually along the way. This is the secret to something that works. Make small healthy changes in your daily habits which will eventually lead you to your end goal. There are no shortcuts and most importantly, you have to find what works for you. What works for me may not necessarily work for you. I am eating healthy to the best of my knowledge, I am even studying a nutrition course at the moment to further strengthen my knowledge on the subject and continue to improve my lifestyle.
Creating a Healthy Plant-Based Meal
Firstly let’s talk about the food pyramid and what the suggested intake guidelines are.
- Vegetables: It is recommended to consume at least 3 to 5 servings a day. I personally eat as many vegetables as possible.
- Fruits: It’s recommended to consume 2 to 4 servings a day, however, most days I eat double that amount. I wouldn’t listen to anyone who says you are consuming too much sugar from fruits if you are eating more than the recommended amount. This is not the same as procced sugars, your body digests it differently. Unless you have a particular disease I don’t see why someone would limit their fruit intake.
- Grains: It’s recommended to eat 6 to 11 servings a day. On average I find myself somewhere in the middle of those numbers. One and a half cup of oats will cover 3 servings. I often have homemade oat cookies, that combined with grains in my meals hits the sweet spot for me. A sandwich would cover 2 more servings.
- Seeds & Legumes: The recommended amount is 2 to 3 servings daily, I would usually have a bit more as I eat quite a lot of hummus. I also use legumes for the base of my meals and add a variety of seeds to my smoothies.
- Fats and oils: Recommended to be consumed in moderation. I personally don’t limit myself on how many healthy fats I eat, however, I consume oil very rarely. My meals are always cooked with only water. I workout 4 to 6 times a week so I have no problem burning through calories.
- Fortified dairy alternatives: It’s recommended to consume 2 to 3 servings. One serving is around 250ml. I usually have 1 to 2 servings.
- Other lifestyle recommendations: Daily exercise, 10 mins of sun exposure a day to activate vitamin D, drink 2 to 3 litres of water and take a reliable source of B12 vitamin. Even if you have meat or dairy in your diet you should still take a B12 supplement.
The above is just for guideline only, don’t become obsessed with serving sizes and so on. I would recommend tracking your food intake with a nutrition tracker such as Cronometer so you have an idea of what your micronutrient intake levels are. If you do this for a few weeks, making sure to hit at least your recommended daily intake of micronutrients such as copper, iron, zinc, magnesium etc. You will then have a better understanding of how much you need to eat and what type of foods. You can check out my previous post in which I talk about my smoothies and it’s ingredients. I also use Cronometer to look at the nutritional values. This is the guide to intuitive eating.
I personally don’t track my calories or nutrient intake anymore as I don’t feel the need to do so, it’s time-consuming and I’m not trying to hit a certain type of macronutrient split. Instead what I do is think about the food pyramid we talked about above.
For example, I have a pineapple or two mangos and some kiwis in the morning for breakfast pretty much all the time, if I have run out it will be a different type of fruit. I also have fruit in my smoothie so I know I will be hitting the guidelines, however, if I fancy eating more fruit throughout the day I wouldn’t stop myself. I also have pretty much the same smoothie every day so I already know what I am getting out of it. This is the type of approach I like to take. I have found what works for me, therefore I am able to sustain it on a day to day basis.
When it comes to creating meals, I have a few checkpoints which I like to hit in order to make sure the meal is balanced and I am working towards the daily guidelines.
✔ Grains, usually quinoa, buckwheat or brown rice on the side.
✔ Legumes, I try to alternate between beans and chickpeas. I also try to have red lentils at least once a day so I add this as a side. I use legumes for the base of my meals, you could call this my meat substitute category if you wish as I don’t eat tofu or other alternatives.
✔ Vegetables, I have a variety in the pan, most time even a pear and an apple. Add whatever you like, try to have a rainbow of colours. Ideally, you want some greens, broccoli is a good option for me as I don’t like cooking leafy greens, instead, I have these in a smoothie or a salad.
✔ Sauce… make a sauce. Look up some plant-based sauce recipes or create your own. You can even make a chickpea curry which is what is added to the meal above. Blend some chickpeas, red pepper and chillies with some Himalayan salt and you are good to go.
✔ Finally, season to your liking. I like to add an avocado on top as well to boost omega-6 and good fat sources, plus it tastes amazing combined with the meal. I have one every day.
✔ Cook with no oil, just use water instead.
This is the art of intuitive eating and making your own recipes. Following recipes is a good way to learn some cooking tricks and different meal ideas but it can also be quite daunting, having to find new recipes to cook and learn new methods of doing things. Again, do what works for you and make sure it’s sustainable, that is the most important thing when it comes to seeing results from working towards your goals, consistency is key. Nothing happens overnight, there are no shortcuts, no magical ways to get a six pack or whatever you may be aiming for. The internet is full of transformation photos, workout programs and diet plans that are simply unrealistic for most people. They tell you what you want to hear, but at the end, you will be left disappointed if you are not realistic with yourself.
Ditch the diets, make some healthy lifestyle changes and reap the benefits in the long term. Nothing comes easy and nothing comes as quickly as you would like to think.