There is a lot of information on the internet and from our friends and family about new diets to try. There are systems such as weight watchers, Nutrisystem, and 30/10. There are diets that tend to be based on values: vegetarian, vegan, and paleo. There are also styles of diet, like the Mediterranean Diet and DASH; and there are diets based on convenience. Then we also factor in things like culture, economics, family traditions, personal preferences, personal health history, time in life, gender, exercise pattern and age. How do we know what is “right” for us?
So from the start, we can say that every diet is personal to the individual. What works for us when we’re 20 years old may not work for us when we have kids, a different job, or a change in where we live. “Diet” is not a box we stay in for life, it’s a dynamic choice that we make every day.
I want to start a discussion on how to know if your diet is working for you and if you make a change in your diet, how (and when) do you know that it’s a going to work for you.
One step that people often miss is considering their intention for your diet. It seems so obvious, but we actually use our diet for lots of things: to nourish our ourselves, for entertainment, to connect to family and friends, to drug ourselves in to a sugar coma, to manage our emotions, to celebrate. If we change our diet, we may be trying to change our intention about what our diet will do for us.
I believe the main goal of any diet, 80% of the time, should be nourishment, and to provide long-term and short-term health and mental clarity. Then, 20% is for celebration and connection. It’s natural to use food to manage our emotions - it works so well - but we should be working to diversify our options to self soothe.
What does it mean to have a diet that nourishes our bodies? It’s important to protect our power supply. This means that we need to meet our basic nutritional needs: Are we getting enough amino acid/protein, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and – importantly - is there diversity in what we’re eating?
When we make changes to our diets, we should have a sense of how the nutrient content might also be changing, and how the body will respond to that change. Our bodies work hard to maintain homeostasis. If we cut our calories, the body’s natural response is to slow the metabolic rate. This is why quick weight loss diets fail: cutting significantly back on calories signals that there is famine (which means we need to hold on to our fat stores), and it also exposes our brains to stress hormones which makes us anxious, irritable or not present to our daily lives, particularly if we have a history of trauma.
Eating food together is an ancient way of interacting. Depending on our jobs, families, and economics, we have more or less ability to be in control of what we eat. When we are changing our diets, we need to consider the impact our new diet will have on our ability to engage in social events. We also need to understand and be prepared to advocate for our dietary needs. Another way of thinking about this is how we can be responsible for our own choices, so that other don’t have to guess at what we need. We also need to have clear plans in place to handle holidays and special events, so that we can still enjoy the social aspects without having our diets derailed.
In my clinical office, I often work with individuals who have significant trauma histories in their childhoods. An amazing study on the impact of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) shows that individuals who have had a number of traumatic events in childhood are at risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. These disease risks can be lowered by our diet choices in adulthood. It’s helpful for individuals with trauma histories to have clear intentions for their diets. Restrictive diets rarely work, because the restrictions often get tangled up with feelings of being deprived. Instead, changing to a diet where they notice that they feel better (in their bodies and minds), and occasionally testing if a new routine is helpful, seems to be more effective because part of recovering from trauma is choice. Being forced - even by one’s own self - is just another trauma.
Shallow end, Deep end
Some people wade into pools from the shallow end and some just jump into the deep end. Generally, if you are going to jump all in to a radical diet change it is worth having some outside support, or a way of reflecting back an accurate picture of how the change in diet is affecting you.
What skills do you need to change your diet? How do you know if it’s working for you, and when should you check back in with yourself to be sure that it continues to meet your intentions? What if your needs or intentions change?
This will be the focus of September's Connectors Group webinar - register now to join the conversation.