What is the best diet?
Which diet should you be following to achieve your fitness goals, have plenty of energy and be in good health?
These are the questions we will address today. Unfortunately, this post is not going to be a simple prescription. Indeed, that is the very problem with the diet industry. There is no one size fits all or ‘best’ diet that everyone should follow. Rather, there are a number of intricacies that are unique to you. In this post I will lay out the questions you need to ask yourself, to come to your own conclusions about how to eat for your goals.
What Do You Want
The first question to answer is what do you want to achieve? What are your goals?
Sometimes the best diet to achieve your goals is not the same as the healthiest diet, the easiest diet to follow or the most natural thing for you to do.
If you want to build muscle and gain significant weight, you are going to need to eat a lot of food. Depending on your size and appetite, this might not be the easiest or most appealing thing to you.
I personally hate having to eat so much food. I practically force feed myself, but it is something I must do to sustain my training and achieve my strength goals. These things are important to me, so I see it as worth the sacrifice.
Sometimes, the easiest way to get in more calories is with shakes or by eating ‘junk food’. This is objectively not the healthiest thing in the world, but it is what will take you towards your goals.
So to begin, answer the question, “what do you want to achieve?”
What Can I Control?
After deciding what you want to achieve, you need to look at what is realistic for you to actually do.
This is where the ‘optimal diet’ might be at odds with your lifestyle. People who have normal jobs, families, and commitments (e.g. not professional athletes) need to fit their diet in around their life. They do not have the luxury of making it their life.
Again I’ll reference using shakes as a way to get calories in easily and on the go. Buying food is quicker and easier than cooking every meal yourself, but home cooking is definitely healthier.
The corollary to this is to look at where you need to make changes or sacrifices in order to gain control.
Making excuses to not do something – like cooking your own food – and then not even trying, because you’re busy, is not going to help you achieve your goals.
There will be times when you simply need to sacrifice and do the work. Make changes to your routine, or find alternative solutions.
Based on what you need to do to achieve your goals; what can you control or change to make that happen?
Remember to be realistic when answering this question. There’s no point creating an amazing plan that is totally unrealistic and you will never be able to follow.
What Do I Need to Consider Unique to My Situation?
Diets should be personalized. That is going to include consideration for your tastes, the time you have, the food you have access to and most importantly, any health issues.
Are you intolerant or allergic to certain foods?
Salmon is generally seen as one of the healthiest foods to include in your diet. If you’re allergic to salmon, guess what? It’s not going to be healthy for you!
This is why I believe one size fits all diet prescriptions do not work. Regardless of how well thought out, evidence based and generally effective they may be. If they do not leave room for individual needs, they are going to be too restrictive. This covers not just obvious health issues of eating foods you’re reactive to, but also to the reality of actually following the plan. Nobody is going to consistently eat foods they don’t like just because they are ‘healthy’.
You need to enjoy the food you are eating if you want to stand any chance of maintaining it for the long term.
What Is Best For Me?
Now considering your answer to all of the previous questions, you have the information needed to determine what is going to be the best routine for you to follow.
Having determined what your goals are, and what you need to do to achieve them, you have a lens with which to assess all other decisions.
Next you eliminate things that are not going to work for you in reality, that you don’t like or that will not be easy for you to follow.
Based on what is left, you can put a plan together. It might well be 90% Diet X with a couple of modifications for you. That’s cool, many of the popular diets are based on good foundations. You just need a little bit of room to make sure it works for you.
Structure vs Freedom
One final question relates to how rigid or flexible you need to be in your structure. This is where you need to be honest and self-aware. Do not answer this question based on what you would like to do, but rather base it on what you know you need to do to make it work.
A lot of people hate the idea of structure and too much planning, but also know that when left to make decisions in the moment, they tend to make poor decisions and ultimately do not achieve their goals.
Do you want to achieve your goals? Then you need to set up a plan that is going to do that. Be honest with yourself and create the plan that will actually lead to the results you want.