Nutritional therapist and author of Eat, Nourish, Glow Amelia Freer explains why there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet
Everyone wants to know which diet is the best for him or her. It is a question I am constantly asked. Honestly? I don’t know. Only you do.
I see clients who are whipped up into a state of confusion and frustration by all of the different forms of healthy eating that are currently being promoted.
So much so that they are actually frozen – they want results but can’t figure out how to eat day to day. They buy all the books, read all the blogs, buy all the cool ingredients but still they don’t actually know how to eat well or get well. And they feel disempowered and undisciplined.
And this is the exact opposite of what healthy eating is about. I don’t believe that anyone should view food as a calorie. Nor feel guilt when they eat. Nor fear food. What I can say I do know, honestly, is that we need to get very clear on the difference between what food actually is, versus factory produced food-like substances as well as what a real portion is – our bodies respond very graciously when we do.
I recently met a new client who arrived with a long list of ALL of the current “diets” and asked me to explain each and help her decide which one she should do. She really wanted to do a juice cleanse as she heard she could lose “heaps of weight really quickly”. But she was also intrigued by the 5:2 as she had a friend who had lost weight that way. However, one of her favourite celebrities favoured a particular diet book so she had been attempting some of that method also. She didn’t have any health symptoms. She just wanted to lose weight and glow – as quickly as possible. I think she was somewhat disappointed by my response…
I don’t support any way of eating that has a name. There is no one diet for us all. We are unique. Each and every one of us has a completely individual genetic picture, different pre-natal story, different microbiome (bacteria) that influence our food selections, a different childhood, different relationships with food, different tastebuds, different cooking abilities, different budgets… etc.
We are different – how can I, or anyone, possibly tell you what is the one and only way you should be eating? The client I mentioned above was baffled and confused and still overweight – how empowering is that? She was trying to do it all but was sadly, and frustratingly not achieving anything. She wanted to do something trendy and she wanted a very quick fix. Had any of these worked for her in the past? No. Will they? No. Until this client addresses her thoughts and attitude towards food, and looks at the bigger, longer picture, she is unlikely to achieve her goals, in a way that will have healthy repercussions. I am working with her to help her find a way to eat that will make her beautiful and empowered, strong and well for the rest of her life, not just a few weeks.
My approach with clients is not “my way or the high way”. My training is to read and understand the clients’ symptoms, to listen to their story, to understand their health history and goals. And to piece together all of the parts of their jigsaw. Then guide them in the right direction, for them and their goals. Of course I need to be up to date about food and its effects. And yes it can be a bit of a minefield! What I learnt when I very first started training has been completely turned on its head by more current science. The way I started to eat when I was unwell did get me on a path to healing but it has taken me years and years of experimenting to get just the right diet for me, and I’m sure I’ll still tweak and learn more as we discover more about food's effects on our wellbeing. Being symptom-free is always my goal and my guide.
The frustrating thing for so many that embark on different healthy ways of eating is that for some, they feel amazing because let's face it, most of the current health movements remove processed and junk foods and involve eating real food; yet for others, this may still not be enough for them to feel better – which I see regularly.
It’s dependent on so many factors – maybe they need to follow a FODMAP plan, restore their microbiome, heal their gut with GAPS, or address autoimmune conditions with a no grain Paleo approach. Or perhaps they will thrive on a raw, vegan, vegetarian or alkaline programme. Maybe they need blood work to dig deeper into what is out of sync for them. Perhaps the 5:2 is just the structure they need (so long as they aren’t purely counting calories which is a completely outdated concept given that a head of broccoli contains more calories than a can of Coke!).
The point is, I see vegans who are healthy, but I see many who are not. And I see meat eaters who are vibrant and robust, and many who are not. I feel so frustrated by the frivolous presumptuousness of this “healthy” industry that tells people how they should eat without knowing their unique story. I urge you to forget about the name and instead start to listen to you. If you can’t break a negative food cycle or relieve symptoms then seek the advice of a nutritional therapist who will look further upstream of your symptoms, and help identify the underlying cause as well as guiding you on what might be the right way to eat, for you.
To answer the question of what is the “perfect diet”, this is what I know thus far:
1. We need to eat plants – about 10 portions per day is ideal and the more colourful, the better
2. We need to eat protein – doesn’t need to be an animal source
3. Not all fats are to be feared – don’t eat ones from a factory, enjoy ones that occur naturally, in moderation
4. We need to limit ALL sugars – fructose is still sugar so don’t overload on it, or any form of sweetened foods, natural or not. Read my full piece on why sugar is so bad for you here .
5. We need to eat REAL FOOD. That means food as it is found in nature, not how it comes out of the factory with plastic packaging, a barcode and heating instructions
6. This means cooking our food from scratch
7. Chew, well, while appreciating, concentrating and enjoying each mouthful
8. Move our bodies in a way that we enjoy, not a way that hurts or stresses us
9. And laugh, as much as we possibly can!