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There are a plethora of diets out there. How do you know which one is right for you? Does it even matter? I would argue that it does and that one of the most important skills to learn in regard to health is to learn to listen to your body. This takes practice and some training, but it is worth all the effort.
So why should you learn to listen to your body?
The short answer to why you should listen to your body is because not everyone is the same. There are diets that come out that are very popular, like the keto diet or the gluten free diet or the paleo diet. The keto diet works really well for someone with diabetes or someone fighting diabetes, but it does not necessarily work well for a fit and healthy 20 something who may have a slightly underactive thyroid. Some young women especially do not do well long term without grains and the B vitamins that are in those grains. I generally tend to recommend a whole foods diet to someone who has not investigated specifics on how to eat. Most health folks agree that processed foods with white flour and white sugar and vegetable oils are not good for anyone.
So how do you figure out what diet works best for your body?
The simple answer is that it is probably going to be trial and error. My recommendation is that you start with a basic healthy whole foods diet that includes some of every category – meat, fruit, grains, and lots and lots of vegetables. Some categories that may need to be eliminated for folks can include gluten and dairy for those who have leaky gut. Symptoms of leaky gut often are indicated by gastro-intestinal symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and acid reflux. I usually encourage people to eliminate those two categories of gluten and dairy first to see if anything changes.
The other big thing that has to go if you want good health is refined sugar. Eat more vegetables and cut out the sugar are probably the only 2 things that most nutritionists will agree on in regard to diets. But if you do those two things alone, most likely you will see some changes.
So how can you learn to listen to your body?
The first step is cut out white sugar, white flour, and processed foods and get them out of your house if there is any way to do so. None of these products have any nutritional value and they are foods which seem very good at dulling our ability to really listen to our bodies and provide what is truly nourishing. A few weeks off of these foods and you may be able to cultivate a listening ear. For many people doing something like a Whole 30 diet can be very helpful, because it removes all the unhealthy things and helps to reset tastes and break some addictions.
The hard part for many people is that they cannot trust what they think they are hearing. Their body is screaming at them to eat treats because they are in the house. MUST HAVE CHOCOLATE. CANNOT LEAVE THAT BAGEL THERE ON THE COUNTER. It can take a few weeks of going hard core on cutting out processed foods and sugar before you will be able to get past your body screaming at you for these unhealthy foods.
The second step means learning how to pay attention. You need to study your body and responses to things. So eat a meal and pay attention to how you feel afterward. Cut out sugar and replace it with veggies and pay attention to how you feel. Do you see a difference in energy levels? Are you bloated, constipated, suffering with acid reflux? Pay attention to your gut health. It often can help to write down what you are eating and jot down how you are feeling day to day and see if can find any patterns. The tough thing about food is it can affect you for some days after you ate something. But often writing things down helps you to remember details which matter and to begin to see patterns that matter.
A third step is to cut out certain foods and see if you find any changes. If you suspect that gluten is a problem, cut it out for 2 months and then try reintroducing it. If you lose certain symptoms and get them back with that food, then it is worth paying attention.
I have eosinophilic esophagitis, a long fancy name for an irritation in my esophagus that causes narrowing and swelling and leads to trouble swallowing. Over 10 years I had 5 visits to the ER for meat that was stuck in my throat (below the windpipe) and would not dislodge. It was a highly disturbing experience. Finally after the 5th time I agreed to get my esophagus stretched under anesthesia. That was when I was the doctor was able to test and find out that I had ee (see above). Of course he wanted to put me on a steroid inhaler and a proton pump inhibitor. I refused to go that direction so his next recommendation was an elimination diet. The only thing I eliminated was gluten but 6 weeks later when I had a tiny piece of matzoh as part of the Christian celebration of communion I ended up with itching in my throat, a dry cough (symptom of acid reflux for me), and trouble swallowing fried rice a few hours later. That convinced me and I only had gluten once in the past 2 years (apart from homemade sourdough) and it has also meant I have had no significant troubles with swallowing and no more ER visits. I learned to listen to my body on this one. (And it may not be the gluten but may more be the pesticides used on the wheat but I am not going to experiment to find out more.)
If you are stuck in the puzzle of figuring out what is best for you and your body, you may want to find a health coach to work with over some of these hard questions. A good health coach will have ideas for your to consider and will hold you accountable as you work through a tailor made diet for you. I offer health coaching to those who are interested to help you figure out the diet and lifestyle that is best for you.