A great rule to have in life is to consume the things that love you back, and that of course includes your diet. I want to explore different diets but also how you can create your own non-mainstream plan, based on your own needs. As a disclaimer, this is not medical or health advice. And though I do plan on sharing research and data, I think it’s important to note that your body will almost always tell you when something is good for you or not!
We can start our new chapter of awareness by asking ourselves mindful questions about our relationship with food. How does food make your body feel in the first 24 hours after you consume it? What does cucumber water do for your skin? Are there good or bad long-term effects from what you’re eating or drinking? These are things we can be mindful of to help navigate our own personal version of a healthy lifestyle.
Mainstream diet plans explained
Vegetarianism, which many people are familiar with, is a diet that is inclusive of everything except meat. That means no seafood, but you can still enjoy the byproducts of meat like cheese, milk, cream, etc.
Pescatarian diets are very similar except the no meat rule doesn’t apply to seafood. It just means no meat like beef, chicken, or pork. I’ve found that a lot of my pescatarian friends actually have a seafood focused diet, where most of what they consume is seafood. But some people use this diet as a less strict vegetarian alternative, and to leave the option open to seafood should it arise.
A Vegan diet cuts out all animal products completely. That includes meat/fish, eggs, dairy, and sometimes even honey considering it’s from bees. There are tons of meat alternatives to these diets like soy protein, tofu, jackfruit, seitan and mushrooms as a substitute. There are vegan cheeses, vegan eggs, and avocado butter which is one of my personal favorites even though I don’t follow a plant-based diet.
The Ketogenic diet on the other hand is high protein and low carbs, so typically involves a large meat and dairy consumption. This can be used as a weight-loss diet, especially good for building muscle. I’ve personally done the keto diet before and saw a huge difference in my body composition, mostly because my body didn’t hold carbs in the places that aligned with the body and fitness goals I had for myself. As a pasta lover, it was so hard but there are keto alternatives like chickpea pasta or zucchini noodles. I even one time made a keto lasagna by making the noodles from cheese dough.
Intermittent Fasting is a popular weight-loss diet that involves eating on a timed schedule. Most intermittent fasting diets will include eating only during set hours each day, like 12pm-8pm or 10am-6pm and fasting for the remainder. Alternative methods will include alternating days. You may choose one day a week to fast a full 24 hours, or do a timed fast every other day. According to Harvard Health, “As long as we don’t snack between meals our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of intermittent fasting is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.”
So, how we move from “diets” to a lifestyle?
I’ve generally given up on dieting and have tried instead to make my eating lifestyle a healthy one. The scenery of my life is always changing – maybe it’s the time of the month and I’m not going to deny my daily chocolate cravings. Or maybe I have a set goal I’m trying to reach and get strict about consuming as little sugar as possible for 30 days. Those are circumstantial. My overall goal for myself is to eat things that make me feel good.
Things that make me feel good are things that clear my skin like drinking at least 96oz of water a day, or making sure that at least two of my daily meals are full of protein and vegetables to enhance my digestive health. Indicators of not so great feelings are consuming a ton of dairy regularly and feeling extra gassy or having stomach pains. I don’t really drink soda or juice unless it’s a cocktail or ginger ale. And we all know ginger ale doesn’t count – it’s medicine!
When I fall off of my routine eating habits I might experience breakouts, dull skin, constipation, irritability and low energy. If you follow my writing, you know I love the mantra “be gentle with yourself” so I don’t beat myself up for getting sidetracked, which I find is one of the first things that happens when I feel I’m struggling with my mental health. That being said, focusing more on a general healthy lifestyle than a strict diet has helped me become more acquainted with my body – physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Now we have the lifestyle, what about the budget?
Healthier and better quality food options demand strategic budgeting. When I made the switch to what my definition of better foods are like multigrain seed bread and only fresh not frozen produce, my pockets were hurting. Now, I think I’m getting the hang of it:
1. I do not buy in bulk anymore. I can’t say how effective this is for those with larger households but as a single person who consumes a lot of fresh foods and always ends up at the grocery store anyways, I only buy enough food to last me a week.
2. Before I get there, I plan out what I’ll eat every day this week (especially meals because I’m not a big snacker.) I know I can get through 3 hearts of romaine in 1 week, an 8oz piece of salmon, and 2 packs of chicken for dinner. I stick to oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. Oatmeal I don’t mind buying in larger quantities because I eat it often and it’s less perishable.
3. I have no problem buying a pre-made salad mix, and pre-cut fruits. This moreso saves time, but as we all know, time is money.
4. And lastly, I don’t grocery shop when I’m hungry. I’m way too impulsive at that point.
Farmer’s markets can be pricey but you can sometimes catch some great deals while supporting your local farmers. And don’t forget to leave cushion room in your budget if you also enjoy take-out. Maybe keep in mind to only buy 75% of your weekly meals to cook.
I encourage anyone reading this article to listen to your body. Be mindful of the things you ingest (and I don’t just mean food). It might even help to keep a log for a little while, or include what you ate and drank in your regular journaling practice. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t forget how good it feels when your body is happy. And remember, you’re not alone in this – speak often with your friends and loved ones as you learn what’s best for your body. Be patient and offer yourself grace, even when things aren’t going the way you planned… good luck!