Every diet has “food police” who insist that all rules must be followed at all times. Who are the food police? Sometimes they are the creators/authors of the diet plan themselves. Other times, they are moderators of online forums or “true believers” who espouse the virtue of a particular diet and insist that the “rules are the rules.” And honestly, some of the diet rules can be rather arbitrary. So what’s a person to do? That, my friend, is entirely up to YOU.
If you sense that this post was written after a “discussion” with the “food police,” you are correct! Someone asked a question on a forum about how to stick with Whole30 rules when traveling. I responded that one of my strategies is to to bring my Coconut Nutty Flax Granola on the road so that I can start each day on a healthy note. Mind you, there’s nothing but Whole30-compliant goodness in the recipe: organic whole flaxseeds, cinnamon, almond slivers, unsweetened coconut flakes. And the granola is accompanied by unsweetened coconut milk and topped with fresh blueberries. What more could you ask for in a healthy breakfast? Ah, well… it’s a “recreation of cereal and not compliant.” Really?
In fact, flaxseeds are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. But my granola has similarities to forbidden cereal – as if the granola acts as a “gateway” to Lucky Charms! Indeed, Whole30 insists you avoid “breakfast treats,” which include cereals. Now those of you who subscribe to the Healthy 7 Menus know that flax granola (along with blueberry pear compote made with chia seeds) are the cornerstone weekday breakfasts. So you have a choice to make. Follow Whole30 to the letter and find your own breakfasts, go ahead and enjoy the flax granola, or try the granola AFTER you’ve completed the very strict 30-day program. I’m sticking with my granola, so let’s talk about how to make diets personalized and sustainable.
Most diets have rules that are “hard and fast.” You just don’t break the rules. EVER! I follow Whole30 because MOST of the rules work for me. I feel better when I eliminate all forms of sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, and dairy from my diet. And that alone is quite a tough task when we are bombarded with donuts at the office and offers of wine at a friend’s house. But I find that some of the “nitty gritty” and questionable rules – like the no cereal rule – are counterproductive. I want to sustain a healthy lifestyle, so I have to adapt the diet to match my needs. Here are the questions I ask when designing my real-life approach to healthy eating.
Each of us has different weaknesses. It’s not hard for me to resist cookies and sweet rolls, but put a bag of potato chips in front of me and it’s another story. And I enjoy craft beers. So giving up alcohol for 30 days was tough. I have to keep those weaknesses in check, and that’s not easy either. To help you think about your food weaknesses, just ask yourself the following questions:
The goal of diets is to change our eating habits. But they have to work WITH our lifestyles. In my experience, there are two key lifestyle issues that dictate our ability to follow and maintain strict diets – travel and work.
Whole30 requires 30 days of hard core commitment. Similarly, Lyn-Genet’s The Plan requires three weeks of food testing to identify “bad” foods. Eventually, those trial periods end and you are on your own to reintroduce foods. This is the time when it’s easy to fall back on old habits – habits that you were trying to break in the first place. Any diet that is overly strict is impossible to maintain and only leads to failure. What can you really sustain? Do you want to give up going out to eat with friends because you can’t be guaranteed your meal is Whole30 compliant? Do you skip the glass of wine with your anniversary celebration?
Most diets are “all or nothing,” which leads to feelings of guilt and failure should you break the rule. That’s one of the reasons many of us experience yo-yo weight effects. Up one year. Down the next. And repeat. That’s not a way to live, so you need to figure out what is sustainable for you. I opt for the glass of wine and occasional burger in a bun. I also use intermittent fasting to get my body back on track. It works for me. So think about how you can adapt and build practices to sustain healthy eating over the course of a lifetime.
One of the reasons why I like both The Plan and Whole30 is that these plans made me extremely mindful of how certain foods impacted my feelings of well-being, both physically and emotionally. My experiences with mindfulness lead me to believe that the real long-term solution to our weight issues is mindful eating. Pay attention to what and how much goes into your body. In Okinawa, Japan, there’s a concept called hara hachi bun me. It’s a Confucian term that encourages people to eat until they are 80% full. Then perhaps it’s not surprising that Okinawa has the world’s highest proportion of centenarians. While you might be challenged to fill up your stomach to that proportion, it is certainly within everyone’s capacity to slow down the eating process, be mindful of the health properties of the foods we eat, and keep our portion sizes reasonable.
Most diets do not have the flexibility to meet real life situations. They require too many sacrifices that are simply not sustainable in the long term. Diets like Whole30 and The Plan are short-term approaches that promise to increase your awareness of how foods impact your well-being. My approach, the one that is sustainable for me, is Whole30-based. That doesn’t mean it’s Whole30-strict. I eat my healthy flax granola, occasionally indulge in “forbidden” foods, and enjoy my life. Sometimes the rule book needs to be put aside in favor of practicality.