What’s the best diet for me? This is not an easy question to answer. What we do know is that we’re not all the same. The best diet for your sister is probably not the best diet for you.

As a Certified Nutritionist, I typically recommend that my clients follow some variation of the Mediterranean Diet. My reasoning that this is the best diet is that it is healthy, easy to adhere to, and allows leading a normal life.  

Someone is classified as obese when their body mass index (someone’s weight-to-height ratio) is more than 30.

And while the body mass index has been criticized by medical experts in recent years as not being an accurate portrayal of someone’s total health, an unhealthy weight can, however, take its toll on your health as it increases your risk for chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes type 2. 

Unfortunately, losing weight isn’t as easy as it sounds. We are inundated by so many fad diets and weight-loss products that it’s easy to become confused. We also want to see quick results and tend to reach for anything that offers the promise of quick weight loss. 

However, it’s not only a healthy weight that is key to optimum health. Your lifestyle as a whole needs a complete overhaul.

How to Determine the Best Diet for You

Here are some pointers to help you select the diet that’s best for you and your lifestyle:  

1. You should be able to maintain your regimen

Unless you have chosen a diet or eating plan that you can follow indefinitely, you are likely to return to your bad old ways when you’ve reached your goal with the new diet. Before you know it, you will be back at your old weight. 

What you really want is to start a diet that isn’t really a diet at all, but rather a lifestyle change. Weight loss is very exciting and motivating, but once you get to weight maintenance, the novelty has worn off and it may become a challenge to stick to the changes you made.

Your new weight is only viewed as “permanent” once you have managed to keep it off for an entire year. The National Weight Control Registry is a long-term study which currently observes over 10 000 people who have lost a significant amount of weight and managed to keep it off. This is what they did to maintain their weight:

  • 78% eat breakfast every day.
  • 75% weigh themselves at least once a week.
  • 62% watch less than ten hours of TV per week.
  • 90% exercise, on average, about one hour per day.

2. Eat to fight disease, not feed it

A “healthy diet” needs to adhere to a number of principles. The most important is that most of your food should be minimally processed (eaten as it is found in nature) and be predominantly plant based.

Here are some more practical suggestions to promote good health:

  • Mix up your meals. Eat a variety of foods and not just “the same old” on repeat. Different foods contain different vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants and therefore variety is essential in order to obtain a range of nutrients.
  • Move it! Be physically active for at least 30 minutes per day.
  • Make starchy foods the basis of most meals. There is a catch here – portions should be kept small (half a cup to one cup) and these options should be unprocessed, whole grain and high in fiber.
  • Eat plenty of plants. Aim for at least five portions of vegetables and fruits per day, giving preference to vegetables. You will benefit from the satiety value they provide, their fiber content as well as the wide range of nutrients they contain. Strive for variety.
  • Incorporate at least one meat-free meal per week into your routine. Eat beans, chickpeas, soy and lentils regularly.
  • Chicken, all types of fish, low fat dairy, lean meat or eggs can be eaten daily – but, control the portions of your proteins – two to three matchbox-sized portions will suffice for most adults.
  • Include healthy fats in your diet. Give preference to heart-healthy monounsaturated fats such as olives, olive oil, canola oil, nuts and avocado. 
  • Drink six to eight glasses of water daily. If you want to have a “tipple”, be sensible about how much. A recommended guideline is no more than one unit of alcohol for women per day, and no more than two for men.
  • Skip the salt (or at least use it sparingly).
  • Try and quit sugar. If you can’t, use small amounts and not between meals.

3. Eat a diet that’s within your budget

It’s important to be able to maintain your diet, not only from a mental perspective, but also an economic one.

We tend to think that a healthy diet should consist of expensive superfoods. A healthy lifestyle can (and should), however, be cost-effective.

To save on your food budget, try focusing less on grass-fed, organic and “free from” foods (free from gluten/wheat/lactose etc.), and rather include minimally processed whole foods that are seasonal, that can be bought in bulk (and shared). You can also start a vegetable garden.   

Small changes in your shopping list can have a significant effect on the weight of your wallet. Take for example swapping your fillet of salmon, for a few pilchards (the omega-3 content is similar). The cost per portion will drop from R40 to R3.50. 

A similarly easy swap with very little impact on health outcome is swapping your olive oil (R150/L) for canola oil (R22/L).

4. Don’t turn into a hermit

Is your diet one that can only be followed if you dedicate all your time to preparing intricate meals? Is socializing difficult because of all your restrictions? 

Although you may be able to follow a complicated and restrictive for a short period of time, eventually your need to socialize and be with others will take over and adherence to your diet will wane.

Find a way of eating that doesn’t just suit you, but also your family, and allows you the flexibility to eat with others.

5. Don’t choose an unsafe and unsustainable fad diet

If the new diet you have decided to embark on has one or more of the following characteristics, you may be chasing a fad diet which is both unsafe and unsustainable:

  • It offers an easy magic solution without having to make many lifestyle changes.
  • It promises rapid weight loss of more than 1kg a week.
  • It promises foods with “fat burning” properties (such as the grapefruit diet).
  • It promotes the avoidance or severe restriction of major food groups.
  • It promotes eating mainly one type of food (such as cabbage soup or eggs).
  • It eliminates major food groups.
  • It recommends eating foods in particular combinations according to your blood type.
  • It recommends detoxing or juicing.
  • It offers no supporting evidence.
  • It recommends eating non-food items such as cotton wool (there are some bizarre diets out there).
  • The same diet is recommended for everyone without accounting for specific needs such as age, gender, body size and activity levels.

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