There are diets that are purely intended for weight loss and are meant to end (calorie restriction, Jenny, medifast), and those that are usually intended as more of a lifestyle change (Paleo, vegan, vegetarian). I find that people who embark on the later tend to get really into it. We've all met the vegans who look at you like you're killing a kitten when you eat your burger, or perhaps the weird paleo people who eat nothing but bacon. But how can such vastly different diets all claim to be the best and the healthiest? Mustn't somebody be wrong here?
The long and short of it is: yes and no. There is no best diet for everyone and there never will be. Even thousands of years ago in the Paleolithic era our ancestors were eating incredibly different diets than that of their cousins on other continents. I find that the diets that claim to be the best (Paleo, vegetarian, vegan) tend to get a little carried away at times, to the point that they all get a little too dogmatic for my liking. I don't see the point in telling yourself you absolutely must follow a diet because of external forces. Sure, that book resonated with you and you found a bunch of great blogs on the topic, but is that what this journey is all about? No. Follow a diet that makes you feel good and does right by your body. Now, I'm not telling you to go buy Ho-Ho's because they make you feel good. The point is that we should be picking how we eat according to 1. Basic common sense about nutrition and 2. How our bodies feel when we eat things, and lastly 3. Everything else.
It's not rocket science to know that broccoli is healthier than cereal. Basic common sense about nutrition can go a long way if you choose to make healthier choices. If you want a quick, enjoyable read that will teach you what I consider common sense about food I recommend Food Rules by Michael Pollan.
Some people just don't feel good when they eat meat. I would argue that those people should not eat meat or limit meat intake. As much as the Paleo community wouldn't appreciate that stance, that's really what it comes down to. Granted, I have seen people say that they went vegetarian because they get indigestion from eating meat- and it turns out they don't make enough stomach acid to digest meat, which is actually quite easy to treat. But say you look at it from a "less real" angle. If you don't like the thought of eating an animal, if eating a piece of chicken conjures up images of factory farms and slaughtering of innocent birds, don't you think that will affect how your body responds to that food? The brain and emotions have a profound impact on the body in ways that we are only just starting to understand. Yes, not eating animals for the sake of not killing animals seems like a kind of wuss reason to not eat meat, but I would argue that it has just as much to do with the body as the brain. Don't want to eat meat? Don't eat meat, then.
The Paleo diet eliminates grains and legumes. Grains are a beast we will get more into in another post, but here's the thing about it. First of all, a lot of people have food sensitivities to grains- especially wheat. The other important thing about grains is that they generally contain a lot of starch/carbohydrates. And while Paleo is not the same as Atkins, both diets work marvelously for weight loss for the same reason: Insulin. Without sugar and starch you don't make as much insulin. Without insulin you simply do not store fat in the fat cells (and you start using the existing fat). If you stop storing fat and start using it you lose weight. Paleo works wonderfully for weight loss purposes, but again, it's not the end all be all. I encourage a plant-based Paleo approach as a framework for most people to start with, but I'm not so extreme that I'm not willing to alter the plan now and then. If you don't have a sensitivity to a non-gluten grain (like quinoa) and feel good when you eat it, I'm personally not opposed to incorporating it into your diet in moderation. The important thing is that you feel comfortable, happy and healthy eating.
I think in both of these cases there might be some middle ground that most people would be happy in. Most people don't just eat too much meat, but they eat cheap meat that was raised in a factory farm and loaded to the eyeballs with drugs and hormones. I think that most people would do well if they cut their meat intake by 1/3 and paid three times as much for good quality meat. This is one aspect of Paleo that I really like, although sometimes the paleo crowd gets a little too meat-happy for my liking. It is true that dietary fat and cholesterol are not the dietary evils we once thought them to be, but I do believe there is such a thing as too much meat. Animal protein is still pretty inflammatory, so if you choose to eat meat you have to balance it out with a hearty serving of veggies and fruit. Similarly, a lot of vegetarians are really grain-etarians (I was for many years) and would be better off replacing the majority of their grain dishes with vegetables.
Believe it or not, this was just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the point. Choose a diet that makes you feel good and keeps you healthy, and if you ever want to get screened for food sensitivities I'm right here in Tempe ready to help you.
If you or somebody you know is interested in working with a functional medicine doctor please call my office at (919) 238-4094 and see if we are the right fit for you. Infinity Holistic Healthcare is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, part of the Raleigh-Durham "triangle" area.