Eat more fat. Stay away from carbs. Don’t eat this; don’t eat that.
You should practice intermittent fasting. You should eat six meals a day evenly spaced out every two to three hours. Don’t eat carbohydrates after 6 p.m. You should follow the Paleo diet. Actually, you should avoid meat.
As a fitness professional, I can easily admit that this industry has become confusing to those who want to start living a healthier life. Google "weight loss" and you’ll be bombarded with millions of results—often with contradictory opinions. We live in an age of easily accessible information, yet obesity rates and various health issues are steadily rising. It’s clearly not an issue of lack of information that’s failing people; the problem is that we've added much more complexity and confusion to healthy eating.
As someone who has tried and fallen victim to many types of fad diets, I’ve learned that all diets can work—as long as they fit into your desired lifestyle. Most people associate complexity with benefits. Don’t fall into this trap. Complexity in health and fitness merely increases someone’s chances of quitting once things get difficult or require too much willpower.
When you’re just starting a journey toward health or trying to regain your footing, you need to answer these three questions before finding your perfect diet:
1. Does this fit into my lifestyle seamlessly while supporting my fitness goals?
You can have the most optimal diet on paper backed by scientific facts and expert opinions, but if that particular style of eating doesn’t fit your specific lifestyle, it’s only going to cause frustration. Attempting to stick to a diet that doesn’t fit into your lifestyle is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Forcing a non-ideal method of eating onto yourself ultimately leads to a showdown between your new healthy lifestyle and everything else. For example, if you prioritize fitness above everything else, then you’ll start to resent your new healthy lifestyle—you'll feel you’re sacrificing your other values in life. If you don’t choose fitness, you’ll be back at square one.
Instead of choosing one or the other, start by thinking about how your job is structured. Now look at other miscellaneous tasks you'll face in a day—say, hobbies, time with friends, and time with family. Now ask yourself, "When can I realistically commit to eating and exercising?" Then (and only then!), worry about the details.
2. Do I (actually) enjoy the way I’m eating?
A sustainable healthy-eating regimen focuses foremost on simplicity and enjoyment. Prioritize those two things (instead of overloading yourself with minutiae), and you'll automatically increase your chances for long-term compliance and less reliance on willpower—a fleeting asset. If you love bread and the consumption of dairy products, you’re not going to enjoy the Paleo diet, no matter how many experts recommend it. (The same thing goes for fitness, by the way; if you choose a workout you find pleasurable, it will be much easier to keep up.)
3. Can I see myself eating this particular way six months from now?
It’s one thing to force yourself into a 30-day eating program in preparation for a special event. But compliance for 30 days is an entirely different story from compliance over the long-term.
The short-term mindset doesn’t teach you how to create long-lasting changes. The short-term allows you to adapt a temporary mindset, leading you to make healthy choices (like eating well or exercising) only for the immediate reward. The short-term doesn’t force you to give up the old and not-so-good habits that you’re comfortable with. If you can’t see yourself eating this particular way down the line, then you need to assess your current strategy.