Why Nutrition Isn't One Size Fits All + How To Eat For Your Unique Body
The modern world is inundated with an overwhelming amount of nutrition advice. These days, suggestions on what we should and shouldn't eat are coming from all sides: friends, family, co-workers, social media, etc. This plethora of information often leads to a narrow-minded perspective on nutrition, with many believing that there's a single optimal diet that works for everyone.
If I'm being honest, I was once guilty of this myself. After spending a couple of years working in a lab studying the ketogenic diet for therapeutic application and athletic performance, I thought low-carb and keto dieting was the right approach for everyone. But then, after years of working with professional athletes and health coaches from across the world, I realized I was wrong.
Now, my philosophy is less rigid. I recognize that nutrition needs change depending on an individual's unique needs, goals, and lifestyle. Here are the three factors to take into consideration when looking for your optimal diet:
Human beings are all unique, with differences in biochemistry, genetics, and health status. This is why a personalized approach to nutrition, based on bio-individuality, is important.
Of course, there are certain dietary principles that will benefit almost everyone, such as avoiding refined sugar, limiting seed oils, and consuming adequate protein, quality fats, and essential micronutrients. Outside of these nutritional guidelines, though, we find that individual responses to different eating patterns can vary greatly.
For example, I've seen keto lead to incredible weight loss in one individual while producing no weight change in another. I've seen some individuals respond well to a plant-based diet while others feel like they want to roll over and die while eating vegetarian. I've even seen drastically different blood sugar responses from person to person after eating the same food.
There are several reasons for this variation in responses; one of the biggest being our genetics. Our genetics can play a role1 in things like how we respond to a high-fat diet, how sensitive we are to plant defense chemicals, and even whether or not we can adequately access certain nutrients found in the foods we eat.
Your current health status also plays a huge role in your nutritional needs. If you are insulin resistant, for instance, you are going to have a wildly different blood sugar response to a sweet potato than someone who is insulin sensitive. Extrapolated even further, if you are metabolically unhealthy, you will likely respond much better to a low-carb or keto diet than a carbohydrate-based diet since your body won't be as efficient at metabolizing carbohydrates.
In short, if the goal is to optimize your diet, then it's a good idea to tailor your nutrition plan to your unique genetic makeup and the current status of your health.
Your personal goals will also impact your ideal diet. Oftentimes we jump on an eating pattern because it's trendy or we heard someone we respect talk about how great it worked for them. If we do this without taking the time to assess if the outcome of the diet is actually what we are looking for, it can backfire.
If your main goal is to enhance cognitive performance, for example, a diet geared toward weight loss may not be the best approach. If your goal is to get your blood sugar under control, a muscle-building diet with excess calories and high meal frequency is not going to get you closer to your objectives.
Oftentimes, of course, we have more than one goal. And that's OK! It's all the more reason why we don't have to entirely subscribe to a specific pattern of eating. I'll use myself as an example. I have found that a low-carb diet is the best approach for keeping my weight stable while also elevating my mood, energy, and brain function. All of these results are important for me. However, I also have a desire to perform at a high level when I play basketball and I have found that consuming some carbs before I play helps me achieve this goal.
If I were to choose a strict low-carb diet, I would not be meeting all of my goals. So instead, I take a modified approach that focuses on whole-food carb consumption around workouts while keeping carb intake low the rest of the day. This small tweak to my nutrition plan has allowed me to stay on the path to achieving all of my health objectives.
Finally, your lifestyle and personal preferences will also inevitably influence your nutrition plan.
Just because an eating pattern has a ton of science behind it doesn't mean it will fit into your routine. Fasting is a great example. Fasting can be an effective tool for weight loss because it induces a calorie deficit (among other benefits). However, there are many other ways to induce a calorie deficit, such as counting calories. If weight loss is your goal, the approach you choose should be based on your lifestyle. As Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., asked on a recent podcast, "Would you rather eat half a muffin for breakfast or skip breakfast altogether?" There isn't necessarily a right or wrong answer; it really comes down to personal preference.
If you choose a diet that doesn't meet you where you are, it's unlikely that you'll stick with it. If you do stick with it, it's unlikely that you'll be very happy about it—and who wants to live like that?
When it comes to nutrition, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Finding the nutrition plan that works best for you is a highly individualized process that depends on multiple factors such as bio-individuality, personal goals, and lifestyle/preferences.
Chris is a health researcher, writer, and educator focusing on the impact of low carb and keto diets on health and human performance. Chris has a master’s degree in exercise and nutrition science and spent his time in graduate school studying and conducting ketogenic research. Chris is the creator of the brand The Ketologist, which is known for producing social media infographics and educational health content. Chris is the author of Keto Answers, Mommy Do I Have to Eat This?, and is the education manager at Perfect Keto.