So is there a diet, a certain split of macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats) or certain nutrient formula that's going to be perfect for everyone, all the time? One that's going to optimise everyone's health, performance, mood, and longevity without causing any issues whatsoever?
Sorry, but that's not how it works.
People Are Diverse
Here's a bunch of really important factors we should consider while looking at an individual's nutritional needs. It should become quite apparent that "the best diet" will look different for everyone...
Fitness Level & Body Composition - some have been training all their lives, some have been sedentary for the last 30 years.
Dietary Preferences & Exclusions - be it vegan or carnivore, dairy or gluten intolerance, halal or kosher.
Budget - Student, a middle-class family, a wealthy executive or even a pro athlete - all these factors affect food preference.
Nutritional Knowledge & Diet History - Is it your first diet? or have you got a 1-year steak on My Fitness Pal?
Time - Some have time to plan, prepare and cook while others have a more hectic schedule.
Ethnic Background & Heritage - People from different parts of the world are more/less tolerant of certain food groups due to the diet history of that culture or geographical location.
Age - Our metabolism and digestive ability change as we age.
So you see, the best nutrition coach in the world doesn't simply read off a magic formula. Instead, coaches must build a coaching philosophy from all sorts of areas, experiences and research findings.
Besides research shows that the best diet for anyone is one you can actually stick to!
So What Is Good Nutrition For Me?
Now we know that everyone's nutrition will look different, let's look at some of the founding principles you can, and should, be implementing.
Good Nutrition Controls Energy Balance
Good nutrition does focus on the number of calories going in and out of our bodies. Too little and our body can start to shut down processes that we don't need to survive, such as reproduction and brain function.
Too many calories can also be a problem. We can become resistant to important hormones (insulin), increase inflammation and plaque build-up.
So good nutrition ensures we don't eat too much or too little. Ensuring we can stay healthy, fit and strong.
Good Nutrition Gives Us Nutrients
Every food has a nutrient density. Processed foods, such as cookies and hot dogs tend to have lower nutrient density. While organic and whole foods such as kale, lentils, and salmon have a much higher nutrient density. Often, when a person starts a diet they can feel a big change when they start to increase the nutrient density of most of their meals.
Good Nutrition Helps Us Look, Feel & Perform Our Best
An athlete might be focused on performance, while an older individual may want to live a healthier lifestyle, some people just want to look good naked! But good nutrition should help you look and feel better - whatever that may be for you.
Good Nutrition Is Sustainable
This comes in two parts. One, nutrition shouldn't be a drastic 12-week cut (unless its for sports performance purposes such as weigh-ins). It should become a part of the individual's life such that it becomes normal to them and - they enjoy it!
Secondly, is the diet sustainable for the planet? Food often travels thousands of miles to our plate and since we have a planet that isn't growing and a population that is, our decisions surrounding food need to be more environmentally considerate than ever before.
Good Nutrition Makes You Aware Of The Food You Eat
We tend to make poor food choices when we're rushed, busy and/or stressed. In situations like this, we override our body's natural hunger and fullness cues. Research shows that you are more likely to make better food choices when you commit to caring about food, slowing down, paying attention and eating mindfully. Don't go shopping when you're hungry!
Good Nutrition Promotes Regular Movement
Generally speaking, when people start paying attention to what they eat they also start paying attention to their physical activity level. Physical activity, as we know, has a whole host of positive physiological and psychological benefits and movement can fundamentally change the way our bodies use nutrients.
Good Nutrition Is Outcome-Based
Changes lead to progress. Progress leads to results. Results can be measured. Results tell us about reality. Many people think they eat well, and they might, but they may not have any data to test that perception against objective reality.
No matter what we know, it's only what we do consistently that matters when it comes to nutrition.
Information I'd look to gather on nutrition clients would be measurable so it could be tested and retested over time. It would include:
Bodyweight, body fat percentage, body girth measurements, blood pressure and heart rate, athletic performance, blood work, photo and video analysis, healthy menstrual cycles (for women who should have them).
People are different - and so their nutrition should be too. Be it lifestyle, genetic or geographical factors there is no "golden formula" for nutrition.
However, we can define what a good nutrition plan should give everyone:
Energy balance, nutrients, the feel-good and perform good factor, sustainability, awareness, promote movement and be outcome-based.
Want to test yourself? Try to eat mindfully at your next meal - here's how it works.
Cook your food and sit at the table
No distractions such as phones, laptops or newspapers. Just you and your food.
Look at what you're about to eat and notice what you've chosen. Why did you choose that?
Take a bite a chew slowly.
How do you feel? physically, emotionally?
Take another bite, perhaps a slightly different mouthful and repeat.
Repeat these steps until your body tells you to stop.
(if you get through an entire tub of Ben & Jerry's this way I might throw my computer out of the window)
It's starting to bring some mindfulness to mealtimes. Instead of shoveling food down your throat while your brain stays wired to Netflix. Yes, I've done it too. But I'm trying to bring more mindfulness at mealtimes as well.
Let me know how you go,
Any questions please ask away,
All the best,