What is a healthy diet? What a question! I get this one all the time and it is extremely difficult to answer without first knowing the individual doing the asking. In fact, as a nutritional consultant, it would be negligent for me to answer this question without first conducting a thorough assessment of the individual. This is exactly why most of the best selling diet books out there are misleading and even dangerous. What I mean by this is that a healthy diet for one person may not be so healthy for another. We are all individuals with different dietary and nutritional needs. Have you ever wondered why two siblings raised in the same household on the same diet develop completely different body types? Or why a single nutritional substance in a study never has the same effect on 100% of the individuals in the study? Let’s face it. If there were one diet or nutritional substance that was good for everyone, we would all be on it and in perfect health!
Granted there are some dietary principles that apply to just about everyone, such as eating whole, fresh, organic foods and avoiding refined sugars and trans fats. However, these general recommendations are simply not enough to support a state of optimum health. (For a more complete list of such general dietary guidelines, visit the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website at “http://www.westonaprice.org”.)
As for you as an individual, the most reliable indicator of what you should and should not be eating is your own body. That’s right. Your body has all the answers. You just have to know which questions to ask it and be willing to listen. Anyone who is in tune with their body will tell you that it has a lot to say. In fact, sometimes it speaks so loudly that other people can hear.
So how do you get started? The first thing to do is to start keeping a diet journal. I don’t mean writing down calories and fat grams. I mean writing down everything you eat and how you feel one to two hours after each meal. For instance, the next time you eat a meal make a note one hour later and then two hours later with regard to how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. How is your energy? Do you feel fatigued or are you revved up? Do you find it hard to focus? Do you feel depressed or angry? Do you crave certain foods like sweets or salty snacks?
The answers to these questions can tell you a lot about how your body is handling what you ate most recently. This is because food affects you at the cellular level. It affects your endocrine system, nervous system, neuromuscular system, musculoskeletal system, metabolic systems, immune system, and even your brain chemistry. The effects on these systems are manifested in the way you feel and function physically, mentally, and emotionally. These manifestations are merely symptoms of cellular and metabolic imbalances.
Jot down your body’s responses in all of the areas mentioned above for a couple of weeks and you will begin to notice patterns. You may see that your body responds the same way each time to certain meals and certain foods. For instance, perhaps you always tend to feel sluggish within two hours after eating a tuna salad sandwich with romaine lettuce. If you have identified such a connection, then something is wrong and there is almost always something you can do about it. A consistent negative reaction may be a indication of a food sensitivity or allergy, a digestive issue with that food, or it may be the wrong food for your metabolic type. Other possible causes are eating the wrong combinations of foods or improper portion sizes. Another potential culprit may be with whom you ate your meal. Eating with someone who causes you stress can have a profound effect on the way you digest or fail to digest your food. Being mindful or present when you eat is an extremely important principle of nutrition, as well as health.
Deciphering all of these messages your body may give you can be somewhat complicated. Therefore, if you do notice patterns of reactions or symptoms after meals, you should consult with a qualified nutritional consultant to help you zero in on the food or foods that may be triggering your particular imbalance. Your consultant may decide to conduct a more thorough assessment, such as a special (IgG) food sensitivity blood test or a glucose challenge test. Your consultant should also be able to help you determine which changes can be made to your eating habits in order to address these issues.
Quite often, the consultant will recommend nutritional supplements. If you are someone who is reluctant to take supplements, you should know that the supplements are meant to address any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances that cannot be addressed through food alone. The right supplements can be an essential part of any healthy diet. For those who are reluctant, I always ask: “Would you rather take these all natural supplements now to help your body to heal itself now, or the little synthetic red pills and blue pills later to address merely the symptoms of more serious degenerative disease such as high blood pressure or arthritis?”
It is not necessary to keep a diet journal for every meal of every day for the rest of your life. Once you have determined any nutritional causes of your particular health issues and addressed them by altering your eating habits, check back in with your body by being more consciously aware of its reactions to food and perhaps jotting down any observations for two to three days at a time. This way, if any symptoms resurface or new ones arise you will have a better idea of how to address them. If you consider your nutritional habits to be an essential part of your health, then make your diet journal an indispensable part of your lifestyle.
Michael Sallustio is a Health/Fitness Consultant with In Good Health, Inc. in Annapolis, Maryland and is certified as a Personal Fitness Trainer, Medical Exercise Specialist, and Nutritional Consultant. He practiced law for five years before becoming a Health/Fitness Consultant and now specializes in working with business professionals on issues of Lifestyle.