When you write an article about the problem with uber popular diets like Paleo, Whole30, and Vegan, you know you’re going to hit some nerves, so let me start off by saying that in theory, I think we can all agree that the basis of all three of these diets is fairly good.
For those that aren’t super clear on the difference between them, let me take a minute to clarify each.
Eating “Paleo” means that you eat whole, minimally processed foods, including meat, seafood, eggs, veggies, fruit, natural sugars like honey, and fat from whole food sources like avocado and nuts. No grains, legumes, added sugars, and limited dairy are allowed.
When Paleo first became popular, this list was it, but these days there are a lot more Paleo packaged goods on the shelves, like breads and even cookie dough, if you can believe that.
Whole30 is pretty much a hardcore version of Paleo, where you remove all dairy, all sugar (even honey), coffee, and grains for 30 days. The point of Whole30 is to cleanse and reset your body.
Vegan primarily just means that you don’t eat meat or animal products, so no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, or cheese.
Like I mentioned, in theory, these sound pretty healthy right? I mean, all three include mostly whole foods, lots of veggies, fruits, and nutrient-rich foods that fuel the body.
But here’s where the problem lies.
When we label ourselves and we assign ourselves to a strict set of rules that somebody else created, we put ourselves into a box.
Now, there are certain circumstances where it makes sense to eliminate food groups from one’s diet, i.e. people that have been diagnosed with Celiac disease or severe food allergies.
However, in most cases, for most people, the likelihood that you will eat sugar, grains, or dairy again is probably high. Right?
So what happens when you create these rigid good and bad food lists for yourself... if you can’t stick to them?
What happens if you go out to dinner with friends and you “slip up” and have a few bites of dessert or bread?
You feel bad. You may even feel guilt or shame because you failed.
Side note, I actually know several people who were Vegan for a LONG time and then suddenly their body began to crave meat. And I have heard the opposite happen too. Imagine what that might do to your identity, especially if you are someone who is an influencer who publicly has labeled yourself as one or the other?
I am about to make a very big statement…
I personally believe that THIS guilt and shame that we feel when we can’t follow all of the “food rules” is a big part of the root cause of obesity in our society today.
The health and fitness industry is a $60 Billion industry. There are a plethora of diet and fitness programs to choose from, yet obesity is still on the rise, now even in children.
I believe that it’s not that we don’t have the “right” food or fitness plan for people to follow. It’s that we are conditioned into believing that health and fitness is black and white, and if we can’t measure up and follow ALL of the rigid rules, then we are a failure.
We believe that in order to be successful, we have to go from A to Z overnight because all we see on television are quick-fix diets and massive 7, 10, or 14-day weight loss transformations.
What we don’t see is what happens after that quick-fix diet. Many of those overnight success story people don’t maintain the results.
And we don’t realize that the majority of the messaging we are receiving from the media is actually purposely trying to keep us stuck cycling in this obsession of trying to find the next best thing that will finally get us to be able to follow a super strict plan.
Willpower is not the problem, the deprivation mindset is the problem.
We have been told that a strict plan is the only way to reach our goals. But the truth is, the vast majority of us will never be able to follow a strict plan long-term. It’s just not realistic.
And if you can relate, I want to tell you that it’s not your fault and YOU are not a failure. It’s time to let go of the guilt and shame that you may have been feeling for years for not being able to “measure up” and “follow the rules.”
When has resorting to extremes and restriction ever worked? Sure you may be able to follow the strict plan for 7, 21, or even 30 days but then what happens?
Yes, of course nutrient-packed whole foods are important for our health, but rigidity, black and white dogma, and all-or-nothing type thinking is not a long-term solution.
Baby steps practiced consistently over time are what add up to long-term sustainable positive change.
In order to achieve lasting positive change, you must give yourself permission to break free of the lure of the quick-fix overnight results and instead give yourself some time to take action, analyze how things go, and then make adjustments.
This is how to baby-step your way toward long-term sustainable change.
Step 1: Structure + Freedom
I tell my clients that we want to create some structure to help you to feel safe, which then allows you to experiment and “play” with freedom.
What does this mean?
It means thinking back to what HAS worked well for you in the past and then design some guidelines (not rigid rules) for yourself based on that.
Maybe you mostly enjoy a Paleo style of eating but you like to incorporate some grains too. Maybe for you, it’s not about choosing a style of eating, but you want to begin by simply drinking more water. Maybe you love sweets like me, so you decide that you’re going to mostly eat whole food meals, but every night you have dessert because you enjoy it so much.
I could give you a hundred different ideas on what that might look like, but if it’s not a match for your lifestyle and preferences, then it’s never going to work for you. This is where you truly have to tune IN vs just follow along with someone else’s rules.
Step 2: Set Mini Goals
This is where the “Act, Analyze, Adjust” comes in. Set small, baby-step goals for yourself. Don’t try to go from A to Z, just take the next logical step in the direction of a healthy choice.
Maybe that is bringing a healthy homemade lunch to work 3 days a week instead of going out to lunch everyday. Maybe that is shooting for 48 ounces of water a day instead of your usual 16 ounces. Again, you get to decide.
Then, once you have a few days under your belt, ask yourself how it feels. When you notice that you are able to keep up this habit without a lot of focus or attention, then you can add the next baby-step. Or if you notice that you need to make adjustments, you can do that as well.
STEP 3: Stop Trying to Measure Up
This is sometimes the toughest part of all, because we are SO inundated with information all the time about all of the “things” we “should” be doing.
It’s fine to read articles (like this one) or research, but at the end of the day, YOU are your ultimate health expert. You know YOU best, so you must give yourself permission to design the healthy lifestyle plan that is going to make sense for you — your lifestyle, your preferences, AND your goals.
I promise, an unhappy (shame and guilt-filled) journey never leads to a happy ending. In order to achieve your health and fitness goals, you must take your power back, get honest with yourself, and guide yourself first and foremost, from within.
That’s the key to long-term sustainability and happiness too!
Have you felt this way too? I’d love for you to leave me a comment below and join the conversation.
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Learn more about Sheila and her coaching at: sheilaviers.com/about