There can be a lot of confusion in deciding how to make our lifestyle healthier, especially reading nutrition articles, information on new fad diets, new discoveries and theories and magazine articles. Which one is the best? Which one works? No-carb, paleo, veganism, vegetarianism, low-fat, high-protein, intermittent fasting, living solely on water and air?

It’s completely up to you!

There are an overwhelming amount of combinations of allowances, restrictions and feeding schedules to choose from. The key is to find something that works for you. The reason why I share my experiences here is because I have tried many of these approaches because I have found that they worked for me at some point. But then as I keep learning more and more about wellness and nutrition and the effects of certain foods on our bodies, I adapt my lifestyle and add in different approaches that I am comfortable with and fit with my end goal of living as naturally and healthily as possible.

For example, when I began my journey to better health, I was eating anything and everything and all the time. My portions were large and I ate all kinds of sweets, processed foods and very late at night. Today, my diet consists mostly of vegetables, fruits and meats. I eat yogurt for breakfast and occasionally eat eggs and cheese as well. I avoid processed sweets most of the time, but I do indulge in a treat a couple of times a week. Though I try to make my own sweets from natural ingredients at home as often as possible. And while I used to be a 5-6 meal a day snacker, I now only eat 3 meals a day, sometimes two.

There is no way I could have gone from my original diet to my current one. It’s not easy to stop eating all your favorite things all at once! And that’s why I suggest looking at The Basics to get an idea of how to slowly transition from a toxic diet to a healthier one. It makes it easier.

But of course, not everybody is the same and what works for one person may not work for another. Someone who enjoys snacking won’t be comfortable or able to keep up with the intermittent Fasting approach, just as someone who doesn’t enjoy eating meat – for whatever reason – will not be able to follow a “caveman”/ paleo approach which forbids grains and legumes and focuses on meats as a source of protein.

There are some things we can all agree on.

Wether you decide on going caveman, pescatarian, vegan or any combination nutritional styles, we can all agree that there are certain foods that everybody can cut out of their diet to improve health.

Processed foods are absolutely unhealthy, no matter how you look at it. Refined sugars and bleached, processed flours affect your blood sugar and insulin levels and in high amounts can lead to diabetes, internal inflammation and other diseases.  Trans fats and hydrogenated fats stick to your arteries and clog them leading to all kinds of weight gain and risk of many diseases, including heart disease. Some examples are margarine and vegetable oils.

Eating too much of anything is unhealthy as well. The food we eat has three main functions: it is an energy supply (fat and carbohydrates) and fuels our body’s daily requirements as well as any extra activities we engage in; helps rebuild (protein) and strengthen our tissues, like muscles and the like; and keeps our nutrient levels optimal so we can fight disease and our organs can function properly (vitamins and minerals in all foods). Consuming way too much fat, carbs or even protein if you are not burning that fuel or doing anything that requires your muscles to grow and rebuild by staying active will eventually lead to storage of extra fuel as fat. All that extra fat will then put you at risk for many diseases.

So based on these common points, we can all agree that cutting out processed foods and keeping an eye on serving sizes is a sure-fire way to not only lose unwanted fat but also improve our health and quality of life regardless of what combination of macronutrients we decide to stick to.

Also remember that our bodies use carbohydrates for fuel so fat gets stored as a reserve. If you decide to keep eating grains and legumes, you will have to keep your fat intake low and make sure you burn the fuel your taking in.

If you’re going vegan, or vegetarian, remember grains and legumes have anti-nutrients which hinder nutrient absorption. Also, vegan and vegetarian diets tend to be low on certain micronutrients like B12, calcium, iron and zinc on top of that, so remember to take a multivitamin or some supplement that addresses these deficiencies. Also, because your main source of energy are carbohydrates, you need to watch out for fats. Keep your fat intake low so as to avoid storing it.

So to recap…

What to eat? Whole, natural clean foods. Vegetables, fruits, all kinds of meats (leaner cuts if you eat grains and legumes, fattier ones are ok of you want to go caveman), nuts, seeds, eggs, yogurt, cheese (in moderation) and grains and legumes if you choose to eat those.

As long as you eat whole, natural – preferably organic – foods 80% of the time or more and make sure your portions are reasonable for your activity level, you will improve your healthy significantly. That means shopping the perimeter of the store for fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs and dairy, giving whole grains preference over processed ones (if you decide to eat grains and legumes), and absolutely reading labels to make sure your foods have as little additives as possible. For example, if you buy peanut butter, the only ingredient should be: peanuts. Anything else has no business in your peanut butter or your body. Also, look out for trans fats, hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils.

Of course, this means avoiding white breads, cakes, candies, pasta, high amounts of sugar, too many fried foods, sugary beverages, and packaged foods which tend to have many highly processed ingredients including sugars, trans fats and countless additives to ensure “freshness”. Again, you are not expected to be perfect 100% of the time. You can indulge now and then and treat them as treats or just enjoy yourself when out with friends or family!

Strive for good health and nutrition, but enjoy your life too. remember, it’s all about balance!

As far as meal frequency goes, like Intermittent Fasting (going 12 – 16 hours between meals) vs. eating 5-6 meals a day, that is also very personal choice. As long as you keep quantity and quality under control, either approach can work for you. If you’re a really busy person who already doesn’t have time to eat during the first half of the day already, maybe you could give IF a try without much adjustment to your eating schedule. But if you enjoy snacking or don’t do well after long periods of fasting, a regular 3 meal-a-day lifestyle may suit you better or a 5-6 meal approach if you enjoy snacking – and have the time for it.

Give different approaches a try and find what fits you best!

Have you tried any different combinations of diet and frequency that worked for you? Something that didn’t? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear your experiences!