When everyone seems to be caught up in the Whole30/keto/insert trending diet here craze, you might question why you're not joining the pack. I don't know about you, but when I see a lot of people around me jumping on the latest fitness or health trend to feel good and take charge of their well-being, I start to feel guilt. Like, should I be doing that too? Am I wrecking my health by not following immediately?
But the thing is, committing to a diet or healthy lifestyle change is a truly personal thing. You've got to actually want to do it and believe in it because if you don't, the motivation isn't there and your chances of succeeding just got lower.
"One of the conversations that I have a lot in my practice with people is what are you ready to do?" says Robin Foroutan, MD, RDN, HHC, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It's like what's going to be a low-, medium- and high-effort plan? Whole30 is a high effort plan. You have to be really prepared and emotionally ready to do it, to jump in, and do it well."
So, if you're doing Whole30 or keto or some other extensive diet plan—more power to you, and of course, be sure you're taking the right precautions like doing enough research, taking into account your own personal health history, and chatting with your doctor. And if you're not embarking on any big dietary shakeups at the moment, that's okay, too.
But maybe you're somewhere in the middle and want to do something about eating better and changing up our lifestyle without a huge overhaul. Well, there are some steps you can take that are easy and doable, yet still effective. Foroutan outlines her tips below.
This isn't surprising, but the simple act of adding more vegetables to your meal can make a difference. "Eating more vegetables is a really powerful way to improve your health," Foroutan explains. "It doesn't sound like much. I feel like it's the same old advice that we keep giving, but it's so true. It's true for pretty much every person and every type of scenario." She recommends aiming between five to nine servings of vegetables a day.
Keep refilling that water bottle. "There are so many people who walk around dehydrated all the time," Foroutan says. "As a consequence, people are more fatigued. You have less energy when you're dehydrated. You don't detoxify properly." When you don't drink enough water you can also have constipation or sleep issues.
And actually, a lack of water consumption in general can be the root of many health problems. "There have been times where someone will come into my office with a laundry list of complaints," she says. "I ask them how much water they drank. The amount can be so little, that I tell them, 'Look, I can give you a very big plan with lots of things to do, or you can drink more water, and I bet you, most of these will clear up.'"
Intermittent fasting used to sound so scary to me. I would picture super-long and miserable fasts and intense hanger (hunger + anger). I imagined myself looking at my co-workers or friends eating and feeling tortured. But Foroutan says you can do a fast by just moving up your mealtimes and doing an overnight fast, so essentially you're sleeping while you're fasting, and therefore unconscious to hunger. If you normally eat at 7 p.m., move dinner to 6 p.m., then you can have breakfast at 8 a.m. for a 14-hour fast.
"Sometimes, it's more accurate to call it time-restricted eating," she explains. "There are all these nuances in the research, but even just having a 14-hour overnight fast can be really powerful in terms of losing visceral fat, which is the fat around our organs, that increases the risk for disease. It improves cholesterol and blood sugar. People feel more energetic. A lot of people report sleeping better."
You don't even have to do it seven days a week—which is helpful if you normally have later dinners on the weekends because of social commitments—five days a week will work.
Photo:Anna Moller/Getty Images
While this is more of a lifestyle change rather than a dietary shift, getting enough sleep is just beneficial for your health overall. If weight loss is your goal, a lack of sleep can mess with any efforts.
"There's something that happens when you're sleep-deprived—it slows down metabolism," Foroutan says. "People who are sleep-deprived have a really difficult time losing weight, even if they're doing all the right things."
But you don't have to go to extremes to cut carbs. Opt for a simpler approach. "You don't have to do Whole30 or keto. Just try to eat lower carbs by replacing some of the starchy foods with non-starchy vegetables," Foroutan recommends.
A middle approach would be to try cutting gluten or dairy from your diet as well—it's not quite Whole30 or keto fullstop, but it does require a bit more effort. Foroutan says it's a bit easier to do either or both these days since there are many more options are the grocery store or at restaurants.
And If You're Trying Whole30 or Keto…
If you have committed to a diet or eating plan like Whole30 or keto, Foroutan has recommendations, too:
"I think that it's important to just boil down the information in a way that's going to help you figure out meals," Foroutan says. "What you're really talking about is the essence of your meal is protein and non-starchy vegetables. Then there's the little addition of healthy fats like avocado, nuts and seeds, and those kinds of things."
Finding new recipes that are compliant can make things more exciting, and Foroutan says this takes the focus away from what you can't use or can't eat. "Start thinking about herbs and spices that are incredibly healthy for you that are allowed in any types of these diets for flavor," she recommends. "Maybe you can't use the barbecue sauce that you really like, but maybe you want to experiment with things like garlic, cumin, and coriander seed instead."
If you have a sweet tooth, these types of diets can be extremely difficult. Almost everyone feels the effects of sugar withdrawal when they're on these kinds of eating plans. Foroutan suggests having fruits as desserts, or experiment with alternative sweeteners if they're permitted on the plan.
And a lot of it is thinking outside the box, too. "If your taste buds are primed to really want a lot of sweet, think of this time as an opportunity to reset your palate so that you can start to appreciate the natural sweetness in other foods like sweet potato and even certain kinds of nuts," she says.
Accountability is key, and it might help to get extra support from someone who is going through the same thing as you. Plus, if you and your friend(s) have the same dietary restrictions, it will make choosing a restaurant a bit easier.
After Whole30 (or any kind of elimination diet) is over, you might feel tempted to go crazy adding everything back into your diet, but Foroutan recommends taking your time. One, you'll be able to learn more about how your body reacts to certain foods. And two, you might feel sick if you try to eat everything on the no-no list all at once.
"You really want to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about your diet," Foroutan explains. "For the things that have been eliminated, add back the ones that are the most important to you first and make sure you don't have a food sensitivity because a lot of people have sensitivities to wheat, dairy, corn, soy—lots of the foods that get eliminated in these diets." She says the idea is not that you shouldn't add these back, but it's more to get an idea of how your body feels when you consume these foods.