Are you a vegetarian? Vegan? Gluten-free? Dairy-free? Paleo? Sugar-free? Raw? Pescatarian? Flexitarian? Fruitarian? 5:2 faster? Yo-yo dieter? Meat-free Mondays-er?! We love to give ourselves a label. But why do we feel the need to put our and others diets into a box?
What we choose to eat is down to so many different factors and these differ for every individual. Health, allergies, intolerances, weight gain/loss goals, tastes, ethics, environmental concerns, and more, can all influence our decisions.
I can’t fit myself into any single one of the categories above. I don’t follow any of them 100% of the time. My nutritional and energy requirements vary, the ingredients available to me vary, my tastes and interests vary, and the person cooking for me varies!
I’m comfortable with not being able to give myself one specific label, but I do sometimes find this confuses people. I don’t have any diagnosed health issues so my food choices are, fundamentally, just that – personal choices. I rarely eat meat, so people ask “are you vegetarian?” I enjoy meat but have concerns about animal welfare and the environment. I find some dairy products can leave me feeling uncomfortable and cause my skin to flare-up so try to avoid them, but if I’m out for dinner and a meal I am served contains dairy, I don’t get stressed about it. I feel that the stress of sticking to a restrictive diet 100% of the time would actually do me more harm than occasionally straying from my ideals.
Sometimes, having a specific name for the types of foods we eat can be helpful. If I really tried to explain all my food philosophies to someone who was cooking me dinner, I may not be invited back again! So I do tend to prioritise a few key items I’d rather avoid and, beyond that, I try to be flexible. I should highlight here that I realise I’m lucky that none of my food choices are essential. They are preferences that I feel are better for my personal health. Obviously the case is different for those with medical conditions.
A recent episode of Horizon, Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth, scrutinised numerous food bloggers and #CleanEating lovers on social media platforms, suggesting they are the latest “fad”. My understanding is that these health figures rarely dictate a specific “one-size fits all” prescriptive diet and actually just promote solid, healthy, fundamental principles of good nutrition, cooking our own meals from real food with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
My personal opinion is that eating and living well is actually very simple.
- eat as much as we can from whole, unprocessed ingredients, so that their nutritional content is maintained
- eat a wide variety of foods and avoid having too much of any one item (think wheat, dairy, sugar, etc.)
- keep active, every day
- avoid all types of stress whenever we can
- enjoy our food!
In other words, and widely quoted from food author Michael Pollan:
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”
There is not one “superfood” that can solve all our health problems, in the same way that there is not one single diet that can make us hugely more healthy than any other.
I believe that the healthiest diet, the one that can help us to look and feel great, is the one that is best suited to us as an individual.