Sunday, 22 Sep 2019

You don’t need the perfect diet, you need the diet that’s best for you

Sitting at my desk, my stomach yearning for food, I look at the clock. It's only been two hours since my egg white and spinach omelette. With another 22 hours to go and a mere 2000 kilojoules (500 calories) to survive on, I'm not hopeful of achieving 5:2 fasting success.

This isn't the first time I've tried a wellness trend and failed. Like thousands of others, I've dabbled with different ways of "healthy" eating, watching the ever-evolving food scene move from fasting to paleo to keto. Green smoothies, activated charcoal drinks and turmeric lattes have washed it all down.

Jen Dugard: “Be realistic in your expectations and avoid putting pressure on yourself to look a certain way. This can drive mental overwhelm in looking for quick fixes.”Credit:Shutterstock

With access and exposure to such an overwhelming and contradictory amount of wellbeing advice, it's no surprise that many of us, myself included, are suffering from information overload and exhaustion. In an ironic twist, health advice may actually be causing us stress.

"Mental overwhelm in general is a big thing in today's society, especially among women who have so much going on," says personal trainer and author Jen Dugard. "Multiple options and the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect increase mental overwhelm and make it hard to decide what's right for us."

The abundance of choice can leave people frozen in fear of doing the wrong thing. Subsequently, they don't do anything. Alternatively, others flit from one thing to another without allowing themselves time to make progress or see results. Both options are negative, physically and mentally.

So how do we avoid this overwhelm and pinpoint what's right for us? "Take a step back and focus on what you actually want to achieve and why," advises Dugard. "Be realistic in your expectations and avoid putting pressure on yourself to look a certain way. This can drive mental overwhelm in looking for quick fixes."

Factor in your age, lifestyle, activity levels and any medical conditions when choosing an eating plan. Try to pinpoint what will be both sustainable and enjoyable.

"Avoid overwhelm by keeping it simple," says Dugard. "The focus should be on incorporating non-packaged, low-sugar foods. Find someone you trust, preferably a health professional, and see out this part of your journey with them. Eliminate distractions and make a commitment to stick at what you're doing."

Dietitian Simone Austin agrees that conflicting advice and opinions on wellbeing and nutrition can cause confusion. To help alleviate this, she advises being cautious about where you obtain your information.

"Something being online doesn't make it accurate," she says. "Look for people's qualifications and experience and check to see what research there is to back up their information. "If you're confused, seek professional help and get advice that's tailored for you," she adds. "We're all individuals and there's no 'one size fits all' approach to food, nutrition and health."

Austin notes that professionals such as dietitians can offer this individual advice as well as ongoing support and motivation – something that research has shown is a strong factor when it comes to maintaining initial weight loss and long-term behaviour change.

Since failing at the 5:2 diet and a number of other eating plans, I've concluded that the best approach for me is the common-sense diet.

This consists of eating all the food groups in moderation and enjoying them for what they are. I haven't cut out carbs, dairy or chocolate. The only thing I've cut out is typing "diet" into my search engine. Subsequently, I've cut out mental overwhelm – and that alone is a healthy thing.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale April 7.

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