Each year there’s a new food group to avoid, whether it's lactose, gluten, carbs, or animal products. Some of the news around these new “fads” are based on sound medical studies and genuine food sensitivity, while others are ethical choices, but all are hotly debated.
We may like the idea of following a certain diet or lifestyle and hope it will help us feel and look better, but is it giving us all the nutrients we need? We asked Dr Nancy about what we should look out for when altering our diets and lifestyles.
From pescatarian to the ketogenic diet, there are countless variations on how to eat and live your life. They may benefit some people, but everyone’s different and it’s always worth assessing how you feel with any dietary and lifestyle changes you make.
Here are some pitfalls to look out for:
1. Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
More people currently follow a plant-based or vegetarian diet than ever before. With an increased awareness of where our meat comes from and the environmental impact of the meat industry, many people are choosing to reduce or entirely omit animal products from their diets.
While a plant-based diet is generally a healthy one to follow, there are some pitfalls to avoid. When avoiding meat, but especially when cutting out all dairy products and eggs, you need to make sure you continue to get sufficient protein in your diet. Try plant-based protein powder, eat plenty of beans and legumes, tofu, and other soy products.
Also make sure that you’re eating a plant-based diet and not just a meat-free diet; many people cut out meat and dairy but live off of chips, pasta, and other unhealthy sources, so make sure you’re actively making healthy choices.
If you suffer from IBS, you may find the increased fiber intake makes your symptoms worse. If this is the case, try to balance the amount of fiber you eat or talk to a nutritionist about how to safely balance your ethical choice with your body’s needs.
Finally, keep an eye on your micronutrient intake. B12 is not easy to come across naturally in plant sources, but you can find it in supplement form or in fortified foods and drinks.
2. Gluten-Free Diet
Next up is the second most common food intolerance after dairy: gluten. In recent years, the diagnoses of gluten sensitivities and celiac disease have increased. People who are gluten intolerant may experience symptoms like abdominal bloating, pain, fatigue, and even a rash if they eat gluten.
As the number of people avoiding gluten has increased, something of a “gluten-free” movement has spread globally. Food companies are bringing out new gluten-free bread, pasta, cookies, bread, and muffins, which means that people with this food intolerance can enjoy the treats they would otherwise have missed out on. This is great for those with genuine gluten intolerances and coeliac disease, but it’s important to know if this pertains to you.
Many people who switch to a gluten-free diet may have difficulty with weight loss or even gain weight.
Often, upon reviewing their dietary intake, it becomes apparent that they had assumed that certain gluten-free foods are also low in sugar, dairy, and saturated fats. It is important to understand that gluten-free does not necessarily mean healthy. In addition, there’s no real benefit to eating a gluten-free diet unless your body doesn’t react well to gluten.
3. Daily Exercise
Many people exercise intensely daily as a way to control their weight, but you often hear them saying, “I don’t understand why I’m not losing weight, I’m exercising almost every day!”
The truth is, while exercise is extremely beneficial, it alone cannot keep you healthy. You may have heard that 80% of weight loss is made in the kitchen, 20% in the gym, and this is certainly true.
Many people who start an exercise routine will reward their healthy behavior with an unhealthy treat.
While everything is okay in moderation, many people overestimate their exercise benefits and will reward themselves with a treat that has twice the calories that they burned. It’s important to note that certain exercises can increase your appetite, resulting in more drastic hunger cues or more frequent snacking.
Many people gain weight after starting a weight loss regimen and fear that they have “failed.” In actuality, they’re gaining muscle mass, which is a good thing! However, many may be gaining unwanted weight if they change their diet in response to the exercise.
It’s also important to be aware that increasing overall activity is just as beneficial and important as heading to the gym for 30-60 minutes of intense exercise. This may mean walking around at work, walking to and from the car, cleaning your home, and going up flights of stairs. All of these simple daily activities have more influence than we assume. However, with recent technological advances, we’ve become more inactive.
With the decrease in physical activity in our society, we’ve also seen the invention of tools to measure our daily physical activity. This is a helpful invention for many, but this reported estimation is to be used as motivation for increased physical activity and not an excuse to avoid formal exercise.
What should I do if I’m considering making a lifestyle change?
When cutting out any food or making a lifestyle, it’s important to remember why you’re doing it. Are you cutting out gluten because you’re intolerant to it or because everyone’s doing it right now? Are you reducing your dairy intake because it bloats you or because it’s fashionable to avoid dairy?
It’s also important to make each change gradually – ease yourself into it and make note of how you feel daily. This process will help you ascertain whether your new diet is working for your unique needs and whether you should continue to use it or not.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.