While sleepy-eyed March is one of my favorite times of year, with the earth waking up from its winter snooze, it’s also one of the most stressful. Spring means that summer’s on its way, and with summer comes (dun dun dun…) the dreaded bathing suit. This spring is going to be extra frantic for me because not only do I have a beach wedding to attend in April and a Baltimore wedding in which I’m a bridesmaid in May, but I have my own wedding at the end of May. Eeek!! So many dresses to fit into!
Since most of us put on a few pounds in the winter (after the first dozen Christmas cookies, there’s just no going back) spring is the season for dieting. I’m not going to be prancing around wearing only paint like Heidi here, I’d just like to have the option to prance nude should the opportunity arise. But there are so many diets out there, how is a girl to tell which one works for her? So I decided to dig into some of the most popular diets and get the skinny on them.
This isn’t what I would consider a diet, more like a lifestyle choice, though some people do use vegetarianism/veganism as part of a health plan. I’ve been a vegetarian for twelve years now, and while I didn’t choose this for nutritional reasons, it was definitely the push I needed to start down the path to good health. Very few people realize how complex this lifestyle can be when they begin it, however, so I wanted to give some basic guidelines.
There are several different levels of vegetarianism, depending on what animal products you include in your diet. Pescatarians include fish, and ovo-lacto vegetarians include eggs and dairy. Vegans consume no animal products (that includes honey!) and use no animal byproducts, like leather, wool, and fur. The depth to which you take vegetarian/veganism is totally up to you because, as I said, it gets a little complex. Many foods have hidden animal products that some choose to avoid, such as gelatin (made from livestock bones & found in anything that gels, like pudding, Jello, gummy bears, etc.) and rennet (made from livestock intestines and used in cheeses). Fun vegetarian fact: white sugar is white because it’s processed with bone char, so white sugar is off limits for anyone strictly avoiding animal products. And think about how many products contain white sugar… Bye bye candy aisle, see ya next lifetime!
While I’ll admit that I’ve never felt healthier since becoming a vegetarian, there are a lot of serious health risks associated with this lifestyle. When I worked at a health food store, I saw my fair share of unhealthy, skeletal-looking vegans, and so I would never recommend that diet to anyone unless it’s serving a specific health purpose. Removing meat removes a huge chunk of your protein, good fat, and nutrient intake, and removing all animal products pretty much ensures that unless you’re taking supplements, you’re depriving your body of everything it needs to thrive. Our bodies were created to eat meat; everything from out teeth to our gut to our brain is built to run on both meat and plants, and I’m a firm believer that mother earth knew what she was doing when she created the world. I therefore supplement my diet with B vitamins, protein powder, fish oil capsules, and superfoods like spirulina. Yes, it can get pretty expensive buying supplements on top of food, but vegetarianism for me it a spiritual rather than nutritional choice, and this is how I’ve found my balance.
101 Cookbooks – This isn’t a completely vegetarian/vegan site, but there are some great recipes, including a vegan peanut butter cookie recipe that is banging!
The Vegetarian Myth – I’m sure you’re all sick of having this book thrown in your face, but it really is an important resource for anyone considering choosing a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Lierre Keith examines the political, environmental, and nutritional reasons why people go veg, and then explains why those reasons are unfounded.
The Paleo Diet
Pretty much the opposite of the veg diet, the paleo diet is, well, paleo. You eat what your Paleolithic ancestors ate, what your body was meant to eat. The paleo diet limits you to meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungus, roots, and nuts. That means no grain, dairy, potatoes, or processed foods. Produce should be organic and meat must be grass-fed to get closest to how cavemen really ate, though I’m sure not everyone follows this rule. From what I know of holistic health, this diet seems to be the best overall. Grains and dairy come with their own health risks, and we all know by now that processed foods offer very little nutrition. Say goodbye to chocolates though, unless you make your own!
The Paleo Diet – A great place to get started, though you do have to subscribe to get all the good info.
PaleOMG – This site has some excellent paleo-approved recipes. I made the blueberry chocolate chip cookies last night and they’re pretty good for being gluten-free.
Raw Food Diet
The next step after the paleo diet would be the raw food diet, in which you eat only uncooked, unprocessed foods. This is perhaps the only diet I could never do, because I simply cannot understand how one lives without a warm dinner on a cold night. I do incorporate elements of this diet into my life, though, such as juicing. Heat destroys the nutrients in produce, so the more you cook your kale, the less good it will do you. Juicing fruits and veggies is a great way to start your day – and a great way to incorporate things like spirulina or flax seeds that taste like butt by themselves. Dehydrating foods is another way around cooking them. I haven’t invested in a dehydrator yet, so I can’t say yay or nay to its cooking skills. With a raw diet, it’s your choice whether or not to include animal products, though I can’t imagine a raw steak is very tasty…
Raw Food links:The Best of Raw Food – A good website to get you started, it gives you a lot of pointers and even a shopping list!
Raw Food Life – Excellent source of information and articles on the raw food diet.
Sunfood Superfoods – A good (if slightly overpriced) shopping site for the raw food lifestyle.
The Blood Type Diet
If you’ve never heard of Dr. D’Adamo’s book Eat Right For Your Type, I highly suggest you check it out. While I’m not a fan of diets that place everyone into a category based on only one or two criteria, this diet can be highly beneficial when used in conjunction with other healthy eating habits. D’Adamo’s premise is that each blood type stemmed from different regions where different foods were available and therefore adapted to its surroundings. His book has lists of beneficial, neutral, and detrimental foods for each blood type, as well as lifestyle recommendations. Type O is the hunter and should eat a high protein, meat-based diet for maximum health. Type A is the farmer and should eat a primarily vegetarian diet. Type B is the nomad who can eat most anything, and they thrive on dairy products. Type AB is a mix of A & B and should eat accordingly. Blood plays a vital role in our bodies, so I can’t completely dismiss this diet, but I would argue that because it does not take into account things like gender, age, and overall health, it can’t accurately generate a diet plan.
Blood Type Diet links:
D’Adamo’s website – See what he has to say about his diet.
Notice that I did not include things like Weight Watchers and Atkins in my list. That’s because these are not real diets. They’re money-making gimmicks that may help you lose weight in the short term, but don’t give any thought to nutrition or helping you build good lifestyle habits to prevent you from putting the weight back on. The bottom line is that eating right, drinking plenty of water (half your weight in ounces per day is a good guideline), and exercising is the key to any good weight loss program. Just find out what kind of foods your body likes and feed it!