Whether you've been doing really well food wise this year or you're in need of a little assistance, these three "diet" challenges can help you. I say "diet" because it's only in the sense of what you eat, not any sort of deprivation as the word popularly means these days. Rest assured there's no juicing, no calorie counting, no portion control and no need for yucky food here!
Whether you do these challenges for a week or longer, you will feel better for it! So as this cold weather gives way to warmer (fingers crossed) and the world starts to come out of hibernation, how about a little spring cleaning for your body to prep?
I once did a three day hunger cleanse when I was still in high school and what I learned from that is to never do it again! I was trying to "purify" my mind and body and instead I ended up sleeping a lot and going back to pizza by the end of it. The more I've studied nutrition, the less and less I've come to support the typical cleanse or detox because your body can automatically do much of the "detoxing" for you.
However, there is definitely something to be said about removing or reducing certain foods from your diet at least temporarily to see how they affect you. What I'm sharing with you are actual dietary lifestyle changes. They're different from trendy detoxes because you're still providing your body with important nutrients in a way that you can maintain INDEFINTELY. Cleanses often only work for the time you do them because the reality is you can't maintain them in the long run, NOR SHOULD YOU.
Whether you embrace these alternative diet lifestyles long-term or just for the week, you'll get some invaluable insights on how certain food works (or doesn't work) for you.
It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway, make sure you're cleared by a doctor if you have any condition that could be aggravated by changes in diet. Pay close attention to how your body reacts. You know your body best. These are just guidelines not hardcore blueprints. If something doesn't feel right, ditch the diet.
Even those of us who aren't lactose intolerant can have issues related to the way dairy products are made in the modern world. The process of pasteurisation, the additives and often the high amounts of sodium (in the case of cheese) or sugar (in the case of yogurt) can have an impact on our digestion, energy levels and even skin. If you've never gone dairy-free, why not give it a try?
I've personally been mostly dairy-free for the last five years. I rarely keep any dairy products at home (or cook with them.) You really don't miss it after a few weeks! This is coming from someone who was obsessed with cheese, ice cream and pizza (I'm still obsessed with pizza.) I will occasionally have dairy when I'm out to eat if I fancy it because you still gotta live a little.
Remove millk, cheese, butter and yogurt from your diet. If you're being very strict, this will also include removing Whey protein too.
Note: Eggs ARE NOT CONSIDERED DAIRY. If you did want to try a week without them chia eggs can often do the same job in many recipes.
Calcium is plentiful in dairy and very important. Make sure you actively eat the right foods to get this critical nutrient when avoiding dairy. These are some alternative sources listed by the daily value. Topping the list are white beans, figs and kale as well as canned fish (I find canned fish gross...childhood scarred by tuna fish sandwiches but if you like it go for it!)
You can also get calcium from supplements but you should speak to a doctor or nutritionist for the specific ones to take for your body and unique dietary needs.
You may have tried gluten-free, well grain-free is the like the next level. (Not in any scientific way but in terms of difficulty to get used to.) This is where I get the most pushback from clients when we start working together. Everyone has been taught that cereal, oats and grains are necessary for high performing and active lives but that's not always so.
Not all grains are created equal. Your Cheerios is not equivalent to traditionally-milled barley bread in terms of nutrients. The modern way of processing grains often leaves them nutrient lacking rather than nutrient-rich as they would have been in the past.
Grains can also be difficult to digest without the proper prep (e.g. soaking, sprouting, etc.) This is partially why you may feel heart burn or discomfort after eating a sandwich or big bowl of porridge. It's not always because you ate too much!
Finally, grains are filling which is good but it also means you're less likely to fill up on other nutrients you need more like from veggies and fruit. Many grain products are nutrient-lacking but take away belly space from foods that are nutrient-rich.
Most importantly, not all of us feel energised by grains. If you feel an afternoon slump after having a grain-rich breakfast or lunch, it may be time to consider trying grain-free. This was me and I can say that going grain-free was possibly the best decision FOR ME of all these lifestyle changes. As with dairy, I'll occasionally eat bread (and I will never give up pizza) but overall I stick to this!
If you're still on the fence, here's an excellent article about the differences in types of grains and why to possibly try grain-free or to cut down.
Remove bread, cereal, oats, flour and traditional granola.
Grains are incredibly filling and many times do give people that intial energy boost. If you know that's you, you may want to spend some extra time to plan your meals accordingly. Make sure you're eating hearty meals (not just salads) and that you eat whenever you're hungry. Expect that for the first few days you may feel less energy as your body adapts to the change in diet.
This is possibly the one that makes the most sense to people but also the hardest to try. Note that I didn't say sugar-free. Fruit has sugar. Maple syrup and honey are sugar. If we're thinking about diets in a sustainable way, the reality is that you're probably not going to avoid fruit forever (nor should you) and you probably will want to have some type of sweets on occasion. Removing refined sugar is a good middle ground. You'll find that once you remove refined sugar (and eat naturally occurring sugars in a balance way) that you don't experience so many cravings for sweets or those highs and lows that come with consistently digesting sugar.
Remove sugar from coffee or tea and sugar from cooking. Stop eating chocolate and fast-food (not take-out, but popular fast food places often use sugar in items you may not even realize like salads.)
Removing refined-sugar is good for you. You don't have to worry about any added nutrients. HOWEVER, a lot of us are addicted to sugar and don't even realize it. So it is completely normal that you may feel less energized than usual and get some serious cravings. Be prepared by figuring out healthier alternative snacks that you can use as substitutes that will hit those cravings.
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