When I meet with an individual about their diet, I can usually look at their food recall, their chief complaint (e.g. fatigue, weight gain, sour stomach) and some lab work and immediately make a few great recommendations that I know will positively impact their health and well-being. After spending years studying nutrition and counseling individuals on diet, I am pretty good an picking out what’s working and what is not within the first session with a client.
On some occasions, however, this isn’t the case.
Once in a blue moon, I will have a client walk in with what might be considered a PERFECT diet– one that is based around whole foods and is low in sugar and/or “junk”. They are eating all organic foods, lean and sustainably raised meats and maintaining a caloric intake that meets their energy needs. Sometimes they have been following this diet for years but that extra 10 pounds just seems to be clinging to their midsection, their migraines just won’t let up, or their stomach aches just won’t go away.
So what could be going wrong? If we follow a perfect diet shouldn’t the obvious benefit be health and longevity– at least some symptom improvement? How could someone eating so well still be so sick?
The answer to this does depend on the person, but the purpose of this post is to share with you some common things I see in my practice that might be happening. It’s possible you will be able to relate.
The truth of the matter is that no matter how “perfect” your diet is, there are some lifestyle habits that will completely derail your honest efforts. Listed below are the top 5 things I have observed in my practice that interfere with even the most healthy of diets.
Any perfect diet can be derailed by poor sleep habits, over- or under- exercise and lack of stress management.
1. SLEEP. This is a no brainer for some and a completely missed trigger for others. When life gets busy (which I know it does), the first thing to compromise is sleep. We might stay up late watching a new episode of our favorite show or wake up extra early in order to beat traffic– 20 minutes shaved off our regular sleep pattern can seem insignificant, but over time, regular lack of sleep can have a serious effect on our health. Aiming for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night should be a goal for most people. Talk to your Functional Medicine doctor or health care provider about natural ways to improve your sleep habits if you think you might be lacking.
2. EXERCISE. I see this go both ways. I can speak for myself when I say that overexercise can definitely impair your health, as I experienced this in my early 20’s. My diet was great, my sleep was deep and restorative but my exercise habits were extreme. I thought I was doing the right thing, but 1-2 hours of intense exercise every day was not good for me. When I finally accepted this and modified my routine to include less intense activity, my fatigue subsided and I lost 20 pounds of fat almost effortlessly. When someone is already eating right, the natural thing to assume is that they just need to exercise more. For some, this is the case, but for others, it may actually be the opposite. Exercise puts stress on the body and if the body is compromised, it can push it over the edge. Talk to your doctor about whether or not the amount of exercise you are currently doing matches your health goals.
3. STRESS MANAGEMENT. This could go along with exercise. Some stress in life is normal and actually good for our bodies, but too much can overwhelm our immune system and lead to burn out and disease manifestation. Adding a daily meditation practice (5-10 minutes is all you need) or yoga routine into your life can make a world of difference in your body’s ability to cope with stress. It can also help you become more mindful and at peace. Just a few minutes of deep breathing has been show to help lower blood pressure and improve concentration. Start with a couple minutes a day and work your way up.
4. UNDERLYING FOOD ALLERGY OR GUT ISSUE. When all of the above have been addressed and you are still suffering from health issues, it might be time to take a closer look at your digestive system. An underlying food allergy or sensitivity could be impairing your bodies ability to heal. You might think you are eating a super healthy diet, but just one food component could be throwing the whole system off. Usual suspects include: dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, nightshades, artificial sweeteners, and sugar. If you are concerned you might have a food sensitivity or allergy, talk to Beth about how you can best identify the culprit.
5. YOUR CURRENT DIET IS NOT HEALTHY FOR YOU. This ties into #4, but just because Alicia Silverstone is a vegan, doesn’t mean you should be too. You are an individual and your nutrient needs will be different from the next persons. Beware of diet books and plans that promise you health and vitality. Many of them have merit, but false beliefs that they will cure you of all ailments may or may not be true. Working with a Registered Dietitian can help you identify which program best suits you and your unique lifestyle.
Are you eating well and not seeing the results? Talk to me today to find out how I can help you move forward with your health goals.
In Health and Vitality,
p.s. This article was also featured on the Bright Side of Life, a brilliant and soulful resource for a healthy mind and spirit.