ARE DIET LABELS HEALTHY?
The real danger of following cookie cutter diet labels is that it can mean oversimplifying what healthy actually means. Just because you’re vegan, vegetarian, low-carb, gluten-free, paleo, grain-free, [insert your favorite diet labels here], doesn’t mean you’re healthy. In fact, you’ll probably see better results if you just focus on food quality above everything else!
Healthy isn’t one-size-fits-all.
There’s no one way to be healthy – it just doesn’t work like that! We are all too different. We come from different families, with different cultural backgrounds, with different lifestyles, with different environmental stressors, and with different emotional traumas.
With all of those differences, we have to be aware that everybody’s version of “healthy eating” is going to be different in one way or another… and that’s where you might get stuck wondering why you aren’t making as much progress as your friend who is following the same diet as you.
So what’s “healthy” for YOU? Well…. healthy must be sustainable in your life. Meaning, it has to work for you in the long term (aka long after the newness of the diet fades). Most importantly, your healthy eating habits should also be rewarding and enjoyable. A sustainable, healthy diet will need to align with the answers to the following questions:
- What foods do you enjoy most?
- Do you have strong ties to cultural foods?
- Do you prepare your own food or eat prepared food?
- Are you cooking for yourself or a family?
- Do you even like cooking?
When you answer the questions, your diet should be flexible enough to allow your basic eating habits to be included. A strict diet that doesn’t align with your basic eating needs and preferences won’t last long!
Avoid the strict diet labels (and the stress that comes with them)…
Strict dieting rules lead to unhealthy relationships with food because they create anxiety, stress, and confusion about what the best choices really are. How are you supposed to eat healthy family when your “diet” food isn’t available? Navigating parties, vacations, and restaurant menus can be extremely challenging – and way more stressful than it needs to be!
Ultimately, if you focus on mindfully eating real foods – you can avoid all the drama that comes with following an unsustainably strict diet.
GOING PALEO BROKE MY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
If you’re unconvinced that dieting isn’t the answer, it’s okay! I was unconvinced too – which is exactly why I was strict paleo for almost an entire year. Don’t get me wrong, at first, it was awesome. It was working for me, I was excited about it, and I loved the way I felt. But then time went on and it stopped working… But I was so loyal to the diet label that I let it, flat-out, ruin my relationship with food. I was…
- Afraid of gluten.
- Avoiding grains at all costs.
- Demonizing all (even natural) sources of sugar.
- Eating way too low carb for my lifestyle.
- Sucking the fun out of every. single. bite.
The thing was, I was following the paleo diet “rules” religiously – but it didn’t work for me! I even developed an obsessive eating disorder because of it. So trust me, just because you’re following the rules, doesn’t mean you’re eating “healthy”.
DIET LABELS HAVE SHALLOW MEANINGS
We tend to put “health halos” around diet labels – but it trips us up. That vegan chocolate chip cookie – yeah, it’s still nutritionally equivalent to the non-vegan chocolate chip cookie! But we think it’s healthy because it says “vegan”.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of eating low-quality food just to make sure you eat according to the diet label you follow. While many vegans do emphasize the healthy parts of a plant-based diet, there are, of course, unhealthy vegans. Hey, high fructose corn syrup and refined flour are animal-product-free aren’t they?
On the other end of the spectrum, while many paleo followers eat their vegetables, there are some who go meat crazy, push all vegetables to the side, and lose themselves in eating mounds of “paleo” desserts.
Analyzing the vegan diet:
Usually, for ethical reasons, vegans take vegetarianism a step further by eliminating all animal products. That means no butter, no eggs, no honey, and definitely no meat. Vegans generally focus the bulk of their diet on whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. But if you only go by the rules of the “Vegan” label…
- Being vegan doesn’t necessarily mean a healthier gut.
- Being vegan doesn’t necessarily avoid food sensitivities.
- Many “vegan” products in the grocery stores are heavily processed, soy-based products made from genetically modified (GMO) soybeans (Learn more about soy here).
- Vegan does not necessarily mean high in fresh vegetables.
- Vegan does not necessarily mean organic produce.
- There can be excessive use of sweeteners from dates, agave, maple syrup, and alike.
- The vegan diet can still include many processed grains and sugar.
Analyzing the paleo diet:
The differences between paleo and primal are pretty blurred since there’s no formal distinction. Traditionally speaking, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy aren’t on the paleo food list. However, depending on the level of strictness, some paleo/primal followers add back high-quality dairy and white rice. But if you only go by the rules of the “Paleo/Primal” label…
- You will find a heavy reliance on meat that may not include an emphasis on grass-fed and organic sources.
- Paleo does not necessarily mean high in vegetables.
- Paleo does not necessarily mean organic produce.
- The paleo diet can easily go crazy with grain-free substitutes and include high amounts of nuts and seeds.
TAKEAWAY: JUST EAT REAL FOOD
Diet labels aren’t necessary – and they definitely don’t make us healthier! By getting in touch with our own personal eating habits, we can drastically improve our health and happiness at the exact same time.
The main message: a diet label isn’t meaningful if it doesn’t work for YOU.