Back in the day, a diet was something you tried on January first because you felt guilty about the size on your clothes. A basic diet is all about avoiding everything you love and filling a meal plan with cardboard-like meals while pretending to enjoy plain water (or La Croix).
Diets are typically associated with the phrases “beach body” or “baby weight” and “muffin top” (I can completely relate to the last two, not so much to the first one). But today’s version of diets are completely different. It is no longer a crash course in torturing yourself to have more self-control around doughnuts. In fact, most diets aren’t really designed to help you lose weight (what!?) Why am I torturing myself? Specialty diets are now a lifestyle. It’s bigger than doughnuts.
If you ask any vegetarian or vegan about their eating habits, they will likely have a monologue explanation that involves culture, ideals, philosophy, and self-awareness. But they will probably not tell you how much weight they are trying to lose. That is because diets now are more about morals or nutritional ideals than they are about becoming a size 2.
The good news is, these diets have significant proven health and mental benefits, but living on the straight and narrow nutrition road definitely has its own fair share of bumps, potholes, and detours that require a little extra work.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve probably heard of the Paleo diet, it’s also called the caveman diet which assumes that even if you live in a cave, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
It’s an interesting idea that emphasizes eating “as the caveman did,” which was whole foods, lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and other healthy fats. I’m pretty sure our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate some carbs, but despite the faulty evolutionary theory it’s based on, in the end, the Paleo diet likely gets more right than it gets wrong.
Paleo-style eating has shown to be a massive improvement over the average Western diet consisting of fat, grease, caffeine and sugar (I’ll take all four please). By making us more aware of how processed and crappy a lot of our 21st century food is, paleo-style eating has been extremely effective for improving several chronic diseases. That alone is a huge plus. There’s a few problems with paleo, but it’s nothing that we can’t handle.
- Problem 1: Not getting enough nutritional value.
You’re a damn caveman! Time to eat like one. Your plate should be half animal products and half plant products, but it should be the same size of plate. Each daily meal plan should still be eating a normal amount of 2,000 calories on the Paleo diet. It’s just about eating 400 calories of nuts and fruit rather than 400 calories of Doritos.
- Problem 2: Craving sugar and carbs.
This is a tricky one because most people eat between 200-400 grams of carbs and sugar every day (and love every bite). Cutting that out cold turkey may cause some serious withdrawal symptoms. Instead of jumping in headfirst, approach Paleo slowly by reducing your intake of carbs little by little. You might feel like you need that new Taco Bell taco or that fourth McChicken, but #bodygoals. Meal prep is a big way to curb sugar cravings. Have something ready to go that won’t throw off your new groove.
- Problem 3: Budget.
You’d think with this being a caveman diet, you could just go outside and pick all the berries and murder all the chickens you’d need. Guess again. Organic food is way more expensive than a bag of Cheetos. Resist it though and stock up on coupons instead. Venture out to local farmers markets to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, buy meat in bulk and invest in a vacuum sealer to freeze and store fresh food through the winter.
- Problem 4: Not getting enough sleep.
This diet is draining, difficult, and requires a bedtime. In the long run, it is healing your entire body, potentially preventing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc. You need to get proper rest to heal your body. Go to bed early enough to allow for 8 full hours of rest before the next workday. If this seems impossible, start by going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night. Remove nighttime obligations and learn how to say “no” to daily nighttime parties (insert sad face).
The typical Paleo plate is half meat and half plants, if you replace the meat side of the plate with soy, beans, and carbs, you’re now a vegetarian. Congratulations! (Aka – you have my sympathies).
There are two types of vegetarians: real ones and everyone else. Real vegetarians have made the choice to live vegetarian and enjoy it and have no plans of changing. They have a routine of meal plans and meal prep that they use for years. Everyone else dabbles vegetarianism like downloading Pokémon Go and getting a perm, it’ll be hype now and forgotten in a few months. Whether you’re trying it out for the first time or you’ve lived the veggie life for years, you may experience a few hiccups along the way.
- Problem 1: Eating out
Several restaurants have a vegetarian menu, and a good waiter or waitress can show you the best options, but when in doubt, suggest an international restaurant that typically uses more lentils and tofu options. Mexican food is another good vegetarian option. Show me someone who doesn’t love a quesadilla and I’ll show you a liar. You can also do a little vegetarian meal prep and call the restaurant in advance.
- Problem 2: Deciding whether to go full vegan
Vegetarians deal with a constant internal conflict justifying whether they are “vegetarian enough”. Am I a bad person because bacon still smells good? Is my shampoo animal-cruelty free? Poor bunnies, sad piggies, but I’m only smelling it and my hair is so damn soft. Is cheese really OK? Are the cows hurt? What about honey and those cute bumblebees? Do you actually know what is in marshmallows? Making the decision between what is OK and what is not is completely personal. Don’t feel like you need to defend yourself to anyone else, and yes – that leather jacket looks beautiful on you.
- Problem 3 Nutritional value
The most common problem for vegetarians is getting enough healthy Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. I love when I find something with the word “fat” and “healthy” in the same sentence. These are heart-healthy fats that are essential for heart health. You can find these nutrients in vegetables like spinach and cereals, or in soy beans and nuts, but you can also get them in a supplement of fish oil. Pop a pill and you’re done.
- Problem 4: Accidentally eating meat
You thought gummy worms were safe, turns out they are not. Products you didn’t know contains meat ACTUALLY DO. The best solution is to be creepily vigilant in your ingredient list searches. Make a meal plan when you have time to do the research. It helps to follow vegetarian blogs for more tips from fellow vegetarians.
Move over vegetarians, the real thing is in town. If you thought cutting out meat was hard, try the vegan ways.
Vegans live by the notion “Fish are friends, not food” But it’s not just fish and it’s not just food, it’s everything they eat, wear, use, and live. Vegans don’t use animal products in any way. They are the type of people who get excited when burgers are made from beans, when chicken is actually beet extract and tofu and they celebrate the day pleather was invented. Veganism was once exclusive to hippies and supermodels, but now it’s actually trendy and an aspirational way of living.
The vegan lifestyle is more than eating fruits and vegetables and not wearing fur. It’s about perfecting the body and protecting animal rights. Vegans come in several different varieties. There’s ethical vegans, environmental vegans, or dietary vegans, but they all share a few common problems.
- Problem 1: Snacks
When snackzilla comes to visit this month, vegans likely have no snacks to appease them. Unless you love carrot sticks and hummus, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a decent snack in a vegan home. The best solution is to follow @accidentallyvegannz, and other lifestyle bloggers who can help find and share treats and snacks that are vegan free. Surprisingly, not everything vegans eat is weird. Hello, Oreos! The more popular the lifestyle becomes, food manufacturers will follow by providing plenty of options if you know what you’re looking for.
- Problem 2: Other People
If you aren’t sure you know a vegan, you don’t. Vegans are very open about their lifestyle, but sometimes the term “vegan” is mistaken with “satanic cult of crazy people.” Dealing with other people’s reactions and opinions is one of the most difficult parts of being a vegan. Talking to a vegan about their diet choice is like talking to a cattle farmer about tofu, the conversation probably won’t end well. Most meat-eaters consider themselves better than vegans, and most vegans come off as self-righteous. This is one of those topics that should be avoided at all costs, like religion or politics, just leave it alone.
- Problem 3: Kitchen Disasters
If you try to make a vegan cake using regular recipe, don’t. It’s like building a skyscraper out of sand, it’s just not going to work. Vegan cooking requires vegan recipes. They are easier than you may think to find but may take some practice. Search for recipes. If at first, you don’t succeed, cry on the floor covered in flour and try again.
- Problem 4: It’s not just food
You can’t just go to the bar and ask for house wine or ‘the cheapest lager you have!”, because many beers and wines are made with dairy, honey or even fish guts. Gross, but true. It’s about more than what’s on your plate, it’s about what’s in your glass, around your neck and on your shoes. The transition can be a struggle (and expensive) At the bar, go for spirits instead of lager, most of them are naturally vegan.
While paleo, vegetarian and vegan are personal choices made for personal reasons, some specialty diets are medically necessary. Gluten-free (aka: celiac disease) is a diet used by those who don’t tolerate gluten foods. However, more and more people are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon as a way to cut out carbs and lead a healthier life.
Gluten is often synonymous with feeling blah, bloated, drained, and sluggish. This is why celebrities and health nuts have toted gluten free diets for years. Gluten is a protein in most breads that gives it a chewy texture. While it works amazing in a baguette, it can cause inflammation in the body and in some cases actually tricks your immune system into thinking you’re sick when you’re not and then you develop antibodies to attack gluten. No amount of pink stuff is going to resolve that internal gut battle. The best way to avoid gluten wars in the belly is to avoid gluten completely. Sounds easy, until you try it.
- Problem 1: Bullied into eating it
There’s a huge misnomer that people on specialty diets are rude. No, I’m not rude, I’d just prefer not to die tonight thank you very much.
- Problem 2: Learning to read
If you look on a nutrition label, you won’t find the word “gluten”. Instead you’ll find lots of other words that are 20 characters long that you can’t pronounce that basically mean “gluten.” It’s annoying to say the least, but chances are they aren’t changing nutrition labels anytime soon no matter how much I bitch about it. The only solution is to do your own research, understand what you’re eating even (and especially) if you can’t pronounce it. Reading every label in existence and needing to know what all those 20-letter words mean.
- Problem 3: Other people
Whenever you pass up gluten the first question people will ask is, “oh, are you allergic?” If you say “yes” you get a pass and the conversation is over. If you say, “no” then proceeds a barrage of questions about why you’d ever give up the blissful taste of bread if you’re not being forced to, “Are you just trying to lose weight?” “Do you think it’s really that bad?” NAH BRUH, I just care about my health, it’s not a weight issue. Smack people down by telling them that ditching gluten boosts energy. If they want to brawl, you’ll have more energy with which to kick their ass.
Living life against the mainstream Western United States diet is like trying to swim through sugar without getting sticky. There are millions of people in the world who struggle every day with making better eating choices. I am one of them, I love food, I am a champion overeater and I drink more calories than I can count.
If you’re on a diet, every day is a struggle when you have to say no to treat at the office, survive a birthday party or make it through Thanksgiving, but if I stop trying I gain weight faster than a pig bulking up for slaughter. Try not to overthink it, just own your choices and do it and everyone else can deal with it.
Not having a piece of cake probably won’t ruin your life and you’ll still have friends even if you don’t drink beer with them. But if it’s been a shitty day, enjoy your cake and beer, and we’ll both do better tomorrow.