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by Steph Saullo RDN

July 19, 2018

If you’re still in search of the magic solution, stop looking

It’s the middle of the summer. By this point in the year, you might have started a diet, stopped a diet, thought about a diet, or felt guilty for not sticking to your diet. Or maybe you’re just doing an elimination protocol, “eating clean,” not eating past a certain time at night, or avoiding gluten (or other food ingredient) because you think it will improve your athletic performance and/or physical appearance. These are diets, too, and they’re quite enticing. Eat this, don’t eat that, and alter your weight and body composition for better performance and health.

Unfortunately, diets (or whatever you want to call them) don’t work.

It’s Not a Diet, It’s a Lifestyle

Unless you have a health condition or food allergy that requires modification to your repertoire of foods, there’s no need to group foods into “good” or “bad” categories.

Even with a health condition or food allergy, you should avoid classifying foods in this way. Classifying food as “clean” or “unclean,” eliminating certain foods from your diet, or restricting your intake (aka going on a diet) will likely result in short-term weight loss but ultimately will result in constant thoughts about food, extreme hunger, and weight gain or regain.

In fact, most people who diet end up gaining more weight than they initially lost. Diets fail more than 95 percent of the time. If I tried to sell you a new piece of sports gear that was only 5 percent effective, would you buy it? Probably not.

Any plan that promises results quickly, easily, and permanently should be a red flag.

Stay Flexible

Many of the most popular diets, lifestyle approaches, and clean eating strategies out there have some guidance that makes sense. What they get wrong is mandating rigidity with those parameters.

The foundation of any healthful diet, whether you’re trying to optimize your performance or lower your risk for chronic disease, includes fruits and vegetables, unsaturated fats (fatty fish such as salmon or tuna, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds), lean proteins, and whole grains. It isn’t exciting, but it’s the truth.

These aren't the only things you should eat either. A healthful diet includes foods that you love (insert your favorite food here). To optimize performance, you'll need to include the right fuel at the right time.

For example, gummy bears might give you the instant energy that you need. Kale won't. You don’t need radical or complex rules to improve your abilities as an athlete or your health. There is no magic pill, plan, or process.

Nutrition is important but having a healthy relationship with food is even more fundamental. Obsession with food and feeling guilt and shame about not eating what you feel like you should or eating what you feel like you shouldn’t be eating could lead to orthorexia nervosa, which means an unhealthy fixation with healthy eating. Ultimately, this may lead to severe restriction of food and a loss of energy, which will cause not only your performance to suffer but your physical and mental health, too.

Even if you’re training for the biggest competition of your life, it’s best to avoid extremes and stay flexible in your approach to eating for optimal performance and for health. Don’t fall prey to the false hope that a new diet will make you a better athlete. It won’t. Always remember that perfect eating doesn’t exist. Food is meant to be enjoyed, even if it’s meant to fuel your workouts and competitions.

The Anti-Diet Approach

1. Get rid of food rules

2. Eat when you're hungry

3. Eat foods you love and don't eat foods you don't like

4. Make fruits and vegetables, unsaturated fats, lean proteins, and whole grains the basis of your meals

5. Hydrate

6. Rest

7. Have fun


  • Health and Nutrition


  • Diets
  • Health