Demystifying diets

Are you confused about what diet is the right one for you? It’s no surprise when we are confronted with a list of possible choices, promoted variously by nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, personal trainers and even media personalities. Some diets are sound choices while others are fads, but the one common positive thing, is that they all make us examine our current eating habits.

So, what are some of the choices? Keto, Paleo, DASH, GAPS, Low FODMAPS; 5/2, 16/8 and other intermittent fasting options; Anti-Candida; Mediterranean; Low Carb; Low Carb high Fat; Vegan; Vegetarian; Pescatarian; Gluten Free; Dairy Free; Low kJ/calorie-controlled diets; SIBO diet Low fat diet……and there are many, many more.

What is a diet? – It is simply the sum of food consumed by a person or an organism. The reasons for a particular diet choice can be for optimising good health, for weight management or to address an illness or medical condition.

What is healthy eating? – It is ensuring that the food you eat helps you to improve your health and maintain a healthy weight, enabling you to feel good both mentally and physically. It should not be about unrealistic dietary limitations and continually depriving yourself of all the foods you love. It means ensuring that you have a nutritious selection of foods that give you adequate protein, carbohydrates (healthy ones), good fats, fibre, and micronutrients. And lots of water.

Points to consider:

  • What are your goals for this diet? Why are you doing it? For example, is it health concerns or weight issues? The eating plan you choose needs to accommodate your goals and not worsen any existing health conditions, so care must be taken to havea good look at any medical issues you may have.
  • Understand the difference between appetite and hunger.
  • Appetite is a natural instinctive desire for food in response to the smell, thought, sight or taste of food
  • Hunger is a sensation that motivates eating often prompted by thoughts of food and driven by feelings caused by a lack of food
  • Satiety is a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, occurring during or after eating, suppressing hunger and reducing a desire for more food or to eat again for a while. It determines how much time passes before you want to eat again. Nutrient compositions influence this.
  • What makes you eat? Look at your normal eating patterns and why you eat, what you eat and when you eat.
  • Know that eating can be triggered by sensations other than hunger e.g., boredom, anxiety, stress (positive or negative), time of day, sight, smell or thought of food, or social situations.
  • Find other ways to manage boredom and comfort eating – If bored, upset, worried or just flat, think of stress and mood busting methods that do not involve eating unless it is a mealtime. Exercise and recreation are good go-to activities.

To establish a workable diet and maintain it:     

  • Ensure it is doable. Weird, hard to source foods and unrealistic eating schedules can only lead to failure. Tailor a diet to your needs and availability. Also ensure that is emotionally doable. If you are forever resentful and hungry it will not work over the longer term. Food is not just fuel, it can and should be a source of pleasure and eating it enjoyable. Eating without guilt or fear of judgement makes it more enjoyable and more maintainable.
  • Ensure good meal prep and planning by organising and controlling your shopping and your kitchen. Use weekly shopping lists, easy to prepare meals, meals that can be made ahead and frozen, or that you can replicate from take-out sources for lunches and dinners when out. Snacking is the biggest reason for failure to lose or maintain lost weight. Healthy emergency snacks are key.
  • Understand that weight fluctuations are normal. Don’t be discouraged by small weight gains during the diet process. These are usually temporary and understanding why your body is doing what it is doing is key to sticking with any new eating plan.
  • Read food ingredient labels when shopping to be aware of sugar, salt, fat and additives.
  • Ensure all food groups are adequately covered daily and be aware of why you need them all and make certain a balance of all macronutrients are included.
  • Understand the importance of good digestion and absorption of nutrients, as eating good food doesn’t guarantee that you will absorb the nutrients you need.
  • Practice good eating habits by chewing well and eating slowly, sitting down to eat, and eating only what you need to feel full, or gently satisfied not overfed and bloated. Plus try to stop eating before you feel full.
  • Have an awareness of recommended serving sizes and healthy portion sizes:
  • A ‘serving size’ is a set amount of a food used along with the ‘serves per day’ information to work out the total daily amount of food you need from each of the Five Food Groups.
  • A ‘portion’ size is the amount of food that you actually eat at a time e.g., palm size amount. If you eat small portions you may have to eat from that food group more often each day to meet the recommended serves per day intake.
  • Eat at regular times and not late at night, so a heavy meal is not sitting in your tummy at bedtime, otherwise your digestive system is still working while you are trying to get to sleep. Aim to finish meals at least 3 hours before bed.
  • Understand what drives your eating patterns. Is it hunger, boredom, addiction or habit?
  • Also know that there are hormonal drivers such as leptin and ghrelin. Problems with the function of these hormones can interfere with weight loss.
  • Leptin is a protein acting as a hormone in the hypothalamus and it regulates appetite. When leptin levels are low the brain says eat when they are high it says stop.
  • Ghrelin is a protein acting as a hormone makes you want to eat. Ghrelin levels are high before a meal and the body says eat, and they are low after.
  • Thyroid hormone and insulin also work with leptin to influence how we eat.  
  • Insulinhelps your body turn blood sugar (glucose) into energy


Understand your own body. Even without a specific allergy some foods just don’t sit well with certain people. Keeping a food and symptom diary can help you record food consumed plus what was happening at the time and what if any physical effect certain foods have had on your body e.g., bloating, nausea, flatulence, pain, or GIT disturbances such as constipation and diarrhea.

Some important take away tips:

  • Be realistic to avoid failure and make sure you can stick with your chosen diet
  • Plan and organize with careful shopping each week
  • Eat daily from all food groups including plant food and whole grains
  • Make all food tasty and interesting so you don’t equate “healthy” with “tasteless,”
  • Try to have a protein at every meal (0.8kj-1kj per kg of weight daily) and a protein rich snack to avoid eating sugary or fatty foods on the run. Nuts, protein balls, or hard fruit such as apples.
  • Eat nutrient dense foods to keep hunger at bay and minimise food cravings.
  • Have plenty of water and fibre daily.
  • Fresh is best and avoid processed food where possible.

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