How to Find the Best Diet for You

September 8th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

What type of diet will give you the greatest amount of energy, health, and mental clarity?

I don’t know. I’m not you. But I can tell you how to find out for yourself.

Experiment. Try different ways of eating. Use the 30 days to success method for each type of diet you want to try. 30 days is about the minimum because during the first week or two after any dietary improvement, you’re bound to experience some detox effects, which can make you feel lousy before you feel better. Headaches, back aches, and mood swings are common.

When you test each new diet, take written notes on your experiences. Note the effects on your level of energy, mental clarity, and feeling of well-being. I use my regular journal for this (on my PC), so I can do a quick keyword search to pull up my notes and observations of all the diets I’ve ever tried.

I use health books and articles to supplement my knowledge, but first and foremost I rely on my own personal experience. I mainly use books as a guide for what to try next, assuming the principles seem sound and mesh with my current level of understanding.

Health books are often contradictory, but when you read enough of them (at least 20), you begin to see patterns and learn to become better at separating the fluff from the truth. The first chapters of most commercially popular diet books are virtually identical. They tend to follow the same pattern of explaining why other diets don’t work and why this book is the one true breakthrough that will revolutionize how people eat, but there’s no substance to those chapters. It’s just marketing-speak. So you can generally skip the first chapter of any diet book without losing anything.

One very simple principle I’ve adopted is to give very little credibility to diet books with photos of fat doctors on the cover. It should be obvious why that has proven helpful.

To really define a diet to experiment with, you have to be very specific in how you define the diet if you want your experiments to produce meaningful results. As I’ve written previously, vegetarian is not a diet, nor is vegan. A vegetarian is merely someone who eats no animals (no cows, pigs, chickens, fish, etc.), and a vegan eats no animal products (no animals, dairy, eggs, etc.). But that doesn’t define what you do eat. You can be a vegan who eats french fries, candy, and soda, or you can be a raw foodist who eats only raw foods, or you can eat macrobiotically and have a diet with lots of grain dishes and soups. So terms like vegan or vegetarian are simply not specific enough to define a diet. There are countless variations of those ways of eating.

The same goes for high protein diets, high carb diets, metabolic type diets, hair-color diets, etc. Those terms are way too vague to define your real diet, especially since most people tend to eat the same foods often and settle into a pattern of eating a tiny subset of all the potential foods available to them. What are you actually eating? Are you eating cheese, beans, artificial shake powders? What about fruits and vegetables? Are they mostly raw or cooked, canned or fresh or frozen? Even a vegan who eats lots of canned and boxed foods is on a very different diet than one who eats only fresh, unprocessed foods.

How much variety is there in your diet? Does your definition of fruit consist mainly of apples, oranges, and bananas? Or do you eat 10 different types of fruit every week? What foods do you see in your grocery store that you’ve never eaten?

Do you consume any drugs like caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, etc? Simply give up coffee, and you’re on a totally different diet with a significant change in your body’s biochemistry. Remove artificial supplements from your diet, and you’ve made another significant change.

I’ve noticed that different ways of eating can have a huge effect on my energy level as well as my emotional resilience. It’s not just what you eat or don’t eat that matters. How the food is prepared makes a big difference too.

The sensitivity of dietary inputs is one reason you can’t rely solely on the advice and experiences of others. You have to see for yourself. Even if you eat identical foods to someone else, the specific effects on your physiology may be unique.

Through experimentation I found that the best diet I’ve tried so far is an all-raw, whole foods, vegan diet. No caffeine. No supplements. No sugar. No artificial or processed foods. No junk. There are some great all-raw (un)cookbooks, and there’s even a gourmet raw food restaurant near my home, so I enjoy some pretty creative dishes on this diet. I can see by my notes that this way of eating left me feeling more energetic, emotionally positive, and mentally clear than any other diet I’ve tried. But I continue to experiment and have been doing so since the early 90s. One thing I don’t like about the all-raw diet is that it can be labor intensive if you want to eat a variety of interesting dishes. Lots of chopping and mixing and blending and dehydrating and juicing. If I had my own personal chef to set to the task, this is how I’d eat all the time. But I find that adding in some denser cooked foods like brown rice is helpful. It fills me up faster and saves me time without giving up too much of the energy benefits. The nice thing about this way of eating is that I can eat as much as I want without gaining weight.

Even though there’s so much marketing and money involved in diets (and consequently, misinformation abounds), I found that following my own common sense helped steer me in the correct direction. In the long run, it really shouldn’t have been that big a surprise to me that I feel best eating the simple foods that nature provides instead of man-made concoctions. The more human beings tamper with the foods I eat, the worse I feel when I eat them.

As for animal foods, it’s only common sense to me now that I wouldn’t run up to a cow and try to take a bite out of its hide; nor would I bend down, shove its calf aside, and try to suckle its teats. If the process of eating becomes excessively stupid at any point (like trying to drink another species’ baby-milk after I’ve already been weaned — a species that has four stomachs and weighs almost 10x as much as me), that’s where I know I’m heading in the wrong direction. So you can read fad diet books until you’ve run yourself in circles and have grown confused enough that you want to believe anything those marketers tell you, or you can just ask yourself whether it’s more intelligent to pluck an apple off a tree or to suckle a 1400-pound cow (especially one that’s been pumped full of bovine growth hormone).

It can be hard to get the ingrained-since-childhood marketing-speak out of our brains and restore basic notions of dietary common sense, but once you start to regain and re-assert your own logic, I think you’ll find that your thinking about diets becomes a whole lot simpler and less complicated.

Shifting diets can be difficult, but once you’ve done the first 30 days, it’s much easier after that, and your new way of eating becomes routine. Every new diet looks harsh from the outside looking in. But once it’s a habit, you’ll barely even think about it. It just becomes your normal default way of eating. Just as you once learned to eat the way you do now (unless you’re still eating baby food, that is), you can learn to eat a new way whenever you choose to do so.

So to sum up…

  • Conduct your own dietary experiments for at least 30 days at a time, take notes, and compare the results of different diets.
  • Juice the marketing-speak out of your brain (like “milk does a body good” and “beef is for dinner”), and re-establish your own common sense.
  • Put more trust in Mother Nature than in marketers.
  • Call me any names you want, as long as you don’t call me a marketer. That would hurt my feelings.

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