Is there such thing as a perfect diet?

Published 12:00 pm Monday, March 9, 2015


Dietician’s Digest by Amy Pleimling

Keeping up with all the diet advice out there is a tough job. It’s even tough for me, a registered dietitian.

Amy Pleimling

Amy Pleimling

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If we listened to all the doctors, news, magazines, friends and family we are left with nothing but confusion about what to eat. Things that we have felt solid about for years — like milk being good for our bones, or non-calorie sweeteners being a helpful way to reduce calories from sugar — get media attention saying the opposite. And for weight loss, is it high carb with low fat or low carb with high protein? Can’t it just be simple?

I have worked with people for a long time on finding the perfect diet that leads to a healthy weight and feeling great. However, no matter how much we hear about health and wellness being a lifestyle, most of us still prefer the quick fix, or if not the quick fix, then a black and white answer.

For the quick fix to weight loss, there are many diets that can and do work. The truth is that most weight-loss plans are low in calories, and when people start them they are motivated so the weight comes off — for a while. It ends up being a short-term thing that oftentimes starts again and again.  I’m very willing to help my clients achieve a healthy weight by following their lead on a diet they want to try, but whether it is low carb or low in animal proteins I always ask them if they feel it is sustainable. Achieving or maintaining a healthy weight or an overall healthy diet is a journey. Straying from the path along the way is totally normal, but following the path in general is a long-term decision that is based on lifestyle choices — day in and day out.

So am I saying any diet is fine? No. Diet recommendations from registered dietitians are based on research conclusions (i.e. not one study, but many), which lead to ensuring a variety of foods from all food groups and regular meals throughout the day. This provides essential nutrients that bring good energy levels, less cravings and lower calories. It seems to me like much of our healthy diet concerns are focused on minutia. It seems like we often overlook the basics. The basics of a healthy diet (from this registered dietitian) are the following:

• More plant-based foods with plenty of fruits and veggies (lots more). Most people are not even getting five servings each day.

• Less refined grains and sugar while choosing whole grains (whole grains are not bad for you).

• Low-fat dairy and lean proteins, while increasing fish, beans, nuts, seeds and other meat-alternatives.

• Portion control (for all of the above, except maybe veggies). We have a serious problem with portion distortion.

• Stay well hydrated with water.

• Regular physical activity (not a diet but part of a healthy lifestyle).

Calling it “the perfect diet” is somewhat misleading. The answer of course is that it isn’t a matter of perfect at all. Perfect is unachievable and unsustainable. Instead of perfect, how about aiming for “better” or “improved.” Go back to the basics of eating healthy whole foods but in a way that works for you. The best diet is the one that is achievable, satisfying and sustainable for you. Finding it can take time, along with trial and error, and it will probably change with your life circumstances. Realizing that the path to wellness is a long one and involves healthy changes one step at a time, I believe, is as close to perfect as we are going to get.

Amy Pleimling is a mother of three and a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System of Albert Lea. She blogs for the Huffington Post.