Dear Melissa: Finding the Perfect Diet | The Whole30® Program

Welcome to Dear Melissa, where we answer your questions about transitioning into or or maintaining a healthy Whole9 life, helping you figure out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, we’re talking about wading through all of the confusing nutrition claims out there, and finding the perfect diet for you.

With so much information around on healthy eating and what you should and shouldn’t eat, I have come across much inconsistency with what really is good for a person to eat and not eat. I have PCOS and a thyroid disorder and am really wanting to make the best choices for my future health. Any guidance, explanation or resources you could point me to would be so helpful. –Bethany C.

If there is one thing I can say with 100% certainty, it’s this… nutrition is confusing. Between the scientists, mainstream media, “experts” in the medical field, and what your friends and family believe, it’s no wonder you end up with information overload.

So how do you know, really know, which dietary strategy is best for you? Here are three approaches, in order of least helpful to most helpful.

Look to science

Let me save you hours of time, frustration, and confusion. Don’t even try to let science alone guide you to the best possible diet for you. That’s not to say you shouldn’t look for a plan backed by solid scientific findings… only that nutrition science will never be black and white (do this, don’t do that), and you can find a scientific study to back up just about anything—usually funded by the people with significant financial interest in the “scientific findings.”

Look to the experts

May be helpful, if you have a strong filter and know exactly what you are looking for. “Experts” include anyone from your doctor to the author of a bestselling book to your best friend. People will try to convince you their approach is best for a variety of reasons, and sometimes, their experience will be really helpful. In other cases, however, their context isn’t your context, their goals aren’t your goals, and their recommendations just won’t sound right for you.

If you can track down someone who seems to share your values, goals, and context; who seems sane and reasonable in their everyday lives; and who is sharing information without insisting their way is the One True Way, then give their recommendations some consideration. After all, the Whole30 would have faded into the background long ago if not for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been able to connect to our philosophy through It Starts With Food and their passionate word-of-mouth campaign.

If you have three of those people in your lives, and they’re all suggesting the same approach, you’ve got yourself a strong contender. However, you may also end up with three radically different set of dietary strategies… which isn’t as helpful. So consulting the experts can’t be the end-all, be-all either, which leaves us with…

Try it

The gold standard—try it for yourself. Something. Anything. Just pick a strategy, stick to it for long enough to really experience the results, and take good notes along the way. Yes, it’s more complicated than me saying, “Just do the Whole30,” but since there is no One True Way for everyone, you’ll have to do some work to find the thing that works best for you right now.

The keys to this approach?

  • Give it enough time to truly be able to evaluate it fairly. Thirty days is your minimum here—45 to 60 would be better. Understand that sometimes, it gets worse before it gets better, so commit to the full amount of time (unless something goes horribly wrong*, or your doctor tells you to stop).
  • Follow the protocol 100%. You can’t be vegan five days a week and fairly evaluate the protocol. If you’re going to do it, you have to do it. Read, research, find as many resources as you can to ensure you are following the program to the best of your abilities. Remember, half-assed efforts yield half-assed results.
  • Be present and aware. This is a scientific experiment of sorts, so pay attention. How are you sleeping, how is your energy, digestion, body composition, performance in the gym? Are your symptoms getting better or worse? Are the results worth the effort? Keep a journal and jot down your thoughts on a regular basis so you can compare notes between plans.

*It’s normal for digestion, energy, cravings, and mood to fluctuate in the first week or two of a new diet. But if things get significantly worse for more than a day or two, or your medical condition flares in way that seriously impacts your quality of life, it makes sense to abandon that strategy or talk to your doctor about how to tweak the plan to work for you.

A scientific experiment of one

You’re going to turn yourself into a little scientific experiment of one, to test certain dietary factors in your particular environment at this particular point in time. Wondering if veganism will really make you feel as light, pure, and clean as PETA purports? Try it. Give it enough time, stick to it 100%, and journal how things go. Working awesome for you? Keep it up! Stops working awesome for you? Either talk to an expert on veganism to make some tweaks specific to your context, or conclude that veganism isn’t for you long-term and start over with a different approach.

You can take this as big-picture or as detailed as you like. Compare a Whole30 approach with veganism. Take your dialed-in Paleo diet low-carb versus higher carb. Compare your Whole9 life approach with a Primal 80/20 approach. Continue to experiment until you find the exact strategy that fits your life, your context, your goals… and then run with it, regardless of what the latest science or experts say. 

But remember… what works perfectly today may not work perfectly tomorrow. Your life, your body, your goals, your context are always changing. So if that perfect approach starts to wobble like a top, don’t be afraid to go back to the basics and tweak it again. Unplug, plug it back in, and start your experiment anew.

Is this good advice? Do you want to add your two cents? We welcome your input! Share your best advice for Bethany in comments.

Got a question for Dear Melissa? Submit it using this handy form.

Remember, we aren’t answering technical questions via this column, nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.