Dietary Decisions


Do you ever get overwhelmed at the sheer number of diets out there? It seems like there is always someone touting the benefits of their way of eating, whether it be paleo or plant-based. The following list details the basics of ten of the most popular eating styles. Use it to help figure out which diet is best for you!

Many people think of “diet” as a dirty word, as it has come to mean depriving oneself, usually for the sake of weight loss or as a means of nutritionally correcting a body imbalance such as high cholesterol or diabetes. But the word “diet” means “the kind of food you eat;” it is a synonym of “nourishment,” and health experts agree that there is a science to taking care of your body through nutrition. An alternative dietary lifestyle is a more appropriate way to think of eating plans of deprivation, because by definition they identify what is and isn’t okay to eat. It’s important to avoid fad diets, which are usually based more on hype than science.

One thing is certain: The “Western diet” — which describes the “normal” American diet loaded with processed foods, high-fat dairy products, red meat, and sugar — is a quick way to an early grave, or at least loads of nutritionally based health problems. Here are the top ten most popular alternative dietary lifestyles.


Disorderly Conduct

We tend to see eating disorders as all or none; you either have one or you don’t. The reality is that unhealthy relationships with food can be much more nuanced and subtle than a full-blown diagnosis of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. Eating disorders are very serious, even deadly, and should be addressed by a professional support team. However, many people exhibit signs of disordered eating yet never develop an eating disorder and may never realize that they have developed a damaging attitude towards food. Even though disordered eating may never prove life threatening and may not progress into a full blown eating disorder, it should still be addressed so that optimal health, both mental and physical, can be obtained.

Used Plate

I had my own run in with disordered eating in high school. I was coming off of the common stage in teenage girls where I added body fat to my frame. I was self conscious of my new curves and wanted to keep them in check. I started exercising and became more conscious of what I was eating. Always a good student, I approached fitness with much the same determination and research as I did a school project. The accepted wisdom of the time was that a low fat diet was best.

In my 14 year old brain, I assumed that if low fat was good, no fat had to be even better. I restricted my fat intake to 10 grams or less a day. Healthy? Not even close. I ate tons of products (note, I didn’t say foods!) that were modified to be low fat. Of course, that fat was replaced with chemicals and sugar. Not so good. i remember eating salads made with fat free dressing and fat free cheese. Blech!

I wasn’t alone in this “diet.” A classmate of mine lived on Fruit Loops (fat free!) for over a year. I had discussions with another friend on how to mitigate the dry skin and hair loss that comes with an extremely low fat diet.

All along, I thought I was doing the “right” thing. Dean Ornish was on all the magazine covers touting the heart disease reversal that occurred with a low fat diet. All of the research seemed to point to fat as the ultimate diet demon. I just took it a little too far.

This was not an eating disorder. I never dropped any significant weight. I did not restrict calories. I rarely binged and never purged. Yet, I obviously had a disordered view of food, classifying it as “good” or “bad” and eliminating an entire macronutrient from my diet.

I started to shift when a friend of mine, who was starting to compete in bodybuilding contests, would eat peanuts as a snack at school. I was horrified. Did he not realize that those had 16 grams of fat per serving! But then I looked at him. He was lean. Leaner than me. He was strong, carrying muscle along his entire, previously skinny, frame. Maybe he was on to something.

I slowly started introducing fat back into my diet. It was scary at first. I pictured my arteries clogging like gutters in the fall. I figured that I would gain weight and maybe even have to increase a pants size.

Much to my surprise, the opposite occurred. My weight stayed about the same but I became leaner. I no longer woke up starving in the middle of the night and I was satisfied after eating in a way I hadn’t been before. It took a couple years, but I eventually made peace with fat and with food in general. It’s neither bad nor good. It’s just fuel.

Disordered eating tends to follow the current dietary trends. I don’t see too many people who restrict fat like I did since low fat is not in vogue. I do see quite a few people who demonize carbs like I did with fat, figuring if low carb is good, no carb must be even better.   There are people who eschew food completely in the name of “cleansing” and exist on nothing but juices and broths for days or weeks at a time. Others take vegetarianism to the extreme and consume only raw, vegan foods. Some people operate between extremes: all you can eat one week and diet shakes the next.

While none of these ways of eating are “wrong,” they all have a black and white view of food that does not allow much room for variety and complete nutrition. Going vegan is not a sign of disordered eating on its own, but going vegan as a way of cutting out foods that you fear will make you fat is another situation entirely. Disordered eating is as much about the motivation behind the diet as it is about the food on your plate.

It’s your body; you get to choose what you put in it. Are you making your choices based upon fear and restriction or health and balance? It’s never too late to develop a healthy relationship with food and bring some order to your plate.


Teach, Don’t Preach

Vegetarianism is Good for the Planet


I first became a vegetarian over 20 years ago, when I was in 8th grade. I had a friend who elected to eschew meat around the same time. Although we independently reached the same decision, our motivations were slightly different. She had developed an almost militant position on animal rights, whereas I chose to go vegetarian for health, taste, environment and a concern for animals.


She was only vegetarian for a year, yet I learned so much from watching her. Her heart was in the right place; she had a cause that she was passionate about and she wanted to share it with others. Her intentions may have been good, but her execution wasn’t. She would preach at the friends who shared her lunch table, relating stories of animal slaughter and meat processing. I once saw her grab a ham sandwich from a boy’s hand and throw it in the garbage. She was wanting to inspire others to embrace vegetarianism but the result was the opposite. Her strong arm tactics were a turn-off and her friends were not open to entertaining any new ideas.


I learned from her that year. I learned that, if you want to inspire change, it is better to do it through actions rather than words. I wasn’t ashamed of my diet but nor did I flaunt it. I happily answered questions when they were asked but I tried not to give unsolicited advice. I don’t try to sway people to vegetarianism. After all, that is their choice. Instead, my goal is to be a source of information. Perhaps an inspiration. I can share why I made my choice and how it has worked for me, but that does not mean that it is right for you. I respect your choice and I ask that you respect mine.


My fiance is a meat eater, although he has drastically reduced his consumption since we have been together. I enjoy the look on his face when enjoys a good steak, even though the sight of the meat turns my stomach. I live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain as he travels the globe eating every part of every animal on the planet. I like hearing about new recipes even if I’ll never taste them.


And that’s the lesson I live by. My relationships are with people, not with their diets. No way of eating is more “right” than any other.

I’m happy to inform you about what is on my plate, but I’d never force you to eat it. My role is to educate so that you have information needed to make the best choice for you at this time.


Teach, don’t preach.


Related: I May Be a Vegetarian, But I Can Still Spell “Chicken”