First, a doctor's warning:
If you are taking a prescription medication please check with your doctor before changing your diet, it really could affect the action of the drug and your health.
Second, your attitude...
If you do go ahead and give the Zone or Paleo or any other approach a try, please don't think you're either 'doing it' or 'not doing it', just think of them as a few guidelines to follow when you're trying to be healthy. With this attitude it's impossible to fail because there's nothing to get wrong – there's nothing to quit or give up. And you're only ever one meal away from getting back on track. Once you learn these guidelines they'll be with you forever, whenever you're making an effort to be healthy.
Okay let's go!
The main things to learn are what to eat and how much to eat. It's also worth considering when to eat, what supplements to take, and how to exercise and relax.
What to eat
Every food or nutrient is potentially bad for us if we go overboard, even water, so moderation is key, but some foods are worth avoiding altogether, others are relatively harmless but don't bring much benefit, and the rest are the most nutritious and should be our focus.
Foods to focus on:
- Vegetables and salads, meats and seafood, fruits and nuts.
Foods to avoid:
- Any food you find hard to stop eating. Often these are 'junk' foods, but could also be foods like pasta or potatoes. Indulging occasionally is okay, but if it becomes a habit you'll struggle not to eat too much overall. Overeating 'healthy' foods can be unhealthy too.
- Vegetable oils and processed foods containing lots of Omega 6 fats.
- Any food you personally react badly to – this could include obvious allergens like nuts, but also more cryptic ones causing symptoms harder to diagnose, for example wheat seems to cause problems for a lot more people than just coeliacs.
There are more details in the what foods to eat section...
How much to eat
There are two parts to this question:
- How much to eat overall?
- Within that total, how much of each macronutrient?
The second question is debated more on the net, but the first is more important. Most people agree that whatever foods we choose, eating too much of them isn't healthy.
So ideally we want to eat only just as much as we need. And if we're trying to lose weight we should eat less than we need and use our stored fat to make up the difference. It's hard to know exactly how much, so we estimate and see how we go...
We base our estimate on how big and active we are.
I think Dr Sears' method is as good as any if you're just starting out – base your protein requirement on your lean body mass and level of activity, and then eat a suitable amount of carbs and fat to match it. You can get started here, or learn more in the which diet theory section.
And we'll be talking more about proteins and carbohydrates and fats, so if you're not familiar with which foods contain which, or even what they are, check out nutrient basics first. (Not sure what you know? Try a very quick quiz!)