One diet to rule them all?

By: Alison Dunn Mar 09, 2011
  Article

Why a one-size-fits-all eating plan won't work for everyone

You might be able to buy a pair of socks that’s one-size-fits-all, but you certainly can’t take that approach when it comes to nutrition.

According to Krista Leck Merner, a registered dietitian who runs Bent Fork Nutrition in Halifax, one of the worst things you can do is try and follow a nutrition plan that was created for someone else. That plan is meant to meet their own unique nutritional needs, not yours, and you could end up doing yourself some serious harm.

Take, for example, two women. One is 5’2” and practices Tai Chi. The other is 5’11” and is a marathon runner. If the first woman tried to follow the second woman’s diet, she would gain weight pretty quickly. And if the second woman tried to follow the first’s diet, she would be seriously lacking in calories and risk injury.

“There are a lot of factors that go into determining how many calories you need in a day,” says Leck Merner. “There are some generalized rules, where women will lose weight on 1,500 calories a day and men at 1,800 calories, but if you ate that while training for a marathon, your performance would suffer.”

You can use equations, like the Harris-Benedict  equation, that calculate your daily caloric needs based on your height, weight, age and activity level, but as Leck Merner says, counting every calorie isn’t fun for anyone.

“Calorie counting sucks!” she says. “It takes the fun out of food.” Not only that, but if you become too focused on just eating the correct amount of calories, you may lose sight of fulfilling your other nutritional needs.

“Sometimes, when counting calories, people lose track of the nutrition side of it,” says Leck Merner. “They have a Big Mac combo that’s 1,500 calories instead of eating three meals and two snacks of healthy food.”

Instead, she recommends following a few simple tips to improve your nutrition in a way that fits your own life – and still keeps the fun in food.

Start small: Don’t try to change every single one of your eating habits all at once. Instead, pick one smaller goal at a time, turn that into a good habit, then move on to the next one. For example, try eating breakfast every day for a few weeks. You might still eat out at fast food joints, but once you’ve gotten in the habit of eating breakfast every day, you can move on to tackling another bad habit.

Plan ahead: If you know you’ve got some nights that are busier than others, try planning your meals ahead of time to avoid overeating. “Those are the nights we tend to hit the drive-thru,” says Leck Merner.

Serve up the “perfect plate” at mealtime: Leck Merner often counsels her clients to create what she calls the “perfect plate” at mealtime. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit, a quarter of your plate with grains like brown rice, quinoa or a starchy vegetable, and a quarter of your plate with a lean protein like chicken breast or fish. It’s an easy way to ensure you’re getting the right proportion of food for your needs.

Watch out for liquid calories: When you’re thinking about your daily caloric intake, don’t forget to take into account liquid calories like pop, juice and the cream in your coffee. “A can of pop has about 12 teaspoons of sugar in it,” Leck Merner says. “You can drink down those extra calories without thinking about it. The hidden calories in drinks add up more than you realize.” Instead, choose water or herbal teas without any added milk or sugar.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.