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  • Writer's pictureJolanta Nowobilski

The Perfect Diet: A Definitive Answer





As a nutritionist, the question I get asked the most often, without a doubt, is "what is the best or healthiest diet?" I know this question is well-intentioned, but it completely misses the point.


Is it helpful or even honest to prescribe one diet to the entire diversity that is the human population? We are marketed this idea of the "fountain of youth" diet over and over again through different ad campaigns. Also, we are fed so many different "should's" about the way we eat from friends, family, coworkers, and social media that it makes feeling confident in your eating decisions difficult.


For the sake of this article, I am using the word diet simply as "an eating philosophy and practice to promote health", without the connotation of being a method of weight loss.


Here are some considerations that bust the myth of one "perfect" diet and show the complexities of the human body and experience:



Medical Nutrition Therapy



Medical Nutrition Therapy is the nutrition-based therapy that is provided by registered dietitians. There is a wide range of applications including (but not limited to) parenteral nutrition (nutrition through an IV), enteral nutrition (tube feeding), and disease management. The nutrients you would focus on for a patient with kidney disease differs greatly from what you would recommend for a patient with AIDS.



Culture & Values



We are more likely to eat foods that are comfortable and familiar to us. Even though certain ways of eating from certain regions are boosted as "the healthiest diet" (e.g. The Mediterranean diet, the Okinawan diet, etc.), every cuisine has a wide variety of foods from which a person can build a nourishing plate. We can build nourishing plates from foods that we are comfortable and familiar with and that honors our identities and values.



Accessibility



There are more factors to consider when talking about the (in)accessibility of food and nutrition than I am able to fit into this one article, but I will stick to some of the top questions about accessibility I would have when working with a patient.


- What kind of foods does this person have access to? / How do they get their food?


- What kind of foods does this person like and do they have consistent access to those foods?


- How does this person prepare their food, if they do?


- What is this person's knowledge or beliefs on nutrition? / What are their goals in nutrition?


- What is this person's relationship with food?


This is not an exhaustive list of all the questions I might have for a patient. These questions are intentionally open-ended because there are so many ways to answer each question.



Mental Health



Food is not just fuel. It can also be a source of enjoyment, celebration, connection, and comfort. You can honor all the ways that food means to you so that you feel fulfilled.


Our relationship with food is informed by our environment, including our families'/friends'/coworkers' relationships to food, our nutrition education, our social media feeds, and our food accessibility. With all of that noise of "should's" and "shouldn't's", navigating how food makes you feel can be challenging.


On a more serious note, an area of mental health can affect our relationship with food is eating disorders. Restrictive diets are often a way for people to feel in control, but it often ends up being a tumultuous journey. Eating disorders can affect anyone and with a global pandemic happening, numbers as well as awareness for these conditions are increasing.



In Conclusion...



After all of this, the short answer is that the best diet for a person is a diet that supports a person physically and mentally while embracing their individuality.


Since we are fed so many different ideas about diets, knowing what works for you in what you eat may take time to learn on your own or with the help of a nutrition professional.



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