Prescriptive diets can be a lifesaver in critical health situations, such as Crohn’s flare-ups or end-stage renal disease. However, I want to shift the focus away from these extreme cases and discuss the role of diets for those seeking overall health improvement, weight loss, or symptom control in chronic conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

My approach is informed by ample nutrition research demonstrating how specific nutrients and foods can significantly enhance health. Yet, I draw a clear distinction from prescriptive diets, which often involve detailed meal plans, measured portions, and strict lists of permitted and forbidden foods. The reason for my disagreement with such diets is rooted in the associated risks, including the likelihood of failing to adhere (commonly within 3-4 weeks), internalising this failure as a personal shortcoming, losing confidence in flexibility, and developing a rigid, black-and-white mindset towards food, potentially leading to disordered eating.

Another Perspective

What's another way to approach this? Well, consider focusing on your goals and using science to suggest changes that you can easily make today. These changes should be doable and help you move closer to what you're aiming for. The key is making sure you understand the science behind the advice so you can use these principles in various situations and remain flexible. When you feel ready, we can think about increasing the challenge a bit. It's also about keeping an eye on your thoughts and feelings about food to ensure you maintain or develop flexibility and can make choices that work for you in specific situations.

Redefining Choices

Traditional diets often dictate strict rules like 'Don’t Eat Cake,' regardless of the circumstances, be it a regular day or your Granny's 90th birthday. However, I propose a different perspective: Eating a piece of cake can be a joyous, neutral, or a negative decision for you, depending on the context.

Consider these scenarios:

  • Are you reaching for cake on the drive home from work to push away unwanted thoughts and feelings after a challenging day?
  • Is it 4 pm, and you're indulging in cake because you skipped lunch and have an overwhelming craving for something sweet?
  • Is it 4 pm, and you are craving cake, but you realised that you missed lunch and therefore decide to have a ‘proper meal’ because you know you are hungry, and cake will not keep you full for very long.
  • On your Granny’s 90th, are you skipping cake to be 'good' or avoid worrying about weight gain?
  • Did you say 'sod it' and had some cake at your Granny’s birthday, only to come home feeling like your day's been ruined? Now, you're eating everything in sight, feeling guilty, ashamed, and determined to 'fix it' tomorrow by restricting food or exercising.
  • Or, are you having a slice of cake with your Granny, savouring the experience without any unwanted feelings attached?

The circumstances surrounding your choices influence the decision “to eat or not to eat cake’. The scenarios can indeed continue to unfold. In a similar vein, let's explore the motivations behind incorporating specific elements into your daily routine.

Opting for Change

  • Do you find yourself consuming something and feeling that it has become monotonous? Perhaps, you'd prefer an alternative, but you feel compelled to continue consuming it with the aim of slimming down, preventing weight gain, regulating hormones, or improving fertility.
  • Opting for a healthy choice, do you notice a sense of deprivation? During overwhelming times, do you catch yourself saying, 'I can't be bothered with this; I need something that brings joy to me'?
  • Or, it could be that you're adjusting your eating habits because you now understand that a previous routine, such as your dinner, negatively impacted your sleep, worsened your insulin resistance and left you feeling tired and craving sugar the next day. Using nutritional principles flexibly, respecting taste preferences, you will find pleasure in your new dinner routine. Occasionally revisiting your old-style meals, you observe without judgment how your body reacts, making decisions that align with what feels right for you— not merely because it's an order glaring at you from your meal plan.

The Path Forward

The secret is in moving away from rigid, one-size-fits-all diet rules and embracing a more personalised, science-based approach to nutrition. By understanding the underlying principles, you can make informed choices that align with your goals and preferences. It's about fostering a healthy relationship with food that considers the diverse contexts in which eating occurs. Rather than succumbing to the pitfalls of prescriptive diets, the emphasis is on flexibility, self-awareness, and the gradual incorporation of achievable changes. In doing so, you can embark on a journey towards better health and well-being, one that is sustainable, adaptable, and attuned to your unique needs and circumstances.