Strict diet plans are out, personalized diets are in—here's how to make your best meal plan ever

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
January 29, 2016

Clearer skin, more energy, and weight loss are just a few of the reasons that Vicky Hadley made her decision to go vegan several years ago, and she's stuck to her commitment ever since, reports the Daily Mail.

Well, sort of. At age 23, Hadley is also passionate about fitness, and she questioned whether she was getting enough protein in her diet, a crucial macronutrient for muscle recovery. It was when a friend made her eggs on toast one day for breakfast, that she realized what her body had been trying to tell her: She needed a complete source of protein. Eggs, a great option for meatless protein, are rich in vitamin B12, an energy-supplying nutrient that vegan diets commonly lack. Hadley now embraces eggs and has become part of the "veggan" community, a.k.a. vegans who eat eggs.

Hadley's story is just one of many these days of people taking popular food methodologies and adapting them to their own needs. While some people still thrive on diets with precise rules, more and more are looking for something a little personalized. And that's a very good thing, says Lisa M. Moskovitz, RD, CDN, CPT, at the New York Nutrition Group.

"People are finally starting to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and as nutrition is becoming increasingly popular there are more resources out there to educate consumers on what's healthy," she says. "Moving away from restrictive diets and more towards learning about healthy eating is 100 percent a positive change for public health. Restrictive diets do not work, and we're finally getting that." (No matter your diet, we think you'll love these delicious vegan ice cream recipes.)

Sometimes you just need guidelines to follow or someone to tell you what to eat and what not to eat, we get it. Those more structured plans can be especially helpful for those just starting to adopt healthy eating habits. But thanks to differences in environment, schedules, genetics, metabolisms, and personalities, most of us realize eventually that a diet works best when we tweak it a bit. (Of course, following a diet for moral reasons is a different story.)

The trend towards customizable and less rigid diets has picked up steam over the last several years with nutritionists and weight loss gurus routinely adapting popular diet plans for clients. Mark Bittman's "Vegan Before Six" plan, for example, shows how to get the health benefits of veganism without fully committing to the lifestyle or giving up butter entirely. Angelo Coppola's "Plant Paleo" and Mark Hyman's "Pegan" aim to combine the best of vegan and Paleo diets by focusing on what both plans support most: plant-based foods. Nina Planck's "Real Food" shows how to adapt traditional foods for modern lifestyles. And we've even been introduced to "Flexitarian," a whole new term for people who like being vegetarian...most of the time.

The key to picking the right approach for you is to get educated-the single best thing you can do for your health, says Moskovitz. First she says to get to know yourself. Make a list of your medical history, lifestyle, cultural background, relationship with eating, resources, and personal food preferences (either on your own or with the help of a qualified dietitian) before jumping into any diet plan, she advises.

"The trick is to find something that works for you, not for someone else," she says, adding that the best diet is not only the one you can stick with but the one you'll want to stick with because it makes you feel so good.

Next, write down your goals. Understanding why you're making these changes, whether it's to lose weight, have more energy, or treat a specific health condition, will help steer you in the right direction so you can adjust eating habits and see encouraging progress, says Moskovitz. (Try the best winter foods for weight loss!)

Lastly, learn more about the diet you want to try. People who self-identify with a particular type of diet, such as vegan, Paleo, or low-carb, often have built-in resources, fitness plans, and a community along with it. "Sometimes you need to tell yourself 'this is who am I, and this is what I believe and live by' in order to truly make life-long changes," she says. The trick to making sure those choices are both healthy and long-lasting is to make sure you're adapting the diet to your life and not your life to your diet.

"Food is everywhere and all around us," she says. "It's our responsibility to make the best choices possible, especially because you need to eat multiple times a day."

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