BY FAR, the biggest question people have for nutritionists (including myself) is: What diet is best for me?
And I get it– your dietary style has a lot to do with how you feel every single day. I wasted so much time trying to lose baby weight after my second and third kid using a dietary style that didn’t support my body type and allergic condition. It was a miserable multitude of months seeing weight go up and down while relying on daily antihistamines and asthma medication that made me feel like I was in outer space.
I felt like a failure, and I didn’t get why my allergies seemed to get worse even though I was eating ‘healthy’. (In my naive defense, I didn’t understand food labeling at the time–that came much later as I completed formal education in nutrition.)
Most people want to know which diet is best for me to lose weight. But there’s a lot more that goes into this question than just: "tell me which diet is best for me." Here’s why:
First, every single body is different. Meaning your metabolism is different. Your body type is different. Yes, your DNA is different. But also, your tastes, environmental factors, lifestyle, and habits are all so very different!
What I like to guide clients and readers to do is figure out which goals they have based on their medical issues or conditions FIRST. This means asking yourself what your goal is (which can be to lose weight, avoid foods you’re allergic or intolerant to, pull down blood sugar levels, decrease inflammation, get your gut health back on track, get energy levels steady all day, get blood pressure under control, or just simply eat healthy intuitively. And this is not all-inclusive, by the way–there are many, many other goals you could have based on health issues.)
The reason I tell people this first is because you can waste so SO much time collecting and trying out recipes that aren’t right for you and your family.
Why does this matter? Well, first because it’s not getting you any closer to your goals, but also–the endgame should be to set up an automated routine for each aspect of your health so you don’t have to think about it; For you to become a Systems Superstar as the President and CEO of your health.
To do this you must act like a CEO—learn from experts, then create and use systems to delegate + free your mind so you can focus on things to propel your business and make the best of your family time while feeling fantastic physically and mentally.
My philosophy is to find that magic ✨ middle where you merge healthy + efficient.
But to get an efficient system going, you have to take a bit of time, researching and soul searching to build your proper foundation first. Otherwise you’re chasing squirrels up the wrong tree.
So take a look at what I call the ‘Dietary Direction Hierarchy” diagram to get a better idea of what I mean in terms of your diet or dietary style being the foundation to your SYSTEM that should eventually run itself:
Since you’re reading this article and asking ‘which diet is best for me’, you’re at the Foundation level (the green one). You have to use health conditions, habits, and goals altogether to figure out what the perfect diet is for you.
So what I aim to do is give you some guidance on where to start based on what your goals are. Then you can further research different dietary styles with the resources listed below. And keep in mind that many people have more than one health issue that needs to be addressed with diet. When you’re looking at your issues, notice recurring dietary style recommendations. These are where you should start.
But I cannot stress enough 2 important things:
1) EATING CLEAN will do more for you right off the bat than counting anything. If you’re eating sugar, refined carbs and flours, and processed foods, eliminate those first.
2) It will probably require you TRYING a few styles to get the one that’s BEST FOR YOU. There’s almost no way around that. So let’s get started.
The best diet for losing weight (fat)
I put this first because ‘what is the best diet for losing weight?’ seems to be the most commonly asked question. Here’s the deal, studies have shown that the best diet is the one you’ll stick to. This means the one that works best with your habits, or that you’re willing to change or make new habits to support the diet. These studies, however, didn’t take into account any of the things I listed above. So I still recommend you figure out what will work best based on your lifestyle, habits, and any food intolerances/allergies you may have.
As far as what works with your body type, some people do much better on low-carb or keto styles where you severely limit carbohydrates. Others do better when limiting total calories. Some would rather have the flexibility of eating specific foods they want as long as the daily total falls into specific macronutrient counts. And even others do very well using the ‘smart carb’ method where you’re specifically choosing your carbs but not necessarily limiting them. The benefit to this is that you can still have carbs, but you’re choosing ones that are healthy in terms of nutritional content and FIBER. *Fiber is key!
And yet others really hate counting anything and would rather follow ‘rules’ regarding which foods they can or cannot have based on that dietary style.
And the last group would be those that would rather learn to eat intuitively (which is a new buzz word for the wellness and diet world). Sometimes it’s called ‘non-dieting’ or the ‘un-diet’, but it means you reset your metabolism and taste buds for whole clean foods, and then listen to your body for what you need daily.
This is a lot of information overall, and it can be confusing to figure out overall, “What diet is best for me?” So really dig into what diets you’ve tried in the past and how you’ve FELT on each.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Did I lose weight in a healthy, steady way?
- Were the recipes and types of food easy to find, cook, and choose when out (eating out/drive-thru)?
- Did I have enough energy to do my work AND exercise?
- Did the diet disrupt any gut issues? Or solve any?
- Were there any other noticeable changes (good or bad) regarding skin, mood, and brain fog/focus?
- Why did you quit? What were the barriers that made it unsustainable for you?
Here’s a flow chart to get an overview of what this means so far:
Once you have these questions answered, you can look into dietary styles to see which ones will match best based on your health concerns. Since this is the next point in this sequence, I’m going to give some options based on health concerns.
Best diet for Lactose Intolerance
Being lactose intolerant means you have tummy troubles when you have any kind of dairy. Sure, there’s lactose-free milk. But it’s very difficult to avoid dairy in everything else. If this is your only health issue, you really can try any dietary style for weight loss as long as your foods are dairy free. However, the Paleo diet is dairy-free and also emphasizes whole foods. Whole30 also removes dairy. (But both of these also restrict grains and legumes).
*Recipe search tip:
When searching for recipes, you may need to add ‘plant-based’ or ‘vegan’ onto your search to find recipes that will not include dairy.
Best Diet for Diabetes or Prediabetes (and sometimes PCOS)
Prediabetes, diabetes, and PCOS all involve the way the body responds to sugar entering your bloodstream. These conditions don’t allow proper insulin production to process those blood sugars, which can lead to a variety of serious health concerns. This means you need a dietary style to limit and control the sugars you’re eating every day. Doctors also recommend losing weight if you have any of these conditions because of the connection with body fat and hormone levels that all interplay in these conditions.
Most people must do a drastic dietary overhaul to manage these conditions with food. For that reason, I actually recommend cleaning up your food first, eating smart carb style next, then moving on to lower carb if your blood sugar levels aren’t coming down within acceptable range. This may mean going into the keto levels of carbohydrates. Again-all this depends on your body, DNA, lifestyle, and environment.
The best diets for these conditions are smart-carb styles (Paleo with limited natural sugars, Mediterranean diet, Pescatarian, low-carb, and keto).
**Recipe search tip:
Use the terms ‘Mediterranean’, ‘low carb’, or ‘keto’ in your search terms, and don’t be afraid to combine terms. For example, if you need higher fat but lower carb recipes that you’d like to follow the Mediterannean principles of more fish and olive oil, try something like, ‘Mediterranean keto salmon recipes’.
The Best Diet for Severe exhaustion or Energy rollercoaster
Believe it or not, energy rollercoasters and exhaustion are usually caused by using ‘energy’ foods to give boosts throughout the day just to get through the day. This means sugary foods and caffeine normally. The best course of action for these conditions is to first wean your caffeine consumption back (cause headaches), and wean back from sugary foods and replace them with complex carbohydrates. If you’re trying to lose weight, see what these changes do first, with adding some light walking and yoga, then decide on a plan to cut either calories or carbs to lose the fat.
People who feel this much exhaustion and energy rollercoaster feelings all day usually have severe stress in their lives too. This means you’ll also greatly benefit from doing a deep-dive and commitment to managing your stress levels throughout the day and improving your sleep.
The best dietary styles for this are going to be smart-carb, low carb, Paleo, keto, Mediterranean, or even Whole 30 to shift your body out of relying on ‘hits’ of short-lived energy to survive the day, and instead use long-lasting carbs or fats for sustainable energy that’s whole and healthy.
**Recipe search tip:
Use terms like ‘low carb’ or ‘sugar-free’ looking for recipes, or try the specific dietary style you’re using. Just make sure to review the recipe ingredients and double-check there are no added sugars.
The Best Diet for Gut issues
Gut issues can look like anything from irregularity to constant bloating and pain. It can also include a ‘brain fog’ feeling, and even issues like anxiety and depression since the mind and gut are so closely related. Another indicator that you need to address gut issues is you’re having constant allergy issues and/or have candida (yeast infections) frequently.
For gut issues, there are several different avenues you can go since it really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Yes, the gut needs to be healed if you’re having these types of problems. But there are many different protocols to heal that take totally different approaches.
I will say this: If you have any of these gut issues but want to lose weight, I recommend you work on healing the gut FIRST. This is because your body is not absorbing the nutrients it needs from food or supplements you’re taking, and your body will be working overtime trying to compensate for this. This means it will be that much harder for your body to shift into fat-burning mode.
Recommended dietary styles for this would be: Low FODMAP, the Gut-Health Protocol, the GAP diet or any other dietary style that eliminates grains, dairy, and soy for a period of time to allow your gut to heal (which would also include Whole30 or Paleo, and possibly even low-carb with no dairy or keto with no dairy.) Studies have also shown plant-based diets to help with gut issues because of the higher fiber content.
Bottom line on this one: I recommend working with a professional to determine what your gut issue actually is so you can figure out how to heal first, then worry about weight loss.
The Best Diet for When You’re Intolerant to meat
I hear this every now and again, that someone is intolerant to meats. This can be true, but sometimes the intolerance is due to an allergy that’s developed because of leaky gut. (See prior section about gut health).
My recommendation on this would be to first try a few different types of meat with NOTHING else on them to make sure it’s not just the fat, sauce, or seasonings you’re using. Then see what your reactions are to fish and eggs. Find out what you CAN eat.
Plant-based diets can actually have some meats in them, and if you can find some meats you can tolerate well, this might be the way to go for you. Otherwise, vegan, Pescatarian, plant-based, or vegetarian would be the dietary style you need to focus on. This means very careful calculations for protein intake. If you go this route, I would definitely work with a nutritionist who specializes in vegan diets. Especially if trying to lose weight, because you have a whole other ballgame when it comes to figuring out whether you should cut calories or carbs, and how to do it appropriately to ensure you’re still getting adequate protein.
**Recipe search tip:
Use the term ‘plant-based’, ‘vegan, or ‘vegetarian’ when searching recipes.
The Best Diet for High blood pressure
High blood pressure has traditionally been associated with high-stress levels and high sodium levels in the diet. And while these 2 things definitely contribute to it, the science is now showing that our sugar intake, as well as weight, are huge factors as well. The 3 main things I recommend for high blood pressure are: cleaning up your diet STAT, implementing stress management techniques EVERY day, and getting in a workout every day that RAISES your heart rate.
As far as dietary style, several are good for high blood pressure. The DASH diet is the most popular in searches, but my problem with this diet is that it’s a little loosy-goosy on clean eating. Unless you’re committed to combining more clean foods with the DASH style, I’d go more towards the Mediterranean diet, Paleo, smart carb, low carb, or keto.
Bottom line will be limiting salt and sugar, so you’ll do well to start with cleaning up your foods first, then move to smarter carb or Mediterranean, then low carb or Paleo, and then keto if needed.
**Recipe Tip: Always remember that in recipes, you can always adjust the amount of seasonings and salt to decrease that overall intake in your meal. This is more difficult when you’re eating out, so be careful.
The Best Diet for High cholesterol
High cholesterol is a warning sign that we’re not taking proper care of our heart, whether that’s a lack of exercise, other poor lifestyle choices, or just our diet in general. By far the most popular recommendation from doctors is the Mediterranean diet because of the large amount of fish, olive oil, and whole grains that it uses. This is not to say that other dietary styles may work as well–like Pescatarian– but there are many studies proving the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet for heart health.
The Mediterranean style limits red meats, alcohol, simple carb foods, and added sugars. It also promotes more whole grains, legumes, and beans for their mega fiber content. Another key component is the healthy fats from lots of fish, avocado, and olive oils.
**Recipe search tip: simply search using ‘Mediterranean recipes for’ and then your next ingredient to find lots of options.
The Best Diet for Celiac
Having Celiac or gluten intolerance means the ‘Which diet is best for me’ question must obviously be answered with, ‘Any diet that eliminates gluten.’ The dietary styles which don’t include gluten also eliminate grains, unless you look for recipes that are simply labeled ‘gluten-free’. The 2 most popular dietary styles for this would be Paleo and Whole 30.
But keep in mind that low-carb and keto can’t do grains either because grains have so many carbohydrates. Another point to think about is that many people with celiac or gluten intolerance are also sensitive to dairy. For this reason, many food blogs will group these types of recipes and label them, ‘gluten-free, dairy-free.’
The main thing to know is that trying to eat any type of bread, cakes, pastries, etc that would normally be made with wheat or grains means learning an entirely new way of baking or cooking.
The second thing to know is that it’s very difficult in our modern food society to get whole grains easily if you can’t have gluten–which you still may want for the fiber. And fiber is super important. So you’ll absolutely want to avoid breads, cakes, pastries, etc that are packaged because they’re usually made from potato flour, rice flour, or other flours that have little to no fiber and cause large blood sugar and/or insulin spikes. (This means it triggers fat storage, so if you’re trying to lose weight on a gluten-free diet you need to avoid these things.)
**Recipe search tip: Use the terms ‘gluten-free’, ‘grain-free’, or whatever dietary style (Paleo or Whole30) in your search terms. You can also combine terms, for example, ‘gluten-free keto’.
The Best Diet for Inflammation
Inflammation can have many different causes, but the main starting point should be eliminating added sugars. The second thing to work on would be replacing trans and saturated fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated and upping your omega 3’s. For those reasons, the Mediterranean Diet or Pescatarian diet are both excellent dietary styles for inflammation.
There are many different conditions that can lead to higher inflammation, but your DNA can also play a big role in that as well. That doesn’t mean throw in the towel cause you can’t control it anyway–rather, that means you actually may have to put in a bit of extra effort to keep your inflammation under control.
There are a few self-proclaimed diets for inflammation, but again–I recommend cleaning up your diet first, then addressing ongoing issues from there.
The Best Diet for Autoimmune Issues
Autoimmune diseases are some of the most difficult to manage because you’re fighting with your body’s natural immune system. However, studies are showing eliminating certain foods and working on healing the gut first can make big headway in how you feel before trying specific dietary styles. There is a specific diet called the Autoimmune Protocol (or AIP diet) that walks you through this period of healing. It can be pretty intense, so just go into it prepared.
Aside from that, many people have found that combining low-carb diets like low-carb or keto while eliminating caffeine and alcohol have made huge differences in managing their autoimmune issues. Another dietary style good for autoimmune issues (rheumatoid arthritis, in particular) is a plant-based diet.
Again–this is a lifelong journey and battle, so clean up your diet first, heal your gut, then try a few different dietary styles to see what will give you relief the most.
The Best Diet for Skin issues (like eczema)
If you have skin issues like eczema or random breakouts, there could be 2 possible culprits: hormonal imbalance or intolerance to certain foods. If you’ve got hormonal imbalance, it usually starts with gut issues. So I’d see the section above on gut health. If you have intolerances, the best way to see this is to eliminate gluten (or even all grains), dairy, and soy, as these are the top 3 culprits. A full-out elimination diet may give some insight as well.
Another possible culprit could be the types of fats you’re consuming. If you eat lots of trans fats or way more omega 6’s than 3’s, your skin could be suffering terribly.
If you’d rather have a dietary style to follow to help eliminate these, the Paleo diet and Whole 30 are very clean eating-centric and don’t include grains, dairy, soy, or legumes.
**Recipe search tip: Use the terms ‘Whole30’ or ‘Paleo’ then whatever other main ingredient you’re searching for. (ie. "Paleo chicken recipes") Or if you’re just looking for recipes in general, you can search Google or Pinterest using these terms.
The Best Diet for Allergies (food or environmental)
Food allergies are no joke. So if you KNOW you’re allergic to a certain food, if it’s one of the top 8 (peanuts, dairy, soy, wheat, nuts, shellfish, eggs, fish) you’ll have to work around these in your diet. This is really difficult to navigate because of cross-contamination as well.
So if you only have one allergy, it can be fairly easy to find a good dietary style. If you have more than one, it starts to get tricky. And the higher the number, the more difficult it is to feed yourself. That being said, it will be even more difficult to lose weight before healing your gut, unless you’re starving yourself anyway because you can’t figure out what to eat.
I recommend working with a nutritionist that specializes in food allergies first and foremost. She can help you work on healing your gut so you’re absorbing nutrients appropriately. She will also help you create (or create for you) personalized meal plans that eliminate all the food allergens you have so you’re not constantly freaking out about your next meal (or just going hungry for fear of a reaction).
If you have environmental allergens, this can be a huge sign of gut health issues or candida imbalance. Both can be addressed by cutting out sugar and processed foods first and foremost. Then work on healing the gut as well. Adding in as many nutrient-dense whole foods as possible will help you have more energy to deal with the allergy situation. Stress management will also play into this (as well as good sleep), so address these issues as well.
And as far as weight loss when you have these issues, address the gut health first, then choose a diet that FEELS GOOD to your body. If you have zero energy all day doing low carb or keto, you may just need a higher complex carb way of eating like the Mediterranean or smart carb. These diets are really good for getting in a lot of fiber that help feed those good bacteria you worked so hard to get back with your gut-healing. So work on those things first, then deal with the weight issue.
How to Choose a Diet or Dietary Style
Now that you’ve looked at the options for each dietary style, see which recurring ones come up for your conditions.
And now comes the fun part: Trying different things.
Yes, this is a pain in the butt. Yes, it takes time. But this is the way to finding the *perfect* diet or dietary style for you. You wanna be in the group of people that actually lose weight because you stick to it? Then quit asking, ‘what is the best diet for me’ and actually do the work to find it!
YOUR NEXT STEPS –> Choose a dietary style to try, find recipes for at LEAST 4 weeks, and see how you feel! If it’s not fitting into your habits and capacity to cook and prepare the food, move on to the next. But give it a MINIMUM of four weeks. (You can do anything for 30 days, right?)