5 Questions to Help You Find Your Perfect Diet

Why rankings don't matter all that much and how to find your ideal diet match among infinite choices.

Recently, U.S. News & World Report released their annual ranking of the best diets, and one of the controversial points was that two very popular diets, Whole30 and Paleo, ranked very poorly (Whole30 was dead last and Paleo third-to-last).

As someone currently on Whole30, reading the results made me realize something: there will never be a perfect diet for all people. But there might be a perfect diet for a particular person, dealing with a particular struggle.

This realization brought up a few questions I’ve been asking myself as I decide how long to continue in the Whole30 style of eating (after the 30 days, of course!), and whether there are parts I’d like to change or omit. Because the fact is that—despite all the research that surely went into the recent rankings— diets are not one-size-fits-all, and there are things about Whole30 that are working for me.

To find what works for you, rather than looking at a report, I recommend taking some time to honestly reflect on your own unique needs. Here are the questions I used to help myself choose the Whole30, and to help me decide where to go from here. Hopefully they can help you find the best plan for you!

1. Why do I need to change my eating habits?

This was so important for me in choosing Whole30. I felt like I was always choosing grains and dairy-based foods over healthier, more nutrient-filled options, and I felt like I was constantly “failing” by making those choices. By choosing this particular diet – which eliminates grains and dairy entirely – I didn’t give myself any loopholes, and so I completely reset my eating habits. By the end of the month, I expect to be able to face food decisions and not always picking the grain and dairy, because I already know I can.

For other people, maybe what they want to change has to do with the quantity of food they eat, what time of day they eat, the proportions of veggies or fruit or meat, or some other aspect. No one diet can solve all those problems– in fact, usually a change in diet is best if it only focuses on one aspect –so it’s important to zero in on what change is most important to you.

2. What do I already do well/not struggle with?

I had to notice my strengths when I chose the Whole30, and I think this is true of any diet. I don’t struggle with eating too much red meat, and I can eat very reasonable quantities of dessert/sweets if they are fruit-based instead of creamy or chocolate-y. I am excited that those things aren’t a problem for me, and I can pick a diet that targets what I actually want to change.

Many diets exist to help people who love veggies but cannot control their sweet tooth, or for people who think dairy is gross but never seem to fit veggies into their consumption patterns. Once you’ve identified your strengths, you can find a diet that caters to them while helping you tackle your challenges.

3. How much effort am I prepared to put into this?

This seems so important to me now – this month, January, is not a time when I’m very busy, plus I happen to have some time off in the form of New Years and MLK Day. This meant that I had plenty of extra time to do food prep—which is essential to a diet as involved and restrictive as Whole30 (two aspects that worked against it in the rankings). In other times of the year, I simply could not have adhered to the Whole30 guidelines.

So be honest with yourself about the time and energy you will be able to invest in your diet, and do your best to set realistic goals that will still make a difference. Maybe in a busier month, that would just mean “no pizza this month,” and striving to get more veggies when you order take-out Chinese.

4. How will this affect my social life, and am I prepared for that?

Similarly to busy times, social times can wreck havoc on a diet plan. Whole30 is well suited to a time of year when I don’t have to eat out much, because so little of restaurant food is appropriate for this diet. If I was visiting family for any part of this month, I’d want a different diet. However, it just so happens that my husband and I are in the process of trying to eat out less in general, so taking a month-long break from take-out and restaurants is a wonderfully timed experience that doesn’t cramp our social style either.

5. What can I call “success,” and how will I celebrate it?

Whole30 got knocked down a few points in the ranking because it wasn’t “sustainable” in the long term or associated with long-term weight loss. I don’t know how they calculate that, but what it made me realize is that I appreciate the short-term nature of this diet. I don’t know if it is the world’s best way to keep the weight off, but it has enlightened me so much as to the way I eat! I love that if I make it 30 whole days, I am done! Then I get to celebrate by slowly reintroducing only my most favorite foods from the “forbidden” list, while continuing on with my newfound favorites from the Whole30-compliant categories.

Having a way to know you’ve succeeded helps prevent the spiral of frustration that all too many dieters experience when they don’t know what they are aiming for, or when they aim for too many results too quickly. 

Make it WayBetter

How do you answer these questions, and what kind of diet change do they prompt? Have you already asked these questions, and just need to get some energy behind the process so that you can make it to “success”? Consider how you will celebrate when you get there!