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5 Nutrition Fads—and Their Alternatives for Normal, Busy People

July 06, 2015

I’ve recently felt a mounting cultural pressure on women to appear skinny and beautiful, while simultaneously proving they can cook like chefs and eat like linebackers. In the last year, I began lurking on a steady stream of blogs featuring women who represent that glorious cross-section of health nut, home cook, and model. The more I gorged on their archives, the more curious I became about whether emulating their lifestyles would actually make me feel healthier, cooler, and more tapped into the zeitgeist.

Over time, I realized that an all-or-nothing approach to various fad diets was as bad for my health (and my self-esteem) as junk food was. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a few alternatives for how normal people can make simple changes to our diets and lifestyles—without completely overhauling them.

1. Multi-day Juice Cleansing

Celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow advocate cleansing with expensive pressed juices on the regular, but this option isn’t always possible for a busy, working woman. While many swear that juicing boosts energy and eliminates toxins, it’s not actually proven. And going multiple days without a single piece of solid food is a surefire way to feel powerless and rage-filled during a busy workweek.

Alternative: Start Your Day with a Healthy Juice

If you can’t bear to subsist exclusively on apple cider vinegar and cayenne pepper, there is still hope. Ease into the routine by making your own juice or smoothie in the mornings or after a workout on weekends. You can adjust the recipes while you figure out your favorite flavors, and then buy in bulk once you know what you like. If you can’t spring for an It-blender like a VitaMix, don’t worry—a regular blender will suit your purposes just fine. The time it takes to clean your equipment each morning beats maxing out your credit card on store-bought juices—or feeling like you might pass out in the middle of a pitch meeting.

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2. Cutting Out All Sugar

Most people probably don’t even realize that they’re addicted to sugar because there’s so much of it in everything, especially food that’s synonymous with joy (I see you, cupcakes). Lately, sugar has replaced fat as the ultimate nutritional evil, ushering in an era of sugar-free foods that are pumped with artificial sweeteners. Cutting out sugar all at once would be a monumental effort, since there are so many sneaky sugars—which are often labeled as things like turbinado or sorghum syrup—in many of the foods we eat.

Alternative: Fight the 4pm Sugar Crash

If a chocolate-free life sounds like hell, you’re not alone. You don’t need to give up all sugar to stay healthy. Just attempt to moderate how and when you eat sweet treats. Instead of crushing a bag of M&M’s every afternoon, mix in a few almonds or pieces of dried fruit. Look for sugars that have a lower glycemic index and are easier on your bloodstream, like raw honey, yacon syrup, and stevia.

3.  All Raw, All the Time

A quick Pinterest search will unearth hundreds of glamorous bloggers holding radishes, carrots, and strawberries plucked from their backyard gardens—complete with inspirational quotes espousing the benefits of eating raw. No one can deny that fruit and vegetables are imperative for a well-balanced diet, but going all raw is a daunting task for anyone. While it might seem fun to pull a Carrie Bradshaw and start using your stove to store shoes, this diet can be highly inconvenient, requiring the kind of lifestyle shift that alters what, where, and how you shop and eat. And unless your friends and family are also on a raw diet, it can be a burden for those who plan to cook for or eat with you.

Alternative: Try One Raw Meal a Week

See how you do with raw foods by creating just one eat-the-rainbow, all-raw meal a week. One of the aforementioned beautiful bloggers regularly posts quick and easy raw, plant-based recipes on her blog, Deliciously Ella. She also has a recipe app to make shopping easier.

4. Going Full-on Paleo

The Paleo diet argues that our cave-dwelling ancestors avoided physical ailments by favoring meat and greens over modern indulgences like carbs, alcohol, dairy, and sugar. This hunter-gatherer mentality now comes with a 360-degree approach to food and fitness—for many, a Paleo diet and a CrossFit membership go hand in hand. But devouring wild elk meat from a farmer’s market and joining a gym that treats every workout like Basic Training isn’t the only way to see results.

Alternative: Focus on Protein and Moderate Exercise

Protein and exercise are important. We know this. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to subsist on grass-fed, organic meat and do kettle bells every morning at 6am. If yoga—or Pilates, or SoulCycle, or whatever—is your thing, that’s perfectly adequate. Check out ClassPass, which lets you mix up your routine by experimenting with all kinds of workouts. Then stock up on protein-packed foods like quinoa, nuts, and hemp seeds, which are great for everyone, particularly vegetarians and vegans.

5. Going Gluten-free

People who suffer from Celiac disease and wheat allergies have no choice but to cut out gluten, but should the rest of us follow suit? A number of people go recreationally gluten-free because they believe they’ll lose weight by cutting out carbs and gain energy as a result. Others do so because some studies suggest that wheat is bad for everyone. But advocating this all-or-nothing approach for those who don’t necessarily need to stop eating wheat can be stressful, expensive, and wholly unnecessary.

Alternative: Avoid Some Gluten-laden Foods

Incorporating a couple of gluten-free substitutes into your grocery list might boost your energy and make digesting large meals easier. Test out a vegetable-infused pasta instead of an all-wheat version, or swap your traditional Sunday bagel for a gluten-free one that won’t make you feel sluggish for the rest of the day. If you notice a positive change, keep it up; if not, then you may be among the fortunate ones who tolerate gluten well. Count yourself lucky and proceed as usual.

Illustrations by Mai-Dea

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Sharon Steel is a writer living in New York City. She's written about literature, fashion, music and pop culture for many publications, including New York, Bon Appétit, InStyle, and Rolling Stone. Her personal heroes are Jane Austen, Carson McCullers, Lillian Ross, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. Read more of Sharon's posts.

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