A close up photo of the ends of celery

Don’t eat after 8 p.m. Eat three meals of precisely 350 calories and three snacks of exactly 200 calories every day. Cut out carbs. Eliminate sugar, fat and flour. Sound familiar?

With so much misinformation and so many fad diets circulating online, how can you select the right eating plan for your body? Adequate nutrition means eating what’s right for your unique needs. Ultimately, you are the expert when it comes to looking and feeling your best. 

1. Evaluate your physical needs 

Do you have any medical conditions? Are you an endurance athlete? Does anemia run in your family? The perfect diet for you considers all of these factors. 

If you have uterine fibroids, for example, then you may experience heavy menstrual periods. If you follow a vegan diet, then you run the risk of developing anemia from insufficient iron intake. This condition doesn’t mean you need to abandon your vegan lifestyle, but it does mean reading up on how to do it right, and watching for signs of deficiency and speaking to your doctor if symptoms develop. 

2. Calculate your caloric needs 

If you’re a desk jockey whose idea of exercise is a walk around the block, then you’ll likely need to eat less to maintain your weight than a marathon runner would. To find your daily caloric needs, start by calculating your basal metabolic rate, which is the amount your body burns while at rest. Then, multiply this number by your average activity level. This calculation can show you how many calories you need to maintain weight. 

3. Consider your mental state 

In the United States alone, 1 in 5 adults has a mental illness—that’s more than 40 million Americans. Dietary deficiencies can exacerbate these conditions. Low levels of certain vitamins can lead to depression and difficulty with concentration. People with anxiety may react strongly to substances like caffeine. If you find yourself shaky and dizzy after more than one cuppa, then opt for green tea instead. Exercise caution with foods like chocolate. 

4. Keep your schedule in mind 

Maybe you want to rock the kitchen like Rachel Ray, but you work two jobs and have a baby at home. Guess what? You’re not always going to have time to cook. A busy schedule can mean caving into the temptation to hit the drive-thru after work on hectic days. 

Keep your schedule in mind. If you have two hours on the weekend to meal prep, then focus on foods you can freeze and quickly heat up during the workweek. You can still prepare healthy meals that are convenient for fast-paced days. 

5. Work within your budget 

Who wouldn’t love to have the finest meals every evening? Unless you’re incredibly wealthy though, you’re unlikely to have the budget to indulge your taste buds every day. Learn how to make your food budget stretch farther with a touch of creativity!

Learn how to save and sprout the seeds from the vegetables and fruits you buy at the farmer’s market. Plant a garden when you become proficient. Seek out other local gardeners and trade seedlings to increase your food variety without spending an extra dime. 

6. Consider an elimination diet 

Have you tried adopting healthier eating but stopped due to adverse effects? Some adjustments do take time—if you’re unaccustomed to a high-fiber intake, you could experience gas while your digestive tract gets used to the increased roughage.

However, sometimes, food allergies lead to side effects. Start by eliminating all suspected troublesome foods for two weeks or until your symptoms subside. Then, gradually add one food back at a time until you identify the culprit. You’ll know which food is to blame if distress reoccurs. 

7. Make adjustments continually 

The perfect diet plan isn’t engraved in stone—it’s as alive as you are. If your activity levels increase or you become pregnant, for example, then you’ll need to adjust your caloric intake. If you develop insulin resistance from a period of overeating, then you may need to adopt a more ketogenic diet temporarily to reverse the effects. 

Most importantly, allow yourself the occasional indulgence. Saying, “I’ll never eat another donut” is probably unrealistic. People tend to resist overly strict rules. If you slip up on your planned diet, then just get back on track at the next meal instead of berating yourself. 

The best meal plan is the one that works for you. You won’t find the best diet plan on the internet. You’re the expert when it comes to your body and your nutritional needs. Talk to a nutritionist, say no to the latest fads and eat a variety of healthy foods that make you feel your best!

How have you adapted a meal plan that works best for you? What tips do you have for adopting a healthy diet ?

Image via Anna Williams, Darling Issue No. 13

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