I originally wrote and published a variation of this post on March 16, 2016. I’ve added some additional thoughts to the original below.

Feeling confused by all the different types of diets out there? One person you trust recommends a low-carb diet and another is high on life with a high-carb plan? Paleo or vegan? Low-glycemic, raw, or grain-free? All of these choices can be stressful and cause food confusion.

“Just tell me what to eat” is a phrase I’ve heard before.

I agree. There are far too many choices of foods to choose from these days compared to the dietary options of our ancestors.

Here are some general rules to abide by when faced with eating challenges or confusion around making healthier food choices in the future:

Not sure if a food is so healthy for you?

Listen to your body. How do you feel when you consume it? Tired, bloated, not thinking clearly? It seems obvious that it’s probably not doing you any good, if so. It’s probably best to avoid these foods as much as possible. Be honest with yourself. Often times we’ll try to convince ourselves that it just couldn’t be a particular food causing distress in our bodies. This is common when it’s a favorite food we can’t see ourselves parting with so we’ll blame it on another food or even something completely unrelated.

What might be a good food choice for someone, may not be a good one for you.

We’re all human and we’re all composed a little differently so keep that in mind.
Some people can tolerate dairy and others simply cannot. There may be a wide range of symptoms that come about as a result from eating that dairy as well. One person may be crippled over in pain (digestion-related) while another may just experience a break-out on the skin.
Love spinach? So do I! The thing is some others enjoy it as well but their bodies cannot tolerate it. Due to spinach’s high content of oxalate, those predisposed to kidney issues may be better off avoiding this otherwise healthy food.

Fretting over details

Does cooking it a certain way kill its nutrient content? What if I consumed a little too many calories today? Did I eat too many eggs? What’s the point in trying to eat healthy if our food supply and quality have diminished over the years?

While details can make a difference depending on your specific health goals, don’t forget the BIG picture. Are you eating REAL food? Keeping it simple sometimes when faced with questions and food confusion situations like these will make your life easier.

Opt for real, whole, unprocessed, seasonal and local food if available — the less ingredients, the better. Try to not overdo any one particular food. Eat a variety of foods, especially vegetables. Avoid bad quality cooking oils. Only eat when you’re hungry. Drink lots of water. Try to eat in a relaxed state. And chew your food!

I think when attempting to initiate change in our lives (diet or exercise being two great examples), that we can get over-zealous and set unrealistic goals that eventually lead towards giving up on them entirely and reverting to bad habits.

Keeping it simple at the beginning and easing into a new lifestyle rather than adopting the “too much too soon” approach may lead towards longer-lasting results and less frustration. I’ve written about all-or-nothing thinking before as well — be careful not to fall into this trap when embarking on a new healthy eating endeavor.

Sometimes a friend who is still eating poorly 85% of the time, but also makes a baby step and orders a Caesar salad for lunch deserves a pat on the back. Yes, maybe it’s not a microgreen salad with antioxidant-rich beets and a multitude of veggies tossed in, but it’s a step in the right direction. They might not be at that stage yet to delve in with full-force and implement dramatic shifts in eating — and that is ok.

Though minutiae can make a difference for someone who has already implemented the 85% of big picture changes, these details may not be necessary at the beginning. Or may detract the novice from getting started at all — which is what we do not want.

Transitioning from a diet that is leaning more towards conventional and processed meats to one that favors organic and/or pasture-raised animal proteins is a good start. Adding more vegetables to the diet on a daily basis is another recommendation that is more feasible and not too far-fetched for newbies. Making a goal to eat more meals at home rather than out at restaurants is another simple goal to strive for. Ditching the soda and sugary beverages and swapping them for water is always a positive.

Is the keto diet healthy? What are your thoughts on eating a paleo diet? Should I go vegan? Do you think beans are ok to eat?

As a nutritionist, it’s difficult to give an answer to these questions without knowing more about a person’s particular situation. I encourage you to do some self-exploration and experimentation with food, lifestyle, and ways of eating until you find a reasonable option that is healthy, sustainable, and makes you feel good.

Hope that helps alleviate some food confusion and stressors around healthy eating. Bringing it back to the basics is a good start. And then you can fine-tune from there. You’d be surprised at how focusing on the bigger picture first rather than diving into a strict, complicated new way of eating can yield results.

If Food Confusion: Tell Me What to Eat, Part II was helpful, please share this post with a friend so that they too may learn something from reading it.

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Mike is a holistic nutritionist that helps people feel more optimistic about their health and wellness through changes in diet and lifestyle shifts.

He has authored posts and articles featured on MarthaStewart.com, today.com, and iVillage.com.