How to design your own diet plan

Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

Why diets are not one-size- fits-all

Diets are never a one size fits all. Food is digested in our bodies and utilised for different functions. Some people are more efficient at digesting certain nutrients than others. Some struggle to digest lactose; others may have celiac disease and require a gluten free diet. These differences can be due to our genetics, damage to the gut from an unhealthy diet, taking too many antibiotics, stress, over/under-eating and/or not doing enough physical activity.

It’s also important to remember that we all have different likes and dislikes, which need to be taken into account when making a meal plan. The more a person enjoys what they eat the more likely they are to stick to a meal plan. Our DNA also plays a role in what foods will be the best for our bodies, therefore, making a meal plan involves multiple facets, not just the do’s and don’ts of healthy eating.

Love what you eat

Make food interesting. Be creative. Love creamy food? Use low fat plain yoghurt instead of cream (trust us, you won’t notice the difference!). Eating healthy doesn’t need to be sad boiled chicken and steamed broccoli 3 times a day. Use a variety of herbs when cooking; use different proteins (even tofu and legumes make things interesting) and unusual grains like quinoa and bulgur instead of rice, for example.

Eat what you love, treat yourself once a week with your favourite food whether it be a chocolate bar, piece of cake or a pizza and burger with fries. Don’t let the one-time less healthy meal derail you for the next couple days. One unhealthy meal won’t make you fat, just like one healthy meal won’t make you skinny.

Designing your own diet

1. Frequency of meals

Eat at least 3 times a day. That is breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you can, have small snacks in between for example, fruits or low fat yoghurt.

2. Tasty and filling but low in calories

Ensure you have veggies, lean protein and low GI carbs at every meal. Do not skip the carbs, just make them low GI. You will crave sugar if you skip carbs. For example a whole-wheat wrap with lots of vegetables, chicken and avocado, or whole-wheat pasta or rice with tuna and salad mixed with a lite dressing. You can have your vegetables or salads in bulk, so if you feel peckish, fill up on veggies.

3. Foods to incorporate in the diet and foods to definitely exclude

Include the 3 F’s i.e. fresh foods (fruits and veggies), fibre and fish (ideally oily fish like salmon, pilchards, sardines, trout etc.). It is also important to include all food groups. Many people forget about dairy – include low fat yoghurt, low fat cottage cheese and low fat milk into your meal plan every day, especially women of childbearing age and in order to prevent bone loss during and after menopause.

Eat moderate amounts of lean protein and fats, the types that come from a plant source are best. Such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, canola oil, soft margarine, avocado etc. It is also important to include fermented foods to aid the production of healthy bacteria in the gut and thus keep our stomachs healthy. These can be sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, fermented soy products, yoghurt, kefir etc.

Definitely exclude processed meat polony, sausages, russians, viennas, cold meats etc. as these have been proven to be cancerous (especially colon cancer). Limit your intake of refined carbohydrates like sugar, white bread, desserts etc as well as saturated and trans fats from fast foods, baked goods, fried foods.

4. And snacks

Snacking is important but not a must. If you like to snack choose options like fresh fruit or small portions of dried fruit (30g, no added sugar), mini smoothies, crudité vegetables with dip such as hummus, cottage cheese, guacamole, home-made popcorn, small packets of raw unsalted nuts (30g), low fat yoghurt etc.


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