ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

If you meet a nutritionist/dietitian and they hand you a pre-made meal template without understanding your lifestyle, you need to do just one thing.

RUN.

It is not an unfamiliar practice for ‘nutrition coaches’ and for that matter even qualified nutritionists to hand out premade diet plans to any client that walks in. With the market flooded with ‘detox plans’ and ‘diet plans that require no exercise’, we are made to believe that there is one superior ‘diet’ that can help us achieve our fitness goals. Marketing does play a role, but it also reflects how gullible enough we are to actually be the target audience. It is imperative to understand that each of us are extremely different from one another. Everything from eating habits and food preferences to sleep schedules differ greatly from person to person. So how do we expect one universal ‘diet plan’ to work? You might agree to bite your teeth and eat what that template tells you to. But for how long? Is it teaching you how to build sustainable eating habits or is it just temporary? Are you looking at long term health or short term aesthetic outcomes?

With this in mind, several nutritionists and dietitians are now offering tailor made plans suited to each individual. These ‘personalised nutrition’ plans are slowly gaining momentum. Like the name suggests, these are interventions or advice that are developed from individual characteristics (1). Interventions like these may help in bringing out more effective behavioural changes (2). Personalised nutrition can be applied to individuals with specific conditions such as pregnancy or old age (1). The goal of such interventions are primarily to benefit health, but could also be applicable to meet specific goals such as performance in sport (3).

Here is an excerpt from nutritionist Varsha.

“I once had a client who consulted with a nutritionist before meeting me, this nutritionist did not take the said client’s lifestyle into account, did not interact much and asked her if she wanted to lose X number of kilos in Y number of months. She then based her charges on the number of kilos to be dropped. This has become a common practice. In addition, any information with respect to nutrition, is easily accessible on the internet. People need to know that these claims need to be backed by a body of research. For this reason, it’s always important to get guidance from a professional who is well qualified and up to date with current research.”

In 2016, a large study was conducted by Celis-Morales et al. (4) over 6 months, recruiting participants from seven European countries. They were either given conventional dietary advice or personalised advice based on the individual’s diet and phenotype and/or genotype. It was observed that a personalised diet was more effective in creating sustainable habits. Nevertheless, there are always two sides to a coin. While the theoretical evidence for personalised nutrition is still not clear, marketing can lure consumers into taking unreliable tests that have limited evidence.

In conclusion, it is imperative for you as consumers, to be aware of the various evidence based trust worthy nutritionists who care about your goals and more importantly, your health. While the evidence for personalised nutrition seems promising, it is also crucial for you, to be aware of unregulated tests in the market. Further, it is clear that there is no ‘one size fits all approach’, when it comes to nutrition. A diet and exercise plan suited to YOUR lifestyle, accounting for YOUR food preferences, goals and/or clinical condition(s) is what works always.

References:

1) Ordovas, JM, Ferguson, LR, Tai, ES, Mathers, JC. Personalised Nutrition and health. The British Medical Journal. 2018; 361:bmj.k2173

2) Woolf, SH,Purnell, JQ. The good life: working together to promote opportunity and improve population health and well-being. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2016;315(16): 1706-1708.

3) Jeukendrup, A. A Step Towards Personalized Sports Nutrition: Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise. Sports Medicine.2014; 44(Suppl 1): 25-33.

4) Celis-Morales C, Livingstone K, Marsaux C, Macready A, Fallaize R, O’Donovan C et al. Effect of personalized nutrition on health-related behaviour change: evidence from the Food4me European randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2016;46(2):578-588.

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