A happy person eating a good vegan meal

Vegan, gluten-free, paleo and vegetarianism: Diets or lifestyles?

Changing your eating habits can be a challenge. In addition to making a change in your life, simply choosing a healthy eating plan can be overwhelming. You are faced with dozens of different diet options, such as paleo, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and many others. Is one better than another? Are any of these options the right choice for you? Is there an option you should avoid?

We are going to create some clarity about the diet versus lifestyle debate and outline some options for you to consider. First, let’s start by defining terms:

According to Medical News Today, “The word diet comes from Old French diete and Medieval Latin dieta meaning ‘a daily food allowance.’ The Latin word diaeta and Greek word diaita mean ‘a way of life, a regimen.’ A diet can be described as a set course of eating and drinking in which the kind and amount of food one should eat is been planned out in order to achieve weight loss or follow a certain lifestyle.”

Diets are commonly known as a short-term tool to help people reach a specific weight loss goal, and once that goal is achieved, most people revert back to their previous eating habits or something close to that.

A lifestyle change is a long-term change to how you live. It’s a change of eating habits, outlook, philosophy and other changes that come together as a completely new way of living. Once people achieve their health and fitness goals, the new habits have become a way of life and are generally maintained.

Can a diet be part of a lifestyle change? Absolutely. However, it is only one component of a larger plan that includes a fitness routine and a new way of living.

Diets to consider

Amid the countless number of diet options you have to choose from, the following are four of the most popular today. Here is an outline of each one:

Vegetarian: Vegetarian diets are the most traditional of the new-wave diets we hear a lot about today. What most people don't realize is that there are different forms of vegetarianism. In general, vegetarians do not eat animal-based foods, but they might eat dairy and eggs, and sometimes fish.

Vegan: Veganism is a philosophy and a form of diet. Vegans do not eat meat or anything that is animal-based, including dairy and eggs. Most people choose to be vegan for ethical reasons. Something that vegans (and vegetarians) need to pay attention to is getting enough protein in their diets.

Gluten-free: Gluten-free diets are perhaps the most popular form of diet today. Gluten-free products are hitting the store shelves quickly. According to the Mayo Clinic, “a gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and a cross between wheat and rye called triticale.” A gluten-free diet is primarily a treatment for celiac disease, but many people are making the switch as a preference or because they have a sensitivity to gluten. However, not all gluten-free products are necessarily healthy: there are plenty of gluten-free cookies, cakes and other foods that should be consumed in minimal amounts.

Paleo: Another popular diet trend today is the paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet. The focus is on eating foods that have not been processed, such as meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, which means that bread, grains, pasta, cereal and other processed foods are not consumed. One criticism of the diet is that a one-size-fits-all diet does not work, and it’s not possible to simply follow a list of “good” and “bad” foods.

Diet or lifestyle?

Are these approaches to eating a diet or a lifestyle? They can be both. If you adopt them for a short term to reach a goal, you can consider it a diet. If you take a long-term and transformational approach and change your way of life, you can consider it a lifestyle.

Choosing a diet or lifestyle really comes down to choosing what is best for your specific situation. It should be based on your age, current health, fitness goals, dietary restrictions and other personal factors. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, and you need to learn about the merits of each approach to eating and choose the one that suits you, that your doctor would approve, and that will help you reach your fitness or lifestyle goals.