Extreme elimination diets are very popular these days and it’s not uncommon for people to swing back and forth between them — but what is unusual is to hear someone ‘fess up to it so publicly, as Anne Hathaway did in a recent interview with Harper’s Bazaar.
After apologizing to PETA, Hathaway explained her decision, saying, “You imagine what that’s like — what it’s like running through water and then you wear a 40-pound suit on top of it, so for me it was intense. I was facing my life, I don’t know how many days in a row of, like, garbanzo beans on a plate.” So she swapped out the beans and grains for a Paleo-style diet featuring lots of meat, veggies and a little fruit. “I just felt so much better!”
While many people have been upset over her public confession, saying she gave up her principles, I applaud her. As someone who was vegetarian for years, then vegan and then returned to being an omnivore, I have nothing but sympathy for her struggle. Like Hathaway, I simply couldn’t thrive on a vegan diet — something I didn’t discover until I was pregnant and so anemic I could barely get out of bed. It took me a long time to not see taking care of my body as a moral failing and feeling horrible guilt every time I ate meat.
How we eat is so personal: Some people thrive on one type of diet while others need something else. So I talked to Tori Cohen, a registered dietitian and Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, California, about how to tell if your diet isn’t working for you.
1. You’re fatigued all the time
Extreme tiredness and low energy is the first thing Cohen looks for in her clients. “If you’re really easily fatigued, then you’re just not getting what you need from your diet,” she explains. “Pay attention any time you make a big change and if your energy levels go down, if you can’t do your daily activities, then you might need to rethink it.”
2. Your workouts are failing
Whether you’re an avid runner or a power-lifting goddess, one of the first things to be affected by diet are your daily sweat fests, Cohen says. Hathaway said the deciding factor for her was when she couldn’t keep up with the physically intense scenes she was filming. “I just didn’t feel good or healthy. I was not strong,” she says. Cohen suggests writing down your benchmarks — how fast you can run a mile or how heavy a weight you lift — and if you’re not able to keep up, then take a look at your diet.
3. Your hair is falling out, your nails are breaking and you haven’t seen Aunt Flo in months
“Your body will tell you when it isn’t getting what it needs,” Cohen says. Common signs of malnutrition are lackluster or thinning hair, brittle nails, dry skin, acne and — the canary in the coal mine — changes in your period. Women often lose their periods when their body fat drops too low.
4. Your doctor is worried
We’re often taught by practitioners of extreme diets not to trust medical professionals yet Cohen says this could be terribly harmful to you. “Just a simple blood test can look at your nutrition labs. Are you low in vitamin D? Are you lacking B12? Is your iron low?” she asks, as these deficiencies are particularly common in women on vegan diets.
5. You can’t sleep
You might think that feeling tired all the time would mean you’d be lights out the second your head hits the pillow but nutritional deficiencies have been shown to lead to insomnia.
If you do decide that your current diet isn’t doing you any favors, Cohen recommends a slower approach rather than going whole-hog (ha!) like Hathaway did. “As you eat, your body produces enzymes to digest food and vegetarians or vegans may not have all the enzymes to digest animal product, so eating can be painful.” To allow your body time to adjust, she recommends switching out a few meals at a time, gradually working up to a whole new approach.