Q: I started my fitness journey a few months ago and since have lost about 20 lbs. Most of it dropped just from swearing off fast food. Over the past couple of months as I challenge myself to eat clean healthy food and work out 6 or 7 days a week, I find that I am receiving mixed messages about what to eat. An instructor at my gym says this many grams of protein, Weight Watchers says this many, another site say this many. Same thing with vegetable servings. And then there are the “experts” who want me to drink this shake or eat this bar (you already know what I say to that, clean eating over here!). But I feel so overwhelmed by everybody’s advice that I’m like UGH!! So my first question is: How do I know which way is up?

I found my way to this accidentally. It wasn’t until I started devoting mass amounts of my time to learning why what I was doing was working, why what I was doing could fail me, and why other things had failed me in the past and why others succeeded doing it, that I was fully solid and comfortable in my understanding of “which was was up” for me.

Don’t get me wrong – there are communities across the Internet devoted to countless “methods” for weight loss. There’s the perpetual hCGers, the perpetual dieters, the exercise enthusiasts, the clean eaters, the twinkie dieters, the cookie dieters, the heavy lifters, the pole dancers, the raw foodies, the aerial silk artists, the runners, the sprinters, the yogis, the starvation enthusiasts, the breatharians, the fruitarians… there’s everyone.

There is a never-ending amount of advice surrounding weight loss and proper eating. It’s a huge industry, one I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a part of it. Lots of people want to sell you secrets to healthy eating like it’s hidden in The Da Vinci Code or something, like it’s the world’s most epic Cryptoquip. The more secretive the secrets are, and the more drastic the results they can convince you you’ll get, the more money these secret sellers can extract from you.

Here’s the truth of the matter: if we’re defining whether or not a diet “works” by whether or not it causes people to lose weight, diets “work” for people because the modern American diet encourages excess, and makes it both easy and cheap to overindulge on the calorie front. Just about any diet—except for that breatharian thing—is going to be better than the modern American diet (the M.A.D., also referred to as the standard American diet, or S.A.D.—how appropriate, since it leaves you both mad and sad at the same damn time.)

Diets also “work” for certain people because they fit seamlessly into their lives. That’s the other thing—people who often report success on any given diet also tend to share other similarities in how they live. They’re generally in the same income class, live in the same kinds of rural or urban environments, tend to be parents or not and have similar number of children, like the same kinds of activities, and so on. This is also why it often feels cultish, embracing certain eating lifestyles. Are you a vegetarian? You’re likely to enjoy yoga. Are you paleo? Which Crossfit box are you a member of?

See what I’m getting at?

Here’s what I know—you need to eat a diet that promotes not just a shedding of the pounds, but improved and optimal health of your insides. Processed food, for a number of reasons, ain’t gon’ cut it. You also need an active lifestyle that will not only improve your quality of life and encourage weight loss, but also help you feel good about yourself. You leave feeling like you’ve accomplished something. That good feeling, combined with the social component, contributes to you getting into it and sticking with it.

The activity you choose will guide just about everything else, mainly because each activity has its own requirements for how to fuel it. If you love running, a low-carb diet isn’t going to be your best friend. If you’re a budding powerlifter, high carb may not be most helpful. Let the activity you choose guide your research, and make sure that your research includes nutrition tips for improved performance in your chosen activity.

So, here’s what you do. You do your research, you gravitate towards what’s more appealing to you, and don’t be afraid to explore. Mind your caloric intake, stay active. Take what you enjoy, and leave the rest behind. And don’t feel bad about not adhering to it 100% of the time, either—even if you slip up. Your body will thank you for it!