WHICH DIET IS RIGHT FOR ME?
What’s the latest diet trend of the season? If you feel overwhelmed with the recommendations out there, you are not alone. If there was a true quick fix, then everyone would be at their goal weight and dieting wouldn’t be a $75 billion dollar industry. To simplify the maze, below outlines the most popular diet trends and some pros and cons of each. Read through to the end for top picks.
What is it? Periods of not eating (fasting), followed by a time window of eating. Ex: 16 hours fasting/8 hours eating, or 20 hours fasting/4 hours eating, etc.
Pros: Gives the digestive system a break. Can reduce inflammation. Lowers overall daily caloric intake for most people, which creates fat loss. Studies show intermittent fasting can increase brain clarity and improve insulin resistance.
Cons: Hanger. Missing brunch with your CrossFit friends. Hanger. Hard to gain muscle. Hanger.
Try it? Start by intermittent fasting a couple of days per week, perhaps on days that you are not exercising or have big work deadlines. Or maybe you have a pool party to attend and want those “just woke up” abs of steel to shine through. Start by waking up in the morning and waiting until you are really hungry before you eat. A lower carbohydrate diet may help with blood sugar swings between fasting periods. Listen to your body. If you feel lightheaded or fatigued, this is likely not the diet for you. It should also be noted that most studies on IF have been done on men. Although some people thrive on this diet, if you don't feel good doing it, pick something else.
What is it? Consists of high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrate. Macro breakdown of 60% fat, 30% protein and 10% carbohydrates. The body turns to burning fat for fuel in the absence of carbohydrates.
Pros: Removes all the sweetened and fatty processed food that likely made you gain weight in the first place. Recommended to slow the growth of cancer cells. Helps stabilize blood sugar. People with a lot of weight to lose often find lasting success with Keto.
Cons: Highly restrictive. The period of adaptation is called the “keto-flu” and is no joke. If you go down this path, be sure to keep hydrated with lots of additional electrolytes since decreasing carbs reduces the ability to retain fluids. May be difficult to sustain long term.
Try it? Cheese and meat plate for dinner? Absolutely. Keto wins major points for deliciousness. Stick with healthy fat options such as avocados, nuts, olives, and fatty fish 80% of the time. You might lose weight on the cream cheese and bacon diet, but this approach is low in nutrients and is not doing you any health favors. Keto can help kickstart a diet, but isn't known to be sustainable long term.
What is it? Designed to emulate the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of our ancestors. If you can grow it or kill it, then you can eat it. Eliminates processed foods, grains, dairy, and legumes. Emphasizes eating whole foods and lots of healthy produce. Encourages grass fed meats, pastured eggs, and organic choices whenever possible.
Pros: No processed junk food. Whole healthy foods are more filling and provide the highest nutrient density. Great for allergy and food intolerance sufferers. Doesn’t emphasize portion sizes or restriction of calories.
Cons: Restricts food groups. No need to cut out dairy, whole grains, or legumes unless you are sensitive to them. Absolutely no guarantee that you will lose weight on paleo.
Try it? Paleo is a fairly simple transition to whole food choices. Think of balanced meals such as steak, sweet potatoes, and asparagus with salted clarified butter. Breakfast could be eggs, natural bacon, veggies sautéed in avocado oil and a side of melon and berries.
What is it? In the 1960’s researchers discovered that heart disease caused fewer deaths in Mediterranean countries than in the US. Recommended by the World Health Organization, and popular in Western medicine. Plant based. Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats. Weekly consumption of fish and eggs. A little dairy.
Pros: Lots of healthy fats emphasized, such as wild salmon, olives, and nuts. High fiber intake from increased vegetables. Lots of government institutions recommend. Wine is allowed in moderation.
Cons: Reschedule that romantic steak dinner for two. If you have an autoimmune disease you may want to discuss this diet option with a nutritionist or functional medicine doctor. Recent growing research shows that grains and legumes may trigger inflammation for sensitive people.
Try it? If vegetarianism seems too extreme for you, this allows for higher protein intake while remaining plant based. However, there are better choices than a diet high in grains. A nutrition plan that focuses on healthy fats and nutrient and fiber rich vegetables is a greater win. We like it better with more frequent meals of fish and eggs to help repair and build muscle.
What is it? A strict vegan consumes zero animal products. There are varying levels of vegetarianism that may incorporate some fish, eggs, or dairy.
Pros: Lots of nutrient dense produce and healthy fats. Sparing the lives of loveable animals. High fiber intake. Known for longevity and low instances of cancer, likely due to high nutrient foods.
Cons: Being Vegan doesn’t mean healthy on its own. A diet of cereal and French fries is vegan, but very low in nutrients. Vegans may need to supplement essential vitamins such as B-12. It’s difficult to get enough protein intake to support muscle mass, and vegan protein sources are often highly processed.
Try it? Some people don’t digest meat well and may thrive on the additional energy from this higher carbohydrate intake. Focus on healthy fats and produce over a high intake of grains. Try a big fresh vegetable salad drizzled with olive oil and topped with chopped avocado and nuts.
What is it? Macro focused. 40% Carbohydrate/30% Fat/30% Protein. The Zone uses their own measurement system called “blocks” and depending on your size and goals, you get a certain number of blocks per day. A block is equal to 7 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbs, and 1.5 grams of fat.
Pros: The macro breakdown is great for athletes since it has sufficient protein to support muscle gain and repair, as well as energy producing carbohydrate to fuel those tough workouts. Allows a wide variety of food options.
Cons: Counting blocks at each meal may be difficult to learn for even the seasoned macro follower.
Try it? CrossFit recommends The Zone “because it is effective, not because it is enjoyable.” If you are struggling with fueling athletic performance or recovery, give this a try. Eating whole unprocessed foods makes the block counting process a bit easier.
What is it? Listening to your natural hunger cues and eating what your body craves without counting calories or food portions.
Pros: Easy, back to nature approach. Example: a baby eats when its hungry and stops when full. Not a lot of obese babies out there. Throws out diet stigmas and culture. The anti-diet. Great for maintenance body composition goals.
Cons: Doesn’t focus on healthy food. Easy to consume more calories if taste is prioritized over health. Ex: “Mmmm my intuition says I need this sleeve of Oreos. Ice cream would go nicely with this too, and clearly my body is craving it.” Nope, that’s the physical sugar cravings coming after you. It's REALLY difficult to lose weight just relying on hunger. Our bodies love maintenance, and this will likely keep you there.
Try it? If you have been on a diet your entire life, this might be just the change you are looking for. Be mindful of food choices. Consider the 80/20 rule and consume 80% fresh, nutrient dense foods. The other 20% might be that wood fired pizza you are craving, or dessert most nights. Reversing these percentages can almost guarantee weight gain and can result in nutritional deficiencies.
What do I do with this Information?
A diet plan doesn’t need to be complicated and drastic. Do you need to pay someone to tell you that an apple is a better snack choice than a bag of chips? Likely not. Certainly, there are aspects of these specialized diets that are beneficial. The bottom line: The best diet for you is the diet that makes you feel your best and helps you reach your goals.
Some people find a combination of some popular approaches works best for them. Perhaps Paleo and Keto, or Zone with intermittent fasting. Try it out, see how you feel. Pivot when necessary.
Putting it All Together – What Healthy Diets Have in Common
Focus on whole, unprocessed foods. Does it come in a box or a bag? It’s likely processed. Tomatoes do not have nutrition labels. Processed foods are delicious by design, and therefore easier to overeat. How many calories do you think you could eat in doughnuts compared to eggs?
Eat the rainbow for a wide variety of nutrients. Buy fruits and vegetables in season and local if possible. Produce shipped across the world loses nutrients each day after it is picked. The fiber from whole fruits and veggies helps with satiety and digestion. Always hungry? Start here.
Don’t overeat if your goal is fat loss. Over fullness is your body’s way of telling you it has had enough food. Our bodies love homeostasis and will guide you to a natural maintenance weight if you pay close enough attention to your hunger cues.
Don’t starve. Being hungry all of the time is a sign your food intake is too low. Drastically under eating leads to muscle tissue breakdown which lowers your resting metabolic rate (aka number of calories burned at rest.) A proper reduction in food intake is 10%-30% less than your maintenance food intake. Slow and steady weight loss is best for long term success and preserves more of that hard-earned muscle.
Get enough protein to support muscle retention and growth. If you find yourself constantly hungry or snacking, you likely need to eat more protein. Include a protein serving at each meal to ensure sufficient intake.
Mindset over structure. A healthy eating plan is sustainable long term, and something you can stick to without feeling completely deprived. Diet culture has us believing diets are all quick fixes. Super strict plans leave most people feeling hungry and even avoiding social events to stay on track. Instead focus on making healthy choices 80% of the time. The bottom line, again: The best diet for you is the diet that makes you feel your best (physically and mentally!) and helps you reach your goals.
*If you are thinking of making a drastic diet change and are suffering from a chronic disease such as diabetes or heart disease, please consult with your physician. Drastically changing your food intake may require changes to certain medications. This is not intended as medical advice.
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