“Hey Korbyn, what do you think about ‘Diet X?’” is one of the questions I receive most often from the members of my gym or even people in general when I tell them I’m in the health and wellness field is what I think about the latest diet trend sweeping the nation. This is an extremely complex topic, and keep in mind that I am not a registered dietitian. If you are part of a special population and need advice on a diet for medical reasons, you should seek out a registered dietitian in your town. You would be surprised how many there are, sometimes they can even be found at popular grocery store chains. For the purposes of our discussion today we will be talking about the average person that is probably 15-50 pounds overweight and is looking to make physical changes to their body through diet and exercise.
First off, let’s applaud the question and the fact that it is being asked. The average person gives little to no thought whatsoever to what they put into their body in terms of food and drink, whether it is the quality or the quantity. Curiosity should be rewarded, as it leads to fact finding and hopefully knowledge on the extremely important subject of diet. Second we must look at how any diet works, no matter how trendy or extreme it may sound. Every diet begins with calorie restriction based on the individual that is eating a certain way. You can’t get past the simple fact that eating more calories than you burn will result in weight gain, and burning more calories than you eat will result in weight loss. This is true no matter what diet or way of eating you choose, and it will always be true no matter your genetics or any other factor you can think of that might affect your body. After we accept this fact we can begin to dig deeper into the seemingly infinite number of diet plans you might see or hear about on a daily basis.
The first major category of diets to discuss is elimination diets. The dieter will eliminate entire food groups or macro-nutrient groups (protein, fat, or carbs), which can cause significant weight loss in the initial 30 days of the diet, and those that can stick with the difficult task of eliminating an entire food group will be able to sustain the weight loss or lower body weight. These types of diets are difficult because when you re-introduce the eliminated food group back into your diet you will gain the weight back quickly. The sustainability of this type of diet is typically low among casual adopters, but these types of diets can be powerful for some people.
The second major category of diets to discuss is tracking based diets, where instead of eliminating a food group you pay attention to the amount of food you are eating through some form of tracking, usually achieved by weighing ingredients or scanning a label on pre-packaged food. Weight Watchers and their points system is probably the most famous version of this diet, but more recently terms like “If It Fits Your Macros” or “flexible dieting” have become popular. The difficulty of this approach is in preparation of meals and snacks, in that you must measure or weigh all ingredients which will initially take time and patience. This type of diet is more sustainable in that it doesn’t rely on elimination, just portion control and the optimal combination of fat, protein, and carbs for your intended results. It can be very difficult to follow for those that eat out a lot or eat a large amount of processed foods.
So the larger question is which diet is best for you? The answer is simply you don’t know until you try. Any of the diets whose names you have heard (paleo, vegetarian, vegan, keto, South Beach, Mediterranean, pescatarian, Zone, Whole 30, etc.) are better than the standard American diet, so giving any one of them a try for 60 days could lead to positive results. As a fitness professional I have experimented with almost all of these options and could write many articles about the pros and cons of each one. All diets work if you follow them exactly, but the trouble is in how long you can adhere to the protocols found in each diet. The more extreme the change is from your normal eating habits, the more difficult it will be to follow the diet correctly and for a long enough period of time to achieve the results you want. We must also understand that the diet only works when you follow it, and the progress you make will disappear when you return to your old way of eating. Talking with a fitness professional can be beneficial as they will be able to help you find a plan that works for your lifestyle, and help you work through the often difficult first stages of the dietary changes. So seek out a local professional, someone with whom you can speak to one-on-one, and start planning the approach you would like to take to move toward your health and wellness goals. Always remember that investing in your health is money well spent.