I mean...what is a "diet"? Really?
I don't like the word diet. A "diet" is typically perceived to mean eating less, only eating healthy and/or essentially depriving yourself of everything enjoyable in life, which frequently makes people shudder just when they hear the word - and it shouldn't. My definition of diet is any and everything that you consume from your environment. Call me a hipster if you want, but to me this includes everything you eat, drink, read, watch, touch, see, hear, etc. For purposes of this discussion, we'll be sticking to food.
I apologize beforehand about the length of this post. But food is kind of important...still shouldn't take more than 6 minutes.
Atkins. Mediterranean. Paleo. Keto. Whole30. Gluten-free. Low-carb. Fat free. There are so many diets out there that it's hard to keep up with which one is even trending right now. I'm going to explain what is important to consider in a diet, lay out a foundation from which you can make an educated choice, and give you my advice based on the most common pitfalls I usually see when it comes to a diet.
First, the most important part is setting your goal. What is the purpose of your diet going to be? "Lose weight" is not an acceptable goal because it will not last, ESPECIALLY if you are losing weight for extrinsic reasons. You have to understand what your true motivation is first. If YOU are not motivated to make a change, for YOU, then you will eventually fall back to your habits because it is the path of least resistance. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds before a wedding next week, that's also not a good goal because it's not possible to do so in a healthy way (recommended "healthy" weight loss would be no more than about 2lbs a week).(1)
If your goal is to lose 15 pounds in 2 months and keep them off, or go down 2 dress sizes and be more confident in your body, or increase your max bench press or squat by 10%, or decrease your 200m freestyle time by 1.62 seconds, or...you get the point...now we're talking. These goals are defined, reachable and sustainable. Those are the kind of goals we like at FitKinect. Set your goal. Write it down. Put it somewhere you will see every day, so that when you're turning down that McFlurry you'll have a small reminder of the bigger picture.
Second, after you know what you want, you have to understand what these diets are offering. That does not mean we are going to go in detail about what each diet is and the benefits of each. The reality is that all of them have pros and cons and if anyone says they are certain that one is drastically better than another then they are likely exaggerating. Unless it is your doctor telling you that one of them is better than the diet you eat now for your specific health condition...that is likely to be true.
The #1 most important thing about a diet if you want to lose weight is to put out more energy than you take in. When it comes down to it, it is that simple.
If your body is at an energy deficit, it will break down its stored energy to compensate. It's biology. Likewise, if you're trying to build muscle (as in add weight) then you want to eat more than enough.
How much you are eating is hard for many people to really know. Counting calories is hard, and although there are a lot of cool new apps out to make it easier, it can still be inconvenient and difficult unless you are the kind that is already dedicated enough to make it happen. Something that makes it easier is to know how much "energy" aka Calories (which are really Kilocalories, Kcal) are in whatever you are eating. Fat has 9 Calories per gram. Alcohol has 7 Cal. Carbohydrates (includes sugar) and protein each have 4 Cal/g. Therefore, if you want to eat a lot, you should stick to the lower density foods (especially things with lots of fiber like vegetables, which have a very low caloric load...potatoes don't count). If you're going to eat a little but need a lot of energy to burn, fats give you more bang for your buck.
Those are the basics, but what you eat does also matter. I mentioned fats having more energy density, but you have probably heard fats are bad for your heart and cause high cholesterol. CURVEBALL. A lot of newer studies are questioning this long held beliefs that fats cause obesity and cardiovascular disease. (2) When reviewing the literature, it seems a lot of data shows a correlation here, but correlation does not automatically mean causation. As you could imagine, those that eat a lot of fats could also be likely to eat a lot of sugar and have other detrimental health behaviors. Which brings me to my next point, another poor source of energy is sugar. Let me be clear, this is one of the most hotly debated subjects in medicine right now. in 2016, there was a large study that concluded there was no real link between "added sugar" consumption and obesity and other chronic diseases. This was done in the U.S. and (ENTER THE DRAMA) the authors have conflict of interest statements revealing consulting fees from ConAgra food, Coca Cola, Kraft Foods and other major food manufacturers/distributers (and also Weight Watchers).(3) I'll let you take away what you will from that. Another one in 2018, concluded that there was strong evidence that simple sugar consumption correlates with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a host of other diseases.(4) This was done in France and authors have conflicts via speaking fees from Nestle, Gatorade Sports Science Institute, and, oddly enough, the institute of one of the doctors from the US study that published opposing conclusions). I've provided 2 of these major studies below, but since this is a hard subject, I'm going to give my personal belief. (3 & 4)
Sugar is bad for you. And it is a major part of what causes obesity, diabetes and other major health issues. There I said it. Simple sugars (in candy, juices, soda, and even fruits) have been the culprit for many diabetic and obese patients I've seen who have made dramatic changes to their diet but still consume sugar in liquid form. Increased rates of childhood obesity also make me think about the parents that give their kids a juice whenever they get thirsty because there is not enough awareness of the effects of sugar (not always the parents fault) Simple sugars are worse than complex sugars because our bodies don't have to expend any energy to break it down before it is stored. Simple sugars are either used immediately (which is why Gatorade while you are working out is more or less ok) or stored with no wasted energy, meaning there is more net "energy" aka fat that will be stored than a complex carb. Rant over.
Best I can say here is everything in moderation...except vegetables and water. You can always go to town on those.
So, to some this up. I am not saying go eat all the fat you want because it doesn't matter. I am saying limit your sugar and processed foods as much as you can (easier said than done). I'm not saying all carbs are bad for you and I'm not saying carb loading is good for you. What I am saying is moderation is key and you have to be able to find a balanced diet that you can sustain. Key takeaways that cannot be argued are that processed foods (aka a majority of fast food) are bad for your heart, weight and overall health. Sugars, especially simple sugars such as candy, sweets (even though I love chocolate chip cookies -_- ) and soda do not have a positive effect on your weight and overall health (even if they make your soul happy).
Scientific studies have shown that multiple diets can be effective in losing weight. They can all also fail. It typically revolves around how well you adhere to the diet. The most "proven" diets, from a medical perspective, typically surround cardiovascular health and preventing certain cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure and heart failure in at risk populations.(5) The DASH diet is
recommended and proven to be effective for high blood pressure. (6) Low salt diet is a must in heart failure. The Mediterranean diet, although some question its studies, has evidence indicating it can lower the incidence of multiple diseases and even make you live longer. (7) Which is pretty cool.
But for those who want a reference point, I'm going to tell you what I do. I don't recommend this for everyone simply because all of our genetics are different (this does not mean that you're the only one who understands what's going on...listen to your doctor). My environment and lifestyle to this point have also put me in a place where my body reacts well to this diet (nature plus nurture type thing). I do intermittent fasting. Typically not eating between about 9pm and 12 pm the next day. This was initially accidental as a result of not eating breakfast in the morning (medical school will do that to you), but after realizing that as a possible reason for maintaining a physique even with what was a poor diet, I decided to continue doing it. Also, every meal I eat by myself consists of vegetables, salad and boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs. I only drink water, gatorade (bad habit of an athlete) and tea every now and then. I usually eat a number of fruits to start every day and whenever I have a sweet tooth. When I eat with others, or if there is free food (life of a grad student), I eat whatever I want. I'm not perfect. Maybe I'll have to change this someday, but for now this is what is sustainable for me and gives me results I am ok with (but still need to get better!).
Hope that helps as an example of how to be realistic and make the exceptions that will make a healthier diet a realistic and sustainable goal for you. It's
clear from the obesity epidemic and prevalence of "the freshmen 15" at universities (grad and undergrad) across the country that telling people they have to do everything perfect is NOT working. Take baby steps. Make small improvements everyday. Challenge yourself to not super size it. Then eat it only when you're with others. And then only once a week. Then once a month... etc.. etc. Go until you see the improvement you want. Once you've developed this discipline, you'll have more control over yourself and your actions than you ever imagined, and you won't fall victim to the next diet fad that trends on social media.
Last thing- WATER IS UNDERRATED. Drink more water. Shoot for about 2 L a day. Your body can survive with much less than this, but better to drink too much than too little.
Feel free to post questions about specific foods, or specific diets and I'm happy to do my best in answering!
For more science, read these!
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27418186 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30060614