“You can’t outrun a bad diet.” -Christopher Sommer, former USA gymnastics team coach
What you put into your body makes a huge difference in terms of living a healthy lifestyle. It’s widely agreed to be the most effective way to lose fat (although there is also a widely known misconception that you can work out and then eat poorly because you already performed a healthy act by working out). In addition, ensuring proper nutrition now prevents potential health issues later. It’s also much more cost effective to eat healthy in the present as opposed to paying for treatment later. This brings up the question, “Which diets work the best?”
Assuming your goal is to lose fat, gain muscle, or a greater sense of well-being in general, the diets don’t actually change a whole lot. For example, a person might do diet X in order to lose fat while another person might also do diet X with the goal of gaining muscle in mind. Regardless of the goal, a healthy diet sets you up for healthy physical transformations that you are looking for! Losing fat, gaining muscle, and a greater sense of well-being can all stem from the same diet. Are there minor tweaks that are necessary? Sure, but let’s focus on the big picture for now.
Let’s take a look at the diet options. Provided are brief descriptions of the diet with a short explanation as to why the diet works.
List of diet options can be found here:
Slow Carb Diet
Description: Meals mostly consist of meat, vegetables, and legumes/beans. Stay away from “white foods” like sugar, pasta, bread, and cheese. No fruit consumption.
Rationale: One of the main principles with this diet is that fat burning happens when your blood glucose levels are low. When eating the off limit foods like sugar, pasta, and bread, your blood sugar goes up, which decreases your insulin sensitivity, meaning you’ll more likely to store food as fat. In short, you want to keep your blood sugar low by sticking to food that is low on the glycemic index. This ensures best results.
Description: The main idea here is that meals consist of food that would have been available to a caveman such as vegetables, meats, nuts, and fruit. Very similar to the slow carb diet. Agriculture wasn’t around until much later, so grain or wheat are off limits. Certain foods are speculated in the paleo diet enthusiast community so don’t be surprised about different opinions on what’s allowed and what isn’t.
Rationale: Because agriculture didn’t come until much later, humans aren’t as accustomed to digesting food like grain or wheat. Paleo diet enthusiasts tend to report feeling much better after removing that from their diet while also losing weight.
Description: Meals consist of vegetables and meat are off limits. Cheese and eggs optional.
Rationale: Going vegetarian for the purpose of diet is based off of the premise that meat makes you fat and feel bad. There are, of course, moral reasons for going vegetarian. I personally love meat but if this works for you and you can sustain it, then power to you!
Description: Meals consist of foods that are recognizable, which means if it’s processed, then avoid it. For example, you can eat tuna but not canned tuna.
Rationale: This diet is based on the premise that processed food doesn’t have as much benefit (and can in fact have negative effects) for people. Someone once told me that after cutting out processed food from her diet, she stopped getting headaches. Worth a try!
Description: Wheat, rye, barley or wheat-based foods are off limits. Everything else is okay.
Rationale: Gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance exists within certain people and lead to negative reactions to gluten. By removing gluten from the diet, some negative side effects seem to disappear.
Description: Sugary foods like desserts are off limits.
Rationale: This one is fairly self-explanatory and well known. Most people who decide to eat healthier start with this principle.
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
Description: Follow USDA (U.S. Departments of Agriculture)’s recommendation.
Rationale: Lowers high blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol) while staying pretty flexible with food choices.
Description: Track your calories and burn more calories than you consume in order to lose fat. Do the opposite if you’re trying to gain muscle.
Rationale: This diet is based on the premise of calories-in, calories-out. According to this premise, a surplus of calories leads to weight gain while a shortage of calories leads to weight loss. This does have its merits, but for reasons I’ll explain in another post, I do think that it’s oversimplified. In all fairness, though, it can work to an extent.
Don’t Drink Sugar
Description: Drinks with sugar in them are off limits here.
Rationale: Similar to the No Sweets diet plan, cutting sugary drinks out of the diet makes sense. Again, most people who decide to eat healthier also start with this principle.
Note: There are other diets out there that also work. For example, the ketogenic diet has also been known to work (and follows some of the other key principles). Only ten diets were chosen for this study.
The most effective diets according to the study were Slow Carb, Paleo, and DASH.
Result: Weight loss of 3-5 lbs. (around 1.5-2.5kg) per month for most people. Note that this is average, and that not all test subjects followed with complete compliance to their diets.
While some of the most successful diets do share some common principles (this will be discussed in a different post), the most important thing about eating healthy is sticking to your diet.
Play around with this weight loss calculator based on results of this diet to see how much weight you are expected to lose.
Calorie Counting Apps: If you’re into calorie counting, free apps exist such as FatSecret.
However, I don’t recommend counting calories unless you’re trying to gain muscle (in that case, counting calories and tracking macronutrient intake will help you make sure that you are, in fact, eating more).