Dieting is like riding a bike.
Except that the bike is on fire. And the ground is on fire. And everything is on fire because you’re in hell (I saw this on an e-card and gosh I just love it..). But dieting is usually hard. There is so much conflicting information on the internet regarding diets – which one is best, which one is worst, which one is trendy – that it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed when you’re looking to make some healthy changes to your eating habits.
So this month’s How-To Guide focuses on sifting through the crap to find which, if any, diet plan is right for you. Let me say here that I hate the word diet – its literal meaning (that is simply just the food that we eat) has become synonymous with cutting calories, cutting carbs, avoiding gluten or ‘fasting’ a few days a week in an effort to lose weight. Long-term, sustainable weight-loss usually isn’t found in any of these popular diet methods. Without further ado, How-To: Evaluate A Diet Plan.
Question One: Does it drastically cut calories?
All weight loss is a basic matter of thermodynamics. If you consume more calories than you burn you will gain weight, if you burn more calories than you consume you will lose weight.
Weight loss must come from either increasing the amount of calories you burn or decreasing the calories you consume to shift the energy balance. The easiest way for diets to do this is by drastically cutting calories.
Caloric needs vary greatly from person to person but as a general frame of reference I wouldn’t ever recommend women eating less than 1600-1800 calories and men eating 1800-2000 calories. MINIMUM.
Drastically cutting calories will help you lose weight in the short term but soon result in your body holding on to all its fat stores because it thinks you’re starving and need the fuel reserves.
Take home tip: Small, steady reductions in calories are better and should only be reduced further when weight loss has stalled.
Question Two: Does it cut out whole food groups?
One of the keys to optimum health, agreed upon by nutritionists, dieticians and government bodies, is eating a variety of foods from a variety of sources.
A healthy, balanced diet should consist of lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and the occasional small treat (calorie dense but nutrient poor). Any diet that insists on cutting out whole food groups – dairy, grains/carbs, fats – should be regarded with skepticism.
Our bodies need a huge variety of macro- and micronutrients to function properly and cutting out whole food groups puts you at risk of becoming deficient in one or more of these essential vitamins and minerals.
Take home tip: The best diet is one that includes a variety of items from each of the food groups.
Related Post: Diet and Weight Loss Myths That Are Total BS
Question Three: Does it offer flexibility of food sources?
Does the diet offer you a list of banned and/or approved foods? Does it provide a strict meal plan without options for substitutions? Dietary requirements and personal taste are very individual, so if you’re given a cookie-cutter meal plan that tells you exactly what, when and how much to eat – no ifs, no buts, no coconuts – then it’s probably not a good idea.
Take home tip: The best diet plan is one that allows you to choose what, when and how much of certain foods you eat.
Question Four: Does it make bold promises regarding rapid weight-loss without exercise?
Weight loss is possible without exercise; as explained above it’s a matter of calories in versus calories out. However the best way burn more calories than you consume is to reduce your intake slightly through better food choices and increase your calories burned through additional exercise.
Any diet program promising a large, rapid weight-loss without the need for exercise is either a) lying or b) relying on drastic calorie reduction. Neither of these will help you out in the long term.
Take home tip: Sustainable weight loss is best done slow and steady; significant, rapid weight loss is not healthy.
Related Post: Beginners' Guide To Portion Control
Question Five: Is it realistic for your lifestyle?
The way you eat is influenced a lot by your lifestyle. A diet that tells you to eat every three hours won’t work if you work a job that doesn’t allow for that many meal breaks.
A diet that tells you to stop eating after 7pm isn’t realistic if you work late and go to the gym at night.
A diet that restricts carbs is useless if you play a lot of sport and have greater need for glucose to power your muscles.
Think about how following the diet plan will impact and/or interfere with your lifestyle.
Take home tip: If a diet interferes with your life and stops you enjoying food then it’s not going to work for you.
Question Six: Can you eat like this for the rest of your life?
Most popular diet plans are designed for the maximum results in minimum time frame, regardless of safety.
Lasting weight-loss relies on you being able to sustain your new healthy habits for the rest of your life, so if a diet plan is something that you can only realistically follow for a short period of time then it’s not the right one for you. The best diet is the one that doesn’t have an expiry date.
Take home tip: If you can’t stick to a diet for the rest of your life then find one that you can stick to.
Related Post: What Does A Nutritionist Eat In A Day?
There are so many fad diets around, and people who will say anything to take your money. Knowing how to judge a diet plan will help you make informed choices about what's healthy and what will work for you.
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