Many of my patients come into my office stating that they want to lose weight and often have difficulty doing so. However, many people have trouble figuring out what they should (or should not) be eating to lose weight. There are many different diets out there that promise quick weight loss and better health. However, the road to weight loss is more about a lifestyle change rather than a restrictive diet. I would like to clear the air regarding the most popular diets out there to help you find what is right for you!
The Paleo Diet is based on the premise of eating only foods that a caveman would eat. This means no grains (that means all bread), dairy, refined sugar, and alcohol. The diet is heavy on meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables.
You will likely lose weight in the short term but probably should not be used in the long term. Your body needs carbohydrates for fuel! This diet can also prove to be more expensive because of the cost of meat. Eating out may prove to be somewhat difficult unless you only order grilled meat and vegetables.
There is a huge following for the Paleo Diet on the internet. You can easily find support groups, recipes, etc. Again, okay for short term weight loss but that is it.
The Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest out there! This diet is based on the dietary choices of people in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. This diet is heavy on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and legumes, olive oil and herbs, and seafood. Poultry, eggs, and cheese are used in moderation. Red meats and sweets are only consumed during special celebrations. A little bit of red wine is okay to include here as well!
Some people are reluctant to adapt to the Mediterranean Diet because of the potential for high fat (olive oil, avocados, cheese). However, the good mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, keep you fuller longer and can actually lower your cholesterol levels. It is the saturated and trans fats that you need to avoid.
The Mediterranean Diet is overall quite healthy and will lead to weight loss if you build a calorie deficit. It should be relatively easy to stick to since it does not restrict any certain foods.
As you know, Weight Watchers has been around for quite some time as it is tried and true! This diet has an emphasis on group support. Weight Watchers gives you a daily and weekly allowance of “points” which are calculated based on nutrition (saturated fat, sugar, protein, etc). The diet kind of forces you to make better food choices in order to stay on track with your points.
People do lose weight on Weight Watchers but it is not a quick fix. Most people can expect to lose about 2 pounds per week. This diet would be easier to maintain in the long-term.
There is a huge following for Weight Watchers online regarding tips, recipes, and support. It’s easy to get started!
Everyone knows about the Atkins Diet and its association with low carbohydrate. You go through four phases of this diet starting with very few carbs and then eating progressively more. You will end up needing to do a little math to figure out “net carbs” and how much should come from whole grains or starchy vegetables.
The main problem with Atkins is that it does not limit the amount of fat that you can eat. While the low-carbohydrate aspect may help you lose weight, the increased fat is not doing any favors for your cardiovascular health.
Atkins is a very restrictive diet and likely would not be successful in the long term. It would be a good idea to discuss with your provider before starting Atkins Diet, especially if you are diabetic.
You likely have heard your friends or family talking about this diet. Whole30 isn’t so much a diet as it is a lifestyle reset button. The founders of Whole30 claim it will help you to reevaluate your food choices, balance your hormones, cure digestive issues, improve medical conditions, and boost energy and immune function. I am not sure that is all true but it has helped people get a jump start on weight loss.
Whole30 involves 30 consecutive days without sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes (think peanut butter), or dairy which are all considered to be inflammatory foods. Sugar substitutes and dairy substitutes (like coconut milk) are cheating! This diet does not recommend snacking, instead you should add more healthy fat or protein to your meals.
Whole30 can present a challenge if you like to eat out or travel a lot for business. Meal planning and prep will likely take up a lot of time.
Overall, I think if you are in good health and want a jump start to losing weight in the short term, Whole30 may work for you.
We have all seen the Nutrisystem commercials and the packaged foods while shopping.
The cornerstone of Nutrisystem is portion control and meal planning via packaged food. It’s kind of a no-brainer since you are outsourcing your meal management tasks. They tell you what to eat and when thus restricting your calorie intake.
Another feature of Nutrisystem is the glycemic index which is a measure of how certain carbohydrates affect your blood sugar. There is a big difference between simple carbohydrates (cakes, donuts) versus complex carbohydrates (brown rice, quinoa).
There are different ways to go about the Nutrisystem diet depending on your weight loss goals. Counselors are available to provide guidance.
Vegetarian and Vegan– what’s the difference?
Vegetarian and vegan diets often involve a sizable lifestyle change.
There are different levels to a vegetarian diet. Some people still include either/or dairy, eggs, and fish. Vegan diets exclude all animal products. Animal products can hide in certain foods you wouldn’t expect (such as gelatin) so you must carefully read the ingredient list.
Weight loss is not usually the primary goal of these diets so much as concern for animal welfare or better health. Some research is needed in order to get the appropriate nutrients. There are a lot of resources online to help with meal planning.
Which diet is best?
That is not an easy question to answer. It all depends on your short and long term goals and your current state of health. In general, you should discuss with your provider before starting any kind of diet.
There is no scientific evidence showing that one diet is superior to another in regards to weight loss. In fact, calorie reduction results in the most clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of focus on macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat). This means that a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from. You could lose weight by eating candy bars everyday if it meant you were burning more calories than you consumed. Check out this study from NIH.
Keep in mind that one pound of fat contains 3500 calories. So to lose one pound per week, you would need to burn approximately 500 calories per day through diet or exercise. There are plenty of resources to help you keep track of calories such as FitBit, CalorieKing, and MyFitnessPal to name a few.
US News and World Report has a great summary of the most popular diets.
I hope this was helpful! Any other diets that you have questions about? Leave it in the comments!
Disclaimer: Information contained in this post should not be substituted for medical advice. If you think you are having a problem, contact your own provider who knows your health history.