“Julia, what is the best diet to help me lose weight?” is a question I get asked very frequently. While I wish I could give everyone the right answer instantly, unfortunately it’s not that simple!
When someone wants to change their eating habits to lose weight (or, as I suggested in my last post – to reach a different, non-weight focused goal), there are many factors that come into play, and these factors vary significantly between individuals. When it comes to weight loss, not one size fits all, if you’ll pardon the cliché. Aside from how our bodies process food (or other physiologic/biologic factors), our diet and weight are affected by psychological factors, behavior patterns and socioeconomic status among other reasons that vary from person to person. This means that a particular way of eating that works for someone else may not work for you. For example, if you are a busy mom or dad that has to make food for the whole family, a diet that requires a lot of preparation and time (and one that your kids won’t eat) will be difficult to maintain and may not be the best option. The benefit of seeing a nutritional professional like a Registered Dietitian is that they can assess all of these factors and work with you to determine what type of diet best suits your needs.
So, what are the different types of dietary approaches out there that people are using to manage their weight?
· Low calorie and very low-calorie diets: Diets low in calories are the traditional way for people to lose weight. Low calorie and very low-calorie diets can restrict intake to under 800 calories per day, which is significantly less than what the average adult requires. These types of diets are often done for medical reasons and require close supervision by a medical professional.While they can result in rapid and significant weight loss, the physiological and psychological effects of low-calorie diets are numerous – increased feelings of hunger and feeling “hangry”, risk of constipation and fatigue and of course, a high chance of weight re-gain once normal eating is resumed.
· Low carb: Diets that are low in carbohydrate intake (think keto, paleo, etc) are all the rage these days given their effectiveness in relatively rapid weight loss. Restricting carbohydrates to around 20 g per day (the average carb intake for these types of diets) and focusing on higher protein and fat can also help with feeling full and managing blood sugar, aside from weight loss. Additionally, people who follow low carbohydrate diets will inherently consume more veggies and less sugar, processed foods and alcohol. However, this type of diet has its’pitfalls – since sources of carbohydrates (think fruit, whole grains and legumes) are full of fiber and other important nutrients, gastrointestinal Issues like constipation, as well as nutrient deficiencies are somewhat common.Since carbohydrates are our brain’s (and entire body’s) main source of fuel,people may also feel light-headed, tired and foggy, especially at the beginning of a low-carb diet.
· Fasting:Reducing food intake during certain periods of the day, or on certain days, has been shown to help with weight loss in certain individuals. Not really a magic solution, fasting is just another way to reduce overall intake that some people find easier to maintain. Fasting, if done right, has been shown to improve blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity, however, people will(obviously) feel hungry and sluggish during fasting periods, and the jury is still out on the long-term efficacy of this type of eating.
· Elimination diets: People tend to remove certain foods from their diet to both lose weight and because they think they may have a food intolerance or allergy. The upside of this approach is that removing a certain food or nutrient from the diet (i.e. wheat or gluten) often results in eliminating highly processed, high calorie food and beverages, inherently making the diet much healthier. However,this type of diet can be very restrictive, especially if whole food groups are eliminated, and the risks for nutrient deficiencies are high. It’s also difficult to maintain such a restrictive diet in social situations, and it may cause disordered eating behaviors in certain individuals.
· Mindful eating: Focused on developing healthy eating behaviors, mindful eating helps us pay attention to and appreciate the foods we are eating and can help people manage certain eating behaviours such as emotional (eating when bored, stressed, anxious etc.) and environmental(eating in response to what’s happening in your environment, like at a party or other social situation) eating. While mindful eating requires time and a bit of practice, evidence shows long-term efficacy for weight management and is beneficial in helping people develop healthy eating behaviours long-term.
At the end of the day, whatever type of dietary pattern canbe sustained long-term will be most helpful for weight management and overall health. This means that the majority of people who lose weight using fad diets regain most of their weight back (and often times more), as these types of diets are often restrictive and people usually can’t stick with them for very long.
Still confused about weight management and what type of diet makes the most sense for you? Talk to a reputable nutrition professional like a Registered Dietitian to get started.