There are a LOT of diets out there that all promise the same thing – weight loss, and a healthier lifestyle, but with so many options, and so many claims that they work, which one is the best?
Think about it, Keto, Paleo, Atkins, Mediteranean, South Beach, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Vegan, Vegetarian, Carnivore… The list is ridiculously long. In my research, I actually saw where U.S. News has an article titled 41 best diets overall. Seriously? 41 DIFFERENT diets? How many do you need?
The simple fact is the best diet is whichever one is healthy and limits your calorie intake that you can stick with – forever. Because of this, and my curious nature, I’m a fan of diets that seek to teach you how to eat healthy. Additionally the best diet needs to be easily modified to help you maintain your goal weight once you’ve attained it. Anything less than this and I fear you’ll likely find yourself re-gaining the weight that you’ve lost and beginning again a year or so later, hopping on the oh-so-popular trend of yo-yo dieting that we see so often in the western world.
Having said that, and before we dive into the meat of this, I have one more cautionary note: Once you’ve picked a diet plan that meets the criteria I’ve laid out above, stick to it. DO NOT hop off of it because you have a friend, or saw an ad online that promises faster weight loss than what you’re experiencing. That’s a one way ticket to failure. ’nuff said. Let’s look at things.
How Much Weight Is Safe To Lose Per Week?
First things first, let’s dive into safety. For MOST PEOPLE, a loss of 1-2 pounds per week is generally considered safe. That number is going to vary depending on a lot of factors, such as how much you weigh in the first place, are you pregnant or breastfeeding etc. For example, a pound or two every week or two is probably a safer number if you’re breastfeeding (but check with your doctor!). If you’re really overweight, then you may see bigger losses for awhile. And if you’re just starting out, it’s not uncommon to see a big loss the first couple of weigh-ins, but if you’re being healthy about how you’re losing weight, then you can expect those big numbers to change into a pound or two a week as you progress. You’re not doing anything wrong, you’re just being safe about your approach – stick with it!
Why Do I lose Weight On A Diet
This is – in my opinion – the answer that really matters to understand why ANY diet is successful. If you search this online, you’ll find a lot of confusing information and I think that information is because of the close relationship between diet and health. The simplest answer is you lose weight on a diet because you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in.
Unfortunately, it’s not JUST that simple. If it were, then the easiest way to lose weight would be to simply starve yourself, but our bodies are designed to fight starvation. It’s those internal mechanisms that lead to so many different fad diets. Each of them is designed to try to take advantage of an aspect of our physiology. For example, no or low carb diets are trying to balance our desire for energy rich foods by replacing simple carbohydrates (and in some cases even complex carbs) with fats, or protein. These have a double whammy effect of also cutting the amount of table sugar we’re consuming which as we learned in the blog post “Sweet deception: the uncomfortable truth about sugar” can also turn off our body’s natural fat burning process. So by limiting our simple carb intake, we’re keeping our fat burning turned on and tryingto force our bodies to burn stored fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. The downside is your body needs carbs to stay healthy – it’s one of the 3 macronutrients that a healthy system needs. That means a long term low or no carb diet simply isn’t healthy (at least based on the information I’ve learned). You can analyze any fad diet in a similar fashion that seeks to remove an otherwise healthy aspect of your diet in the name of weight loss.
If you throw the health aspect out the window, then technically, you could probably lose weight eating nothing but junk food. The problem is you wouldn’t be able to eat much before reaching your calorie limit for the diet to work – so you’d be hungry all the time, and your health would be going down the toilet.
My problem with fad dieting is that most are unsustainable. You’re not going to want to lead a life where you never enjoy a carb, or eat everything on a bed of lettuce. So the important thing to do is to learn about your macronutrients (hint – start here) and your micronutrients (those are here) and tailor a diet for yourself that feeds your body the nutrition it needs, but contains the foods that you love to eat. Once you’ve done that, determine how many calories per day you should be consuming (There’s a great tool for that here that even calculates for weight loss). Once you have these variables in place, look at ways you can reduce your caloric intake by substituting ingredients for lower calorie options in recipes, consuming smaller portions, and adding exercise into your daily routine (we’ll get to exercise in a minute).
Sure my way is a lot of work, but doing it this way, you’re going to understand how not only to lose weight, but how to find a healthy way of eating that’s right for you. That means that you’ll establish a new eating lifestyle that’s sustainable and enjoyable and you’ll know how to modify it when needed to lose a few pounds if you want to.
Are All Calories Created Equal?
There’s a lot of debate about this, and The general consensus seems to be “no” but again, based on my earlier statement, I think that from a STRICT weight loss (not health) perspective, then yes, they’re all the same. A calorie is simply a measurement for a unit of energy. By that metric, an inch is an inch right? The area that grays this somewhat is when you look at HOW your body uses that calorie. There’s a difference in a calorie of protein that your body uses to build muscle tissue, and a calorie from a potato chip that gets converted into sugar and stored as fat. It’s not so much the calorie that’s different, it’s what it turns into. Our friends at Healthline have a great article on The 20 Most Weight-Loss-Friendly Foods on The Planet if you want to delve into foods that might be good additions to your diet based on how your body uses them.
A Few Tips To Help You Establish Your New Healthy Diet
- Avoid or limit processed foods – If it’s pre-made and all you have to do is eat it or heat it up, then you should probably not eat it if you’re trying to lose weight. There are far too many elements out of your control in foods like this, and portion sizes can be deceptive when trying to determine calories and how much you want to eat to feel satisfied.
- Limit sugary foods – start with eliminating sodas and juices from your diet except in small amounts. Water should be your go to drink. Next limit sweets – consider healthy dessert options for most meals – fruit for example, and cut cookies and other sugary treats down to a few times a week.
- When selecting foods for your meals, remember how our ancestors probably ate. Our bodies are naturally most capable of eating the same diet they’ve been accustomed to for hundreds of thousands of years, before snack cakes and burger joints were everywhere. Your plate should probably be mostly leaves and veggies, fruits secondarily and meat last (it was a lot harder to get for a few millennia).
- The scale is your friend. Most people will NOT agree with this advice, but if you’re like me, I weigh myself every day. I don’t do it because I want to harshly judge my successes and failures. I fully realize that my weight may be falsely up one day over another due to a variety of factors (like sodium intake the day before). I weigh myself daily so that I can look at the number over time and see the peaks and valleys of my weight loss trending downward over time. It helps me feel more accountable. I like the daily weigh in as well because I realize that a weekly weigh in can be blown if I have a cheat day a day or two before the weigh in. A weekly weigh in can really bring me down if it’s up over the previous week by a pound due to a bad day of food. Daily, I feel far less pressure. But that’s me – if it doesn’t help you, then by all means, ditch the scale and go off of the far more reliable advice of paying attention to your body, your measurements and the way your clothes feel.
- Learn your portion sizes:
What About Exercise?
This is going to sound weird on a fitness blog, but exercise is vastly overestimated when it comes to dieting to lose weight. Your success in losing weight is probably around 70% food based, and 25-30% exercise based.
BUT! (You knew it was coming right?) exercise burns calories – which means that you can consume a little more food and still lose weight – just don’t use it as an excuse to ruin your diet! And muscle tissue naturally burns more calories than fat. According to a Web MD article, 10 pounds of muscle would burn 50 calories a day spent at rest, while 10 pounds of fat would only burn 20 calories. So by adding muscle mass to our bodies, we can effectively impact the number of calories our resting metabolism burns. We’re not talking about massive numbers here – 10 pounds of muscle is a lot to put on strictly for the benefit of a 30 calorie advantage over fat, but every little bit counts!
So the takeaway from all of this is: the definitive guide to weight loss is you need to take an active interest in the science behind it and find what works best for your individual scenario. I think I’ve given you a decent primer here, and provided some links to help you gain a deeper understanding of it. Using this knowledge, you can customize a program that works for you, and not rely on a fad that might work in the short term, but isn’t a sustainable lifestyle for your lifetime health goals.
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