When I tell people that I am a nutrition habits coach they often ask, what's the best diet? They must assume that I hold all the dieting secrets, and have the inside scoop of the top secret magic diet that will melt all their fat and therefore, all their problems away. Not so fast.
Let's first talk about the word diet. It has a negative connotation. It is becoming a dirty word in the industry. When I mention striving to eat a healthy diet someone inevitability says, "It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle." I agree, the farther we can get away from food rules, the better off most of us will be.
Your diet is what you eat. You may consume a diet of mostly Cheetos and fast food. While that certainly is not a weight loss diet, it's still a diet. People who have Celiac disease may be on a Gluten-free diet under their doctor's supervision. A weightlifter may be on a high protein diet and an endurance athlete may be on a high carbohydrate diet. Someone who is passionate about animal rights may be on a Vegan diet. Everyone is different and has different dietary needs based on personal preferences, goals and their own body.
There are a lot of weight loss diets circling around. There's the Ketogenic diet, The Atkins diet, the Mediterranean diet. There's Paleo and the Daniel Diet. You may remember once popular diets like Zone diet or the South Beach diet, and while not technically diets per se, concepts like intermittent fasting and Whole 30 have gained popularity. They all follow different protocols but they all promise weight loss results. How can that be?
How do you know which is the best diet? What is actually healthy for your body? Which diet will cause you to lose those extra pounds once and for all? If you've tried everything from Weight Watchers to the Slim Fast diet of the 90s, you may be a little fed up with the whole process of dieting. The only way to tell what is the best diet for you is to try it, and if you tried them all (like I have) you probably have discovered that diets that severely restrict calories, food groups or entire macronutrients are hard to adhere to, and a diet you don't stick with will never work.
The truth is almost any diet will be effective if you can stick to it over the long term. It depends on your lifestyle, your preferences and you own body. Some people thrive on a low carb diet, some people turn into a scarier version of the wicked witch of the west (raises hand!). There is no one best diet for everyone, but there may be a best diet for you.
THE BEST DIET HAS THE FOLLOWING QUALITIES
1. It's sustainable over the long term.
I would advise my nutrition clients not to waste their time with the cabbage soup diet, unless they plan on only eating cabbage soup for the rest of their lives. The problem with short term diets is they provide short term results. Even if you lost the weight on the "magic" cabbage soup diet, you will likely gain it back once you go off the diet. The best diet is one that works with your lifestyle and you can sustain it for life. Don't bother going on and off diets. Experiment to find something you like and that works for you and stick with it.
2. Makes you look, feel and perform your best
There is nothing inherently wrong with trying a new way of eating to see if it will work for you. In fact, experimenting with nutrition is encouraged, how else can you learn what your body prefers and needs? The most important thing is to keep note of how this new way of eating makes you look, feel and perform. Don't try to force something that is not working for you. If you feel terrible all the time, your hair is falling out and you don't have the energy to exercise, then it may be time to reevaluate your diet and make adjustments accordingly. Just because something is working for your gym buddy, doesn't mean it will work for you. Everyone will react a little differently.
With that being said, I will also advise you to give it time, because dietary changes can cause temporary reactions that will pass once your body adjusts. It's like giving up caffeine. You will probably deal with terrible headaches for a few days, but it's just your body adapting to the change. Give any new diet adequate time and evaluate how it makes you look, feel and perform. Always be willing to adjust when necessary.
3. Is well-rounded and it is not severely restrictive.
As humans, we naturally want what we can't have. Any diet that severely restricts calories or macronutrients (like fats or carbs) will be harder to stick to over the long haul for most people. A well-rounded diet will ensure that you are getting the macro and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that your body needs to feel its best. When you severely restrict your intake, the body reacts with strong hunger signals and most people will eventually cave in to the cravings and overindulge in response. Instead of a restrict/hunger/overindulge cycle, most people do best with a more moderate approach to nutrition by eating a wide variety of mostly whole foods from nature, while allowing some room for treats. Everyone is different and should experiment to find the ideal protein, fat and carb balance.
4. Allows for indulgences and life balance
Your diet does not exist in a bubble. You have a life to live and your nutrition is a part of your life, not a separate entity. Maybe you could quit your job and live on a weight loss ranch for six months to achieve results, but most of us have lives, friends, careers and families. We have parties, business meetings and holiday celebrations. Spending time with other people and enjoying yourself is a big part of a healthy lifestyle and if you lock yourself in your room in fear of being exposed to a glass of wine or a carbohydrate, then that's not healthy either. The best diet gives you some breathing room to enjoy life.
5. Puts you in a calorie deficit
I saved the most important point for last. You lose weight when you're in a calorie deficit. That means you lose weight when you consume less calories than you burn. No matter what diet you choose to follow, if you are in a calorie deficit, you will likely lose weight. Of course, it is not always all that simple, because our bodies are complicated, but the first place to start is with a calorie deficit.
If you eat a perfectly organic, grass-fed "clean" diet but still consume more calories than you are burning then you can't expect to lose weight.
One of the reasons that people lose weight on low carb diets is that they stop eating bread, pasta and processed carbohydrates, which cuts out a large amount of calories. One of the reasons people lose weight on low fat diets is because fats have higher calories that carbs and protein, so when you restrict fats, you naturally cut calories. There's no magic in any particular diet. If you work to reduce your calories about 500 a day below what you burn, you should see a 1-2 pound of weight loss per week. (but keep in mind that weight loss is rarely linear. It would be rare to lose two pounds weeks every single week over a long period of time. The two pound a week rule is an average over time.)
If you restrict too much it can have negative consequences. Most people with thrive on a moderate cutback of calories to lose weight. If you are reasonably active, you sleep well, work to keep stress levels low and eat in calorie deficit most of the time, you will likely lose weight. Don't underestimate the importance of sleep and stress management when it comes to fat loss. However, if you seem to be doing everything right but still not losing weight, a doctor or Registered Dietitian can help you run tests to see where there might be other issues preventing fat loss.
WHAT'S THE BEST DIET?
You see, there is no magic shake, drink, pill or food combination that causes weight loss. The most effective diet is one that you will stick to, that makes you look, feel and perform your best, that is well-rounded and allows for indulgences and most importantly, puts you in a calorie deficit.
As a nutrition habits coach, it is not my job to tell my clients what to eat. I help educate them on reading nutrition labels and making healthier choices. I provide them with accountability for the choices they make and help them learn to listen to their bodies so they can eat in a way the works best for them. I have clients on different types of diets that they chose based on their lifestyle, preferences and interests. I don't discourage experimenting with healthy nutrition and I certainly don't tell my clients what they should or shouldn't do. I help them figure out for themselves what version of healthy living works best for their own body. If something they are trying is not working, I help them figure out the next steps.
If you are tired of going on and off diets, yo-yoing in weight or feeling frustrated with the conflicting nutrition information out there, my nutrition habits coaching may be a great fit for you. We build solid healthy habits over time for a sustainable approach to fat loss. Interested? Take this survey to see if you would be a good fit. Try the first month at 75% off.
There is no magic diet, the magic is inside YOU.
Still have questions? I'd love to help.
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