If you follow health and fitness on the internet, you may have noticed that the topic of diets can be more divisive than religion or politics. I once read the comments on an article about the health benefits of avocados that got so insane with personal attacks; I nearly lost all hope in humanity. It’s avocados! Can’t we all universally agree they are healthy and delicious? (You may direct your angry anti-avocado emails to firstname.lastname@example.org) But can’t we all just get along?
If your Aunt Nancy swears by the Keto diet, cousin Sal is Vegan, and your third niece twice removed (is that a thing?) is a Paleo die-hard, then forget politics, conversation over family dinner may not be so pleasant. Who’s right? And more importantly, who is preparing this meal?
Some people treat nutrition like religion. There’s only one true path to the golden ticket to weight loss heaven, and if it’s not the same as what I believe, then you’ll suffer in eternity… without carbs.
I was invited to the IDEA World fitness convention in Anaheim, California as an influencer with the Shine event. We had an exclusive lunch with the famous-in-my-world Dr. John Berardi, the founder of Precision Nutrition.
I am a level one Precision Nutrition coach, so the opportunity to hear Dr. John Berardi speak during an intimate lunch was a real privilege. One of the reasons I love Precision Nutrition is that they are diet agnostics; That means they don’t believe in one perfect diet for all people. They teach that each person can figure out what works best for them, and they don’t have to listen to a guru on the internet, their co-worker, or even their coach for the best diet. They get to experiment and decide for themselves what kinds of foods make them look, feel, and perform their best.
What a breath of fresh air.
You mean there’s not one diet or way of eating that is 100% effective for every human on this earth? Of course not. Some of us have a higher tolerance to carbs than others. Some people have food allergies and sensitivities that require limiting certain foods. We all have different preferences, lifestyles, backgrounds, and heritage that influence how we eat, and how our bodies respond to food.
Dr. Berardi said something in his speech over lunch that resonated with me. He said that while everyone is fighting about how their diet is different, and therefore the best and the only way, they are largely ignoring the fact that most effective diets have more in common than not.
Do you mean Vegans (no animal products) and Paleo (largely meat-based) dieters have something in common?
Do Keto (high fat, very low carb) followers and vegetarians (generally high carb) have similarities?
People on Weight Watchers (uses a points system) and IIFYM (counts macros) have a common thread?
Bodybuilders (usually high in starchy carbs) and Whole 30 (no wheat or dairy) fans can relate?
No matter what method you choose to find the right balance of energy (calories to fuel you) and whole food nutrition, effective and healthy diets have more in common than differences. Although they may take different approaches to the same end goal, when done correctly, they’re more alike than not.
Qualities of an Effective Diet
What makes a diet effective? A diet works if the person on it can healthily lose weight and sustain it over a long-term (five years is considered standard for permanent weight loss). If you want to achieve that result by eating carbs (or not as many), or eating meat (or not), or eating only plants, that is your choice.
An effective fat loss diet puts you in a calorie deficit.
One thing all these diets have in common is that they put you in a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit means you burn or use more calories than you consume. Some people do it by reducing carbs, and some people do it by eliminating meat, while others achieve it with portion control. Whatever method makes the most sense for you and your lifestyle is the right way to go. There's more than one path to a healthy calorie deficit.
An effective diet focuses on whole foods and lots of vegetables.
These diets may sound wildly different on the surface: a Paleo diet is structured around meat protein and vegetables, and a Vegan diet excludes all animal products, but when done healthily, they both usually focus on consuming whole foods from nature and lots of vegetables.
No matter what diet you choose to follow, choosing minimally processed foods is a healthy way to structure your food choices, regardless of the specifics of the diet.
An effective diet includes complete proteins.
People often give Vegans a hard time about protein. While it takes more thought and strategy to get complete proteins with a Vegan diet, it is possible to thrive with a little research (to understand how to combine foods for a complete protein) and planning. As long as your food choices are providing enough complete proteins to preserve and build (if that’s your goal) muscle while you lose weight, you’re on the right track. An effective diet will have the protein piece covered.
An effective diet is sustainable for your lifestyle.
Some people will die a little on the inside if they go two days without carbs (raises hand). Others could never experience the joys of avocado toast again and feel great. As long as you are not suffering (physically or mentally) for your preferred diet, it is probably sustainable.
Sustainability is the key to a successful diet. Some people find that in a vegetarian diet, some in a low-carb. I find sustainability with balance. If you can do it forever, without feeling deprived, you found the right diet for you.
An effective diet aligns with your values.
A lot of times, a vegetarian or a Vegan dieter choose their foods because it aligns with their values. But other dieters may also eat according to their values: Avoiding processed foods to raise healthier kids might be a personal value. Fueling for sports performance may be a high value to you. If you choose to eat in a way that makes you look, feel, and perform your best, then you’re on an effective diet.
I prefer not to follow any particular diet, but instead choose to make healthful choices in proper portions most of the time, while allowing room for occasional treats and indulgences—This is what I have found works best for me — boring moderation.
You see—John Berardi is correct. While all these popular diets have their nuances, if done correctly and healthily, they actually have a lot in common.
Maybe we can focus on how we’re the same, rather than our differences. Perhaps we can focus on improving ourselves first, rather than spending our energy trying to convince other people (especially strangers on the internet) how they should live their lives — good advice for nutrition and life.
(Un)common sense. Go figure.
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Questions? I’d love to help.