You’ve probably had your fill of elections over the last few months.
But, don’t worry, this article isn’t trying to convince you of one diet over another.
But since all of them claim to be superior, it can be hard to know which ones are worth trying.
The truth is that no one diet is best for everyone — and what works for you may not work for someone else.
So, with that said, let’s look at the pros and cons of popular diets so you can make an informed decision for yourself.
Low-Carb Diets (Think Keto)
Low carb diets have been popular for decades — especially for weight loss – and the best known one right now is the keto diet.
Here’s the lowdown in brief: eat foods high in fat, with moderate protein and cut carbs completely.
A real keto diet is high fat (75 per cent of calories) with an extremely low carbohydrate intake (less than five per cent of calories) and low-ish protein intake (15-20 per cent).
The primary aim of the diet is to force your body to use more fats for fuel instead of carbs as a main source of energy.
Numerous studies have shown low-carb diets as an effective method for weight loss, especially in overweight and obese individuals.
They also tend to reduce your appetite and reduce cravings in some, leading to an automatic reduction in calorie intake.
There’s also some research indicating positive outcomes on many major disease risk factors, such as blood triglycerides, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, insulin levels, and blood pressure.
It’s highly restrictive. You can’t eat carbs to any great degree. Studies show the average dieter spends about six weeks following keto or paleo protocols — followed by 14 weeks off the plan. Often, they end up gaining more weight after the diet than where they started.
If you can live without carbs, this is a viable option. Even striving to limit your carb intake and slipping up here and there could still work due to a reduction in overall calorie intake, but it could create an unhealthy relationship with food.
The Vegan Diet
This one restricts all animal products for ethical, environmental, or health reasons. Ethical reasons aside, this article will focus on its role in weight loss.
(Veganism is also different from vegetarianism, as it eliminates dairy, eggs, and animal-derived products, such as whey, while the latter does not).
A vegan diet seems to be very effective at helping people lose weight — often without counting calories — because its low fat and high fiber content lead to reduced calorie intake.
One 18-week study showed that people on a vegan diet lost 9.3 pounds more than those on a control diet. The vegan group was allowed to eat until fullness, but the control group had to restrict calories ( Source).
However, calorie for calorie, vegan diets are not more effective for weight loss than other diets (Source). You’ll notice a theme here with most of these diets: weight loss is driven by a reduction in overall calorie intake.
Because vegan diets eliminate animal foods completely, you may have to supplement a new micronutrients typically derived from meat, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, iron, calcium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Similar to the keto diet, it’s also restrictive by eliminating an entire food group. This may make it hard to adhere to the diet, though the food industry has taken strides to adapt and offer more meat alternatives for non-meat eaters.
It’s also challenging with this diet – albeit not impossible – to meet your protein needs. Why does that matter? Because the vast majority of weight loss studies show that as much as 20-30 per cent of the weight lost during dieting is from lean body mass, including muscle mass. That’s not good. Maintenance of muscle mass is important for everyone who wants to tone and tighten along the way and maintain a healthy basal metabolic rate (BMR) in the end so weight maintenance becomes easier. Strictly from a weight loss perspective, diets high in protein consistently perform best for fat loss (not just weight loss).
The Paleo Diet
The “caveman diet” as it were, this one appears to have fallen a bit out of favour in recent years.
While it’s debatable whether this diet really provides the same foods of our ancestors, the general premise is a good one: eat whole foods and limit processed junk.
It may take it one step too far by restricting sugar, dairy and starchy grains entirely, which are fine to eat if you have no pre-existing intolerances.
A number of studies have shown significant weight loss and reduced waist size by following a paleo diet.
Following a paleo diet automatically leads to reduced carb and calorie intake with more protein to compensate. That’s a winning formula. Much like the aforementioned diets, it can improve health markers over time.
The paleo diet also tells you what you can and cannot eat, and that typically isn’t condusive to strong adherence over the long haul, unless you can live without indulging in your favourite ice cream.
The Carnivore Diet
The Carnivore Diet is in polar opposition to the vegan diet, requiring its followers to only eat meat, fish and other animal-based products like eggs and dairy. Everything else must go.
According to an article on Heathline, the Carnivore Diet stems from the controversial belief that human ancestral populations ate mostly meat and fish and that high-carb diets are to blame for today’s high rates of chronic disease.
Popularized by Shawn Baker, a former American orthopedic doctor, the diet has you aim to eat zero carbs, and proponents claim it can lead to weight loss and a host of health benefits.
If you’re a big meat eater who never bores of steak, then you may have found your diet.
It has not been researched in depth in the medical community to prove the validity of its claims. Baker’s medical license was also revoked by the New Mexico Medical Board due to concerns about his competency.
Tracking Macros/Counting Calories
The term “tracking macros” simply means logging the foods you eat on a website, app or food journal.
Once an arduous task, apps now exist that calculate your macros as you log your food. There’s a learning curve in the early going, and a digital food scale may be necessary until you get to a point where you can guesstimate your portions.
When a client signs up with me, one of the first things we do is start by tracking food intake. This helps us quickly identify the little tweaks needed that make a big difference.
The real magic is in empowering you with the know-how to understand the nutritional makeup of your food, how to read nutrition labels and take control of your food choices.
As long as you stay within your calorie budget each day, no food is necessarily off limits.
Now, if your goal is weight loss, you probably understand you can’t eat your favourite dessert every night and expect to make progress, especially if it’s something you binge eat. But at least it’s an option when you plan for it once in awhile. That gives you something to look forward to.
It can be time consuming at first. There’s also been some recent research suggesting food tracking apps exasperate eating disorders. If you have a history of eating disorders, a balanced approach around portion control without counting may suit you better.
The Best Diet Is The One You Can Stick To
All the approaches above tend to boil down to a couple guiding principles: eat less calories, eat more lean proteins and/or greens and eat less processed foods.
According to a review on Examine.com, “Independent of your diet’s macronutrient ratios, a negative energy balance (consuming fewer calories than your body needs) is responsible for weight loss.”
In summary, provided you get your calorie intake right, eat protein and exercise, you’ll have the foundations in place.
In a perfect world, you can start by sticking to a similar diet to the one you are already doing, but find a way to eat calories overall.
In the end, you do you. Elect the diet you think suits your lifestyle best and allows you to stick to it long enough to see permanent results.
Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based weight-loss coach. Want his help finding the best approach for you? He’s got a brand new case study coaching opportunity starting Nov. 1 for at least 5 committed people ready to get a jump on the new year. If you want to lose 1-2 pant sizes and up to 20 pounds in 8 weeks, email him with the subject “Interested” to firstname.lastname@example.org.