No matter the reason for losing weight, it is no secret that there are 1,001 approaches to doing it. You have probably heard success stories from people who subscribe to a low-carb approach, as high-protein diets have exploded in popularity. Perhaps you are more curious about a vegan or ketogenic diet. The decision about which plan to follow can be overwhelming. There are many great diets out there that have a proven track record of success. Each one takes a different approach toward the same goal. Considering that, how can you best choose the diet that will work for you when there are so many options?
There are online quizzes that ask a few simple questions about your personal preferences and lifestyle to help guide you toward the best choice for you. This can help you hone in on the most important aspects of finding the right program and give you plenty of options. Searching the web can also provide quick reference sources that will help guide your thinking as you come closer to your final decision. Many major online publications have written articles on the subject, including NPR, US News, and Healthline.
Some of the best plans out there rely on fairly simple principles to target problem areas of your body or address specific dietary needs.
Low Carb, Whole Food
A low carb, whole-food approach simply removes foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates from the diet in favor of more non-starchy vegetables and lean protein sources. It operates under the principle that most processed foods (even those advertised as "healthy") contain additives that inhibit weight loss. This plan includes meals centered on chicken, lean beef, and fish paired with leafy greens and a limited amount of whole grains. This plan is a consideration for people aiming to reduce triglycerides, address diabetes, lose belly fat, and who want to see rapid weight loss.
It is important to note that in low-carb dieting, the total elimination from carbohydrates can lead to irritability and confusion. The brain prefers carbs as a form of energy, so this can be a challenging transition for the body. It might not be a good idea to get on this diet cold turkey, but to have a slow transition to where the goal is to eventually minimize carbs rather than cut them out all at once.
Health experts have praised the Mediterranean eating style for years as one of the healthiest on the planet based on research related to overall population lifespan. Eating Mediterranean focuses on fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, flavorful herbs and spices, seafood, and limits eggs, cheese, and poultry. It also emphasizes an active lifestyle and saves sweets and red meat only for special occasions. It also allows room for red wine!
This plan assumes you can manage your hunger intuitively and focuses on overall health rather than weight loss specifically. It is a good choice if overeating or binging is not a problem, but has a somewhat limited food list to stick to.
The Paleo plan follows a similar logic to the low-carb approach by focusing on protein, high-quality fats, and vegetables. Like similar plans, it restricts sweets, starchy veggies, dairy, and many processed foods. This is another diabetic-friendly approach that helps lower blood sugar and improves insulin sensitivity. Research has shown that this is a highly effective method of rapid weight loss, as well.
Paleo's drawbacks are similar to those of the low-carb approach as well. The body needs carbohydrates to function properly, so it is important to understand what nutrients are missing and make substitutions.
Vegan eating can have varying levels of restrictions, depending on a person's personal beliefs. Some vegan diets eliminate all products that are related to animals including those that are not associated with animal "harm". Eggs and honey are good examples of this. Plant-based eating can decrease the risk of some cancers and improve overall health.
Drawbacks to this approach include meal prep time and specialized ingredients. Over time, swaps have been created to substitute for favorite foods the vegan lifestyle eliminates such as cheese, mayo, and yogurt. The ability to incorporate these can help the transition away from foods that may have been part of your routine for years. They tend to be expensive and can be labor-intensive to make, however. Many foods that are created to resemble or taste like "meat", which is growing in popularity, are also highly processed.
Gluten, a protein found naturally in wheat, barley, and rye can cause sensitivity in some individuals. More severe gluten allergies can develop into Celiac disease, which adversely affects the digestive system. Non-Celiacs can benefit from better gut health, reduce chronic inflammation, and boosted energy levels.
Gluten-free living can have many of the same benefits that any low-carb eating plan would have, but it would largely eliminate even whole grains. For individuals with Celiac disease, this is a necessity, but in the weight-loss process, complex carbohydrates in moderation provide nutrient benefits.
Choosing The Right Plan
While all of the above-mentioned examples are good, science-backed approaches to weight loss and improved health, many of them include considerable restrictions. The key to success for any diet is a long-term commitment. After all, weight loss takes time and there can be setbacks along the way. When examining some of the most well-known weight loss plans, there are obvious similarities that suggest a basic set of principles that work for a large number of individuals.
The Mayo Clinic recommends taking a step back before jumping into a plan and evaluating your unique goals, lifestyle, and priorities. As with any plan involving health, the very first step is to consult with your doctor. They will be able to guide you toward common-sense steps to help with your goals based on your medical history. Many things can affect weight gain and loss ranging from metabolic rate to the medications you might be taking. They can also help you establish a baseline for other metrics of good health, such as blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
Armed with all the information you will need from your doctor, you will be ready to approach your goals with a personalized plan of your own. By personalizing your weight loss strategy, you can take into consideration any of your underlying health issues and your unique lifestyle. Consider other programs you may have tried in the past. Did they work for you? Did you find that over time, they were more difficult to stick to because of the restrictions? If you found yourself out to dinner with friends and having a hard time enjoying yourself because you couldn't eat anything off of the menu, did it diminish the overall experience?
Dieting does not have to be a grind from one unappetizing meal to the next. Studies show that severe restrictions on a person's food can lead to binge eating behaviors. Our lives also have a way of evolving. A plan that involves heavy meal prep and a lot of specialized ingredients might be fine for now, but will that be the case a few months or years down the road? Plans that are easily maintained over time typically include foods that are easy to obtain, inexpensive, and simple to prepare.
Some companies use the freedom to eat what you want within a certain budget to play to a person's desire to be flexible. These programs are centered around the ability to eat almost anything that tempts your appetite, within a certain calorie or macronutrient budget. This is a much more personal approach but can be labor-intensive when accounting for portion size and nutrient density.
Flexitarian Dieting (a combination of "flexible" and "vegetarian") approaches losing weight with an overall lifestyle adjustment, rather than a stringent set of rules. In reviewing the dietary plans many people use, there are notable common threads. More vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and less saturated fat and sugar. The flexitarian mindset has several levels that build on one another as you get used to the adjustment. If the average person eats 21 meals in a week, a beginner might commit to between 6 and 8 of those meals being meatless. At an advanced and then an expert level, over 15 meals a week could be converted to plant-based meals. This allows a person to eat foods they are used to on weekly and avoid feeling restricted.
While increasing activity is an important part of improving overall health, much of weight loss is tied to the food that we eat. Each one of us is a unique microbiome. Your DNA is different from that of your parents, siblings, and peers. It stands to reason that what your body responds to while losing weight may not be the same as someone else's. Many of the plans we have discussed offer generalized guidance but do not address your unique physiology. This may make the prospect of planning meals overwhelming, but there are tools out there that can help.
Some companies offer online tools that can help you create your own personalized meal plan that incorporates your unique dietary needs. After taking a brief survey about your personal preferences and goals, a personal shopping list is created to take all the guesswork and research out of stocking your pantry with everything you need.
No matter what plan you decide on, the decision to lose weight and focus on overall health is always a good one. The most important thing to consider when weighing all of the options is what fits most naturally into your current lifestyle. Many mainstream "diets" are just that. Diets. They are designed to be a temporary disruption of eating habits to obtain the desired result. After a while, there is a natural tendency to slide back into old habits that put you in the position to require change in the first place.
Furthermore, no one should live their lives unable to enjoy a slice of birthday cake or go out to their favorite burger restaurant once in a while. Approaching weight loss and health goals as an overall lifestyle change increases the chances that the changes you make will be sustainable over a long period of time, if not forever! Flexibility and adaptability will ensure that the widest variety of food is available for you to enjoy and learn more about.
Making these adjustments does not have to be overwhelming. The internet, your doctor and a variety of reading material can provide you with all the information about a flexible new lifestyle that can help you achieve your goals and get you on the road to better health!