Dieting. It seems that, if you're on the weight loss train or just keeping an eye on it with boarding pass in hand, there's always something new on the scene. Gluten. Sugar. Carbs. Trans fat. We've been told at separate times that each of these is the reason our society keeps gaining weight and struggling to lose it. If you made a New Year's resolution to either eat healthier or lose weight, this may be the time of year you're just about done trying. After all, sticking to any diet can be a real challenge.
However, there are some scientifically backed ways to shed the pounds. Not all diets are crash fads (although those certainly do exist). Below, we'll take a brief look at what diets have gotten attention, which have garnered results, and which may be best for your lifestyle. Remember, choosing an eating plan that gels well with your regular, daily life often engenders the best results. Starvation diets are impossible to maintain and impact your metabolism negatively. Diets that rule out your favorite foods make it very hard to resist temptation. The magic of a good diet and exercise plan is having your cake, eating it too, and knowing how to easily get back on track.
The Keto diet is a carbohydrate restrictive diet. This means that foods like bread, noodles, rice and other starches or flour based foods are strictly reduced. Instead, high fat foods like cheeses, yogurts, and tree nuts are encouraged to be the main staples of meals. In fact, the focus on abundance of fat but strictly monitored carbs leaves those adhering to this diet with a breakdown of about 75% fat and less than 5% carbs on their plates.
The diet works by putting the body in a state of ketosis, which basically means that the body starts to depend on elements in the blood supply for energy, instead of getting energy through the breakdown of carbs. This usually leads to low levels of insulin that are steady.
Image: iStock / adogslifephoto
This is why some diabetics as well as epileptics use this diet as part of a medical regimen.
One of the biggest drawbacks of this diet is the possibility of slipping into ketoacidosis. This is when, instead of supplying the body with the energy it needs in a slow, steady way, the blood turns acidic. This condition requires the intervention of a doctor immediately, though going into full blown ketoacidosis due to diet alone is rare. More commonly, the state is reached by diabetics who have elevated levels of both keytones and glucose in the blood stream or by those with frequent, severe intoxication.
Weight Watchers focuses on supporting the journey and having a tribe of people at the same stage supporting each other. Also, the system, which charges a subscription fee, assigns a point value to every food. Therefore, a dieter can eat what they want as long as they stay in their point range. Points can be calculated via an app or through the brand's website. A lot of foods have a zero point rating- like fruits, vegetables, eggs, and skinless poultry.
In general, the diet aims to help subscribers eat healthier with lower fat foods as well as ones which are less processed.
One obvious drawback of this diet plan is the ongoing cost. People do see results, and the diet plan itself rates high in long term success. However, some people get frustrated with the weekly weigh ins, not seeing the immediate or shocking weight loss they expect on weeks where they feel they've really put in the work. The support may help, but some dieters feel stuck when this happens.
This diet is exactly what it sounds like. Dieters eat mostly (or, rarely, entirely) uncooked, unprocessed foods. That means that there are no breads, no starchy snacks, and no grilled goodies. Some do eat meat like sashimi or tartar. Others also consume cheese that's made from unpasteurized milk. This diet can work, and scientists have found that over a period of time it helped people lose that stubborn belly fat that refuses to come off with many other lifestyle changes.
The negatives on this list are many. It can be incredibly expensive since these foods don't tend to last in the pantry and fridge. Also, it can require frequent, time consuming meal prep in order to feel full during a busy week. People who adhere to this diet religiously say they depend on additional appliances to help them feel as though they have options. There're dehydrators, blenders, and food processors that reach into the hundreds of dollars.
One thing to know is that the Atkins diet has changed. It is no longer the meat-only stereotype we tend to think of when this regimen is mentioned. Atkins has made room for vegans and vegetarians in their lifestyle suggestions. This includes the eating of high fiber vegetables, but the diet is a strict form of carb monitoring. Specifically, the diet is a means to staying away from refined carbohydrates and, specifically, sugar. If you love baked goods and sweets, this may not be the right weight loss choice for you. One bonus in this diet is that it doesn't ask for portion control or calorie counting. The only thing that a dieter has to keep track of is the carbs they eat. It also doesn't require a devotee to exercise. If you're not into running, boxing, or hot yoga this may be the way to go.
The drawbacks of this diet are mostly medical in nature. If you have anything less than kidneys functioning at 100%, the Atkins diet can cause strain on these organs. It can increase the formation of kidney stones and may lead to osteoporosis, as this kind of eating forces the kidneys to filter more calcium into the urinary tract.
The Paleo diet didn't really start making a splash until 2002, although it was first mentioned in the 70's by a doctor named Walter Voegtlin. The entire thought process behind this lifestyle is that humans should eat what nature provides, specifically what our early hunter-gatherer ancestors had available to them. The claim is that our bodies weren't meant to be farm fed, which means that foods like dairy, breads, and potatoes are off limits. Meat should ideally be wild or grass fed. This can lead to higher food costs, if such meats and organic fruits and veggies are available in your locale. There are products to help you get started and begin to figure out what is and is not allowed in this lifestyle plan. Thrive Market sells a starter pack for $66.69.
Image: iStock / nito100
One major point in the negative for this diet is the restrictiveness of it. No breaded wings. Absolutely no doughnuts. No processed sugars, period. Exactly no mashed potatoes. Or honey. Or soda. That can be hard to adhere to long term, especially after the weight comes off and you're trying to maintain. Also, industry experts warn that the paleo way of thinking oversimplifies such things as diet and metabolism. Many things farm produced have health benefits including whole wheat products and low fat yogurts.
Mommyish has done an in depth piece on intermittent fasting here. The major takeaway is this, "THE MAJORITY OF THE RESEARCH ON INTERMITTENT FASTING SHOWS THAT IT’S MORE SUCCESSFUL AT HELPING PEOPLE LOSE WEIGHT THAN TRADITIONAL CALORIE-CUTTING DIETS." There are lots of scientifically backed positive outcomes of successful intermittent fasting. It's been shown to protect against some heart diseases and cancers. This style of fasting may help improve memory. It also "trains" the body to use calories more efficiently and reduced those fat stores that can easily get out of control. One diet review from Harvard says that, "Physiologically, calorie restriction has been shown in animals to increase lifespan and improve tolerance to various metabolic stresses in the body." Some people fast in the 5:2 method, meaning they eat regularly five days of the week and fast for two (eating less than 500 calories total on those days). Others fast using the 16:8 method. This breaks down to eating in an eight hour window every day and fasting for the remaining sixteen hours.
This is not a magic solution however. Intermittent fasting is certainly not for everyone, especially those with a proclivity toward eating disorders. It's less of a diet and more of a lifestyle choice. While you don't have to count calories, carbs, or anything else except hours, there are those who definitely would struggle with the initial feelings of hunger. It's also not the most socially conducive plan. On fasting days, it can be hard to 'grab a drink' or 'get lunch' with friends who aren't utilizing the same method.
Lemon has long been touted as a health booster. Yet, is it fact or an old wives tale? Science says that certain components in lemons (specifically diosmin and it's partner, hesperidin) do improve cholesterol levels. Also, lemons are known to make urine less conducive to the carrying of kidney stones. Those that get them frequently are often recommended to increase their lemon consumption. This diet utilizes lemons' multifaceted health benefits but in somewhat of an extreme way. The detox asks a dieter to devote anywhere from ten to forty days to a lemon, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper concoction only.
Image: iStock / oxyzay
This means, during the detox, no solid food passes an adherent's lips. The special drink is supposed to be consumed at least eight times a day, as a means of staving off feelings of hunger. This is definitely calorie restrictive, as the drink only contains about 100 calories per serving. It has been shown to help drastically reduce weight, and women who fasted for an entire week using the lemon potion lost about six pounds during that time.
The negatives of this diet plan seem pretty in your face. Not many people can go that long without eating anything of significance. Doctors rate this diet very low on the health scale and remind people that no research has shown that it actually reduces the levels of toxins in the body. Even though many people experience legitimate weight loss during the lemon fast, afterward there is no maintenance plan except to redo the detox as needed.
The South Beach Diet was created by a cardiologist and promises rapid weight loss during the first few weeks of following its eating guidelines. It's often referred to as a modified low carb diet, meaning it does aim to control carbohydrate intake but not as harshly as the keto diet or other low carb methods. Unlike a lot of other diets on this list, the South Beach diet stands out as one that promotes exercise along with adjusted eating.
Image: iStock / tashka2000
For the first two week period, lean meats and healthy fats are the main staples of meals. Unlike many other carb concerned diets, the South Beach diet does limit fat intake as well. For that first two week period, neither fruits or alcohols are allowed.
There aren't too many drawbacks to this diet, unless you count it's limited sugar allowance. At 100 calories, an adherent could possibly eat half a doughnut as their sweet treat for the day. However, the diet was designed by a doctor, specifically to help patients with heart problems or in the pre-diabetic stage. It's healthy, and it rates high in sustainability.
If you're anything like us, you didn't know this was an actual thing. However, we now know that rumors flew that this diet is what helps Jennifer Aniston look not a day older than her Friends fame. It's pretty much exactly what the name implies. For two meals a day, people substitute actual eating for the consumption of baby food. Some use up to fourteen containers of the mushy stuff to replace the calories they would get from regular meals. Others use less, aiming for calorie restriction.
Image: iStock / a_namenko
At dinnertime, followers of this plan can have whatever they want since they've spent most of the day on a type of fast. Baby food tends to be low in carbohydrates, low in sodium, and low in sugar. Therefore, in its own weird way, it has a lot in common with other diets.
The points in the negative column for this eating method are pretty simple. Baby food can be hard to stomach, though not literally. Many adults won't feel satisfied not having to chew, and without seasonings and spices the food can seem utterly bland. While it is healthy, we wonder how long someone can really stay on it. If that's the plan, a food processor is definitely going to become a necessity.
This diet is about, you guessed it, volume. It promises you can eat more, feel full, but still lose an average of one to two pounds per week. How? The diet takes into consideration the water volume of each food, letting you eat a lot of low calorie, high in water density foods so that you'll feel full. Salads and soups make up a big part of this diet, allowing subscribers to eat as much as they want but still consume fewer calories than they would be indulging in burgers or pizzas. Things like fresh fruits and veggies are encouraged, and processed foods like cheerios or pasta noodles aren't discouraged, just monitored. The good news on this one is that science has supported it. The weight loss is steady, easy to maintain when you figure out which foods are water rich instead of calorie dense, and comes from the mind of a highly regarded nutritionist.
So what are the drawbacks? Volumetrics means putting in the time cooking at home. It's not a diet that adjusts to a busy life, social or career wise. Most meals take prep time, and not all people want to spend the time and mental math skills calculating the energy density of their foods.