New year, new me? When the year is about to end, it often feels like we are about to finish a chapter in a book. We are excited for the next chapter and have high expectations in it. We want it to be better than the last one. Luckily, in contrast to reading books, we are the ones who can influence the next chapter tremendously.
Do you remember your last year’s resolutions? What did you do in order to achieve them? What hindered you from where you wanted to be?
New year, new diet?
When it comes to nutrition and weight loss, everyone seems to have the goal to do a little bit better next year. Magazines, TV shows and the internet are full of new fad diets. Don’t we all want to lose weight as quickly as possible?
Unfortunately, a lot of approaches are quite extreme and do not work long-term. You might be able to follow a restrictive diet for some days, but not long-term. Eventually, your body will respond and ask for the energy it requires. Be prepared for mood swings, low energy levels and cravings.
Let’s have a look at five of the current most popular diets.
1. Restricted diet (Crash diet)
There are many diets which promote a weight loss of 10 pounds a week. Cutting off calories strictly does lead to weight loss. But so does having inadequate amount of food available resulting in being malnourished. Our bodies believe it is ‘starving’ when we force it to work with way less calories. All the functions which are not needed for survival are decreased or shut down. Such as, your energy levels, your fertility, sex drive and your brain function.
Decline in resting metabolic rates
Take for example the participants of The 2009 Biggest Loser television series. Everyone regained almost all of the lost weight. Unfortunately, what they did not regain is their resting metabolic rates which has declined. The resting metabolic rate is the number of calories someone requires to support basic and life-sustaining functions, such as breathing and blood circulation.
Even though their weight is almost the same, the series participants are now burning about 700 calories fewer per day than the day they started the challenge. Why? Many factors contribute to individual metabolisms, but my hunch is that the participants didn’t learn sustainable skills, nor did they develop good habits. Instead, they relied on starvation and extremism to force their bodies to change too fast. To compensate, their bodies shut down during the challenge, albeit while shedding pounds. Once they fell off the wagon—and this was inevitable because their programs were too extreme – they rebounded by slowing their metabolism. They are now worse off than if they never joined the challenge in the first place.
Food labels can be off by 20 to 25 percent
Reaching your goal weight is dependent on so many different circumstances. It’s often thought that it’s all about the calorie intake. However, calories on food labels can be off by 20 to 25 percent. Furthermore, each body absorbs food differently. The type of food, gut bacteria, hormonal issues, and calories are all absorbed differently. For instance, eating whole foods can aid in weight loss because we absorb less energy from whole foods than we do from processed products.
2. Low Carb diet
Have you ever wondered what low carb actually means? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that healthy people should get 50–65% of their calories from carbohydrates, that’s around 300 grams per day. Anything less than the recommended range is sometimes considered as ‘low carb.’ This definition is a bit vague. However, if you get less than 30 % of your daily calories from carbs, consider it as low carb. For someone who requires 2,000 calories, that’s around 150 grams carbs per day. That doesn’t sound too hard, does it?
Carbs are not carbs
Did you know that a macronutrient ratio doesn’t say anything about the quality of the nutrients?
Carbs play one of the key roles in our metabolism of fat. While simple carbs such as honey have only one or two units of sugar, complex carbs are composed of three to zillion units. The foods made out of complex carbs (such as quinoa or oatmeal) usually also come with fiber and more nutrients which is the reason why it takes longer for the body to digest. A macronutrient ratio doesn’t take this into account. If you get your carbs only from sweets, but stay below 30 % you can still consider it as low carb. Therefore, you shouldn’t judge a meal by its ratio. A healthy meal comes with qualitative nutrients, which are mostly found in unprocessed foods.
Choose the right foods
If you choose a variety of foods, limiting the carb intake to 30 percent can be a healthy and sustainable approach. Aim for protein with every meal and combine it with some complex carbs like whole grains, quinoa or legumes. Add some nuts, seeds or healthy oil to have a balanced and healthy meal. You don’t need to avoid carbs entirely to go low carb and reach your goal. Continue to read the paragraph about the ketogenic diet to find out why.
3. Ketogenic diet
In contrast to the standard low carb diet, only 5 to 10 percent of your energy come from carbs on the keto diet. Ketogenic diets are known for drastic and quick weight loss. And indeed, if you follow them strictly, you will probably see results pretty fast. However, you might want to read the pros and cons before giving this diet a try.
You have to avoid even small amounts of carbs
Following a keto diet means avoiding foods with carbs. To be precise, it means not eating more than 20 to 30 grams net carbs per day.
You might wonder what net carbs mean. Not all carbs are absorbed by the body. Fibers are actually indigestible carbs. If you subtract the indigestible carbs (fiber and sugar alcohol) from the total amount of carbs, you’ll get the net carbs.
For example, chia seeds have a total amount of 47 grams carbs per 100 grams. However, they are also packed with 40 grams fibers which count into the carbs. So in the end, you only only absorb 7 grams carbs (= net carbs).
As fruits have a lot of carbohydrates, you would have to exclude them. Even many vegetables, nuts and dairy can contain a decent amount of carbs. A medium sized onion contains more than 8 grams net carbs. The foods that are usually low in carbohydrates are meat, fish, eggs and some dairy products.
Protein can kick you out of ketosis
Not only are carbs limited in the keto diet, but also the amount of protein. Proteins can also kick you out of ketosis. When carbohydrates are low, protein can also be broken down into glucose. That’s why you should limit it to 20 to 25 percent of your daily calories.
Should be followed under medical supervision
Ketogenic diets have initially been used to treat diseases like epilepsy. It can be quite tricky to follow and often results in a limited and therefore poor diet. It is actually supposed to be calculated individually for each person and should be followed under medical supervision.
You do require less carbs if you follow a non stressful and sedentary lifestyle. However, it’s different if you work out regularly or have a stressful job. Carbs are essential for the brain, the heart and the nervous system to function properly. You may experience a few side effects like feeling dizzy, weak and having headaches while following the diet. Long-term ketogenic diets can lead to problems where the body enters starvation mode and the most active thyroid hormone, T3, drops. This hormone is really important for a proper metabolism function and blood glucose management.
4. Paleo diet
The paleo diet includes foods which were available to Paleolithic humans. That’s the reason why the diet is also called caveman diet or stone-age diet. Typically foods such as dairy products, grains, regular potatoes, sugar, legumes (beans, peanuts, peas, lentils) processed oils, alcohol and coffee are excluded. Instead, the meals include vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, roots, meat, fish and eggs. There are different interpretations of what is allowed and not allowed in the Paleo diet (it has been revealed that legumes were an important part of our Paleolithic ancestors).
Your calories will mainly come from protein and fat
Since the paleo diet excludes most of our modern main sources of carbs, your only risk of eating too much carbs comes from possibly eating too much fruit or sweet potato. That’s the reason why majority of the people following the diet eat rather low carb.
Less processed food means usually more healthy meals
Often, better energy levels and an improved overall well being are reported. It often does lead to weight loss and health improvements. However, this is mostly due to the fact that the diet doesn’t include processed foods and mainly more healthy and less caloric-dense foods.
A lot of Paleo followers say they struggle with digestive issues when eating grains, gluten, legumes or dairy. However, the digestive abilities of modern humans are different from those living during the stone age. Therefore, the excluded food groups shouldn’t be problematic. Of course, every person and body functions differently. An allergy or intolerance shouldn’t be played down.
Studies show that legumes and whole grains can actually improve our health
Many advocates believe that the change from a hunting and gathering diet (rich in fruits and vegetables) to an agricultural diet (rich in grains) increased modern chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. However, studies show that whole grains and legumes can actually improve our health, including a better blood glucose control, improved blood lipids, less inflammation and a lower risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.
The paleo approach can usually be considered safe, as long as you nourish your body with a variety of different foods and also include some of the allowed carbs like sweet potato. Which are especially important if you’re regularly working out.
5. Juice fasting or detox diet
Juice fasting, also known as juice cleansing, is a diet in which a person only consumes fruit and vegetables juices. It’s usually done in order to “detox” the body or lose weight and lasts for several days to weeks.
Our bodies are destined to cleanse themselves
Almost everything is toxic at some level and we can’t avoid it. Therefore, our bodies are destined to cleanse themselves. Our digestive tract, kidneys, skin, lungs, liver, lymphatic system and respiratory system do a great job of detoxification. Those systems help to eliminate toxic compounds via toilet, sweat or breathing.
Freshly squeezed orange juice contains more sugar than coke
Juice (even from vegetables) contains lots of sugar and drives the blood sugar to high peaks. For example, one glass of orange juice (no matter if freshly squeezed or packaged) contains more sugar than one glass of coke. Of course, coke isn’t the better choice, but it shows that juice should only be consumed sparingly.
Fruit and vegetable juices contain a very small amount of fiber. That’s a problem, because fiber acts like a cleanser. It “cleans” the digestive tract, slows down digestion and aids absorption of nutrients. If you juice orange, kale, celery, ginger or apple, you’ll remove fibers and cell walls. Therefore, the sugar can quickly cross the intestinal barrier and enter circulation. As a result, you might get your nutrients faster but your body doesn’t have to do any work. Your blood sugar, and therefore the metabolism of fat, will be rather unstable.
You’ll be lacking protein, fat and energy
Fruits are high in sugar and therefore carbs, but low in protein and fat. It gives the body way less calories than it requires – even to lose weight. This can make you feel tired and increases the chance of the yo-yo-effect. Because of the calorie deficit, you’ll possibly be losing weight. However, it’s probably muscle mass and water rather than fat. With such low amount of protein and calories, it will be hard for your body to build or even to maintain muscle mass.
The long-term approach
What do these approaches have in common? You’ll mostly be losing weight because you’re giving your body less calories than it requires. You can also lose weight if you only eat chocolate as long as you have an energy deficit. However, strictly reducing calories is unhealthy and makes it likely to regain the lost weight.
As a general guideline, it’s usually considered as healthy and long-term beneficial to lose around 1 pound (0.5 Kg) weekly. Theoretically, this would be caused by consuming 500 calories less daily.
Natural foods are the key
Most diets will most likely ask you to focus on natural foods. Avoiding processed foods means usually less sugar, salt, highly processed fats and calories. Instead, you’ll be nourishing your body with more nutrients, which mostly makes you feel better and is more healthy than the standard Western diet. However, you don’t have to be as restrictive. Pay attention to your choices, but don’t let yourself be influenced by clever marketing.
You don’t have to give up on your favorite treat
If you want to lose weight and maintain it long-term, choose a diet that allows flexibility and takes your preferences into account. A healthy eating lifestyle focuses on plenty of real and whole foods. You don’t have to avoid entire food groups and your favorite treats in order to reach your fitness goals. Occasional indulgences are part of a long-term approach. Many fad diets may show quick results, but I encourage everyone to follow an overall healthy lifestyle and a balanced relationship with food.
Love and health,