It seems like there are countless diets out there, all promising to be the most effective way to shed those unwanted pounds. While these diets might have unique labels and marketing the ones that actually work really take one of three approaches, they are either calorie controlled balanced diets, low fat diets or low carbohydrate diets. To make things slightly more complicated some are a combination of two of the above, but their main underlying philosophy will typically be built upon one of the three. As always make sure you work with your doctor in deciding which diet to follow and how to follow it. Which one works? Well they all do, depending on the individual, their time frame and their goals. So instead of looking at it as picking the “best” diet you need to pick the one that is best for you.
Calorie Controlled Balanced Diet
This is by far the healthiest option assuming you don’t have medical conditions that dictate otherwise. This diet is a very simply approach, eat from proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in smaller portions and consuming a reduced number of calories a day leads to weight loss. Generally this is a very effective and healthy way to lose weight, but it doesn’t always work for everybody in every unique situation with that individual’s self determined time frame. However long term this is an ideal diet and in fact it really isn’t a diet but rather sound nutrition. The ability to easily vary your calories should make it easier to keep your body in a calorie deficit which is the basis of weight loss. To follow this type of diet simply figure out the amount of calories you burn in a day (there are a ton of calorie calculators on line, just Google how many calories do I need a day) and reduce that number, the more you reduce it the greater the weight loss should be, up to a point. Please remember the lowest medically recommended daily caloric intake for men is 1500 and 1200 for women. Many of the popular prepackaged meal plan diets follow this strategy. While they might have slight differences these diets tend to follow a 1 part fat, 2 parts protein, 3 parts carbohydrates strategy (a time proven balanced diet) while eliminating bad fats (think trans fat) and bad sugars (think candy bars). This is the way I eat most of the time (with the exception of my cheat times and when I am looking to cut weight) I can easily maintain my weight following this program but can’t really lose weight without a very drastic reduction in calories (under 1000 a day) and that drastic calorie reduction makes it impossible to keep my workouts up so I don’t use this type of program for weight loss but rather weight maintenance. A day of eating on this type of program looks like this, with meals eaten every two to three hours:
• Breakfast – oatmeal with raisins and cinnamon and sausage
• Snack – fruit and a handful of almonds
• Lunch – turkey sandwich on whole grain, rye or wheat, with cheese, a handful of baby carrots and a fruit
• Snack 2 – Yogurt and granola
• Dinner – grilled chicken or fish, sweet potato and a mixed green salad
• Snack 3 – Yogurt and fruit
There are a lot of options on this type of plan, the above is just an example based on my own experiences.
Low Fat Diet
A low fat diet is really a twist on calorie reduction since a gram of fat has 9 calories while a gram of protein and a gram of carbohydrates only have 4 calories. Low fat diets do not mean no fat, because some fats are essential to how your body operates. Low fat is generally considered less than 30% of your total calories coming from fat, so these diets aren’t as simple as they seem since you have to track both total calories and how many of those calories come from fat. The most effective low fat diets also focus on keeping the total daily caloric intake down and eating smaller meals every two to three hours. For me low fat diets are a bit too much math, so although I don’t eat Trans fats and avoid other bad fats I have never really followed a low fat diet. However someone I know has and here is her typical day of eating while on this type of diet:
• Breakfast – oatmeal and one cup of milk
• Snack 1 – 1 cup 1% fat cottage cheese and half a can of pineapple chunks
• Lunch – turkey, tomato and cheddar on whole wheat
• Snack 2 – low salt crackers and turkey
• Dinner – grilled fish, mixed green salad and mixed frozen vegetables
Remember the portion size will contribute to the total per meal calories and the fat needs to be less than 30% of the total daily caloric intake, see like I said way too much math. This type of diet has been shown in recent studies to be the most effective for weight loss for around 40% of the population and some believe that lowering the fat intake lowers cholesterol so despite the math it might be worth a try.
Low Carbohydrate Diet
Low carbohydrate diets are some of the most popular diets on the market today because they generally tend to be the most effective, the quickest, and the easiest to follow. While they will vary in both the amount and types of carbohydrates they allow, their approach to controlling fat intake and their concern for total calories they are all based on the same principle, reduce calorie intake low enough to reduce insulin production to prevent dietary fats from being stored as fat in the body and force the body into a ketosis state where it doesn’t have glucose to use as fuel so the body has to cannibalize it’s stored fat for energy. While that all sounds good low carbohydrate diets have the potential to cannibalize your hard earned muscle cells as well (thus creating a reduction in your body’s ability to burn calories overall since muscle burns much more calories than stored fat) and has the potential to cause damage to your liver. There is also the potential for a low carbohydrate diet can reduce your energy to exercise but studies have suggested that this problem can be negated if the diet contains relatively high amounts of fat (which risks increasing your cholesterol so be careful). There is a lot of controversy regarding the overall health benefits of low carbohydrate diets but studies have shown that they are the single most effective type of diet for around 45% of the population, and their ease in execution make them the basis for such popular diet programs as Adkins, The Zone, and The South Beach Diet. Low carbohydrate diets are also the go to diets of many fitness professionals (including yours truly) as well as many of the fitness competitors and fitness models whose pictures in health magazines make the rest of us feel the need for chocolate. Most of us in the industry will cycle our low carbohydrate diet either by going on it for a short period of time then returning to a balanced diet before beginning another low carbohydrate cycle (I will typically do three to four weeks of low carbohydrates followed by two to three weeks of a balanced diet before another three to four weeks of low carbohydrates) or will do their carbohydrate cycling by having low carbohydrates for one, two or three days and then having high carbohydrates for the same number of days and repeating until you reach your weight loss goal. This prevents muscle loss common on low carbohydrate diets and the smarter of the two strategies is to cycle every day or two since that will work best to protect your liver, keep your energy levels high and prevent muscle loss. Another approach is to eat low carbohydrates for five days in a row and follow that with one to two days of eating high carbohydrates. You can play around with different combinations of cycling, I use three weeks on two weeks off because it is the simplest one for me to follow; the main goal is to prevent muscle loss and liver damage by limiting the amount of time you spend on a low carbohydrate diet. Like the low fat diet to be effective a low carbohydrate diet also has to reduce the total daily caloric intake and should consist of meals eaten every two to three hours. Here is a typical low carbohydrate day for me:
• Breakfast – egg white omelet and turkey sausage
• Snack 1 – protein shake
• Lunch – turkey wrapped in cheddar cheese mixed greens salad with oil and vinegar dressing
• Snack 2 – cheese and almonds
• Dinner – grilled chicken and large mixed green salad with cucumbers and tomato and oil and vinegar dressing
• Snack 3 – sugar free Jell-o
• Before bed – casein protein shake
Remember whichever diet approach you take get the advice of a trusted medical professional to protect your overall health while shedding those unwanted pounds and make sure you don’t do more harm than good by cycling a low fat or low carbohydrate diet. Lastly remember that any sound diet involves overall daily caloric intake restrictions and eating every two to three hours, so if you see a diet that recommends otherwise move on to the next one.