It is most confusing, and therefore most frustrating, that every doctor, nutritional expert, fitness enthusiast, friend or colleague seems to recommend a different diet in order to lose weight, gain muscle and look leaner. You decide to make a change, become fit and healthy and you look for the best diet out there. You google it, research it online, you follow experts on social media, you consult your doctor. And chances are you get totally lost in your search and find conflicting and contradictory advice.
When I wanted to lose my weight (see my blog The Habits That Helped Me Lose 30 Kilos And Keep Them Off) I started with little, obvious things, such as cutting out sweets and eating less. Later on I started reading about nutrition and animal protein (The China Study) and I really wanted to try a vegan diet. I had had issues with how we treat and slaughter animals for a long time, but couldn’t sustain a vegetarian diet since I do not like cheese. And every vegetarian dish seemed to include cheese! But the vegan diet does exclude all animal protein, including dairy, so that really opened my eyes and I found some fantastic recipe books (see for an example my blog on a great Basic Vegan Cookbook) that made the switch really easy. And I had never felt better. But getting into exercising, finding a passion for it and becoming a Personal Trainer exposed me to a lot of conflicting diet advice. I did a weight loss management specialist certificate and also some nutrition courses as I wanted to understand more about the right way of eating.
If you follow the fitness world, a lot of them preach animal protein, but I didn’t want to change my diet fundamentally and start eating steak and chicken every day and drink whey shakes before and after every workout. And I found some interesting books of athletes that achieved everything they wanted on a vegan diet. So if someone says “eat animal protein if you want to build muscle” or “reduce carbs if you want to lose weight”, or “eat 6 small meals a day to get lean”, there is usually someone who managed the same thing doing the exact opposite.
As you may know, I started an experiment on myself, trying the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, moderate protein and high fat diet. And I actually lost some weight and inches doing it! I have also been implementing intermittent fasting in the last few months. So I guess what I am trying to say here is that you can follow several diets – who says that you have to stick to a single way of eating all your life? People change and goals change and so do our eating habits.
So I decided to write a blog on the different diets out there, thinking I may explain how they work and how they are different from each other. And then it dawned on me that it would actually be much more helpful if I focused on the factors that these diets have in common, which, ultimately, are the exact reasons why these diets work.¹
There are obvious reasons why there is not one single diet out there that works for everyone. We are all different:
- Our starting points are different. If you are a middle-aged overweight woman who suffers from type two diabetes, then your nutritional requirements are probably quite different from a male 25 year old crossfit athlete.
- We have different body types. Some people are short, some tall, some are stocky, or skinny, or voluptuous, athletic, carrying weight on their hips, some are carrying weight around their midsection – and everything in between.
- We have different goals. Not everyone wants to be an elite athlete and win natural bodybuilding competitions. Some people just want to feel great in a bikini. Others want to have more energy so they can run after their grandchildren. Some want to be and feel healthy again.
- Not everyone has the same preferences for food. I want to avoid meat. My daughter doesn’t like meat. My son wants only meat. Some people don’t like seafood. Some are allergic to gluten. Others only eat soup when they are sick.
- We have different budgets for how much we can spend on food. Some superfoods and supplements are really expensive. If you eat organic you need to have access to an affordable farmers market or you could spend a lot of money in specialty stores (this obviously depends on where you are located).
- Some diets can require a lot of meal prepping. The number of people on instagram who post their meals for the whole week that they prepare on the weekend is huge! Not everyone may have that time, be it on a weekly or daily basis.
I would like to quote John Berardi, PhD, here:
When you work with actual human beings, you must be a nutritional agnostic.
This is a sensible approach I believe. When you look for nutritional or diet advice, find an expert that takes into account who you are, what your goals are and what your dietary beliefs and preferences are. There is no blueprint or one-size-fits-all diet out there.
Back to what these diets have in common and why they work.
- As soon as you start a diet (any diet), you actually pay attention to what you eat. You may even write it down (something I highly recommend, since this really works as research shows). And it doesn’t matter if you try to eat more fat, or protein, or less carbohydrates. Maybe you just try to eat organic. Or vegetarian. So a key factor in any diet is to stop mindless eating and start becoming aware of what you are putting into your body.
- No matter which diet you follow, none of them recommend eating highly processed, sugar laden, plastic junk food. All diets recommend natural, minimally processed, fresh produce, that is full of nutrients and chemical free. This usually results in a lower carbohydrate consumption that causes us to lose water weight (see my blog on how I lost weight with the keto diet).
- As pointed out above, a well balanced diet is full of nutrients and thereby fixes a lot of the nutrient deficiencies that many of us have. So after a while we feel better, we look better, we are energised. This convinces us that, whatever diet it is we follow, is the one and only.
- The interesting thing is that when we start paying attention to what we eat and drink, and we start eating more nutritious food that is high in quality and less processed, we automatically tend to eat less. So without even counting calories, most people lose weight, gain muscle and feel better. Being more aware when we eat (as opposed to stuffing your face with chips in front of TV for example) brings us more in tune with our bodies and feeling of satiety.
- Most diets recommend some kind of exercise to support weight loss. Even if they don’t, most people naturally start moving more when they’re trying to lose weight. Even if it is only to get out of the house and away from the fridge, as a distraction strategy.
So eating whole, unprocessed, natural food is always good for you. And one last point – calories may not be the most important factor for weight loss either. Please check it out here Why Calorie In – Calorie Out Does Not Equal Body Fat and let me know your thoughts.
¹This blog post is based on research and results quoted in Precision Nutrition. Find them here http://www.precisionnutrition.com