Diets- The Good and Not So Good

The New Year is often a signal that it’s time for a fresh start and that has never felt more welcome than in 2021. After nearly a year spent staying home, stressing out and comfort-eating, many of us are looking forward to getting more active, healthier, and taking off all those quarantine pounds in the next 12 months. In a year where our lives were turned upside down, our eating and drinking habits changed accordingly and not for the better. And with health at the forefront of our minds for the foreseeable future, foods that enhance immunity and keep us healthy rule the day.

If you type best diets to lose weight into Google, as I did, it will bring up masses of results. Its totally overwhelming and it doesn’t help when there are pages upon pages of conflicting information in-between lots of dodgy science. When you start researching the best ways to lose weight, your head can start spinning with all the different miracle diets. It can be impossible to know which one is the best to try or to avoid!

Many celebrities have been endorsing their personal weight losses, often very extreme diets and social media like Instagram has an army of true believers, who post about how great they feel after giving up carbs, sugar, meat or food on the latest fad diets!

I have to say at this point, that I am not a trained expert, I am like you interested in eating better and losing some unwanted extra weight. I have visited websites, that I hope offer beneficial and safe advice like the NHS website and been watching on TV where nutritionists and doctors have dieters try out the various diets under supervision.

I have tried many diets over the years, some more successful than others. A knee injury has meant I have not been able to exercise, and the lockdown, poor sleeping patterns and less activity has taken its toll. I find myself with some weight to lose! I had been attending some lectures from a nutritionist and had started to learn more about a more balanced diet, which had whetted my interest. I received several great books on healthy eating as well as too much chocolate for Christmas. I will let you know how I get on later. But in the meantime, see below!

The Good

Throughout my research, the diet that came out on top, time and time again was the Mediterranean one. This is less of a diet and more of a healthy eating plan, so the pounds will come off more gradually, however it is easier to stick too and maintain in the future. Longer- standing Diet plans like Weightwatchers are also still giving good results with a moderate eating and exercise plan.

Mediterranean-style diets– Based on the heart-healthy lifestyle of Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. These diets include healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, nuts, and fish at least twice a week, plenty of beans, fruit, leafy greens, and whole grains, and even a daily glass of red wine. You can eat cheese and red meat only in moderation. This diet’s primary appeal is in its numerous health benefits and its an enjoyable diet compared to some others. On my travels, I lost weight eating this way and was healthier too.

Weight Watchers or WW-This diet company has been around for years with good results and many dieters been able to maintain their lower weight. The updated version is my WW+, after a personal health assessment you are given a colour-coded program that assigns you a certain number of points per day. (Foods are given points based on calories, saturated fat, sugar, and protein) You can eat whatever you want within that range. You can also eat an unlimited number of 0-point foods (most fruits and veggies and lean proteins such as fish, tofu, beans, eggs, and chicken breast. Coaching in groups or one-to one and advice on exercise, sleep and wellbeing is offered, online or by app. Research has found that dieters assigned to WW were more than eight times more likely to lose 10% of their body weight over 6 months than those trying to diet on their own. https://www.weightwatchers.com/uk/

DASH– is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, but it’s not only for people with high blood pressure. As it is also promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The DASH diet, is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating pattern. This plan borrows elements of the Mediterranean diet, but it’s a very specific eating pattern that’s been highly researched. It recommends specific portions from various food groups, depending on one’s daily calorie needs. The rate of weight loss can be slow, as it’s a sustainable long-term diet. Your daily calorie needs are determined by your age, sex and activity level. A limit is put on sugar and salt. This diet includes: 6 servings of grains daily, 3-4 servings of vegetables, 4 servings of fruit and 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy. Also recommended are 3-4 ounces total per day of lean meat, poultry, or fish, 3-4 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes per week and 2 servings of fats and oils daily.  I haven’t tried this myself, but it has been medically endorsed and the diet books have been best-sellers.       https://www.dashdiet.org/

Intermittent Fasting Plan-My nutritionist friend is a great fan of intermittent fasting and is in such great health. As a major trend. It’s claimed to cause weight loss, improve metabolic health and perhaps even extend lifespan. There are a few different ways to do the intermittent fasting plan:

The 16/8 method -Fasting every day for 14–16 hours and restricting your daily eating window to 8–10 hours. Doing this method of fasting can actually be as simple as not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast. You can drink water, coffee, and other zero-calorie beverages during the fast, which can help reduce feelings of hunger.

Eat Stop Eat involves a 24-hour fast once or twice per week. For example, if you finish dinner at 7 pm on Monday and don’t eat until dinner at 7 pm on Tuesday, you’ve completed a full 24-hour fast. You can also fast from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch. Water, coffee, and other zero-calorie beverages are allowed during the fast, but no solid foods are permitted.

Fast 800 Diet or 5:2 diet is for those who are trying to lose weight quickly and helps to re-set their metabolism. This was created by Dr Mosley who originally wrote the Blood Sugar Diet because he was diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic. A Mediterranean Diet is eaten for five days and then for two days only 800 calories. In a University of South Australia trial, the 5:2 group also lost 40% more body fat than the standard dieters and most interestingly, their blood sugar control improved, so many were able to reduce medication. People find this way of eating to be easier to stick to than a traditional calorie-restricted diet as for five days per week, you eat normally and don’t have to think about restricting calories. For dieters with more weight to lose this could possibly be a good starting diet. http://www.thefast800.com

Replacement Meal Diet-Even the NHS website states that meal-replacement diets can be effective at helping some people lose weight and keep it off: like Slim fast and Huel. These are more convenient to dieters as there is not a lot of preparation needed as in some of the other diets. Shakes and bars are easy to take to work. My sister lost five stone using the slim fast diet but when she returned to eating normally (her poor eating habits) the weight went back on. So, it does work short-term. But there’s a risk of putting the weight back on again once you stop using the products, as meal-replacement diets do little to educate people about their eating habits and change their food behaviours.

Vegan or Plant-Based Diet-Now, I was a bit surprised at this one as I thought that a Vegan diet was motivated by ethical and moral beliefs rather than weight-loss. Going vegan won’t necessarily help you lose weight but by following a healthy eating plan eating high-quality vegan food like leafy greens and plant-based proteins, you could lose weight. These diets did feature amongst the best for losing weight. Going a step further than the traditional vegetarian diet, vegans shun all animal products, including dairy, eggs, and honey. With the new era of plant-based meats, going vegan is easier than ever. You just focus on eating whole foods derived from plants. Plant-based foods tend to be higher in fibre and lower in fat than animal products, keeping you filled up for fewer calories.

The Flexitarian Diet-Flexitarians are also known as flexible vegetarians or vegivores. Quite simply there are no rules. Some flexitarians will have a meat-free meal once a week while others will only eat meat on rare occasions. As a lapsed vegetarian, who would find a vegan diet difficult, this is quite appealing. Whereas the vegan diet goes one step beyond vegetarianism, the Flexitarian diet, gives you the flexibility to have a small amount of meat on occasion. There are no strict calorie limitations, though a 5-week plan that provides around 1,500 calories a day. By filling your plate with more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and plant proteins and sticking with the low-calorie plan, you can lose weight and improve your health, there are some great recipes to try.   https://theflexitarian.co.uk/

Not So GOOD

I also came across a few more controversial and possibly dangerous diets. As a rule of thumb anything from a celebrity is best taken with a pinch of salt as our life’s and requirements are very different.

The Paleo Diet– is still getting a lot of attention, even though it’s nearly impossible for modern-day humans to stick with this diet over the long-term. Based on the eating patterns of our Paleolithic ancestors, this diet requires a strict adherence to foods that would have been hunted and gathered, including lean meat, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables. Any diet that has a large list of what’s not allowed is going to be very hard to maintain and cutting out numerous food groups from your diet can also eliminate many important nutrients.

Keto Diet-Celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian and Halle Berry are fans of this low-carb diet.  Similar to the Atkins diet. but as carbs are gradually increased on the Atkins diet, intake stays low on the keto diet. You can lose weight initially on this high-fat, low-carb diet, which puts your body into a state of ketosis. (With no carbs to burn off for energy, your cells start burning off stored fat) But keeping your body in what is basically a crisis state is not a viable long-term plan, the diet can lead to side effects such as headaches, muscle soreness, constipation and fatigue. This is not one for vegetarians due to its heavy reliance on meat and lack of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. I think this diet is too restrictive and lacks health benefits and balance.

The Atkins Diet-One of the biggest fad diets in the industry. The Atkins Diet has now reformed itself as a refreshing new healthy eating plan according to its website.  The pioneer of low-carb diets, Atkins promotes weight loss by restricting carbohydrates and sugar and loading up on protein. The updated diet plan does now include vegetables and berries but still lacks adequate fibre from whole grains and beans.  which can have negative consequences on gut health and moods.  Now, I have tried this one, I lost weight but had bad breath, flacked energy, and didn’t enjoy it that much.

The Five-Bite Diet-From Californian Alwin Lewis, the Five-Bite Diet requires you to skip breakfast and then only eat five bites of your meal at lunch and dinner. The very small portions of this diet will promote weight loss but eating only 10 bites of food per day is not a healthy way to lose weight, I think we can all agree on that. The hunger and lack of satisfaction and lack of nutrients provided by this diet ensures it will be unable to be sustained and this restrictive meal plan will lead to lack of energy and muscle loss. Avoid It…..

The Alkaline Diet Popularized by Tom Brady other celebrities, the idea behind the alkaline diet, is that your food can affect pH levels in the body. This fad diet has no scientific basis. And what about the alkaline diet’s side effects? Whilst, it’s good to reduce your intake of red meat and processed foods, restricting entire food groups can negatively impact your body. A strict eating plan which eliminates grains, dairy and animal foods may be deficient in protein as well as vitamins and minerals. So, there’s a huge risk of malnutrition, especially if you’re not taking supplements or getting important nutrients like protein elsewhere.

The Cabbage Soup Diet-Another fad diet that has been around forever, I tried years ago and it didn’t work and caused a lot of wind. The Cabbage Soup Diet emphasizes eating large amounts of it as every meal. You are allowed to eat one to two other low-calorie foods daily in addition to the soup, which is supposed to accelerate weight loss in seven days. Does it work? Short-term, yes for some, but it can’t be sustained in the long-term and after a very low-calorie diet when you return to regular eating will likely cause you to regain any weight lost. So, is it really worth it?

I hope this has given you some ideas, a diet is personal and what works for one person doesn’t for someone else. But I think a well-balanced diet which builds on a gradual weigh loss and changing eating habits would be more sustainable that a restrictive eating plan and much less of an ordeal!

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