There are a lot of popular diets out there. So I thought I would write an article investigating which ones are scientifically sound and actually work.
From the outside, it seems like a simple equation. Your weight is determined by the balance between the calories you take in and the calories you burn. By changing what you eat or your activity level, you can tip this equation towards weight gain or loss, which brings us to our first category of diets – calorie restriction.
Calorie Restriction Diets
Companies like Weight Watchers claim you can eat whatever you want as long as you stay below a prescribed number of daily calories. Getting all your calories from junk food is technically allowed but from a health perspective, it’s important to think about the nutritional value of the foods too. If you don’t, you risk heart problems, nutrient deficiencies and chronic health issues.
Calorie restriction with optimal nutrition or CRON diets generally reduced their calorie intake by 20 percent while still meeting the daily nutritional requirements.
For example, instead of having a whole apple, a CRON dieter might just have the apple skin, which contains most of the nutrients. If used properly and not excessively, calorie restriction can be a safe and effective tool for weight loss.
Carb Restriction Diet
Next up is carb restriction. Many diets like the South Beach, Atkins or Zone Diet suggest that carbs are the enemy of the fit body you’ve always dreamed of. The ideology claims that when more carbs are taken in than burned off, the liver converts them into fats. But for most healthy, reasonably active people, carbs are broken down to glucose and transported to the cells for energy. Very little is actually turned into fat.
In response to excessive glucose, the body uses insulin to turn it into glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles. This glycogen may later be broken down in times of low glucose to refuel the body. But the type of carbs you eat do matter.
Those from simple sugars like honey, fruit or sugar are more readily turned into triglycerides or fat than complex carbs like whole grains and veggies.
If you consistently eat way more than necessary and most calories are from simple carbs, then these will be converted to fat. Low carb diets often have extreme restriction at first. No starches like bread or pasta and no sugars including from fruits or even alcohol.
This can lead to some intense side effects including constipation, dry mouth, bad breath, fatigue, dizziness and nausea. In studies, carb restriction dieters tend to lose weight faster initially compared to those simply using calorie restriction. But this is likely due to water loss, which returns in later phases when you’re encouraged to eat normally again.
On top of this, the Atkins Diet for example promotes caloric intake from high fat and high protein sources, which means meats, cheeses, cream, butter and losing weight. Sounds pretty good, right? But many doctors show concerns over the high intake of saturated fat that it may lead to more bad cholesterol and therefore an increased risk of heart disease.
Some claim these diets are dangerous and unhealthy, given that they promote the limitation of foods like carrots, sweet potatoes or apples that provide the body with important micronutrients and vitamins. Instead people require supplements, which the body is not able to absorb as effectively as vitamins, minerals and micronutrients in whole foods.
High Protein Diets
Then there are high protein diets. The main principle is that protein-rich foods are not as easily broken down by the body and take more energy to digest than carb-rich food. This means you won’t feel hungry again as quickly and you’re more likely to run a caloric deficit than if you ate the same number of calories from carbs.
The Paleo Diet for example suggests that 10,000 years ago, agriculture was introduced and the human diet changed from hunter-gatherers eating primarily meat, wild fruits, veggies and nuts to diets containing more grains.
As a result, some believe the human body isn’t designed to digest these processed foods like grains, dairy and breads. Some also believe that grains lead to inflammation-related health problems. But this is largely untrue except in the case of people with celiac disease. But because of its straightforward guidelines, many find it easy to follow and it does promote more nutrient absorption.
However, as Paleo cuts out all grains and legumes, we lose an important source of dietary fiber necessary to keep our bowels running smoothly. Not to mention the high protein leads to nitrogen production, meaning stinky farts.
Add to that constipation, which allows your digestive material to sit longer in the large intestine and continuing to decompose and yeah, even smellier farts.
The Master Cleanse Diet
There’s another class of diets we might call the “just stop eating” diets. Those looking to get slim quick might be tempted to only eat cabbage soup for seven days or do the master cleanse diet, which only allows saltwater in the morning and a concoction of water, maple syrup, lemon and cayenne pepper through the day and a laxative tea at night.
But these diets are exceptionally unhealthy. Not only is most of your weight loss from water weight, but there are many side effects such as dizziness, fatigue, dehydration and nausea. The master cleanse can even lead to a white tongue, which some claim is the toxins leaving your body but it’s actually due to swelling and a yeast infection of the mouth.
After going through all that, you’re likely to gain any weight lost after stopping. Then of course there are straight-up crazy diets like eating cotton balls dipped in soup or juice, so that you feel full which of course provides hardly any nutritional content and can cause intestinal blockages, which require surgical intervention. Or how about the Sleeping Beauty diet where you just sleep? You can’t eat if you’re always asleep.
The truth is most diets focusing on quick, dramatic results also have a yoyo effect where you lose initial weight, but slow down your metabolic rate, so your body starts burning less calories and then when you start eating again, there’s all the weight back and often more.
Dieting on the biggest loser.
After following contestants from the show The Biggest Loser for six years, some of which who had lost hundreds of pounds in those seven months, scientists noticed something interesting. Not only did most of the participants in the study regain their weight but their metabolic rates changed.
One man in particular now burns 800 fewer calories a day than would be expected for a man his size. This is six years after leaving the show, showing how extreme measures to lose weight, while they may be successful at the time, have long-lasting impacts on your metabolism, making it harder to keep off weight in the future.
The hard truth is that even using many of the principle diets, about 97 percent of people regain everything lost and sometimes more within three years.
If you want to lose weight, finding a diet that works for you and keeps you motivated with small incremental changes is important.
Of course a number on a scale doesn’t measure how healthy a person is, though many struggle with this perception. If food and weight preoccupations are a problem for you or someone you know, check out the link here for a complete solution.