If you’re trying to lose weight, you might have asked, “what is the best weight loss diet?” Of course, this a misleading question, one that gets consumers to impulsively buy whatever weight loss regimen is being marketed to them. There is a more productive question you should be asking yourself, but I’ll get to that later.
Atkins, ketone, intermittent fasting, low carbs, low fat and portion control. These are some the most popular diets that have been used specifically for weight loss, though their birth may have come for other reasons. For example, the ketone diet was first created for people who have epilepsy and the Atkins diet for people who have diabetes.
But if you want to lose weight, which diet works best? My job and my hobby is to read every study I possibly can on health and fitness. I get my sources from professional journals. My certification had me reading several thousands of studies and analyzing how they were conducted. What I’ve learned is that all of the diets listed above will work for weight loss if followed exactly as directed. Some diets work better for people who want to keep up sports performance and fitness than others, which I will get to later.
To read about diets for health and longevity, check out this link:
The Best Diet For You
Low Carb versus Low Fat
In order to lose weight you must consume less calories than you are burning. So all the diets above are approaches you can use to help you eat less calories. Low carb diets work because people tend to eat carbs in very condensed ways. There are only 4 calories in one gram of carbs but a bun, bagel or portion of rice has so many grams of carbs condensed in it that this can add up to a lot.
Low fat diets work because there are a whopping 9 grams of calories for one gram of fat. That adds up to a lot.
While both methods are successful for weight loss, cutting carbs does interfere with athletic performance as many studies have shown that eating carbs can increase speed and stamina. Low carb crash diets work by reducing water weight (because we store water in glycogen, the body’s stored version of carbs). However, this doesn’t mean fat was lost and that weight can be gained back immediately.
Since we get vital nutrients from carb rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, it is wise to get your limited carb intake from the most nutritional sources you can.
Ketone diets (high fat, very low carbs) makes the body adapt to burning fat instead of carbs as an immediate fuel source. It takes about 2 weeks of being on this diet before this change takes place. Meanwhile, you might feel the effects of not having enough carbs in your body to fuel your workouts which can lead to fatigue, nausea or dizziness. While the body does adapt to burning fat eventually, you won’t be performing at your athletic best because carbs still fuel the body more efficiently than fat. A number of studies were done on this with the consensus being that athletes on high fat, low carb diets fatigue faster. (Scroll down for references below)
If you are at high risk for heart disease, check with your doctor before trying the ketone diet. Many studies have shown that it can raise your good cholesterol while others show that it can raise your bad cholesterol as well. Some studies show that this diet benefits obese individuals more.
Low carb diets are known to lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels but ketone diets are high in fat as well as being low in carbs, so the subject of cholesterol is still controversial in regards to the ketone diet. This diet is still a very new trend so more conclusive evidence should be available in the future when the long term studies are in.
Since saturated fat is more likely to raise bad cholesterol than other types of fat, it is wise to focus on consuming “good” fats rather than the bad when choosing a high fat diet.
Intermittent fasting, means going for long periods without eating, like a few hours. This is not to be confused with long term fasting (not eating for days) as long term fasting can cause starvation and severe malnourishment (sometimes heart attacks). There are many approaches to intermittent fasting. Skipping dinner or breakfast is one approach. Not eating one day and eating another day, or just eating once a day is another approach. This works because most people underestimate how much they are actually eating. If you aren’t eating anything at all, there’s a good possibility you are consuming less calories.
Our metabolism tends to be much higher in the morning so people who skip dinner instead of breakfast tend to get better results.
This diet seems to have different effects on women than on men, the health benefits swaying towards the male population.
If you are using nutrient timing to maximize strength and muscle gains, this diet could interfere with that.
Balanced but Portion Control Diets
Just eating smaller portions or eating more water and fiber while cutting out junk food have been touted for years because this method also promotes a balanced diet which means you are still getting most of the vitamins and minerals you need. Studies have shown that people on very low carb diets have several vitamin deficiencies because the source of carbs (vegetables, fruits and whole grains) are foods high in micro nutrients.
You can learn more about this method here:
The Switch Trick: How to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories
What about Cutting Protein?
Low protein is hardly ever recommended. The reason being that if you eat less calories than you burn, the body starts to eat itself in order to survive. That means burning fat and getting skinnier, but it can also mean losing muscle and bone as well. Protein contains amino acids, the building blocks of tissue. Amino acids are also what enzymes, immune cells and hormones are made of and we don’t want to lose these precious catalysts that keep our body working. However vegan or vegetarian diets work for many as long as you get your protein from non-meat sources.
In the end, you have to figure out what works for you. If you are a carb lover, you might prefer a low fat diet. If you crave fatty foods, low carb may work better for you. Portion control might be your cup of tea if you don’t enjoy going long periods without eating; but others prefer intermittent fasting because for them, food can be one big event that is worth waiting for. If you’re a field or endurance athlete, you should also ask yourself if its okay to sacrifice sports performance in order to lose weight. If the answer is “no” then low carb diet may not be the best approach for you.
Keep in mind that these diets are specifically for weight loss, not for increased strength or stamina. There are other nutrition approaches to these goals.
What about the other health benefits of these diets? For example, some studies have shown that intermittent fasting helps to boost the immune system. Most of the health benefits that come from dieting only helps those who were eating to much junk food in the first place. People who were already eating healthy, balanced diets did not benefit from them because they were fine to begin with. If you’re severely overweight, that makes you higher risk for related ailments such as high cholesterol and diabetes, and going on a diet can benefit you simply because you are cutting back on what was making you unhealthy in the first place, eating more than you should for your activity level. Increase in exercise also gives the same benefits and more.
The More Important Question
But what about the more important question of how to keep the weight off? The truth is, while diets work in the short term, the majority of dieters gain the weight back within six months to three years and they often gain back more than they lost. Only 5% of crash dieters keep the weight off.
I recall working for a yoga studio that charged hundreds of dollars to go on a juice cleanse. All the people who did it lost weight within days. They were stoked. Then I got to watch them gain the weight back immediately after the juice cleanse was over, which to me, seemed like a waste of money.
The reality of it is this: If you want to keep the weight off for life, you have to stick with your diet for life which is why registered dietitian, Sona Donayan, says “you need to have a long term plan, not just for weight loss but for maintenance in the future.”
To read my interview with Sona Donayan on dieting trends, this out:
A Breakdown of Popular Diets From a Registered Dietician’s Perspective
Whatever diet you pick, it should be something you can commit too. Or you can choose not to diet at all, a decision I made in 1996, and I haven’t gone on a diet since. I still managed to lose weight after my pregnancy and continue maintain a healthy weight by committing to lifestyle improvement and by changing my attitude towards food and fitness. Permanent weight loss is possible, but it requires us to look deep inside and improve our awareness; but that is the subject of another blog.
Check out this related article on foods and supplements for healthy joints:
Foods and Suppliments That Heal Joints and Arthritis
How Many Calories Did I Just Burn?
What Kind Of Exercise Raises Our Metabolism?
Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Health
Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
The use of carbohydrates during exercise as an ergogenic aid
Three-Year Chronic Consumption of Low-Carbohydrate Diet Impairs Exercise Performance and Has a Small Unfavorable Effect on Lipid Profile in Middle-Aged Men
Consuming a hypocaloric high fat low carbohydrate diet for 12 weeks lowers C-reactive protein, and raises serum adiponectin and high density lipoprotein-cholesterol in obese subjects
Effects of an energy-restricted low–carbohydrate, high unsaturated fat/low saturated fat diet versus a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet in type 2 diabetes: A 2-year randomized clinical tria
Low carbohydrate, high fat diet impairs exercise economy and negates the performance benefit from intensified training in elite race walkers
Low–Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diets in Male Endurance Athletes Demonstrate Different Micronutrient Contents and Changes in Corpuscular Haemoglobin over 12 Weeks
The Lowdown on Intermittent Fasting