More than ever it seems we are living in an environment of excess: A massive sea of cheap calories and large portions. This can be found almost anywhere we go. Out doing a little shopping of any kind and you will find the empty calorie snacks waiting patiently for you as you approach the checkout counter. Not only do grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations strategically place snacks, cookies, and drinks in the checkout line, but now so do home improvement, electronics, and clothing stores. Unfortunately, frequent consumption of excess calories results in weight gain and health issues and so we turn to a “diet” and perhaps “exercise” to fix the problem.
There are some benefits to exploring various “diets” such as bringing awareness to the foods we eat, guiding us to reduce portions, cut back on sugary foods, or encouraging us to meal plan. In the case of the Whole30, Ketogenic, and other meal plans, it may work for some people who are looking for quick, temporary weight loss due to its restrictive nature. But is the latest diet really the solution?
The word diet gets tossed around and has different connotations. Merriam Webster defines diet as
- food and drink regularly provided or consumed
- habitual nourishment
- the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason
- a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight
There is a very long list of “diets” and diet books from which to choose. Before starting another diet, consider focusing your time and energy on the concept of developing healthy meal patterns and eating practices that you can sustain. (I.e. Webster’s definitions 1 and 2). Research in longevity reveals that while there are different styles of eating, there are common meal patterns that translate to health, weight management and longevity across the globe.
Healthy meal patterns and eating practices include:
- A foundation based on whole foods - foods that are recognizable, minimally processed, nutrient-rich and fiber-rich foods
- Mostly plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts
- Some fish and small servings of animal protein
- Preparing more meals at home to control ingredients
- Avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages, refined starches, salty snacks, processed cheese, and meat products
- Using olive oil and other plant-based oils instead of animal fats
- Sensible portions
- Celebrating and enjoying food
Therapeutic diets or diet plans (I.e. Webster’s definition 3) are used to manage specific diseases, such as Celiac disease, and are supported by evidence-based research.
Diets (I.e. Webster’s definition 4) that promise a quick and easy solution to permanent weight loss and come with very strict rules that must be followed, set one up for failure. Yes, fad diets can demonstrate weight loss, but often due to excessive caloric restriction and elimination of food groups.
Approach diets with caution for the following reasons:
- If the plan has little middle ground, it leads one to think in terms of an “on diet” or “off diet” mentality. Flawed reasoning: “If I mess up, I might as well eat whatever I want”
- Good food, bad food often translates to good me or bad me when forbidden foods are eaten
- Extremely restrictive diets can cause binge behavior
- Restriction and food rules can result in food fixation and fail to address the emotional component of why one is overeating
- Over-reliance of expensive shakes, bars, or supplements does not teach one how to eat for the long-term or to navigate real-life eating choices
- “Being on a diet” can make one feel like life is on hold until the weight is lost
- Some fad diets are nutritionally inadequate or even dangerous
- If you don’t like it, you are not going to do it for very long.
There are some benefits to exploring various diets such as bringing awareness to the foods we eat, guiding us to reduce portions, cut back on sugary foods, or encouraging us to meal plan. The bottom line is to make sure you choose a pattern of eating that is based on factual health information and that the behavior and food choices are sustainable.