Let’s face it: the diet landscape is a pretty bleak one. Populated by grapefruit, paprika and molasses, it can be hard to separate the grist from the chaff (a little gluten-free joke for you). While the Atkins craze hit its peak popularity a decade ago, the Paleo Diet and mainstream vegan eating plans are on the rise.
With the cyclical nature of diet trends changing constantly, how do we know what works and what doesn’t? Are healthy diets that work and easy diets that work mutually exclusive? The answer is no. Here are a few ways to find the right diet for you.
Desperately Seeking Diets
When searching for a diet, it’s important to keep in mind your own specific health issues and concerns. Diets aren’t all about losing weight– some people just want to get healthy: you can diet to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol, for example- though losing weight usually helps most health goals. Before dieting, consult your doctor; he or she won’t give you a specific diet plan, but will definitely help you come up with some factors to keep in mind when you finally take the plunge.
The first rule for choosing a diet is one you probably already know deep down: there are no quick fixes. Any diet that purports to help you lose 10 pounds in a week is at best ineffective and at worst dangerous. In general, celebrity diets should be avoided.
Look around at diets that have enjoyed continued popularity and success. Sure, the old low-cal and low-fat diets sound boring, but they’re tried-and-true methods that usually work. Of course, many people don’t have success with traditional diets, which means a little more research and diet sleuthing is involved.
Low-Carb Diets for Weight Loss
Many people have great success with low-carb diets. Some of the more popular, recognizable low-carb diets include Atkins and the South Beach Diet. Each of these diets places a meat-heavy emphasis on foods with low carbohydrate indexes. While many believe low-carb diets eschew fruits and vegetables altogether, this is definitely not true. Each of these diets allow certain types of fruits and vegetables to be eaten, particularly asparagus, cucumbers, mushrooms as well as most berries. Unlike many traditional diets, low-carb ones allow you to eat traditionally rich, “off-limits” foods such as cheese, cream, and red meat. The object of the diet is to limit your carbohydrate intake, so while calories should be taken into consideration, you don’t really need to watch them. One of the challenges of low-carb diets is making sure your diet is balanced and healthy. While eating tons of cheese and steak is technically low-carb friendly, it certainly isn’t healthy, so a common-sense approach should be taken.
For the first two weeks, low-carb diets can be very restrictive. While eggs, meats and other dairy products are allowed in what the Atkin’s Diet calls its “induction phase,” vegetables, fruits and salad leaves are highly limited to the equivalent of about three cups of vegetables each day. The point of this phase is to induce ketosis, a condition which forces the body to burn up excess fat, thereby causing weight loss. The trade-off of this is a rise in cholesterol in some individuals. While this is usually temporary, those with already high-cholesterol or who are at risk for it should seek another diet.
Detox and Liquid Diets
Detox diets have enjoyed a spike in popularity in recent years. Television hosts such as Dr. Oz and celebrity newsletters such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP all tout the benefits of detox diets. Purported to remove the toxins that build up in the body through poor eating habits and modern living, detox diets are a good way to neutralize your New Year’s excesses, but are essentially a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
Detox diets can last anywhere from 3 days to 6 weeks. An example of a detoxing, moderate, healthy diet that works would include whole fruits, steamed vegetables, lean protein such as white fish, and whole grains. Detox diets are, in essence, low-calorie diets with an emphasis on whole foods. When done properly, these diets can be beneficial for weight loss and even health in general. But extreme, restrictive diets such as liquid diets or long-term “juice cleanses” can be harmful to the body and even leave you heavier than you were before. They force the body into “starvation mode” and can cause you to binge-eat when the restriction get to be too much. Weight lost from these kinds of diets is usually water weight—and that won’t last long. These might be diets that work fast in the short run, but you’ll be paying for it later.
Weight Watchers is probably the most universally popular points-based diet program out there. Simplifying complicated calorie counting to small, easy-to-add numbers, points-based diets are easy diets that work. Weight Watchers assigns a number label to each type of food or meal based not on the quantity of calories (although that is taken into account) but on the overall quality: calories, fat, and fiber are all factors that go into any given point.
Since Weight Watchers isn’t a meal plan like Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem, you don’t have to buy branded meals. Many different brands have the Weight Watchers points displayed on their products, allowing you variety and equilibrium when it comes to grocery shopping. You can also use online calculators and books to figure out how many points individual items are or estimate the points of homemade meals. Each dieter is assigned a points total based on their height, weight and level of physical activity. As you lose weight, your daily ration of points is reduced until you reach your optimum weight. After that, you begin a routine to maintain your ideal weight.
Gluten-Free and Paleo Diets
This type of diet is fairly new and quick becoming fashionable. While gluten-free diets were once the preserve of individuals with coeliac disease, it is also considered by some to be an alternative weight-loss diet. “Gluten” is anything derived from wheat, barley, or rye. However, other starches such as quinoa, amaranth, millet and even humble rice and corn are allowed. Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Gwyneth Paltrow have endorsed the gluten-free diet as a way to lose weight, have clearer skin, and feel more energized. While a few years ago searching for gluten-free foods was frustrating and challenging, this spur in popularity have caused even mainstream grocery stores to carry gluten-free pastas and pastries. Staying gluten-free may cause weight loss simply because of its emphasis on whole grains, unprocessed foods, and the de-facto elimination of most junk and fast foods. So it may not be gluten that causes you to gain weight, but this rather strict diet makes it difficult to indulge in most guilty pleasures.
Easy & Healthy Diets That Work
This is just a basic survey of the countless number of diets available. However, most healthy diets that work are essentially subsets of low-calorie, low-carb, detox, or points-based systems. Like all diets, there is the potential for abusing the parameters they set: it’s certainly possible to stay on the Atkin’s diet while living off of cream and cheddar cheese just as one could technically be a vegetarian while exclusively eating french fries. As with all things, moderation is key!