It seems that as soon as I published the “Eat like an adult” post, I started getting a lot of adult patients that eat like children.
Karma’s a bitch.
But having these challenging patients lately, and all of the press about low-carb versus low-fat diets lately (okay, not so lately, it’s been a pretty long time) brings up a really good point: The best diet for you is the one that you’ll stick to. If I have a patient come in who absolutely refuses to give up their damn coke, I’ve got to find a way around that. And I can.
Flabbergasting, I know. But let’s look at the facts:
1. Weight loss is solely a function of having an energy deficit. I’m taking about the old “calories in < calories out” equation. It’s a simple fact, you need to be using more energy than you’re taking in in order to lose weight. Easy, right?
2. There are a billion ways to create an energy deficit. You could go low-carb. You could go low-fat. You could just eat smaller portions of everything. You could skip meals. You could do the “I don’t eat anything and then when I feel like I’m going to pass out I eat a cube of cheese” diet from The Devil Wears Prada. You could do the “grapefruit diet”. You could use meal replacement shakes. You could keep your food intake the same and ramp up your exercise significantly (or add it in the first place).
So what have we learned so far? Plenty of different diets exist, and they WILL ALL WORK if you create an energy deficit. So which is the best? Let’s continue on with some more facts:
3. Weight loss DOES NOT MEAN GOOD NUTRITION. “Low calorie” and “Healthy” are not the same thing. This is to say, all of those diets I listed in #2 may help you lose weight, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Tons of people out there are losing weight with all sorts of questionable methods, and just because it works does’t mean I would ever endorse it. Hell, a good bout of food poisoning will knock off a few pounds, but you don’t want to do that do you?? I freaking hope not. You’ve all heard my song and dance about MORE vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats; LESS refined carbohydrates, fried foods, and saturated fats! Choosing these options will make your body function better, make you feel better, and can also help you lose weight as long as you are in a calorie deficit. That is good nutrition.
4. Many people cannot maintain extreme diets. Have you ever tried to completely cut carbohydrates out of your life? I sure as hell haven’t, because a.) it’s stupid (for real – your body functions on carbs. #science) b.) it’s impossible. There are a million different factors governing your success at whatever lifestyle you want to adopt, not JUST your will power. Family traditions, marketing, the foods available to you, and the culture you live in all have a huge impact on your food choices. This doesn’t mean I’m letting you off the hook. You ultimately are responsible for your choices, but if you get yourself all pumped up to follow a diet that consists purely of wheatgrass juice shots, you are setting yourself up for failure. You need to do something that is maintainable physically and culturally.
5. Good weight loss is slow weight loss. A lot of those extreme diets lure people in with claims of losing “10 pounds in your first week!!!” or something else ridiculous like that. I would like for everyone to know that weight loss should occur at a rate of 1-2 pounds per week. No more. If you’re losing less than 1 pound per week, you’re either not trying, you have a ridiculously low metabolic rate (this may happen if you are a very short and sedentary woman) or you need to re-adjust your calorie level. When weight loss happens faster than this there is something funky going on. Like dysentery. Or you are incredibly dehydrated. Or you are starving. This is not sustainable. Some people have a really hard time accepting the fact that it’s gonna happen slow, and I get that. But personally I’d rather take three months to lose that stubborn 15 pounds and keep it off for LIFE than lose it in two weeks, gain it back because I was doing something totally insane, and feel like a failure. Additionally, slow weight loss gives you the time you need to integrate healthier behaviors into your life. Habits take time. Let it happen.
How does this factor into the “best diet for me”?
We’ve identified some things that you need to achieve healthy, sustained weight loss:
- An energy deficit
- Whole, balanced meals
- A moderate diet that does not go to extremes
Sounds pretty easy, right? According to this, all you need to do is identify the amount of calories you should eat daily (check out this fancy new tool) and hit that number by eating a regular, balanced diet made up of whole foods.
So why do low-carb, high-protein, and low-fat diets get so much attention?
Let’s look at each individually:
Low-Fat Diets: Low fat diets were all the rage in the 90s. It’s founded on science, really: fat contains 9 calories per gram versus the 4 calories per gram in carbohydrate and protein. So, by reducing a moderate amount of fat in the diet, you should see a much greater overall calorie reduction than if you were to cut out the same amount of carb or protein. Creating an energy deficit this way is efficient, and it can help you to lose weight. Additionally, if you’re a person that gets a lot of saturated fat in the diet (i.e. animal fats, coconut oil, and palm oil), reducing these can lower your risk for heart disease. Win-win. Except when a low-fat diet craze inspires a wave of low-fat products that are really just bad-tasting fakes with extra sugar. (<– link to the most blasphemous food creation EVER.)
Low-Carb Diets: Low-carb has been a “thing” more recently since the slow fade-out of the low-fat craze. The reason why focusing on reducing carbs is actually not a bad idea for a lot of people in America is because we eat so damn much carbohydrate as is. In reality, carbohydrates should make up 50% of the calories in our diet, which is a lot. But let’s think about a typical American kid’s day: cereal and milk for breakfast, a sandwich and an apple for lunch, and pizza for dinner. Maybe a granola bar and cheese-flavored crackers for snacks. That’s basically all carbohydrate. The next time you go to the gas station, look at the food offerings – they are almost exclusively carbohydrate. Even if your meals are more balanced than the example I gave, the “extras” throughout our day are almost always carbs. Sweets -> cabs. Pastries -> carbs. Chips -> carbs. Snack mix -> carbs. By eliminating everything with carbohydrates in it, you eliminate a bunch of crap you shouldn’t be eating anyway. Voila – weight loss!
High-Protein Diets: High protein diets go hand-in-hand with low-carb diets, because if you cut out the carb you have to eat something, right?? People have gotten RIDICULOUSLY OBSESSED with protein and think they need a lot more than they actually do. We have talked about it before. One benefit of protein for weight loss is that it keeps you full for longer, so including some at every meal and snack is a GOOD IDEA if you’re trying to lose weight, but taking in exorbitant amounts is not. And as one of my friends pointed out, it also makes for some really disgusting-smelling farts. Soooo let’s just avoid that.
But wait, you’re sure I don’t need to do the _______ diet??? Yeah. Totally sure. I promise. Maybe get an RD to help you prioritize the dietary changes you need to make based on what will work best with your life/schedule/preferences, but you don’t need to do anything specific.