Fad diets have been around for as long as any of us can remember. A new one or a new spin on an old one are always popping up with all sorts of claims of not only weight loss, but health benefits. Some diets market themselves not as a traditional diet, but as a lifestyle or lifestyle change.
While a new diet may seem promising, they’re often not sustainable leading people to fail at the diet, at achieving their goals, or if progress was made, regaining the weight and ending up on another diet. The key to finding the right plan or program is finding one that’s sustainable for you and your unique needs.
Here are 7 questions to consider before starting a new diet or plan:
1. Does the diet restrict or eliminate any foods or food groups?
Many diets focus on eliminating certain foods or entire food groups. Sugar, grains, and carbohydrates in general are often eliminated or significantly reduced in many diets.
Will you lose weight from restricting carbohydrates? Probably – at first at least.
Carbohydrates are stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. For every 1g of glycogen stored, 3-4 grams of water are stored. When carbohydrates are restricted, glycogen stores and the water stored with it will deplete. This is why initially on a carb restricted diet, like keto for instance, people may see an initial weight loss of multiple pounds – this is largely water weight being lost.
Other things to consider when eliminating foods and food groups – are there foods that you enjoy that are being eliminated or restricted? Restricting foods you love over time often leads to binging or falling off the diet, perhaps regaining any weight loss or just feeling crummy that you weren’t able to reach your goals.
Additionally, different foods and food groups offer different nutrients, different vitamins and minerals. Eliminating or restricting these foods could lead to nutrient deficiencies.
2. Do I enjoy the foods on the diet/plan?
A diet may sound promising, but if you don’t like the foods included in the diet or meal plan – you’re probably not going to stick to it. Just as restricting or eliminating foods you love often leads to failure on a diet – if you’re having to force feed yourself foods you wouldn’t typically eat by day 4 – chances are the diet is going to be short lived and not likely to get you to your goal.
3. Does the diet/plan fit easily into my lifestyle?
Starting a new diet involves forming new habits and making changes to existing ones. If you’re going from cooking at home a couple times a week to prepping every single one of your meals, this is a big change that requires many new habits.
Habit change takes time and if your diet is requiring sweeping changes to the way you plan, shop, prep, or when and how you eat – it’s likely going to be an uphill battle to make it work.
If your lifestyle involves eating meals out with friends or family, travel, business meals, or other social functions- consider how a controlled diet will work in these settings. This may mean sitting and watching others eat and enjoy food, or bringing along tupperware dishes with your prepared meals. If this would be challenging to commit to – the diet probably won’t work for you.
4. Can I afford the food or supplements on this plan?
Eating minimally processed whole form and high quality food is great, but if you can’t afford to consistently purchase the foods your diet or plan calls for, it’s going to create some stressors.
Additionally, if your diet or plan calls for supplements to replace nutrients the diet lacks, consider how that works within your budget as well.
5. Does the diet allow flexibility for change?
Some flexibility is important to allow for times when the situation changes – maybe you forgot your food at home, have to eat a meal out, are traveling, or something else comes up. Do you know how to navigate through these situations? Does the diet or plan allow for flexibility in these cases?
6. Will I have support (partner, friend, family member, group)?
How will your diet affect those around you? Do you have a partner or family that will be eating differently than you? Are they onboard with these changes? Do you have encouragement from others? Is there anyone you can ask questions about your particular diet or plan?
7. Can I stay on this diet or plan for an extended period of time without feeling deprived?
Some diets or plans are intended to be lifestyle changes, while many are for a set amount of time or until a goal is achieved. Regardless, can you commit to the terms of the diet or plan without feeling like you are deprived or missing out?
If you answered no to these questions or aren’t quite sure – this diet or plan is probably not a good fit for you.
What to do instead?
Well, it depends on the particular goals. If the goal is weight loss – all diets work the same way, through creating a calorie deficit. This can be achieved in a number of ways, but the best way to do it is by eating a balanced diet that includes both foods you love and foods that provide the nutrients you need, and creating the smallest calorie deficit necessary to see ½ to 2 lbs of weight loss per week.
The right amount of calories, macronutrients, and foods will vary person to person. A Registered Dietitian can help you navigate what you need for your particular goals and support you through any habit changes needed to get there.
BB.com offers a number of great resources for people looking to take a healthy approach to nutrition, including:
- Macronutrient Calculator: Find out what macronutrient ratio works for you to build a meal plan around protein, carbs, and fats
- Calorie Calculator: Use this calorie calculator to find out how many calories you really need. Match it to your goals and activity level to help you make better nutritional choices.
- Nutrition Articles: Check out the latest and greatest nutrition articles written by industry experts and dietitians to help you make the right nutrition choices.
- Recipe Database: Find 1,000s of recipes to fit your ideal diet and macros. You can sort by macro ranges to find recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
- Foundations of Fitness Nutrition: Everything you need to know about calories, macronutrients, exercise nutrition, and how to eat to lose or gain weight from two Ph.D. dieticians