what makes a diet great?

Have you ever been confused by the amount of diets out there?  They're all so different, yet they all promise the same thing: weight loss.  If all their weight loss claims are true, then does it even matter which one you choose?  What makes a specific diet better than another one?  Let's review what makes a diet great, so you can be better educated if you decide to choose one.

 

It Works!

 

For a weight loss diet to be desirable, it has to work, meaning that it has to provide a calorie deficit, so that more calories are burned than those being consumed.  This is the common denominator in all diets. They all provide different mechanisms that provide calorie deficits.  The four main contributors of calories in our diets are added fats, added sugars, refined grains and meat.  Not only are these sources of calories excessive, they're unhealthy.  Just by cutting down on refined foods and meat, you will have unknowingly removed the main calorie contributors in your diet.  For some people desperate to lose weight, health is their last priority, but with a plant-based diet, it is possible to have the best of both worlds.

It Promotes Health!

For a diet plan to be worth it in the long run, it has to be healthy.  I understand that some simply want to fit in that new pair of pants that's too tight, but realistically, some diets will take years off your life, or quality out of your life, in exchange for you to fit in those pants.  I'm guessing that if you're on my site, you're aware that following the science is the way to optimal health and sustainable weight loss.  A healthy diet is one that will promote evidence based health foods, so if your diet is telling you to stay away from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts or seeds, then run for the hills, or towards a different diet.  Any diet promoting a calorie deficit will help you lose weight, but if you're still reading, I can safely assume you're looking for both sustainable weight loss and health.  If your diet promotes a restrictive way of eating, or recommends more supplements than actual food, then health might not be a priority.  If your diet promotes an unbalanced amount of processed and refined foods, or large amounts of animal products, then it's definitely not evidence based.  Optimal evidence based health is seen when eating a variety of whole foods that grow in the ground or from trees, and when minimizing processed foods and limiting your intake of meat.  The natural low calorie density of real food, combined with it's naturally high fiber content will provide satisfaction, fullness, vitamins and minerals.  Most people that have switched to a more plant-based way of eating have quickly discovered that they're eating even more food than before, while staying in a weight loss promoting calorie deficit.  By eating whole plant foods, you're ticking off the following boxes that describe an optimal weight loss diet:

  • the diet is naturally anti-inflammatory, nutritious and health promoting

  • it has a naturally low glycemic index (see the For Nerds section on carbs)

  • it is low in saturated and trans fats (see why you want to avoid these fats in the For Nerds section on fats)

  • it has poor calorie density

  • it has low amounts of processed foods, in which fiber has been removed, along with the nutrients that were trapped in it

  • it has increased fiber which promotes fullness, since fiber adds bulk without calories, and fiber traps calories, so that the calories you eat don't all get absorbed

It Takes Psychology Into Account

Changing is hard, and that's why lots of research has gone into understanding what makes people tick.  The psychological features of changing a behavior have to be taken into account if someone wishes to succeed.  Strategies used to help a skeptic change their behavior will be different from those used for someone with unbreakable determination and confidence.  Changing complex behavior patterns, like those involved with overeating, requires a personalized approach, and not a one-size-fits-all meal plan.  That's why programs offering support, accountability and group sessions can be expected to generate more success.  Also, by taking into account someone's place on the behavior-change spectrum, it will be easier to formulate a personalized strategy for them and get them started off on the right foot!  Self-weighing, self-monitoring and reporting to others have all been proven useful since they play on accountability.  The scientific literature hasn't shown them to be counter-productive, meaning that these behavior monitoring tools haven't been shown to impact mood, self-image and eating disorders.  So log your food intake if you can, weigh yourself regularly, take before and after pics, and tell others, since these accountability tools have all been proven to help you with your weight loss journey!

It's Sustainable And Maintainable

What makes a diet sustainable?  All diets work, and most 3 month testimonials prove it, but how about 2 years later?  Have you seen testimonials of long term weight loss?  If so, chances are their diet included some of the tools mentioned above.  Don't get me wrong, some people succeed with pure heart, perseverance and determination, but not the majority.  If the goal is to touch the most people possible, formulating recommendations for the average person is the way to go.  Most diets are really hard to maintain, and the slowing of your metabolism can partly explain why.  As you're losing weight, it costs less and less calories to carry a leaner body, and so weight loss gets slower.  Every pound gets harder to lose than the one before, and slowly, your body resists weight loss.  You have to become progressively more and more determined to lose that next pound, and when behavior change is met with enough resistance, the change stops.  It's human nature, it's not your fault.  Also, since most diets are restrictive, they can leave you feeling hungry and undernourished, again prompting you to want to eat more, and most diets like that lead you to burning muscle, not fat.  Most diets can cause rapid weight loss this way.  You were fighting a losing battle all along.  Most people who have succeeded in losing weight and maintaining it will tell you that your lifestyle must change as much as your diet.  Small incremental changes will pay off more than crash diets and severe calorie restriction, in the long term.   

Choosing The Right Diet For You

So next time you're contemplating a new diet, start by asking yourself these four questions:

  1. Is it healthy?

  2. Can I maintain this lifestyle long term?

  3. Can I adapt it and personalize it to meet my needs?

  4. Has it been proven to cause safe and sustainable weight loss?

Science and research have shown that well-planned plant-based diets can tick all those boxes.  The goal should always be to go slow, anticipate setbacks and to have a plan when the times get tough.