Diet Do or Diet Disaster?

28 May

Hi friends! What a beautiful day! I’m sitting up on the terrace with a yummy cup of coffee. ahhh 🙂 Today we’re going to talk about diets….

As a future dietitian, I cringe when I walk through the Diet section at Barnes and Noble. I get to see what I’ll be up against when trying to educate people about nutrition. The problem with most of the diets is that they are temporary solutions. Usually they include ditching an entire food group or nutrient which can be a difficult strategy to maintain for a lifetime. Not all diets are bad news, but let’s start with a summary of my least favorites…

The Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet severely restricts all carbohydrates including starches, fruits, and veggies which puts your body into a state of ketosis- burning fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. Burning fat is more inefficient than burning carbs, especially for the brain. Atkins promotes a very high protein, high fat diet. Foods on the “Atkins approved” list: mayo, red meat, full fat cheese, and butter. Why I don’t like it: It almost completely removes a macronutrient from the diet. The body needs carbohydrates for energy. Drastically cutting carbs can lead to low energy, lethargy, and a cranky attitude. Also, any diet that limits veggies needs to be questioned!

Grapefruit, Cabbage Soup, and the Special K Diet

These diets all pretty much boil down to severe calorie restriction resulting in rapid weight loss. They also result in low energy, deficiencies, and gastrointestinal discomfort. You won’t want to wear white pants in public if you know what I’m sayin’. They offer very little variety which leads to boredom and nutrient deficiencies. 

Any Diet That Includes a “Magic Pill”

If there was a magic pill for weight loss and optimal health, we’d all be taking it. The only way is through good ‘ol nutrition and exercise. ‘Nuff said.

Like I said, not all diets are impossible to follow. Here are some of my favorites…

The Mediterranean Diet and The Flat Belly Diet

A mediterranean eating style includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, lean proteins, and very small amount of red meat (only once a month). It heavily emphasizes MUFA’s (monounsaturated fatty acids- healthy fats), including olive oil, nuts, seeds, flax, avocados, and dark chocolate. The Flat Belly Diet in particular encourages 4 smaller meals spaced out throughout the day and encourages exercise to accompany the diet. Although I don’t like its “flat belly” spot treatment claim, the diet guidelines win my approval. 

Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers is one of the most successful diets. It teaches portion control, how to stay within a daily calorie range, and how to maintain long-term weight loss. It encourages exercise and provides its followers with an unrivaled support system. Weight Watchers works off of a point system where every food is assigned a certain number of points and dieters are alloted daily point, based on their specifications, to spend as they choose. You can spend your points however you want, but you get more bang for your buck if you choose healthy foods. For example, broccoli is worth zero points while creamy salad dressing will cost you 8 points.

Eat Clean Diet

The Eat Clean Diet was developed by Tosca Reno, a hard-bodied Oxygen Magazine columnist. Her plan is based on the idea of choosing natural, whole foods over man-made processed foods. The quality of ingredients is key. She encourages 6 mini meals of about 300-400 calories throughout the day comprised of protein and complex carbs. Veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, lean proteins, and healthy fats are approved foods. You are only allowed one “cheat meal” each week. The diet promotes exercise with a heavy emphasis on weight training. 

There isn’t a single diet that’s perfect for everyone, so you have to be willing to build your own diet. What can we take away from these popular diets?

The Mediterranean-Style Diet: All of the foods suggested on the Mediterranean Diet are foods you should be eating! Small changes like reducing your red meat consumption to once a week and trading in your unhealthy fats for olive oil and avocados can make a huge difference!

Weight Watchers: Whether you’re counting points or counting calories, numbers don’t lie. It isn’t the right method for everyone, but I think that keeping track of your intake numerically is the most accurate way to keep tabs on how much you’re eating. Another crucial part of Weight Watchers: support!! If you are serious about losing weight and getting healthy, share your goals with family and friends! It holds you accountable, gives them a chance to support your goals instead of sabotaging them (think family complaining that there’s no ice cream in the house or co-workers poking fun at your healthy lunch), and it’ll give you the opportunity to motivate others. A lot of research shows that once mom adopts healthy habits, the rest of the family soon follows. 

The Eat Clean Diet: By now you all know that I am totally in favor of choosing whole foods over processed foods. I am also a fervent supporter of pairing your healthy food habits with exercise, especially weight training (I’ll be posting some strength training routines in the future). The Eat Clean Diet might be a little too stringent for some people though. For instance, I like the idea of having one cheat meal each week. I usually choose the meal based on social functions that include a dinner out or a decadent food such as cake. Because I know that I have eaten healthy all week and actually planned for this splurge, I make sure that I am totally present and savor every bite. But this doesn’t mean I’m going to turn down a trip to a new frozen yogurt place 🙂 Some people might not be able to resist the temptation to gorge themselves at their cheat meal. That’s why it’s important to take a few tips from different fad diets and build a plan that works for you:

1. Before you break out your little calorie counting notebook and weigh and measure every bite, start implementing some basic healthy changes first. Reduce the amount of red meat you eat, switch to healthier fats, or stop buying those potato chips that constantly call your name from the pantry. Set 3 small goals for yourself to work on each week. Example: break my bedtime ice cream habit, add a serving of vegetables each day, and cook with olive oil instead of margarine (if you use margarine, this one should be on your list!!!!). At the end of the week, evaluate your goals. Did you master them or do they need more time to stick? Carry over the ones you are still working on and make a few new goals.

2. After you’ve cleaned up your diet a little, it’s time to tackle how much you’re eating. First you have to figure out how many calories you burn. Figure out you BMR (basal metabolic rate) first. BMR is the amount of calories you burn performing normal bodily functions (digestion, breathing, heartbeat, sleeping, etc.) This particular equation also takes into account your activity level. once you know how many calories you burn, you can figure out how many calories you need to eat to lose or maintain your weight. This site recommends cutting 500 calories a day (about 1 lb/week weight loss), but I’d recommend 250-500 calories a day. Now it’s time to start keeping track of calories. 

3. Calorie counting isn’t your style? No worries, just clean up your eats and learn to listen to your body. I know, easier said than done. Especially when you’ve been ignoring your body for years. Every time you sit down to a meal try to be completely present and concentrate on what you’re eating. Don’t plop in front of the TV or computer- you’ll end up reaching for another bite and realize it’s gone already and you don’t remember eating it! No more mindless eating! When you are tempted to keep chowing down even when you know you aren’t hungry, remind yourself that there will be more food at the next meal and this won’t be last time you ever eat this particular food. It’s no fun to feel overstuffed, guilty and uncomfortable anyway. If you let your body’s hunger and satiety cues direct your appetite, you’ll be on your way to a healthier YOU! Keep setting those 3 weekly goals too!

4. Eat a little less, move a little more. Exercise is so important! Obviously it burns calories, but it also improves your mood and makes you feel healthy, strong and alive. And regular exercise can influence what you eat. You’ll start to notice what foods make exercising harder or easier. Like Tosca Reno, I am a big fan of weight training. Building lean muscle increases your calorie-burning abilities, helps prevent injury, and is crucial for bone health. Exercise can be anything- walking, running, biking, swimming, even just taking the stairs more often at work or parking in the back of the parking lot at the grocery store. Trust me, once you get the hang of it, it’ll make you feel great!

I am about to embark on a 3 night camping adventure! Check back next week for a post about nutrition when traveling and lots of pictures!

Enjoy your weekend and thanks for reading 🙂


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