To utterly ignore guilty pleasures for the duration of a diet is not necessarily realistic. Instead, you should abide by the basic principle of calories in versus calories out. If you must indulge, you must also exercise harder to restore balance.
All you have to do is scan Facebook this time of year for the latest diet trends and advice. It can seem as if everyone is trying something new and most claim their way works best. Recent estimates say as many as 45 million Americans go on a diet each year and spend $33 billion each year on weight loss products. Yet, nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. With so much conflicting information available at our fingertips it can be tough to distinguish fact from fad.
“Fad diets are typically just that — a fad,” said Emily Compton RDN, LDN, a registered and licensed dietitian and nutritionist with UPMC. “They are difficult to stick with and can do more harm to our bodies in the long run than the initial good. Every person is so very different that what works for one person may not work for another.”
Many of the latest fad diets advise cutting down or completely eliminating carbohydrates including the Keto, Paleo, and Atkins diets. “If you are looking to start one of these diets, you should check with your physician as cutting out one whole food group is not necessarily safe for everyone,” Compton said. Your physician can provide guidance about which diet might work best for you. They can also take into consideration your overall health when making recommendations.
“Yes, we need carbohydrates. Carbs are much more than just breads, sweets, and pastas. Carbohydrates are also found in fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods that we eat. Eliminating carbs also eliminates a good source of energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that go along with fruits and vegetables,” Compton said.
One thing the experts all seem to agree on is that the rapid weight loss you may experience initially with a fad diet is not sustainable. Quick fix diets are generally not healthy in the long term and your weight is likely to rebound when you start eating normally again. It is also best for your overall health to include exercise as a part of your weight loss plan.
“The best ‘diet’ is simple,” Compton said. “Calories in versus calories out. To lose weight, the calories that we take in need to be less than what we burn. To keep it off long term, keep it simple — start slowly and make it a lifestyle change.”
Compton advises those who want to make a change to set realistic goals and expectations. “Change one or two small things at a time and build off those. Eat a variety of healthy foods daily and avoid highly processed foods and empty calories.
Stick with a balanced diet that includes healthy fats, protein, fruits and vegetables and limits salt, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. Own what you eat and get up and move.”
The Mayo Clinic suggests also considering your personal needs before starting a diet. Ask yourself if you need support of some kind either online or in a group, if your budget allows for special supplements or diet foods, or if you are limited by any health conditions. It is also important to consider how certain diets make you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally.
One of the most popular diet plans for more than 40 years has been the Weight Watchers system, which advises to adopt a balanced diet, eat in moderation, and eat what you want. The diet uses a points system to track what you eat and provides support.
There are also a number of apps such as My Fitness Pal that help track calories in versus calories out. Writing down what you eat or tracking it on your smartphone in an app can help you become more aware of what you are eating and how much.
Whichever diet plan you choose, the first step to self-improvement is deciding to make a change and getting started. Do your research, speak with your doctor, and try not to get discouraged if you fall off now and then. Consistency over time is key.
Amy VanScoter is a registered yoga teacher at School House Yoga and a wellness program coordinator. She can be reached at [email protected]