Short answer

Stop living by someone else's diet rules and make your own. Make your diet and nutrition strategy fit your life, not the other way around.

The best way to eat, the best diet, is what's best for YOU. Not what's best for your coworker. Or your best friend. Or your brother or your partner or your cousin or that random friend of a friend on Facebook or that Instagram fitness celebrity.

You have unique taste preferences, day-to-day lifestyles, work environment and schedules, families, financial means

Long(er) answer

Are you on a diet?

Does it have a name? What would you call it?

Paleo, Whole 30, Mediterranean, Vegan, Vegetarian, Clean, Weight Watchers, Low carb, Slow carb, Gluten free, Intermittent Fasting, IIFYM, Atkins, Zone, Cabbage Soup, Jenny Craig, Macrobiotic, South Beach….

What’s the difference between a diet and a way of eating?

Which type of diet are we talking about here?  (Not to be confused with the Blood Type diet, of course)

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::eyeroll::

Type 1:  the kinds of food a person habitually eats.

Type 2 : a special course or structure of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons

Does everyone need to go ON a diet?

Nope.

Adopting a healthier (yes, it’s a broad term, but go with it) overall diet - remember, different than going ON a diet- might very well be the thing that’ll put you on the path towards the results you are after.

Should everyone go on a diet?

Nope.

Can dieting do you dirty?

Hell yes.

I’m not anti-diet or anti-fat loss.

I am anti-dieting with poor practices, misinformation and/or disordered mindsets and habits.

And I’m anti- dieting forever, thinking you always *need* to be on a diet, or having fat/weight loss ALWAYS being your one and ONLY forever goal.

I’m also pro- whichever diet or method or plan or program you can adhere to, see results with (whatever they might be for YOU) and still enjoy life with.

But what works for YOU might be terrible for someone else and vice versa.

How going on a diet works

Here’s how all diets - promising weight or fat loss - work: they have you eating in a caloric deficit

And the stricter the method, program or plan; the more extreme or restrictive; the more “off limit” foods it contains, the quicker or more extreme the “results” will be. Not because it’s “better” than another diet, but, because it has you drastically slashing calories and eating significantly less.

Here’s an example:

The South Beach Diet is marketed as a low carb, heart healthy, weight loss solution.

The first phase - two weeks long- of the diet restricts all fruits, potatoes, pasta and all whole grains, as well as anything in the “sweets” category: cookies, cakes, muffins and all breads). Juices and alcohol are no-no’s too. It’s essentially 14 days of protein, veggies and fats.

The only substantial amount of carbohydrates consumed in Phase 1 comes from non-starchy vegetables. Aka: green leafy ones.

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Let’s say you follow the diet to a T, only eating protein and veggies and the “good” (their words, not mine) fats on their list of allowed foods.

And holy crap, you start seeing a dramatic difference stepping on the scale, within days.

3, 4, 5, 10 pounds.

It's working! 

Eh. Sort of.

Weight loss isn't exactly the same as fat loss.

The number you see on the scale from day-to-day is a reflection of weight loss, something easily achieved by differences in water retention.

For every 1 gram of carbohydrates, your body retains 3-4 grams of water.

A medium sized apple, for reference, contains about 25 grams of carbohydrates.

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A slice of bread, on average, about the same.

A muffin or cookie? Usually double or triple the amount. Maybe more.

Severely restricting carbohydrates will impact the body's natural and normal response of water retention. The scale will show lower numbers. But have you really made any progress?

Nah.

It's a trick of water manipulation, not a sign of fat loss.

Until this phase of the diet is over and you start integrating those eliminated carbohydrates - like fruits- back into the mix. Or, you become mentally fixated on all of the foods you aren't allowed to eat, can't stop thinking about them and find yourself "cheating" on your diet, overeating, bingeing or engaging in other disordered eating behaviors.

But, let's say you did continue to follow the diet exactly as laid out. Would you see results? As long as you remained in a caloric deficit (burning more energy than you consumed), yes.

And if it didn't work?

It’s not that ______ diet didn’t work.

It’s that you weren’t consistent in following ____________ diet OR _____ diet was so extreme and restrictive you weren’t able to follow it, or rebounded HARD, continuing to eat exactly the same way you did before you started, after your period of dieting was over.

Regardless of what type of foods you choose to eat or what type of diet, plan, method or system you’re on, if you are focusing on fat loss and not seeing results you’re eating too much.

(Yes, there’s a bit more to it. No, it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.)

Fat loss is less about what types of food you eat (although that's important too) and more about how much of those foods you eat.

And research has shown that the ultimate determinant of weight loss success is dietary adherence. If you consistently stick to _____ diet (as long as it has you in caloric deficit) you will lose weight.

This means something like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or South Beach or the -eat-a-cube-of-cheese-when-you-feel-like-you're-about-to-faint diet will work... as long as you consistently follow it.

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 Diets do work

If they’re followed consistently.

If they help produce a caloric deficit.

If they’re followed for a particular amount of time (and then you give yourself a break from it).

but...

Diets don't work

You’re dieting forever (And immediately jumping from one diet to the next).

Your only measure of progress is the scale.

You’re constantly yo-yoing back and forth between being on your diet and being off and not adhering to it.

You’re focused on temporary weight loss instead of long term fat loss.

You’re eating COMPLETELY different than how you eat when you’re not dieting.

You’re not addressing the mindset, habits and emotional component(s) of your food choices and eating habits PRE-diet.

You’re starting it already having disordered eating behaviors and/or disordered thoughts about your body.

You’re blindly following a diet or plan that hasn’t been tweaked for your individual needs, lifestyle, schedule, preferences and uniqueness.

You assume your timeline, results and process will be the same as someone else’s timeline, results & process.

You don’t have a plan for what to do AFTER the diet has ended.

You’re at a point in your life (professionally or personally) when dieting would cause an even more increased amount of stress (new job, moving, etc.).

You haven’t found a sustainable way to eat long term AFTER your diet has ended/when you’re not dieting.

"I’ll just do ____ for 10 days. I can make it for 10 days."

If you don't already have a solid relationship with your food, going on a restrictive or extreme diet of any kind won't make it stronger or repair it.

It will probably test the relationship even more. And, the more drastic the method, the more likelihood of rebounding once your diet is over. Long lasting, sustainable progress starts with having a stronger relationship with food first.

Some signs of having a solid relationship with food include:

Treating all foods as morally neutral (there's no such thing as good, bad, right or wrong) and not having emotional attachments, reactions or feelings towards food or your eating habits.

Not overly restricting or bingeing on any particular foods.

Not relying solely on food as a means of emotional fulfillment.

Having a foundation of fundamentally healthy eating habits to begin with, i.e., the majority of your foods come from high quality, mainly whole, unprocessed sources: protein, veggies, fruits, whole grains, fats, etc.

Understanding that you are more than your body measurement and metrics: weight, body fat percentage, etc., but that it's perfectly okay if you have goals in wanting to change how your body looks and/or functions.

 

"I'll just eat clean"

Ways of eating like Paleo, Whole30 and "clean eating" are great because they:

Encourage people to eat more fruits, veggies and protein

Get people into their kitchens, becoming more comfortable with cooking, planning and preparing meals.

Make people more aware of food quality and ingredients in their food.

Limit processed foods.

but...

Paleo, Whole30 and Clean eating are not always great because they can:

Promote extreme, restrictive eating habits (which generally lead to cravings/bingeing).

Support the idea of certain foods being “good” vs “bad”.

Result in judging and shaming others for not eating Paleo/Whole30/clean.

Confuse people into thinking it's needed for “cleansing” or “detoxing” their body.

Have people believing that eating Paleo/Clean/Whole30 foods will result in fat loss, regardless of the overall amount of food being consumed.

Dieting isn't a long term practice

Dieting for fat loss is not meant to be a long term practice, but the journey to reaching your goals is.

When I speak of finding a sustainable approach to nutrition, I mean it to be an approach that is (somewhat) effortless to manage and maintain every day for the LONG TERM. One which causes neither drastic weight loss or gain, doesn’t feel restrictive or leave you feeling deprived, is rooted in practices of mindfulness and moderation and is something you don’t spend much time or energy thinking about.

It becomes second nature.

You may find developing this sustainable approach results in some initial fat loss, and while you should expect a certain amount of fluctuations all of the time (you’re human, it WILL happen), things won’t wildly swing from one extreme to another.

Dieting is NOT the same as finding a sustainable way to eat long term.

Have you ever known anyone who seems to ALWAYS be on a diet? Dieting is not meant to be a forever practice, but the journey to reaching your goals is.

Fat loss should have a timeline. Dedicating 8-16 weeks at a time is standard. This means you may not reach your ultimate goal look at the end of your first round (100% normal) and should take a break in-between your next round, if you decide you want to continue.

Aiming for fat loss 24/7, 365 days a year will inhibit progress both mentally & physiologically.

Have a timeline for fat loss. Dedicating 12-16 weeks at a time is standard. That means that you may not reach your ultimate goal look at the end of your first 12 weeks (this is common!) and should take a break in-between your next round, if you decide you want to continue.

Other reasons to stop or take a break in your fat loss journey:

You're not making progress and you can't conceivably drop any more calories or add any more exercises

Your adherence has dropped and you're not able to stay on track, you're thinking about/craving foods more than usual and you find yourself bingeing

Your quality of life is suffering to the point that the sacrifices are no longer worth the potential benefits

You're at a point in your life (professionally or personally) when pursuing fat loss might be more difficult than usual, i.e, moving, a new baby, increased work stress, travel, etc.

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Make a diet work for YOU

Extremely rigid plans that don't take your individual preferences, daily schedule and lifestyle into account will work ( if followed consistently) but blindly following a diet or program that doesn't cater to your individualism is setting yourself up to fail.

Things like; grapefruit for breakfast (when you hate grapefruit or breakfast), a snack of exactly 6.5 almonds (huh?) and some gag-inducing protein powder kale smoothie concoction you're supposed to drink at exactly 11:32am.

You can follow any pre-made, pre-planned diet you want. But you don't have to.

You can build your own meal plan, establishing how many meals and snacks you'll have each day.  What works best with your schedule? Will this change on days you workout? At what times throughout the day are you actually hungry? Will you have smaller meals during the day and then a huge dinner? Does it make more sense for you to have two bigger meals?

Fitting your plan to work with your lifestyle (rather than starting the other way around) will make it easier to keep consistent.