By Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDCES
Ever wonder why there are so many different diets… and each one has fans who swear it is the BEST? Well, the truth is that different diets work for different people. There is no one best way that works for everyone. The best diet is the one you think you can stick with! While ideally a healthy eating plan is one that you can follow for the rest of your life, we recognize that many people are looking for a more structured or plan to give yourself a ‘jump start’ for weight loss.
As you evaluate the pros and cons of different diet approaches, keep these principles for healthy weight loss in mind. Also, talk with your healthcare providers and dietitian, as they can be very helpful in figuring out all the options available for sustainable weight loss.
Principles for healthy weight loss:
Focus on eating a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats and fish, low-fat dairy, nuts, healthy fats and other high fiber, minimally processed foods.
Avoid added sugars and limit refined carbohydrates (such as products made with white flour such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereals and baked goods). Limit alcohol and other calorie-laden beverages.
Focus on gradual weight loss, not to exceed 1-2 pounds a week. A structured weight loss program will usually involve nutrition classes, an opportunity to exercise, group support and medical supervision – all offered over a period of at least 8 weeks. Longer programs are typically more effective.
Include regular exercise – both aerobic (like walking or biking) and strength training (using resistance bands); aiming for 6-7 days a week, 60-90 minutes a day.
Incorporate mindful eating principles. Anything that helps you savor the flavors and eat more slowly is ideal. Also, try to minimize distraction and reduce food cues in your surroundings.
Have a plan for ongoing support and to move you from the jump start phase to a long term maintenance phase.
Evaluating the Options:
As you review different meal planning or dieting options, use this as a guide to help you choose:
Things to look for…..
All foods can fit – in moderation.
Seems like a way of eating you could stick with for a lifetime.
Recommends only moderate weight loss goals – not more than 1 kg /week (2 lbs)
Has input from an experienced and credentialed healthcare professionals
Things to avoid….
Completely omits one or more groups of foods (wheat, dairy, carbs, etc)
Promises fast results with no effort.
Requires you to buy special products or supplements; expensive.
Involves periodic fasting or very low calorie levels (less than 1200/day).
Follows a best-selling book; had no input from nutrition or medical professionals.
Choosing a Meal Plan or Diet:
There are five main types of eating patterns or diets, and they fall along a continuum: those that you can follow for a lifetime at one end and those that are only intended for a short-term jump-start at the other end. (Think of meal patterns or plans as those that are intended for use over a lifetime – and on the other end of the spectrum, the “diets” are more drastic measures, intended for short term use to help get things rolling.)
Healthy Patterns – These meal plans feature lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, healthy sources of protein and fat with minimal added sugars, salt and processed foods.
Small Steps– In this type of approach, the goal is to “Do One Thing” (DOT) that will make the biggest difference. It might be to omit sugar sweetened beverages or to stop eating lunch at fast food restaurants. Small changes can really add up over time.
Group Support– Research shows that weight loss is more effective and lasting when it is part of a program that involves ongoing support and lasts at least 8-10 weeks. The longer the better. Support can be live or online.
Structured Plans- Evidence shows that when people’s food choices are limited, they will eat less and lose more weight. Structured plans rely on pre-prepared meals and specially formulated shakes and bars to replace 1, 2 or 3 meals a day.
Jump Start- These approaches are generally not recommended for long term (more than several months) as while they may result in short-term weight loss, they don’t help form long-term healthy eating patterns.
Curious to know what type of dieter you are? Take our QUIZ.
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Finding a doctor who specializes in helping people reach a healthier weight can make a huge difference on your health journey. To find a weight management physician near you, click here.