Monthly Archives: July 2014

There are an awful lot of popular diets out there. From general suggestions, such as "low-fat" or "low-carb," to named and branded diets like Atkins or Weight Watchers, there are tons of options out there if you want to lose weight.

As a disclaimer, I don't really recommend any of what I'm about to describe below. I really don't recommend "diets" at all - I recommend you find a way of eating that works for you that supports whatever goals you have. It may happen to be that one of these "diets" does it for you, or maybe you take a little bit from each of them and make something custom.

My hope through this post is to show you HOW these popular diets tend to work, to dispel some of the magic surrounding them. It's pretty simple once it's laid out plain. I also am obviously not covering every diet under the sun here, but I think I've touched on the ones you're most likely to hear about.

Let's get started with:

Low-Carbohydrate Diets (low-carb)

What It Is

Low-carb is exactly what it sounds like. It's keeping your total grams of carbohydrates low relative to everything else. Exactly HOW low varies quite a bit, anything from <150g to as low as <20g.

How It Works

That's my kind of meal!

Most of the carbohydrate sources we eat are VERY low on the satiety scale (as in, they don't leave you feeling full and satisfied), so we tend get a ton of calories from them. Things like breads, cereals, candy, soda, etc.

So, if you go low carb, you have to restrict your intake of those kinds of items quite a bit. Soda is out, candy is out, anything with lots sugar is out... really all of your carbs are going to have to come from vegetables, a little bit of fruit, and none if ANY of the other refined stuff.

What happens when you do this? Your caloric intake goes down. Because vegetables, fruits, and meat are generally more filling than grains and breads, you'll naturally eat less. Cutting out a food group, especially one we eat so much of (grains), generally always leads to a reduction in total calories.

What happens when your calories go down? You lose weight!

Another reason low-carb seems to work so well is that when carbohydrates store as glycogen in the body, they tend to hold onto a lot of water. If you go on a very low-carb diet, glycogen levels tend to go down, and therefore you lose a fair amount of water weight as well. On top of that, many breads have some high levels of sodium, which can cause you to hold onto more water.

Summary

  • Low-carb tends to range from 150g - 20g or less per day of carbohydrates
  • Low-carb generally means higher protein and more satiating (filling) foods, decreasing calories
  • More protein is beneficial on a diet for retaining muscle mass
  • Low-carb can reduce water weight in short-term

Low-Fat Diets

What It Is220px-ShreddedWheat

Kind of the opposite of low-carb, low-fat diets try to reduce fat intake to levels ranging anywhere from 10% (on the low end) to 35%  (on the high end) of your daily calories from fat. (On a 2,000 calorie per day diet, this would be anywhere from 22g - 77g of fat)

How It Works

Fat is the most calorie-dense of all macronutrients:

  • 1g carb = 4 calories
  • 1g protein = 4 calories
  • 1g fat = 9 calories

So when your mom tells you that cheese is "fattening" it's kind of a dual-meaning; they're high in fat content, thus high in calories (relative to their volume), thus you'll get fat if you eat them! (Not necessarily on that last point, but that's what we often think)

Just like the low-carb diet, if you go on a low-fat diet, you're either eliminating or drastically limiting your intake of certain kinds of foods - cheese, red meat, full-fat dairy products, most desserts, etc. Once again, getting rid of an entire food group (especially one that is so calorie-dense) is an easy way to reduce calories without counting them.

Unlike low-carb, however, low-fat doesn't seem to lead to increased protein intake as "naturally," since many of our favorite kinds of meat tend to be a bit fatty. Plain skinless chicken breasts and tilapia get stale after a while.

However, many traditional diets are low-fat, high-carb diets with staples such as beans, rice, yams, fruits and vegetables. So low-fat definitely can work well as long as you don't confuse "low-fat" with "high-Snackwell cookie."

Summary

  • Low-fat tends to range between 10% - 35% of daily calories.
  • Low-fat reduces intake of the most calorie-dense macronutrient, leading to reduction in calorie intake.
  • If not replaced entirely with Snackwell cookies and bread, can lead to increased intake of fruits and vegetables.

Weight Watchers

What It Is

Weight Watchers is a program where foods are assigned a certain number of "points" depending on their content. This can be either through Weight Watchers products, or you could look up the number of points of a given item, or calculate it with their PointsPlus calculator.

Each day you are allotted a certain number of points (plus some bonus weekly points) and you can choose to spend them however you like.

How It Works

You can think of "points" as "calories." Basically Weight Watchers has made it easier for people to eat at a deficit. They'll tell you how many 'points' you get to eat per day based on things like height, weight, gender, activity, goals, etc. - then you just have to eat that many points.

Part of the effectiveness of this program is in its popularity. It's so easy to look up how many points are in any item you'd want to eat, because a million other people have eaten it and calculated the points for you. The program is so popular, many healthy recipe sites provide the number of points in their recipes for you as well!

As well, the program doesn't necessarily "limit" your food choices. There aren't forbidden foods, just higher-calorie stuff is going to have more points. This is exactly how counting calories works, just made a bit simpler.

They do tend to give people very steep deficits, however.

Summary

  • A simpler way of counting calories, does the thinking for you
  • Limiting points = limiting calories = weight loss
  • Also puts an emphasis on group support, which is a huge component of weight loss most diet plans don't address

The Paleo Diet

What It Is

The idea behind the Paleo diet is that it tries to mimic what our ancestors ate (hence reference to paleolithic era), because they theorize that is the way our bodies evolved to eat, thus being "healthier" than our modern diets.

This usually (though Paleo has so many off-shoots now it's hard to keep up) means eliminating:

  • Bread / grains
  • Dairy
  • Most "processed" foods

The most popular Paleo food being, of course, bacon.

They also emphasize eating lots of meat, including red meats.

The idea that all of our ancestors ate any particular way has been thoroughly de-bunked, but while the "philosophy" behind Paleo doesn't mean much, many people still follow this diet.

 

How It Works 

So if you remember how we mentioned that anytime you eliminate a food group, you decrease your calories, you'll know how this diet works.

Getting rid of breads, grains and processed foods will drastically lower your carbohydrate intake. This is why many people confuse low-carb with Paleo. With low-carb, you still theoretically could eat bread (just very small amounts), but you can't eat ANY on Paleo.

No worries though, just hop through some loopholes and gorge on Paleo-approved slices of bread or muffins!

However, gorging on those kinds of foods is akin to eating only Snackwell cookies and claiming to be eating a "low-fat" diet. Technically, yes, you are falling within the parameters, but you've lost the spirit of the diet...usually because it's too restrictive in the first place, so you feel the need to find ways around it!

Summary

  • The Paleo Diet eliminates breads, grains, dairy, and most processed foods
  • Eliminating food groups leads to reduced caloric intake, resulting in weight loss
  • Tends to increase protein intake and decrease carbohydrate intake, in very similar fashion to low-carb diets
  • Increase in satiety and decrease in water weight tends to lead to more weight loss

Intermittent Fasting (IF)

What Is It 

There are quite a variety of fasting diets out there - alternate-day fasting, 5/2 fasting, religious fasting, etc. Intermittent fasting is one of the more popular options for weight loss. It typically involves abstaining from eating for 16 hours out of the day, leaving an 8 hour window where you can eat your daily amount of calories.

How It Works

Believe it or not, it can be tough to over-eat when you only give yourself 8 hours to do so, especially if you primarily fill it with satiating foods like vegetables and meats.

One big reason that we've all put on so much weight in the past few decades has been snacking, and IF puts a stop to that by simply abstaining from ALL food for a period of time, typically during the daytime with a big evening meal.

There aren't really any other rules - you simply end up eating less because you don't give yourself as much time to pack in the calories.

There are some drawbacks. For some people, IF can lead to binge-eating problems (it certainly did with me), a pressure to abstain from food for longer than 16 hours, and for women especially it seems to lead to some negative consequences. However it is highly variable between individuals and I've known many people who found IF to be their preferred method of eating.

Summary

  • Fast for 16 hours a day, feast during an 8-hour window
  • Cuts calories by reducing the amount of time you are eating per day
  • Be mindful of the effect regular IF has on your eating habits, mood and energy levels

Conclusion

Did you figure out the magic trick to every single one of these diets?

They reduce your caloric intake without requiring you to count calories.

Mindlessly eating less seems to be something people see a lot of initial success with - unfortunately the restrictive nature of these diets tends to make them short-lived.

If you'll note, I didn't mention much of anything about the health claims of many of these diets. That's because as long as you're not eating chicken mcnuggets and potato chips for every meal of everday, chances are you're not going to see drastic health consequences from eating grains, enjoying some full-fat dairy, eating a meal after 8PM, or having the occasional processed candy bar.

Yes, you personally may feel bloated after you have some dairy or whole-wheat toast, but that's on you. That's why if low-carb makes you feel like crap, you shouldn't be scared to go off of it because someone somewhere told you sugar will make you fat and stupid.

Pick and choose from various dieting tips and strategies to find out what works best for you and your goals. Maybe you like the part about IF where you don't have to eat breakfast, and avoiding bread at lunch makes you feel more energetic for the end of your work day. Then at dinner you indulge in some dessert, but check to make sure it doesn't have a billion calories beforehand.

That's just one example. You'll probably be different, and there's no rigid diet plan out there that's going to know what will work best for you. Just look at the ONE THING every single diet out there has in common with each other - you eat less calories. If your goal is weight loss, that's really it. Promise.

2 Comments

We're going to start this post off by going on a shopping trip. I'm in the market for a new weight loss fitness product - maybe there's something out there that can motivate me to do some cardio?! (probably not) So, what are some of my top options here?

FitnessWeightLossPromises

Why lose 15 pounds in 30 days when I can lose 20 pounds in 30 days???? Clearly the bottom right product is superior.

Eh...on second thought I don't really want to commit to spending any money yet. Is there anywhere that will give me the secrets to washboard abs and fast weight loss for free?

FitnessDvdResults2

IS YOUR LUNCH KILLING YOU?!?!?!!! Find out at 11.

Buuuuttt then I have to go out and find the magazine. I'm really not looking to leave the house today. All right internet, what have you got for me?

FitnessWeightLossPromises3

I'm pretty sure a tummy tuck takes a little bit longer than 5 minutes, so I'm calling shenanigans on the bottom right one here.

Man, options really abound for how to lose weight and get toned (and/or firm and/or sculpted) fast without dieting! Diets have always been the hard part for me when it comes to weight loss, so I can just add in some more exercise to compensate, right? Sadly, exercise alone hasn't been found to be that effective for losing weight. (1, 2, 3)

...But I completely get how it can seem like that's the case. Every month both men and women are marketed quick exercise fixes to their physique woes. Any of these sound familiar?

  • Get bigger biceps with this one new curl variation! 
  • Get a flat belly fast with this killer core workout!
  • Drop 1 size by summer? Yes please! 
  • Pack on 10 pounds of solid muscle in 30 days - no bullshit, just hard work.

You hear all over the place that there are no short cuts to weight loss. That it requires hard work and a lifestyle change. Well, going from doing nothing to doing vigorous exercise with Jillian Michael's yelling in your face is hard work and a lifestyle change. Does that not count?

No fitness routine will get you drastic results without a change in diet.

Yeah, yeah, I can hear the critiques now: "Psh, everyone knows that Kat. You're beating a dead horse." And you're right, I am beating a dead horse. And I'm going to keep beating a dead horse until everyone understands that these kinds of headlines are inherently misleading.

But I also want to talk about something odd I've noticed with many potential clients who have sat across my desk over the years...

We'll go over a realistic timeline for results and what it really takes to get there. Some topics we cover often include:

  • Slow and steady changes win the sustainability game
  • It takes a lot of hard work to build enough muscle to be considered "bulky"
  • You must change your diet habits to see significant physique results
  • There is no such thing as spot reduction
  • Cleanses are basically bullshit

Almost always, my potential client will nod along and affirm they're familiar with these common myths.  Fast forward a few sessions, and my now current client will turn and ask about what we can do to get rid of their belly/saddlebags/arm flab/etc. Not even two weeks ago, we affirmed they knew spot reduction was not a thing.

What happened between then and now?

Most of my readers probably already know most of the above if you've been following my blog for any length of time. But have you ever found yourself doing any of the following:

  • Running despite your intense hate for it because of some vague notion you'll lose weight if you can run a 5k?
  • Tacking on 10 minutes of intervals at the end of your workout because you know you're going to be drinking this weekend?
  • Getting through a grueling workout and immediately following it up with a large pizza with a side of garlic knots to "refuel"?
  • Trying a yoga or dance class in hopes you'll get a "yogi's" or "dancer's" body?
  • Find yourself doing a lot more direct abdominal work as swimsuit season approaches...despite the fine layer of marbling above them?
  • Going on a cleanse after the holiday season?

I guess I'm just bringing this up so that maybe we won't judge others who regularly get mixed up about what works in fitness and weight loss so harshly. Most of us have been there at some point or another.

I mean, I'm guilty as charged on a couple of those myself.

I know that the 100 calories worth of intervals aren't about to make a dent in the 10 beers and 1:00 AM cheeseburgers I'll be indulging in over the weekend. Sometimes it just feels good to do something illogical. And hell, can be a good enough reason to do something.

So yes, we can logically "know" that spot reduction isn't a thing, but we're still compelled to glorify planks and do a zillion Russian twists whenever we feel down about our stomachs. Because it feels good.

Because it feels like we're in control of how we want our body to change if we can, ever so briefly, believe spot reduction works. It's the same thing that draws us to ridiculous magazine headlines or over-the-top weight loss promises on Fitness products or DVDs. The lie feels good.

Eating less than you were before doesn't feel like you're doing something proactive. It's a passive action. But exercise? Exercise feels so much better than a diet. You're DOING something, which is what we're compelled to do when we want to change anything in life.

Unfortunately, for weight loss the best thing you can do is put the fork down and wait a few months.

...All right the above paragraphs are just me bullshitting, but those are my personal experiences. (Maybe they're yours too - I'm not sure, so you should let me know what your experiences are in the comments)

Equal attention and emphasis must be given to the diet and fitness portion of products

Criticism number two I'm predicting is: "But many DVDs come with diet plans. And articles often talk about the importance of diet." Sure, but they're throwaways, just a token "oh yeah, and diet" line to placate people like me:

  • "Of course, diet is also very important. So make sure you're eating healthy."
  • "It's important to eat a lot during this program as well. Gallon of milk a day should do it."
  • A 10-page booklet on diet telling you all the things you already know that is barely mentioned in the infomercial.

Not happening unless you start eating less.

Take this Insanity commercial for instance. (Don't even get me started on "Max Interval Training") Yeah, Insanity comes with a DietPlan, but it's not even mentioned in the commercial! The Diet Plan is absolutely, 100% necessary to get results on this program. One would think that would warrant at least a small mention, no?

The product is the workout. The result promised is weight loss. In real life, that's just not how these things work.

But fitness is sexier than something like, EAT 10 VEGETABLES IN 10 DAYS, or ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH TO COOK SALMON, or EXTREME 21-DAY FRUIT FIX. It's harder to make a real attention-grabbing infomercial with that, I guess?

These mindsets hold us back

Logically we know that exercise and diet changes are necessary for weight loss. But we tend to buy and act with our emotions - probably why cop-outs like Snackwell cookies or sugar-free gummy bears get more sales than canned vegetables.

Be honest, is a lack of a diet plan or workout regimen what's keeping you back from results? Come on, you could Google "fat loss meal plan" right now and get some decent diet plans that would get you results. There are more than enough free workouts online to last you a lifetime.

So what's stopping you from making those changes right now? Why does the prospect of doing it on your own for free seem unappealing, but you're motivated to get started now when you see a well-done infomercial?

Does that intense and schnazzy DVD infomercial compel you to buy because they seem to make it look so attainable? Because it's completely planned out for you? Does it feed into that small logical part of you that knows magic pills don't exist, but completely ignores the part where changing your diet is required, but fucking hard to do?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but you should ask them before you click "add to cart" next time you find yourself browsing for motivation on Amazon.

Moral:

You will NOT be losing 10 pounds in 2 weeks from a fitness DVD or workout program without some changes in your diet, no matter how convincing an infomercial is.

This shouldn't keep you from exercising or moving in general, especially if you want to lose weight for health reasons! Walking for 30 minutes a day is one of the easiest things you can do to drastically improve your health. ...You just won't lose 20 pounds in 30 days.