Yearly, hundreds and thousands of people plan resolutions often tackling old goals with high hopes and enthusiasm. And since obesity has become one of the most significant public health crises (1), losing weight and getting back into shape is a favorite goal.
Many diet plans have been in the spotlight for many years now. While many are supported by science and confers several health benefits, there is no “one-size-fits-all” way of eating. Finding the best diet for you is not that easy.
Here are 8 of the most popular diet plans today. Find out which one will best suit you, along with some tips.
1. Intermittent Fasting (IF)
IF is certainly one of the most popular dietary strategies available today. It cycles between periods of fasting and eating. Several forms exist such as the 16/8 technique, which limits your calorie intake to 8 hours daily, and the 5:2 method, which restricts your daily calorie intake to 500-600 calories twice weekly.
The reduced calorie intake can lead to weight loss unless of course, you compensate by consuming too much food during eating periods.
A review of studies showed that IF can cause 3-8% weight loss over 3-24 weeks, which is significantly greater than other techniques. They also found that this way of eating can help reduce waist circumference by as much as 4-7% (2).
Other studies revealed that IF can increase fat burning while preserving muscle mass, which is good for metabolism (3, 4). IF was also found to have anti-aging effects and is helpful in increasing insulin sensitivity, improving brain health, and reducing inflammation (5, 6).
Generally, IF is safe for most healthy adults. However, those who are sensitive to drops in their blood sugar levels like people with diabetes, low weight, or an eating disorder, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women, should talk to a doctor first before starting any forms of IF.
2. Vegan Diet
Plant-based diets can help you lose weight. Vegetarianism and veganism are the most popular types. Others criticize them for being extreme and unbalanced because they strictly prohibit the intake of animal products for health, environmental, and ethical reasons. On the other hand, more flexible plant-based diets also exist, such as a flexitarian diet, which allows eating of animal products in moderation.
Vegan diets can be either healthy or unhealthy, depending on the foods they contain. Studies have shown that vegan diets based on whole foods can you lose weight and reduce several risk factors for heart diseases (7, 8, 9).
One controlled study looked after 63 overweight adults following five different diets for 6 months. Results showed that those who are in the vegan group lost more than twice as much weight as compared to others (8).
In a two-year controlled study of 64 overweight older women, vegan dieters have lost four times as much weight as compared to those who followed a low-fat diet (7).
Though plant-based diets are generally healthy, they can restrict important nutrients that are often present in animal products. You may be at risk of certain nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, long-chain omega-3s, iodine, iron, calcium, and zinc. To minimize the risk of deficiency, avoid processed vegan foods and choose nutrient-rich plant foods instead.
Not getting enough of these nutrients can be worrisome, especially to people with increased requirements such as children or pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Your genes, as well as the composition of your gut bacteria, may also affect your ability to derive the nutrients you need from this type of diet.
3. Paleo Diet
The Paleolithic diet is based on foods that hunter-gatherers ate hundreds and thousands of years ago. It is also classified as “fad” because it restricts many foods like grains, legumes, and dairy. Also, critics have pointed out that it is nearly impossible to eat the same foods as our ancestors did.
However, paleo is a balanced diet. It removes processed foods and encourages followers to eat plant and animal products.
One study followed-up 70 obese older women. Those who took a paleo diet have lost significantly more weight and abdominal fat after 6 months. Decreased triglyceride levels in the blood were also observed (10).
Another study observed that older obese women who followed a paleo diet in 5 weeks have lost 10 pounds and had an average of 49% reduction in liver fat. Also, women experienced decreases in blood pressure, insulin, blood glucose level, and cholesterol (13).
Though the paleo diet is healthy, it limits several nutritious food groups, including dairy, whole grains, and legumes.
4. South Beach Diet
Dr. Arthur Agatston is yet another cardiologist interested in helping patients lose weight sustainably without getting hungry. He actually likes certain aspects of the Atkins diet but was concerned about increasing the risk of heart diseases with the unrestricted use of saturated fats.
Therefore, in the 1990s, he formulated a lower-carb, lower-fat, high protein diet popularly known today as the South Beach diet. It was named after South Florida, his location for practice.
Although stage 1 includes low-carb and low-fat diets, phases 2 and 3 are less restrictive. During these times, followers are allowed to have limited amounts of all kinds of unprocessed foods while keeping protein intake high.
According to one study, protein can burn more calories during digestion as compared to fats and carbs (14). Also, it stimulates the release of hormones that control hunger, which helps followers feel full for longer hours (15, 16).
Several studies have concluded that high-protein, low-fat diets have caused greater reductions in weight, fat, and triglycerides levels as compared to low-fat, normal protein diets. There is also better retention of muscle mass (17).
A published 12-week study showed an average drop of 11 pounds or 5.2 kg in pre-diabetic patients. They also lost an average of 2 inches in their waistline. More so, there is a reduction in fasting insulin levels and an increase in cholecystokinin, a hormone that helps promote fullness (18).
Although this diet is nutritious overall, it demands an unwarranted drastic restriction of saturated fat and encourages the use of processed seed oils and vegetables, which may pose some health problems with other people.
5. Atkins Diet
Known as the most famous low-carb weight loss diet in the world, this was first introduced in the early 1970s by Robert Atkins, a cardiologist.
The Atkins diet is known to be effective in inducing rapid weight loss without hunger. It has four stages.
The first two weeks are known as the Induction Phase. During this time, carbohydrates are limited to only 20 grams per day, but high-fat and high-protein foods are still allowed. This kick-starts weight loss. The body will start to convert fats into ketones, which will serve as its main source of energy.
During the Balancing Phase, followers will gradually add back their carbohydrates in 5-gram increments to identify their “critical carbohydrate levels” for losing weight and maintaining the loss. Followers can now add more nuts, low-carb vegetables, and small amounts of fruits back in their diet.
Phase 3 is known as Fine-Tuning. Followers who are very close to their goal weight may now add more carbohydrates until weight loss slows down.
The last phase is for maintenance. This time, you can eat as many healthy carbohydrates as your body can tolerate without regaining weight.
According to the famous A TO Z study, more than 300 overweight women who followed the Atkins diet lost more weight as compared to those who took the low-fat Ornish diet, the LEARN diet, and the Zone diet (19).
With the drastic cutting of carbs during the early phase of this program, one may experience some side effects such as headache, dizziness, weakness, and fatigue. Also, nutritional deficiencies and insufficient fiber may also ensue, causing constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.
Atkins is not for everyone. It is recommended that you consult a doctor first before starting this diet, especially if you are taking diuretics, insulin, or other oral diabetes medications. People with severe kidney problems should not follow this diet. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also be cautious.
6. Ketogenic Diet
Though being labeled as “fad”, a ketogenic diet can be very effective for weight loss. It works by decreasing insulin levels and using ketones as your main source of energy. You’ll be in a state known as ketosis.
However, unlike other low-carb diets, this does not gradually increase your carbs. Instead, you’ll keep a very low carb intake, approximately 50 grams per day or lower, to maintain ketosis.
Several studies agree that ketogenic diets can also help reduce inflammatory markers and disease risk factors for overweight and obese patients (27).
Results from a controlled two-year study showed that those who followed a ketogenic diet lost an average of 27.5 pounds and 29 inches from their waists. These were significantly more than the low-fat group, even if both diets were calorie-restricted (28).
More so, even when calories are not intentionally restricted, ketogenic dieters have shown less interest in calorie intake. Studies suggest that this may be due to ketones’ ability to suppress appetite (29).
However, because it is high in saturated fat, it is associated with an increase in LDL cholesterol, which is also linked to heart disease. Other side effects aren’t usually serious. You can experience a mild decrease in blood sugar, constipation, or indigestion. Much less often, it can cause acidosis and kidney stones. A “keto flu” is also possible, which may include headache, irritability, weakness, bad breath, and fatigue.
7. The Dunkan Diet
Dukan diet is also classified as a fad diet. It was developed by Doctor Pierre Dukam in the 1970s. It has four stages.
The initial stage is known as the Attack Phase. It consists of unlimited lean-protein foods to prompt rapid weight loss as a result of increased metabolism and decreased appetite.
Other foods are added with every stage until one reaches the Stabilization Phase. During this time, no foods are strictly off-limits, but vegetables and high-protein meals are highly recommended. The final phase also limits the intake of Attack Phase foods to just one per week.
As extreme as this diet appears, it does help in losing weight.
Polish researchers looked into 51 women following the Dukan diet for 8-10 weeks. Results showed an average weight loss of 22 pounds while consuming approximately 1000 calories and 100 grams of protein daily (30).
Although there are not many studies on the Dunkan diet specifically, a systematic review of 13 controlled studies proved that high-protein, low carb diets are better than low-fat diets for weight loss and reducing the risk factors of heart diseases (31).
This diet, however, is not for everyone. It is best to consult a doctor first before trying this out. This strict diet limits many foods and severely lacks a balance of nutrients. It’s high in protein but low in healthy fats, cholesterol, and carbohydrates that your body actually needs.
8. Zone Diet
Zone diet can help you lose 1-2 pounds per week. It works by balancing the daily intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats while considering portion control, which is very important during weight loss.
This diet focuses on keeping your insulin levels stable or “in the zone.” This allows you to lose weight without losing energy. It involves consuming 40% carbohydrates, 30% proteins, and 30% fat in a 24-hour period. The daily allowance of calories is 1200 and 1500 for women and men, respectively (32).
As far as portion control is concerned, you’ll only need your hand and eye. At first, you may need an actual scale, but as you go on, you must get used to estimating portion sizes by yourself.
Zone diet also works by reducing inflammation, which allows you to lose weight more rapidly.
Results from a six-week study showed that those who followed the Zone diet lost more weight and body fat as compared to those who had low-fat meals. There is also a 44% reduction in fatigue (35).
Another research involving 33 people following four different diets proved that the zone diet can help people lose more fat. There is also an increased ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids (33).
Zone Diet can be ideal for you if you want a program that has similar food options to the Mediterranean Diet but offers you with clear guidelines to follow. Though the theory behind the diet may be linked with better health outcomes, there is not enough evidence to support most of its claims.
But if you are trying to build healthy eating habits, this can help you get started and make you practice portion control!
Tips to Follow When Choosing A Diet
Again, with so many options to choose from, it is never easy to figure out which diet will suit you best. To help you out, we’ve listed tips below to help you find a diet that is both healthy and effective.
1. List Your Nutritional Needs
Our nutritional needs change as we move through different life stages. It is extremely important to consider the extra demands placed on your body by these changes (36). Several diet plans promise fast and easy results, but at what cost? There are those that only focus on consuming a limited variety of foods and restricting calorie intake to an extreme level. These poor nutrition plans will not last. You have to choose one that will meet your personal caloric and nutritional needs with many healthy, natural foods. At times, supplements are recommended to fill in nutrient gaps to keep you healthy. Consult with your doctor and a dietitian to know your nutritional needs based on your age, family health history, lifestyle, and overall health.
2. Check Your Lifestyle
Lifestyle is your day to day behaviors and functions in work, activities, recreation, and diet. In the past few years, this has become an important factor for health. According to the WHO, approximately 60% of related factors to individual health and quality of life are associated with lifestyle (37). So, before deciding on a diet strategy, think realistically about your present lifestyle.
Do you have enough time every week to cook your meals, exercise, and track progress? Will your daily schedules allow you to eat dinner before a specific time every single day? How often do you travel? Will you be getting access to a kitchen during mealtimes or do you normally eat on the go?
Your diet must fit your schedule and lifestyle without requiring too many radical changes. This will help you stick with it long term and be successful. Think about the areas that you can compromise and be honest with yourself about what you cannot change in your habits.
3. Can You Exercise?
Are you owning your workout? Exercise is an important piece of your fitness and health puzzle and it must be customized based on your health needs. It is good in so many ways. It helps improve your circulation, excrete toxins, and maintain strength and flexibility. Some diet plan still requires exercise while others simply get you moving. Choose a diet that requires an exercise component that you can do regularly. Go for a plan that encourages enjoyable and doable exercises and aligns with your long-term health goals. If you can, follow WHO’s recommendation. Do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous workout weekly. Strength training for major muscle groups should be performed on 2 or more days a week (38).
Fad diets will always be in the spotlight, and new plans will continue to be formulated to address everyone’s desire to shed off pounds quickly. While there are many unbalanced fad diets that don’t live up to their claims, there are several that actually do.
Never go with a neat little nutrition box. You must remember that each body ticks differently, including yours. General diet plans can help you build a structure, but you can be a scientist on your own and make modifications if necessary. To achieve your weight loss goal, go for something that you can still enjoy and sustain for life.