What is the Best Way to Lose Weight? 8 Popular Diets Explored
What is the best way to lose weight? Open any fitness magazine or mainstream publication and you are going to get hit with a barrage of miracle fat loss diets or methods that promise to get you ripped in 2 weeks. You read through the methods and start trying to follow them in hopes that you will get as ripped as the fitness models pictured in the article.
After you’ve thrown out all of the foods you enjoy and start restricting your diet according to whatever eating standards are listed in the article, you realize that you simply cannot keep up with a diet like this. You aren’t a quitter so you stick with this eating plan for 2 weeks and realize the magazine fad diet was a crock of crap.
You start eating the same foods you were eating before and all of a sudden you notice an increase in your weight. You feel bloated again. This is what happens when you try fad diets that are marketed to people that know they need to make a lifestyle change, but are looking for a “quick fix.”
We’ve all been there and it is no fun.
To help you weed through many of the popular fat loss diets, and find the best way to lose weight, I’ve analyzed the pros and cons of 8 popular methods. Hopefully this information will help you make a more informed decision before starting a new eating plan.
None of these diets will require a licensed nutritionist to make sense of them. For the most part they have many things in common with each other.
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8 Popular Fat Loss Diets Explored
A look at the Atkins Diet
Dr. Robert Atkins created the Atkins diet. It is officially called the Atkins Nutritional Approach and was first popularized in his book written in 1972. Atkins promotes eating low-carbohydrate, nutrient dense, unprocessed foods that have a low glycemic index. Dr. Atkins created this diet to solve his own weight gain issues.
There are four phases to the Atkins diet:
- Ongoing Weight Loss
- Lifetime Maintenance
These phases start off by cutting carbs very low. Then, you slowly bring carb intake back up to a healthy lifetime level to avoid the “end of diet” mindset.
At the height of popularity, the Atkins diet was blamed for a decline in Krispy Kreme sales.
Atkins Diet Pros
- Promotes a sustainable healthy lifestyle change
- Eliminates bad carbs that can contribute to Type 2 Diabetes and obesity
- If followed correctly, many people can lose a lot of weight
Atkins Diet Cons
- Can lead to vitamin deficiencies due to no fruits, vegetables, or whole grains
- You must be precise with every gram of carbohydrate you eat, which makes eating out particularly hard
- If returning to eating carbs, you will gain back all if not more weight than before
A Look at Carb Cycling
Carb cycling involves manipulating carbohydrate intake. The official name for a carb cycling diet is a “cyclical ketogenic diet.” It helps you burn body fat for energy instead of carbs and muscle tissue, but also keeps your glucose and glycogen stores replenished.
Carb cycling can be complex because you need to be precise with how many carbs you consume so you maintain ketosis, or so you don’t eat too many carbs during your refeed and minimize fat loss. A typical “low-carb” cycle consists of 0-50 grams of carbs while a typical “refeed” cycle consists of 450-600 grams of carbs. The refeed process can lead to a fat gain if you consume more carbohydrates than needed to replenish glycogen stores.
Carb Cycling Pros
- This diet is tried and true, sustainable, and effective
- It is somewhat easy to follow as long as you choose good sources of carbs
- Physiologically easier because you get a refeed to make the diet easier to maintain
Carb Cycling Cons
- Fat gain is easy if you are not precise and consistent with carb intake
- You can experience fatigue due to low amounts of glycogen which can be hard to deal with
- Planning out your diet can take a lot of time
A Look at IIFYM/Flexible Dieting
IIFYM is also known as “If It Fits Your Macros” or “Flexible Dieting.” It is a diet that permits you to eat whatever you want as long as it fits your macros. Once you determine your macro and calorie needs with an easy to use calculator, you are ready to start flexible dieting.
IIFYM has been around a long time but the term started gaining popularity some time around 2010-2011. Since then, YouTube personalities and online coaches have been pushing this approach as the best way to diet since it is non-restrictive.
- You can eat your favorite foods and lose weight with moderation
- This is a non-limiting diet and will reduce the risk of creating an eating disorder
- Flexibility in your diet leads to long-term success
- It can be difficult to track calories and macros especially when eating out
- Takes a lot of self-control that may have been absent prior to dieting
- Getting enough micronutrients can be difficult if you do not eat enough non-processed foods
A Look at Intermittent Fasting
Fasting has been around since the beginning of time and has many healthy benefits. The idea of intermittent fasting has only been around for a few years and has been gaining popularity quickly. This diet method has you fasting for 14-22 hours a day and eating only during a 2-8 hour window.
While using intermittent fasting, you are supposed to eat as much as you normally would all day but only during the 2-8 hour time frame you’ve chosen. Fasting promotes weight loss, positively affects insulin sensitivity, brain function, and your immune system.
Intermittent Fasting Pros
- Fasting for most of the day minimizes insulin release and maximizes natural HGH
- You experience extreme focus and concentration during the fasted state
- There are no special calculations or macro manipulations; just eat during specific times.
Intermittent Fasting Cons
- It can take a couple of weeks for your body to acclimate itself with the new feeding pattern
- Some people may develop eating disorders ranging from OCD of when to eat to binging when they can eat
- Does not have as much scientific backing as other diets and methods
A Look at the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet was first published in 1975 by an American biologist named Ancel Keys and his chemist wife Margaret Keys. This diet did not catch any widespread adoption until the 1990s. It sticks to a high fat, low meat approach.
Specifically, the Mediterranean diet consists of a high consumption of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, and vegetables, a moderate to high consumption of fish, dairy products, wine, and a low consumption of meat. Oddly enough, this diet does not reflect the actual cuisine of all of the Mediterranean. For example, Italy uses lard and butter for cooking, and olive oil mostly for salad dressing or drizzled over cooked vegetables.
Mediterranean Diet Pros
- The largely plant-based diet boasts increasing heart health and overall healthy diet patterns
- You have a large variety of foods to choose from which leads to some diverse flavors
- Covers all food groups and is not as limiting as other diets
Mediterranean Diet Cons
- This diet isn’t necessarily designed for weight loss
- This diet may be more expensive to follow depending on fresh food availability
- Does not specify hard numbers to follow; usage of “low to moderate intake” can be taken many different ways
A Look at the Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, bases its principles off of what cavemen and others may have eaten in the Paleolithic era; meat, nuts, and berries. The diet can be traced back to the 1970s by a gastroenterologist named Walter Voegtlin. This diet was dubbed as being one of the latest trends in diets in 2012 and in 2013 it was Google’s most searched weight loss method.
The Paleo diet is considered to be largely a fad diet that does not follow abundant evidence that Paleolithic humans did actually eat grains and legumes. With the Paleo diet becoming so popular, many people have put their own spin on what you can and cannot eat; making this diet the butt of many jokes and memes.
Paleo Diet Pros
- Takes a “whole food only” approach to eating; meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds
- The diet is high in soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, nutritious fats, and natural foods
- Loosely basing your diet off of these principles will guarantee long-term success and health
Paleo Diet Cons
- Uses a “good/bad” or “allowed/not allowed” method which does not fare well with most people
- Strictly following Paleo is tough and is unlikely to be sustained for a lifetime
- Misinterpretation of what is good or bad has created misinformed dieters who eventually stop the Paleo diet
A Look at Rapid Carb Backloading
Carb backloading works by taking advantage of natural fluctuations in insulin sensitivity and uptake of glucose throughout the day; a strategy designed to lose weight and gain muscle. The theory behind this is that you eat minimal carbs during the day and increase your body’s insulin sensitivity and in the evening you eat carbs which will boost your insulin response thus shuttling nutrients to your muscles.
As you’ve seen in other carb-restrictive diets, cutting carbs during the day helps reduce lipogenesis which is the process of creating new fat tissue through carbs. Rapid carb backloading works by manipulating your hormones to create the most anabolic environment for your muscles and burning fat.
Rapid Carb Backloading Pros
- Carb manipulation has been studied and proven to help with fat loss, muscle growth, and athletic performance
- Similar to intermittent fasting in that you push back eating a couple of hours
- Offers the ability to eat whatever foods you want to post-workout
Rapid Carb Backloading Cons
- Gives you free reign to eat whatever you want during certain times; this can be hard to control for some people
- No real scientific proof to support the claims of carb backloading
- Without a flexible schedule, carb backloading can be hard to maintain
A Look at the South Beach Diet
The South Beach Diet was developed by Arthur Agatston and was promoted in a best-selling book in 2003. There are three stages to this diet, each increases how many carbs you eat while simultaneously decreasing fat and protein intake. This diet is similar to the Atkins diet but does not restrict simple carbs such as white bread, potatoes, and rice.
This diet is largely known as a fad diet but does have redeeming qualities such as emphasizing healthy fats, high fiber intake, and lower carbohydrates. The South Beach Diet does not restrict calorie intake and bases its timing around 3 main meals and 2 snacks per day. This diet also comes with an exercise program.
South Beach Diet Pros
- Promotes a sustainable lifestyle change that will help you maintain your goal weight later on in life
- Teaches you the difference between “good fats and carbohydrates” and “bad fats and carbohydrates”
- No complicated calculations, calorie-counting, and promotes snacks and dessert
South Beach Diet Cons
- Can easily gain weight if you do not show control due to the lack of calorie restrictions
- You can lose a lot of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals due to food restriction that are needed to maintain a healthy body
- Cost of food increases because of the restriction of cheaper highly processed foods
Simply put, there is no magic fat loss diet or method. From low carb to intermittent fasting, there are plenty of options to fit your schedule to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Fad diets come and go, but knowing the basic principles of fat loss will keep you from trying a less than desirable diet.
One word of advice: Choose unprocessed single-ingredient foods to make up the majority of your diet, indulge in your favorite foods in moderation, and get up off your butt and exercise if you want to lose fat. There are many different methods that work well, find one that works best for you.
“Atkins Diet.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.
“Cyclic Ketogenic Diet.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.
“Mediterranean Diet.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.
“Paleolithic Diet.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.
“Carbohydrate Loading.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.
“South Beach Diet.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.