Many people will have made New Year resolutions in January, but research shows that around 80% of New Year resolutions fail by February! There are so many different diets out there, it can be very difficult to know what type of eating plan to follow, so If you are still searching for the perfect eating plan to help you lose weight, read on!
Many of the diets featured in magazines or on the Internet will be ‘fad’ diets, featured more for their marketing value than actual ability to create sustainable weight loss. The definition of a ‘fad’ diet is given in the Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing (2012) as ‘… a nutritional regimen, generally of an extreme nature, intended to produce results more quickly than a traditional diet-exercise combination; often of a dubious nature’. Following such an eating regime is generally short term, and when you come ‘off’ of the diet, what generally happens is that you go back to your normal eating habits, (the eating habits that created your current weight in the first place), and so weight gradually creeps back on.
For long-term weight loss, you have to choose an eating plan that delivers both physiologically (enabling your body to lose weight and providing all the nutrients required for health) and psychologically (an eating plan you can stick to long term). You need to find a diet that is based upon healthy choices and healthy habits.
So to start with, let’s take a look at what the latest research on different types of diet for weight loss have found on the physiological impact on the body
Choosing healthy foods – the physiology of dieting.
The macros: Different types of food use different amounts of energy to be digested and absorbed. Protein is said to have a ‘metabolic advantage’ over carbohydrates and fats, as it uses up more energy to digest and assimilate it. 20-30% of the calories in protein are used up during digestion/absorption, compared to 5 – 10% of carbohydrate energy, and 0-3% for fats. So if you eat 100 calories from protein, your body uses 20-30 of those calories to digest and absorb the protein, leaving a net calorie gain of 70-80 calories. 100g of carbohydrate would provide a net calorie intake of 90-95 calories, and 100g of fat, 97-100 calories. This obviously suggests potential weight loss benefits from consuming more protein. However, your overall calorie intake must still be lower than your expenditure in order to lose weight!
Satiety: Researchers who study the effects of different diets repeatedly suggest that the greater the satiating effect of food (how full it makes you feel), the more likely participants are to stick with a diet, and therefore lose more weight in the long run. Of course, the ‘diet’ must also create a calorie deficit in order for weight loss to occur. However, the greater satiating effects of protein and fats in paleo and ketogenic diets do seem to make people feel full and create fewer food cravings, and therefore people are be able to stick to the diet plan for longer. Another food group that aids satiety is fibre, and fibre has the added bonus of providing very few available calories – between 0 - 2 kcals per gram, compared to protein (4 kcals per gram) and fats (9 kcals per gram).
This doesn’t mean you have to embark upon a ketogenic diet, but it does raise questions about the longevity of low calorie, high carbohydrate diets with little fibre, which may provoke more regular snacking through hunger, and possibly limit the duration of such a diet.
Food diversity and nutrient intake: It is essential that any long term eating plan – which is what you want your ‘diet’ to be if it is not a quick fix/fad diet – provides all the nutrients essential for good health. There are seven ‘nutrients’ that we must include in the diet on a regular, ideally daily basis:
Carbohydrates - Proteins - Fats - Fibre - Vitamins - Minerals - Water
Carbohydrates and fibre: The main type of carbohydrate food to reduce for healthy weight loss is the refined, processed carbohydrate foods such as biscuits, cakes, muffins, and most white flour products. These often contain lots of sugar and unhealthy fats too. You might benefit from reducing the starchy carbohydrate portions in your diet – especially the grains. The starchy carbohydrate food group contains the foods that we are most likely to overeat, such as bread, pasta, potatoes or cereals, so limiting the portion size of these foods is a good idea. As starchy carbohydrates break down into sugars during digestion, reducing these foods will also reduce your consumption of sugars, having a beneficial effect upon blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity.
However, eating plenty (at least 5 portions a day) of the non-starch polysaccharides, also known as fibre has several benefits:
Protein: Protein takes a longer time to digest than carbohydrates and fats, and in doing so, increases our satiety (feeling of fullness) and helps to prevent us from snacking. It is this feature that is thought to contribute to the successful weight loss often seen in higher protein diets (Leaf and Antonio, 2017).
Choose fish, eggs, beans and nuts for the healthiest protein options, and a small amount of poultry rather than too much red meat or dairy. These protein foods also provide the healthiest types of fats too.
Fats: The healthiest types of fat come from fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut, olives and some vegetable oils, but organic eggs and some lean meat can also provide healthy fats. Fats contain approximately 9 calories per gram, so in order to lose weight on a high fat diet such as a ketogenic diet, your overall calorie consumption must still be less than your daily calorie expenditure. This means that the more fats you consume, the less overall volume of food you can eat, but as with protein, researchers have repeatedly found that those consuming more fat in the diet felt less hungry, which led to lower food consumption, calorie deficit and weight loss (Gibson et al, 2015).
The main types of fat to avoid are trans fats and hydrogenated fats found in processed foods such as bakery goods and sauces. Although more recent research has found that saturated fats do not appear to contribute to cardiovascular disease or mortality as previously thought (Dehghan et al, 2017), the unsaturated fats found in fish, nuts and the other foods previously listed are still the healthiest type of fat to include in your diet.
Vitamins and minerals: A varied, colourful diet should provide all the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) that you need for good health. The more diverse the diet, and the more colourful, the more nutrient-dense your diet will be. One often overlooked problem with reducing calorie consumption is the fact that it becomes more difficult to obtain all the micronutrients needed for health as we consume less food and fewer calories, so as your calorie consumption reduces, you should try to increase the micronutrient density of your food i.e. make healthier food choices. Including plenty of nutrient-rich vegetables and fruit, and the foods already recommended for quality protein and fat intake in your diet goes a long way towards achieving this, as many of the micronutrients are found in these foods.
Fluid: Adequate water intake is essential for health, but also contributes to weight loss in a number of ways:
Now let’s consider the psychological side of ‘dieting’. As a ‘diet’ simply refers to a specific eating regimen, we are really discussing the psychology of eating behaviour here. Creating healthy habits is a crucial part of any successful diet.
Creating healthy choices – the psychology of dieting
Moderation – the 80-20 rule: A key consideration for any long term eating plan is to accept that there will be birthdays, holidays and other times when you won’t be following the ideal weight loss eating plan. Accepting this and allowing the occasional treat can help to keep you on track for long term healthy eating. The 80-20 rule suggests that you should eat healthily for 80% of the time, but enjoy the odd glass of wine or piece of dark chocolate (or whatever your ‘treat’ foods or drinks are).
Putting this into practice in a typical week with three meals a day and snacks/drinks counting as an additional ‘meal’ would mean that we have 7 x 4 opportunities to ingest key calorific consumables. This is 28 ‘meals’.
20% of 28 is 5.6, so you might allow yourself 5 ‘treats’ a week. This might look like one chocolate bar on a particular day, a biscuit or piece of cake on other days, and two glasses of wine over a weekend. Obviously, the fewer high calorie or additional foods/drinks you consume, the faster you will reach your target weight, and the easier it will be to maintain that weight, but if you are able to keep a few treats in your normal eating regime, you may find this is more sustainable in the long term than a very strict diet. It’s always a good idea to make the ‘treats’ things that offer some nutritional benefits too, so choose dark chocolate over milk or white chocolate, or red wine as your alcoholic tipple.
Be prepared – plan to succeed: Planning your weekly food intake is an important element of successful long-term weight loss. By planning what you will eat at each meal, you are taking control of your food intake and avoiding the pitfalls of not having healthy choices available, getting over hungry or eating foods randomly.
Portion control: One of the most key elements of healthy weight loss/weight maintenance is simply eating less!. In theory, you could keep your diet (the foods you choose to eat) the same, but just eat less, and you will lose weight. All any ‘diet’ does is either reduce the calorie intake, or increase energy expenditure by elevating metabolic thermogenesis (the number of calories used up by the body), so if you can tip the scales in your energy balance equation so that you ingest fewer calories, you’ll lose weight.
Reducing portion size is a simple concept, though may not always be psychologically easy to do. If meals look small, this can trigger snacking afterwards, so adding a handful of a low calorie but nutrient dense food such as rocket or watercress is a great idea to fill up your plate.
Regular exercise: Regular exercise is a key component in many long-term successful weight loss and weight maintenance programmes. It helps in a number of ways:
Example of putting these food choices into practice:
Breakfast: Spinach and cantaloupe melon blended with water and a dessertspoon of ground almonds
Lunch: Tuna or tofu (palm sized portion) with a large salad – watercress, beetroot, grated carrot, avocado, red onion, tomato
Dinner: ¼ of a frittata or omelette (add rocket, tomato, peppers, mushroom, garlic, onion) with medium sized baked sweet potato and a handful of rocket.
So there is the perfect plan – for body and mind – to base your ideal diet upon – for 2019 and for life!
For the latest research and a critical evaluation of ketogenic, paleo and fasting diets, and more information on portion control and calorie balancing, read ‘Weight Loss – The Essential Guide’. Even better than the 5-star rated 1st edition - this is probably the last weight loss book you will ever have to read! For further help, advice or to book an appointment, contact Sara on 07919 110440 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website www.nutritionsolutions.org.uk. Appointments available at One2one Fitness!