The Composition of Diets and Deconstructing Nonsense
Although many factors, such as calorie ranges, activity levels, and hormones play into which eating style we should choose for ourselves, no diet will work unless we factor in the "calories in vs. calories out" equation.
The best diet has no name and is customized to the individual.
Here is a breakdown of the principles of each one:
WHAT IT IS BASED ON
CALORIE CONTROL OR RESTRICTION
Point-based systems like the mass-marketed diets that no one ever seems to graduate from, calorie-cutting and counting, prescribed meal plans
PROPORTION OF MACRONUTRIENTS
Macronutrient composition, e.g., low-carb, low-fat, ketogenic, high-protein
ELIMINATION OF FOOD GROUPS
Food type/group choices and/or restriction, e.g., gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, paleo
RESTRICTION BASED ON THE HOURS OF THE DAY
Time-based restriction, e.g., fasting, time-restricted feeding, or cut-off times for meals/nutrients
CRASH DIETS, DIURETICS, APPETITE SUPPRESSANTS
Sugar-fast, juice detox, diet pills (diuretics that cause diarrhea and cause water-weight loss)
IF IT FITS YOUR MACROS
Degree of flexibility or rigidity of the dietary restraint
Clean eating, whole foods only, no added sugars, no sugar at all, or the Mediterranean diet
I personally go with a high protein diet and ensure a level of balance to keep myself sane. I also focus on nutrient-density.
Results and sustainability are not as mutually exclusive as toxic hustle diet culture has us all thinking!
Unless there are medical reasons for the choice of one method of dieting over another, the “way” that the calorie deficit (which is calories out being higher than in through diet and or increased activity) does not matter, at the end of the day, the energy balance has to be negative (calorie deficit).
No need to cut out entire food groups for no reason:
The method chosen does not have to cause as much suffering as we think it does. Yes, calorie restriction may not always be fun, and making better choices overall, with the exception of some fun foods, is not fun, but it does not have to be insane, and extreme, and it CAN fit our lives! Forever! Not just for 30 days. I mean this even for people with a passion for athletics, even more so in that case, it has to be sustainable with athletic performance, and overall lifestyle.
Aside from a diet suitable to the individual, other behaviors that sustain fat loss long term, like physical activity and behavior changes like self-monitoring are key for the overall success of a diet.
Long-term transformations also address metabolism, organ damage from obesity or excess weight, and of course, hormones.
What do I mean by self-monitoring?
Sometimes, when we cut carbs too low over some time and we do not make sure we are getting enough protein for our unique needs, our hair texture, skin, and nails can change. This is one example of self-monitoring.
Irrespective of the specific diet that is chosen, what creates weight loss is not the food groups kept or eliminated, it is the negative energy balance (created by moving more or eating less or both) that causes weight loss.
I always cringe when people believe starvation is the only answer, short-term quick fixes also lead to metabolic damage. The metabolism is the engine of the digestive system, I would not mess with that for too long.
Metabolism is composed of 3 aspects:
60-70% Resting Metabolic Rate
20-30% Activity Induced
The largest percentage of your total metabolism (60-70%) is your RMR (resting metabolic rate)... which is indirectly activity/muscle/protein induced.
The basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimum number of calories that the body needs to perform vital functions, be it digestion, breathing, regulating body temperature, pumping blood, growing hair and skin, and so on.
This is the number of calories your body burns at rest.
The next part of your metabolism is the Thermal effect of food (the diet-induced part of metabolism).
This is basically the energy it takes to process food, it accounts for about 10-20% of your metabolism.
Lastly, the rest of what composes metabolism comes from physical activity, 20-30%.
The most important contributor to the resting/basal metabolic rate is the portion of someone’s weight that does not come from fat, so it is the portion of someone’s weight that comes from pure muscle mass.
Muscle mass contributes to the basal or resting metabolic rate in that it increases the burn rate at rest. Someone with more muscle mass will burn more calories at rest, thus increasing their basal metabolic rate while doing any non-exercise-related activity. This is why my focus is increasing metabolism. The highest contributor should be the main focus, efficiency! So muscle mass, overall activity, and protein.
Unless there are existing kidney issues, increasing muscle mass and ensuring sufficient protein intake can boost metabolism. Protein signals muscle protein synthesis.
Protein synthesis triggers muscle growth and it can occur approximately 4-5 times a day, so athletes are advised to eat protein every time they eat, but so is anyone looking to increase muscle mass.
Increasing muscle through increasing strength training activity with bodyweight or weight training, increasing non-exercise activity, and consuming adequate protein/eating correctly will increase metabolism.
Metabolism is the engine and tending to the 3 aspects that it is composed of (RMR, diet, and activity) will increase its speed and efficiency.
Components of a good diet include:
- Overall macronutrient intake (total picture)
- Macronutrient proportions (protein, fats, carbohydrates)
- Micronutrient intake (vitamins, minerals, electrolytes)
- Quality of the food
- Feasibility long-term of the diet itself
Here are questions to consider when comparing diets:
- Does this approach ensure fat loss without muscle loss? Diets that keep carbs are a better choice for someone looking to retain muscle because carbs are protein sparing (as long as they're not over-doing it to the point where it causes water-retention).
- Does this approach lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies?
- Does this approach support your food preferences and intolerances?
- Can this approach cause negative health outcomes (insulin sensitivity, blood lipid issues, hair loss, or other health markers)?
- Is this approach based on science (evidence-based) or is it a fad? Fads are the diets that show rapid weight loss (usually water weight) and where the person regains the weight for the years to come.
I hope this gives you something to start with if you are on the market for some lifestyle changes (whether or not it is athletically driven).
I find that side-by-side comparison of diet styles really helps people understand what the basis is for the calorie deficit created by any diet as a starting point in doing their own research.
Tidbits of unsubstantiated and poorly planned "advice" given when there has not been any assessment nutrition-wise is actually dangerous, so please be careful in your research and log how food/diet makes you feel.
The right diet varies person to person, but it is of critical importance to have your medical history/current conditions included in the process as data-driven decisions save time at the onset. Some diet frameworks are better than others for sure, but still - get into details.
No scope-abiding health professional will ever give personalized advice outside a client-practitioner relationship because they understand the impact of food on medication, allergies, blood pressure conditions and other factors, I am stressing this to protect you.
It's easier for people to self-assess and think of any pre-existing injuries before starting an online fitness program, but for nutrition, it takes complex assessments before even getting to a place where they truly understand their needs and so asking yourself questions about blood work, allergies, medication, health conditions, and so on is a place to start.
I truly believe in quality control and there are aways to filter the advice you hear using some analytical questions above-mentioned (in the absence of a coach who customizes things).