The ‘best’ weight loss diet, does it really exist?



Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


12 July 2019

Which weight loss diet is really best?

For many of us weight loss is constantly on our minds – but which 'diet' will enable us to achieve the best results? Throughout this blog I run through some common examples including:

  • Low fat diets
  • Low carb diets
  • Ketogenic diet
  • Fast 800
  • Paleo diet
  • NHS diet
  • Weight Watchers
  • Slimming World

I explore which, if any, are suitable options to help support effective loss and my top tips for supporting healthy weight management going forward.

How effective are some of the latest diets?

Low fat diets

Low fat diets first become popular many years ago, as far back in the 1970s when fats were more actively being demonised. They've both waned and gained in popularity over the years, with it generally being agreed nowadays that carbs may pose more of a problem for our waistlines. You can read more on this debate in one of my latest blogs.

Low carb diets

If carbohydrates are potentially the problem, are low carb diets the way to go instead? The Atkins diet was all the rage many years ago, however, health concerns as well as questions over its efficacy soon saw it plummet it popularity. My opinion is that we need some good quality carbs to function optimally, especially over time - low carb forever just isn't sustainable. So, how are newer variations of this diet such as the Keto diet, holding up?

Ketogenic diet

This is the latest variation of the low carb or Atkins diet and is also known as the 'keto' or 'carnivore' diet. It's currently very popular with a variety of people from sports enthusiasts to social media influencers, but is it really effective?

Just like any diet, there seem to be some pros and cons with this one. Although fats are important for supporting satiety and the production of hormones, it's likely that the total absence of carbs in the long-term just isn't sustainable and many of us could end up where we started, or worse off, in terms of our weight and other issues such as our blood sugar responses. Other concerns are the lack of fibre, nutrients and variety in general, plus there's a heavy focus on meat products which is also controversial.

Fast800

The Fast800 diet is relatively new and is the latest development being advocated by science journalist Michael Mosley. It combines the intermittent fasting concept, together with a calorie deficit. As much as the intermittent fasting theory looks fairly promising, when it relies on more extreme regimes (i.e. only consuming 800 calories per day for an extended period of time), it then becomes more taxing and is also less likely to be sustainable.

Less extreme variations of intermittent fasting regimes do also exist and may be more favourable, such as the 16:8 diet. This involves simply extending the overnight fast which means we aren't relying on meticulous calorie counting or dietary restrictions. This would naturally encourage a more sensible intake of food (as there is less time to over eat), plus it gives your digestive system sufficient time to rest and repair. This is beneficial for our overall health as well as our waistlines.

Paleo

Many of the concepts behind the paleo diet are strong, but just like any diet it has its limitations. The paleo diet is also known as the 'caveman diet' which means it includes only foods that would have been available during our time as hunter-gatherers, many years ago.

This means that processed foods are banned (great!), and much of the diet is based around fresh ingredients including fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, nuts and seeds. However, it does mean certain food groups are omitted (as they are seen to require more modern agricultural processes) including certain wholegrains, legumes, potatoes and dairy; many of which are nutritious and may actually be supportive when it comes to healthy weight loss.

NHS diet

The NHS diet is mainly based on calorie restriction. This means that men are limited to 1900 calories daily whilst for women the figure is 1400 calories per day. This, it is suggested, should be sustained for a period of 12 weeks. This is based on the theory that a deficit of 500 calories a day could help support sensible weight loss.

However, as much as calorie restriction can be a useful part of weight loss regimes, being very prescriptive may mean that diets are more demanding and less likely to be maintained beyond the initial 'diet' period.

Weight watchers

Weight Watchers has been around since the 1960s and has grown to become a well-known, household name amongst the dieting community. In recent years, it has had a bit of a revamp, and is now known as WW (Wellness that Works) in a bid to dissipate any assumptions that it is merely a fad diet, and convince it's users that it is actually more of a holistic regime which helps to support a healthy diet, whilst also encouraging healthy activity levels and a positive mindset.

However, the jury is still out on this. The points based system can mean it's again quite prescriptive, and there are perhaps more tendencies to lean towards more processed options throughout some of the meal and snack options.

Slimming World

Similar in some ways to Weight Watchers, Slimming World has increased in popularity in recent years. Whilst in many ways it encourages more cooking which is great, it does also have its downsides.

Apps and the ability to scan products to count up the 'syns' means, yet again, people are often more inclined to reach for packet foods rather than actively upping their intake of fresh ingredients. Also, healthy components of our diet such as dietary fibre are often shunned in favour for more processed options – just because they're 'syn free'! Syn free, but not real food, perhaps?

The best diet revealed

Whilst it can be confusing to pick which diet to go on, I want to try and simplify the process. Eating whole foods whilst employing sensible eating habits and supporting your digestion should actually be sufficient to help support a healthy weight, rather than being bogged down by complicated and specific plans. My advice is as follows:

1. It's all about balance

It's easy to get caught up and even get a little obsessed with new diet regimes, especially if we're seeing results – that's motivation like no other! However, we must remember that the long-term results, for both our waistlines and ultimately our overall health, are what really count.

Therefore, taking some of the ideas behind some of these diets can certainly help, but without going to the extremes. Some take home tips from me include:

  • Don't be scared to include carbs but just ensure they are the right type! Include complex carbohydrates and wholegrains such as brown varieties of pasta and rice, but also different wholegrains and pulses such as quinoa, lentils and beans. Limit white and processed varieties of carbohydrates instead.
  • Include lean cuts of meat, (red meat preferably no more than once per week) as part of your protein intake but don't forget that there are also plant-based sources of protein available too. Actively swapping in some more vegetarian options throughout the week can be a nice tactic too.
  • Aim to include at least 1-2 portions of oily fish per week including salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring or trout.
  • Don't be scared of healthy fats and include avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds in your cooking and as part of meals and snacks.
  • Keep portion size top of mind (eating habits can help support this as we'll go on to discuss). Click my blog for more info on this.
  • Drink at least 1.5l of water daily. This helps ensure you won't confuse hunger with thirst and helps support optimal digestion.
  • Limit your intake of other drinks. 1.5l of water is priority and other drinks should be in addition to this. Limit added sugar or artificially sweetened options, alcohol and caffeine.
  • Limit sources of refined sugar which are found in more obvious sweet options, but are also readily hidden throughout ready meals (there are even more in savoury options!).
  • Include regular meals and healthy snacks, if necessary, throughout the course of the day. Avoid skipping meals, especially when this means eating larger amounts at once, or much later at night. Extending the overnight fast and having breakfast slightly later in the morning may work well for people keen to try a variation of intermittent fasting.
  • Supplements such as Kelp can help provide an extra dose of nutrients such as iodine to help support healthy metabolism, but remember this is no substitute for eating well and we should aim to get the majority of our nutrients from our food.

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2. Don't forget your eating habits too

When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight it's the whole package that counts and, contrary to popular belief, it's not just what you eat that's important! We may also need to reassess how we eat.

Eating undistracted at a table rather than in front of screen is important in order to allow you to be more aware of how much you eat and how you consume your food. Chewing is a must. This helps support your digestion, but also encourages you to eat slower. Eating quickly puts us more at risk of overeating, and ultimately puts you at risk of not really enjoying our food - this association is important too!

3. We're all unique – no one diet fits all

The problem with very prescriptive diets is that we're all unique. Not only do we all have different metabolic rates as a result of our size and activity levels (and therefore require different calorie intakes to start with), but actually, more than that, genetics can also have a part to play.
As much as this can all get quite technical, from a more naturopathic point of view, it pays to listen to your body. Eat when you're hungry, stop before you're full to the gunnels and listen to your symptoms. Depending on our composition and our digestive powers, for example, certain foods may work better for some and not others. This is why it helps to get a little experimental and find out what works best for you.

4. Cooking from fresh should be the basis of your diet

Leading on nicely from my last point, I can't stress enough how important it is to get in the kitchen. Making cooking from fresh a priority will certainly help support your waistline. Using fresh ingredients including lots of fresh vegetables will mean that the end dish will naturally be lower in calories, not to mention higher in nutrients and fibre which can help to keep us fuller for longer.

Many of the popular diets mentioned above including the Fast800, Slimming World or even the DASH diet do encourage cooking with fresh items, so taking recipe ideas (without being so rigid with the calorie counting or specific quantities) can, in many cases, be helpful. Remember, if you eat slowly, listen to your body and be confident knowing that if you're using the best ingredients, you will be less likely to overeat anyway, and your waistline will thank you for it in the long-term - yes that's right in the long-term, not just for a few weeks!

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