Kind of always knew you’d end up my ex-diet
Imagine explaining to this monkey that bananas are not keto and could be paleo depending on who you ask! Photo by Jeremy Bishop

Kind of always knew you’d end up my ex-diet

Let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room. “Diet.” Google the word “weight loss diet” and you will see no less than 1.38 billion hits. Clearly, diet is top of mind for anyone wanting to get fit. Anyone who says they have never dieted is not to be trusted. So let’s address diets, then. This article will provide an overview of the different diets with links to more posts about each individual one.

What’s the skinny?

  • Everyone has tried a diet at some point in their lives. Including me – I have tried almost all of them,
  • The main issue with diets is their lack of long-term sustainability. There is a way to adapt the preferred aspects of each one or even several into a more sustainable approach.
  • There are “nuggets” we can learn from each of the popular diets to design our own way of successful, sustainable approach to food.
  • Not every diet is covered here – this article sticks to the most popular in recent years.

Diet is a heavy word

What do we mean by “diet?” It;s a loaded term, often with negative connotations of deprivation. Google the word “weight loss diet” and you will see no less than 1.38 billion hits. Clearly, diet is top of mind for anyone wanting to get fit. Anyone who says they have never dieted is not to be trusted. So let’s address diets, then. This article will provide an overview of the different diets with links to more posts about each individual one.

As far as my experience, some diets worked for me, but only in the short term. If you want to attain a certain weight or physique, one of these diets can definitely work for that short term goal. If you want to  sustain fitness, a nutritional strategy that makes you feel energized and that can power your ADLs – Activities of Daily Life – is what will ultimately work in the long term, in my experience. Still, no book could be complete without at least addressing the pros and cons of all of the diets I tried. . Some didn’t work for me. And some made me REALLY unpleasant to be around. The way I arrived at where I am at right now is through this trial and error process.

Whether you try one of these diets is a conversation you should have with your health professional, preferably including a dietician or nutritionist. I can tell you that I have seen at least half a dozen of these professionals, and none of them have recommended following a particular diet. That doesn’t mean these diets are a dead end – they are, however, an area to proceed with caution. .

The “Dow” of Diets

Let’s compare diets to something us #fitprofessionals can all relate to, like investments. Short-term, profitable investments are attractive to asset managers, who are comparable to the companies that peddle and sell the products and programs related to these diets. In business, short-sighted focus on profit can obfuscate a longer-term opportunity for a sustainable and socially responsible investment.

Now let’s extend this line of reasoning to diets. Diets are super easy to start. They can achieve short-term results. However, one needs to consider the long-term view. I am not saying don’t “diet.” But do approach whatever you want to try with being mindful of sustainability and flexibility. I have followed many of these diets, but I also do what is right for my body.

Diets are super easy to start, but when do you ever finish?


The diets I have tried – what worked, what didn’t

Here are the diets and “food approaches” I have tried: Atkins, high-protein, low-carb, paleo, keto, vegan, Whole30, plant-based, Intermittent fasting, the Three-hour diet, the fruit diet, the cereal diet, the military diet, sugar busters, intermittent fasting, the three-hour diet, juicing, and probably some that I am not remembering. I pulled out some of the most popular ones and my experience with each:

Atkins

If any of you remember the 90s well, you know what this diet is about, inspiring paparazzi pictures of celebrities ordering burgers wrapped in lettuce (even to this day, In-N-Out burger in LA has “animal style”). The diet starts at a very low carb ratio and then gradually adds back foods like fruits and vegetables. Bread, rice, and pasta are basically out.

The good: Cutting out bread and pasta and “white carbs” was a really good adjustment to my diet. It naturally made me focus on getting more protein.


Why I said GIRL, BYE. I love fruit. My skin loves fruit. All the meat and cheese and eggs jacked up my cholesterol and made me feel dehydrated.

Keto


Ketogenic or “keto” diet: The Keto diet is a program where 75-90% of calories are derived from fats, and is low in carbohydrates (generally 5%) and protein (generally 20%) (basically, it’s the standard USDA food pyramid turned on its head). By doing this, it will cause the body to enter into “ketosis”, which simulates a starvation state and causes the body to lose weight.


What was good, and why I said GIRL, BYE.

  • The good: I lost a lot of water weight in the beginning – as you do when you really restrict carbs. I stopped having so many sugar crashes and felt less hungry throughout the day.
  • GIRL, BYE: The temporary “brain fog” is not temporary. I don’t know about you but I need my brain to do my job. If you don’t achieve ketosis or get kicked out (which could happen by eating just 1 apple, too many nuts, or too much protein), you basically are just eating a lot of fat. Fat has 9 calories per gram – as opposed to protein and carbs, which have 4. You do the math. I did, when I gained 15 pounds (!).

To learn more about keto, including tools, apps, and products, read my post here.

Whole30


Whole30 is really more of a program or a “challenge” as you have probably seen it positioned. For 30 days, you’re asked to eat only meat, seafood, veggies, fruits, and fats (nuts, seeds, avocado) and stay away from added sugar of any kind — in addition to alcohol, grains, legumes, and dairy.


What was good: This is a good diet to “jump start” your health and focus on hard-line rules to eliminate processed food and sugars. The marketplace is EXPLODING with Whole30-friendly sauces and snacks, and I really like a lot of them for cooking and salads.

My verdict: GIRL, BYE. Even if it’s not the grapefruit diet, this is too “fad-like,” and not sustainable in the long term. All the people who I know who did it end up abandoning it after the 30 (or before.)

To learn more about Whole30, including tools, apps, and products, read my post here.

Plant-based (WTF does that mean anyway)


This diet can mean many things to many people; some people conceptualize this as vegetarian or vegan, while others view it as a form of pescatarianism (e.g., excluding animal products but allowing fish). None of these are quite correct, but still fit in the framework. As it s name implies, the diet focuses on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. And like the other diets, this excludes processed foods. You can read more in a beginner’s guide to a plant-based diet

The good: With all the legumes, and veggies, NO issue going to the bathroom first thing in the morning. I felt lighter and more energized. Meals were also a lot more simple to make without having to grill a protein.


My verdict: MEH. I love my rotisserie chickin. And my Chick-fil-A chickin, eggs at brunch, and lamb shank, and ribeye. I also am absolutely turned off by the rubbery mystery meat that is supposed to be “plant-based” like burgers. Impossible burgers are…impossible to digest.

Paleo

In a nod to its namesake, a paleo diet (explained here with cartoons!!)basically means eating anything grown from the Earth or meat and avoiding packaged or produced items and dairy products.typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — foods that in the past could be obtained by “hunting and gathering.” The diet generally excludes dairy products, legumes and grains, and limits foods like sweet potatoes and honey.

The good: I liked the focus on lean meats and vegetables – and bacon, yum! Like Whole30, there are lots of “paleo friendly” products, like cauliflower-based pretzels and waffles.


My verdict: MEH. The grain and dairy ban was too strict. I don’t eat a lot of dairy, but I like to have the option once in a while – Greek yogurt, feta cheese, anyone?

You can read more about Paleo in my executive summary.

Intermittent fasting and the three- hour diet

Intermittent fasting and the three-hour diet: I know, right, these are totally opposite approaches. Basic intermittent fasting advocates engaging in 12-16 “fasting windows”. During this time, you are capable of only ingesting water, black coffee, and tea (no creamer, no almond milk, no chewing gum, nada). Some people extend this even further, to 20 hours.

In contrast, the three-hour diet requires you to eat five times a day, including a tiny dessert, under the theory that doing so burns fat all day long. This approach is consistent with what we have been used to hearing before IF exploded on the scene – that it’s better to eat a lot of small meals a day to keep your metabolism “up.”

The good: The IF diet simplified the day. Instead of stressing over what breakfast to eat in the morning and fitting in a workout, I was able to focus on work. With the three-hour diet, it gave some comfort knowing that I would get to eat just three hours later.

My verdict: Agreeable on some forms of IF, and GIRL, BYE (3-hour diet). The IF approach is really popular, but also controversial . It’s not for everyone, especially people who get HANGRY or have low blood sugar issues. The “traditional” overnight fast is a 16:8 approach, but for people like me who do hard core workouts in the morning, that’s not manageable. I do try to do the “baby” overnight fast which is 12 hours of fasting. That is enough to unlock some of the benefits but not to go into extreme withdrawal or have to skip breakfast (I love breakfast). It is also important to recognize that not all forms of IF require complete withdrawal from food for an extended period of time. There are some other fasting approaches that are friendlier for women, and worth considering, like the 5:2 approach. I discuss those in my post on Intermittent Fasting.

selective focus photograph of tiger
What hanger feels like. Photo by Lachlan Gowen

As for eating every three hours, packing at least three mini-meals for the office everyday was even more stressful; plus eating a smaller amount at every meal only made me constantly consider when the next one was coming! In addition, this argument of the need to constantly eat small meals has been vastly discredited because of the counterintuitive way it compels you to eat when you are not even hungry. In my upcoming saboteur series, I specifically explain why I disagree with this approach.

You live, you learn

I’d recommend getting your heart trampled on…[or]biting off more than you can chew, to anyone. I certainly do.

Alanis Morisette, Jagged little pill

I learned that it wasn’t all for nothing. Like any break-up, you learn some valuable lessons. Being on all of these diets, ironically, helped me develop some good overall habits that I still practice in my approach today. I take what works for me and leave behind what does not. That is the approach I would ultimately recommend.

The Keto and Paleo diets opened me up to the wonderful world of nut milk. I had no idea, for example, that macadamia nut milk existed until I started scouring the aisles at WholeFoods for keto and paleo “compliant” products. The emphasis on whole foods and monounsaturated fats for many of these diets trained me to understand and seek out all the different types of leafy greens (pea shoots, kale, chard, bok choy, mustard greens, all surprisingly yum when seasoned correctly) and learn how to make A LOT of vegetable-heavy dishes. Avoiding processed sugar made me the queen of fruit. These foods not only have a lot of fiber that fills you up for hours but also are known anti-aging foods. Lots of vegetables, with the right flavoring, can make you feel like you are eating candy, while filling you up for hours and reversing the aging process.

It wasn’t all for nothing. Like any break-up, you learn some valuable lessons.

The long-term outlook

In the long term, a militant ban on sugar or carbs doesn’t work for me. Also, many of the diets in their “rigorous form” are impractical. Do you want to cram a bushel of kale into your Louis Vuitton shopper’s bag? It’s not about willpower or lack thereof. Based on where we have gotten in life, we all have a ton of self-will. The question is, can you find an approach that doesn’t involve swimming upstream? I believe you can, absolutely.

Do you want to cram a bushel of kale into your Louis Vuitton shopper’s bag?

Sustainable lifestyle choice, not diet

The choice you have to make, and it is an easy one, is between a diet to lose weight temporarily, or a sustainable food lifestyle to reach and maintain your ideal body.

This could be a modified version of one of the above diets. Or it could be following one of them for a limited period of time, and then transitioning to an approach that allows some structured flexibility to enjoy your life. This will also keep you from compensatory overeating behavior because of the endless restricting.

My final verdict and approach to food.

I don’t call what I do a “diet”. I call it an approach to food.

The thing about exes is that you take a little one of each with you, especially if you stuck with them for more than a few months. And I don’t regret any of my ex-diets. Or my exes, for that matter! I am who I am today from a personal and fitness standpoint because of all that experience, good and bad.

For me, I feel better when I don’t eat added sugar, flour, and limit, but not eliminate dairy. So I generally keep to a diet free of either, but include lean meats, fruit, vegetables, and slow-digesting carbs, like sweet potatoes and oats. I generally stay away from dairy milk, butter, and hard cheeses, but I will go “Greek” with either yogurt or feta. If you go to Greece as much as I do you will see that the people there definitely know what they are doing diet wise.

Then for two days a week, per my doctor’s recommendation, I do a 5:2 fast to reset my system. You can read about Intermittent fasting and all the different approaches in my article here.

20 percent of the time, however, none of these guard rails apply. If I want to have a slice of cake, chocolate, or pasta, I do so. This is known as the “80/20 approach”. In my 80/20 post, I explain my sustainable approach to food and why it succeeded for me.


More:
Short-term thinking is undermining sustainable business models
Pitfalls of the keto diet

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