What is a diet?
Merriam Webster defines diet as a few different things: food and drink regularly provided or consumed, or a regimen of eating or drinking sparingly as to reduce one’s weight. However, the term diet in recent years has led to a lot more of what we call fad diets. Fad diets became popular due to social media, influencers, and manufacturers who create food for these fad diets. All of these people benefit from people buying into what they are saying and believing it to be true. The term fad diet is defined as a diet that becomes popular for a short time, without being a standard dietary recommendation, and often making unreasonable claims for fast weight loss or health improvements. The key in that sentence is “without being a standard dietary recommendation” because this is the basis for many diets not providing the results we ultimately want. Fad diets don’t have any evidence-based nutrition or scientific data to support that they work for weight loss or overall health. In fact, many of these diets can be harmful towards your health in the long run. For the purpose of this blog, fad diets are considered a form of dieting, whereas lifestyle changes are how we should approach weight loss and overall healthy eating.
Limitations to dieting
There are many limitations to dieting including:
- Completing the diet until the end can be challenging
- You can’t eat your favorite foods
- You can’t go out to eat with family and friends
- You are constantly hungry
- Dieting can lead to depression
- Malnutrition and shortage of needed nutrients
- Leads to a decrease in physical activity and fitness level
- Can lead to stress and anxiety
- Dieting can lead to disordered eating patterns
- Can discourage you if you fail or break the diet
While dieting can lead to desired weight loss and can make your body feel better, it is usually something that doesn’t last for a long time. This is because following strict dieting rules can make you lose weight quickly, causing you to feel better, but it doesn’t allow you any freedom to incorporate the diet into your lifestyle, making it challenging to continue after you lose weight. You may be wondering why you have to quit the diet and go back to the lifestyle you had beforehand? The answer is that while diets do help you lose weight, they usually don’t contain all the necessary nutrients to fuel your body for the long term, causing your body to become deficient in vital nutrients needed to perform normal bodily functions.
For example, the keto diet has been a popular diet for weight loss in recent years and is based on the idea of restricting carbohydrates and sugar to the minimum. By doing this, it will put your body in a state called ketosis, forcing your body to use stored fat and glycogen as fuel, resulting in weight loss. However, this diet is not intended to be used for the long term. In fact, being in ketosis for a long period of time can have negative health effects, including increased amount of damaging free radicals, increased triglyceride levels, low blood sugar levels, kidney stones, constipation, and nutrient deficiency. While all of these are harmful to your health, nutrient deficiency is the main reason why the keto diet is considered unhealthy to do for a long time. By cutting out carbohydrates and sugar, you are cutting out an entire macronutrient group, and there are only three. This carbohydrate group is responsible for providing nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and important phytonutrients – all necessary nutrients for your body to perform its normal bodily functions.
The main point – diets, such as the keto diet, do not provide the necessary nutrients needed for your body to perform the way it needs to to keep you healthy. When dieting for the short term, you will see weight loss and positive body changes, but because your body cannot sustain the diet, you will end up going back to your eating habits prior to the diet, causing you to gain all the weight you lost. The good news is that there is a sustainable solution to this – by making lifestyle changes.
Making lifestyle changes
Many articles and blogs written by dietitians and healthcare professionals reference lifestyle changes, but what does that really mean? Lifestyle changes are areas in your life that you recognize as unhealthy and that you can control and make modifications to in order to provide a healthier life for yourself. These changes are meant to be sustainable and long term, ensuring that when you see positive health and weight outcomes, they will continue for the long term. The difference between dieting and making lifestyle changes is that lifestyle changes are meant to last, and dieting, as discussed above, can’t be done for the long term.
Lifestyle changes pertaining to diet include:
- Monitoring calories by eating enough to provide fuel and nutrients, but restricting enough to lose weight – your dietitian will help you determine the correct amount for you
- Focusing on adding more fruits and vegetables to your daily meals and snacks – aiming for at least 2 servings of fruit and at least 3 servings of vegetables a day
- Focusing on hunger cues – are you actually hungry or is it boredom/stress?
- Drinking more water and less sugar sweetened beverages
- Choosing whole grains over refined grains
- Choosing lean protein sources and less high fat protein sources
- Consuming less highly processed foods
These are broad areas of focus when it comes to making lifestyle changes, and each one should be discussed with your dietitian on how to incorporate it into your daily routine so that it is easier for you to continue on a long-term basis. Overall, you should be focusing on more of a whole food approach to eating by consuming more fruits and vegetables, eating less highly processed and pre-made meals, and listening to your body’s cues about hunger and what it needs.
While dieting and fad diets can help you reach weight loss goals, these diets are not evidence based, proven techniques to provide long term results. In addition, these diets will never be recommended by a dietitian or a healthcare provider because of the side-effects or harmful effects on your body in the long term. Lifestyle changes are recommended to lose weight and achieve an overall healthy body and lifestyle. Lifestyle changes are incorporated into your daily routine so that they are more likely to be done for the long term, creating lasting results. As always, talk to a dietitian to determine what kind of lifestyle changes you personally need to make to ensure that you are taking the right path for your body and overall health.
- L.J. Cheskin, R.A. Frutchey, L. Bunyard, S. Glascoe. Obesity Management, Encyclopedia of Food and Health, Academic Press (2016) Pages 126-131, ISBN 9780123849533. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123849472007443.
- Masood W, Annamaraju P, Uppaluri KR. Ketogenic Diet. (2021) StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/