Almost every week I am asked for my opinion on the trending diet plans. Paleo, South Beach, vegetarian, vegan, ketogenic, the DASH Diet, the Abascal Way…the list goes on. This week, it was Whole 30. And everyone wants to know the same thing: is this a good plan?
As usual, I respond with a question: That depends, what do you want to get out of it? I am not a registered dietician, so the only opinion I can offer on any diet program is an anecdotal and experiential one. But, that’s okay, because these folks aren’t asking whether the program is balanced and healthy, but rather whether it offers a good chance for weight loss. On that subject, I am qualified to respond.
My answer is almost always the same. Yes, this can be a great program for losing weight if the number of calories you eat is less than the number that you burn. There are dozens of healthy approaches to eating, but there are really only a few sustainable, long-term strategies for weight loss.
You can lose weight eating cereal, ice cream, bread and cheese, living off of fast food, and even eating leftover Halloween fun-size candy bars every day. I know about that last one because I’ve done it. Not all of these approaches to eating are healthy, but they can certainly result in weight loss if you manage to burn more calories than you eat on a consistent enough basis.
When looking at a new way of eating, consider weight loss to be a benefit of each and every one. Read beyond the promises of before-and-after euphoria and consider the following:
Can I Do This Every Day?
Cabbage soup might taste great on Monday. Maybe not. By Wednesday, you’re talking yourself into powering through to the weekend. And by Saturday, when the time comes to make the same food again, your enthusiasm will likely be in the same place as the cabbage soup. Look at the menus that are suggested and consider whether you can see yourself eating this food for a long time. Maybe your whole life. If not, keep looking.
Is This Practical for My Lifestyle?
Ambitious recipes, exotic ingredients, and time-consuming preparation is a fun challenge for some, but not practical for all. If you have limited time to cook or prepare food, or even if you have plenty of time but don’t enjoy it, steer clear of diet plans that feature a wide variety of impressive recipes or consider whether you can easily simplify them. Look beyond the ideal day when everything works according to plan, and think about the day when it all goes haywire. Can you follow it on those days?
What Do I Really Want From This?
Adopting a gluten-free diet for a weight loss goal may result in losing water weight as a result of a change in eating patterns, but unless you have a gluten intolerance, the benefits may end there. Avoiding animal products as a means for eating more vegetables may certainly improve your health, but may not give you the long, lean physique of your favorite vegan celebrity. Striving to change eating habits to reflect ethical or health values is a great goal, but weight loss is not guaranteed in that process. Be clear with yourself what your primary goal is for adopting a change.
Oh, and that weight I lost while eating leftover Halloween candy? I gained it back, and then some. Same with almost every other weight loss program that came with a book and a menu plan featuring magic foods that would flush my fat away. It turns out that for me, the magic came in good old-fashioned calorie counting and regular exercise.
Now, weight loss is not always as simple as calories in and calories out. Some medical conditions make weight loss more difficult, and your doctor may prescribe a temporarily restrictive eating plan to manage risk factors or aid in weight loss. Follow your doctor’s recommendations, and ask how you can create a plan together that will last for the long haul.