When I first presented myself into the civilian fitness world, fresh faced out of the military, I fell into a dietary strategy cult known as paleo dieting, so if you would have asked me what I recommend for breakfast, I would have said a nice fat calorific steak! Myself, as well as a lot of people within the industry are young and therefore quite easily influenced (generally speaking), especially if a dietary strategy is appealing to you, and because I love steak as well as consuming a diet powerful enough to help me fight off a sabre-tooth tiger, armed with nothing but a blunt stone and primarily fuelled on ketones, you can see how that diet was appalling to me.
Luckily, I did have a base level of nutrition knowledge and qualifications to help me, this meant I wasn’t recommending a pure paleo approach to my clients, more of a hybrid version, but I did used to say things like “if it doesn’t fly, run, swim, blink or grow, don’t eat it!” which might be a healthy route, but not always the most pragmatic approach.
The longer you’re in the industry the more you realise that over exaggerating one single dietary strategy is only beneficial when it comes to getting likes and followers on Facebook and Instagram, even the “It all about calories in versus calories out” crew, this is because people like the idea of one diet that will rule them all, the best diet, the one size fits all approach.
These fitness trends and fitness cults still exist, you might be in one yourself and not even realises it….hell even I might be.
Now anyone who’s been in the fitness industry or has even just kept an interest in fitness for more than a couple of years, you have likely seen many fitness trends come and go, your best friend might have once said that they’re currently on a diet that is amazing, a real game changer, it’s changed his/her life and they see themselves doing that diet for the rest of their life……..6 months later they’re not doing that diet, nobody is even talking about that diet anymore, anyone still on Atkins or still using Herbalife or Juice Plus?….Probably not! But there was a time when it seemed that everyone was on these diets.
I’m not going to go through every single fad diet ever invented, instead I will go through the main dietary strategies, because you couldn’t call a controlled calorie diet or a vegan diet a “fad diet”…..although I have known people pursue a vegan diet because it’s “trendy”… their words not mine.
Let’s address some of these dietary strategies:
A vegan diet contains only plants (such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits) and foods made from plants. Vegans don't eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs. This diet has numerous health benefits, but you do need to be very strategic with your eating if you want to hit a decent amount of protein as well as prevent certain nutrient deficiencies that come from avoiding food groups (meat). So, if you wish to pursue this diet for ethical or even health benefits, then do your research. If you wish to try out this diet for the health benefits, then why not just try and reduce your over intake of meat (specifically processed meats) and consume more fruits and vegetables, you don’t need to go all in unless it’s for ethical reasons.
A paleo diet is a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Palaeolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago.
A paleo diet typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering. A paleo diet limits foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago. These foods include dairy products, legumes and grains. This diet has benefits as you’re avoiding highly processed foods and other foods that can be deemed as unhealthy, but you’re also avoiding a lot of foods that have been shown to be very healthy. I actually quite like the core of this diet (eat lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds), but I would (and did) include foods such as dairy products, legumes and grains, which I know wouldn’t be completely paleo.
A ketogenic diet is where you reduce your carbs (carbohydrates) to the point where your body stops using glucose/sugar (the breakdown of carbohydrates) as its main fuel source.
Normally, the carbohydrates in food are converted into glucose, which is then used to power the body and brain by circulating through the bloodstream and providing energy to cells. However, if the body is in ketosis, the liver converts fats into fatty acids and ketone bodies to be used for the same purpose, your body is now utilising the fat from your diet and your body as energy. Amazing yes!? Yes and no! This diet is probably the most unrealistic and unsustainable approach and even with it’s magical ketogenic powers, it still does not mean that the laws of thermodynamics are exempt, in short, you’ll still need to be in a calorie deficit to get the desired fat loss response.
IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)
Rather than focusing on calories, IIFYM tracks macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates) instead. This allows for much more flexibility since all foods can be enjoyed as long as they fit into your macros for the day. Now as long as you don’t take this to the extreme and eat any old crap because it “fits your macros”. This can actually be one the the best, most practical strategies…..in my humble opinion.
Intermittent fasting (intermittent energy restriction or intermittent calorie restriction) is an umbrella term for various diets that cycle between a period of fasting and non-fasting over a defined period. I’ve used this strategy with a small handful (very small handful) of clients, not because of their body type or fitness goal, but rather their lifestyle. For certain clients it worked as a great strategy, usually short term strategy to help achieve the calorie deficit needed to obtain fat loss results they were looking for without causing any disturbances to their busy schedule.
Eating within a set amount of calories, this allows flexibility as long as you don’t consume more than your recommend calories. Obviously this focuses on the main mathematical equation of fat loss…. which is the numbers of calories coming in versus the number of calories coming out, this can be the most simplest and easiest approach for most people. The problem we have is when people generally eat low nutrient foods, they now just eat less low nutrient foods, this will still result in fat loss, but could also result in reduced health if not done intelligently. So, this approach needs to be accompanied with eating healthier foods and not just reducing the overall calories!
There are many other dietary strategies and I’m sure we’ll be seeing many diet trends over the next couple of years…..we always do!
Each one of these diets have their pros and cons from both a health and a body composition point of view. You might be looking at each one of these and thinking “which one is best for me?”.
Unless the choice is obvious from a moral or religious stand point (for example if you don’t wish to eat meat then vegan or vegetarian diet is the obvious choice), we can be really puzzled as to which one is the best one for us and end up yoyo dieting and jumping between each one.
If you want my advice, I say be open and curious to the benefits of each one…..apart from things like Herbalife or Juice Plus or any other meal “replacement” shakes distributed by unqualified individuals looking to make a quick bit of coin.
The general problem we have is people take things to the extremes when you really don’t need to, what we should do is look at the benefits each one of these diets and see what they have in common:
Food awareness - All make you more aware of what you’re eating, which generally results in you eating less overall and therefor losing fat.
Minimally Processed Foods - All focus on whole and minimally processed foods which are more nutrient dense and have a higher thermic effect of foods (amount of calories needed to process food for storage and use).
Structure - All give people structure, this is a huge one that is often overlooked! The reason the common method telling people to “eat less and move more” generally doesn’t work is because people need more structure than that, everyone has tried eating less and moving more, it rarely works without a more structured and methodical approach, an approach that not only helps you achieve the result you’re looking for, but makes you feel awesome whilst on the journey.
Know that there will never be “The Best Diet” as everyone is different, we live different lives, different religions, different beliefs, different genetic makeup etc etc. Your best approach to have the best diet for you, it’s to simply look at what you’re eating now, decided what you probably shouldn’t be eating, chose what you can live without, decide what nutrient dense foods you can add in to your diet and then just make the appropriate changes to achieve the desired result, which will be eating less if you want to lose weight or eating more if you wish to gain weight. No matter what strategy you take, know that you decided it was the best approach for you, so you then owe it to yourself to stay consistent, consistency is the key!
If you wish to remove the guesswork, then why not try out my One to One Online Personal Training service, where I’ll design both a bespoke nutrition and training programme!