It’s almost New Year’s Eve, so you may be thinking about some resolutions… or reflecting on past years’ resolutions. One of the most common changes people hope for is improving their eating habits.
Unfortunately, this healthy resolution – like most others – is often abandoned after a few weeks or months.
The main reason we lose interest in these changes so quickly is that they’re so dramatic that they become unsustainable.
So, in the spirit of encouraging some healthier, more sustainable diet resolutions for the new year here’s a breakdown of the most-Googled diets and how they stack up for long-term weight loss!
Diets appear in order of search popularity.
1. Paleo diet
The paleo diet was the most-Googled diet this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s best diet.
The creators’ idea is that modern foods cause lifestyle diseases, so we should throw it back and eat like our paleolithic ancestors (cavemen).
No processed foods, no grains, no dairy, no refined sugar… you get the idea. Paleo initially gained a loyal following with cross-fitters, but it’s become increasingly mainstream in the past year.
With its newfound popularity, some people follow the original diet religiously, while others follow a more “paleo-inspired” eating plan.
SKIP IT. Popularity doesn’t equate to quality in this case. Experts recommend steering clear of any diet that promotes the elimination of entire food groups and/or proves overly restrictive.
The paleo diet fits both of these criteria. Through the complete elimination of dairy and grains, you increase your risk of nutritional deficiency.
More, given the many rules of paleo, eating with non-paleo friends or ordering at a restaurant can prove challenging.
Both of these factors make a paleo lifestyle harder to maintain. So, for most people, this isn’t the best diet for long-term health and/or weight loss.
2. Military diet
The military diet – aka the army diet, navy diet, or ice cream diet – is falsely-associated with the armed forces and billed as a way to lose up to 10 pounds in just one week.
For the first three days, you follow a specific meal plan of foods (including ice cream) that provide a total of 1100-1400 calories per day.
You then spend the remaining 4 days eating healthy foods that add up to less than 1500 calories per day.
Proponents say you can repeat this sequence as many times as you’d like as long as you have breaks of at least 4 days between cycles. However, this is not designed as a long-term lifestyle.
SKIP IT. The military diet has just about every red flag experts warn about in fad diets. It’s short-term, highly restrictive, very low-calorie, and not supported by science.
While most people will probably lose weight if they eat less than 1500 calories per day for an entire week, it’s not sustainable the weight quickly comes back in most cases. The quick fix simply isn’t worth it. Like the old saying says, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”.
3. Atkins diet
The Atkins diet is perhaps the most famous low-carb diet plan.
First published by Dr. Robert C. Atkins in the early 1970s, this 4-phase diet promotes a very low carb intake (< 20 grams per day) in the beginning and then encourages followers to gradually add in healthy carbs throughout the remaining stages.
In the final maintenance stage, Atkins dieters can eat as many carbs as they tolerate without weight gain.
However, most sources indicate that you’ll need to stay relatively low-carb for life if you want to keep the weight off long-term.
Proponents love this diet because you still get to eat lots of classically-unhealthy foods (like bacon and steak), but it’s often been criticized for its high saturated fat and low vegetable content.
SKIP IT. One of the main selling points of Atkins is the potential for fast, dramatic weight loss. This probably holds true, but that’s about where the benefits end.
Experts agree that the levels of fat (specifically saturated fat) in this diet could increase followers’ risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
While someone can maintain stage 4 Atkins in a more-or-less healthy way, the risk for extremely high sodium intake and/or very low vitamin (fruit & veggie) intake is also ever-present. This isn’t the worst option, but there are better diets for long-term health.
4. Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet encourages participants to eat more fish, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats (like olive oil) while limiting red meat, processed foods, and sugar.
You’re free to decide how much of each food you want to include in your day. The reasoning behind this diet is that people in Mediterranean countries live longer and suffer fewer chronic diseases than Americans.
So, perhaps following a diet more similar to theirs, plus adding some light activity to our days, could provide more health and longevity!
GO FOR IT! This dietary plan is balanced, maintainable, and reaps long-term health benefits (like improved heart health). Plus, it’s supported by scientific evidence. It can help you lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way.
All of those qualities make it popular with dieters and medical experts alike. So, if you’re going to commit to a specific diet plan, the Mediterranean diet is a good choice! To learn more about this diet, click here.
5. Gluten-free diet
Gluten is the sticky protein in wheat, barley, malt, and rye that’s responsible for giving bread its yummy, spongy texture. A gluten-free diet is simply a meal plan that excludes all foods containing gluten.
People who follow this diet avoid common staples like bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, crackers, and soy sauce.
Gluten-free diet plans were initially developed to treat people with celiac disease, whose bodies produce an autoimmune reaction in response to this protein.
However, it has grown in popularity as awareness around gluten intolerance has surged, and many people (celebrities included) have praised the benefits of eliminating this pesky protein.
Still, many medical experts criticize the trend of eliminating gluten in the absence of a medical necessity to do so.
DEPENDS. A gluten-free diet is necessary to manage celiac disease and gluten intolerance, so it’s the healthiest possible diet for people with these conditions.
However, if you don’t have any medical reason to go gluten-free, it’s not usually the best option. People who avoid gluten run a higher risk of nutrient deficiencies, and the omnipresence of this protein makes social eating more difficult.
Plus, gluten-free specialty foods often have more calories & fat (and cost more) than their regular counterparts. In terms of long-term weight loss, gluten-free isn’t the best choice.
6. Ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet is one of the most extreme low-carb diets — originally created to help manage pediatric epilepsy. It involves eating a diet high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbohydrates.
Glucose, from carbohydrates, is the first choice of fuel for our bodies. When there are not enough carbohydrates in our diet, our bodies switch to ketones for energy.
Ketones are made from stored fatty acids. So, when you enter a state of ketosis, you are burning stored fat for energy instead of glucose.
A ketogenic diet can help you lose weight, regulate blood sugar, and may improve mental acuity. However, going to extremes or executing this diet poorly can prove detrimental.
SKIP IT. The keto diet simply takes low carb a step too far. Ultimately, like many of the other “skip it” diets on this list, the biggest problem with keto is that it’s very hard to sustain, and the long-term effect remains unknown.
Unless you’re under the direct supervision of a doctor (and dietitian) to advise your diet, even aiming to achieve and maintain ketosis healthfully in the short term proves challenging.
7. Low-carb diet
Low-carb diet is a vastly general term referring to any diet that reduces the number of daily calories coming from carbohydrates.
Grains, dairy, fruit, beans, and starchy vegetables (like potatoes) all contain carbs. So eating low-carb means eating fewer of these foods.
A typical low-carb diet may recommend 60-130g of carbohydrates per day. In contrast, someone on a regular 1800-calorie diet would usually eat closer to 203-293g of carbs per day.
That second number reflects the current US dietary guidelines that suggest 45-65% of daily calories come from carbs. So, even a ‘moderate’ low-carb diet represents a major carb reduction for most people.
Low-carb diets can help you lose weight, control blood sugar and manage certain medical conditions (like diabetes).
THINK ABOUT IT. If you have your heart set on going low (or lower) carb, you can definitely do it in a healthy way. In fact, cutting carbs – or, as is more commonly done, reducing grains – often proves beneficial for overall health.
The trick with low-carb diets (and diets in general) is to avoid extremism. While eating less white bread is healthy, eating no carbs at all is not.
The most sustainable low-carb diets eliminate unhealthy carbs (e.g., white bread/rice & sweets) and include reasonable portions of healthy carbs (e.g., whole grain bread/pasta, beans & fruit).
If your diet plan still includes all of the food groups and some healthy carbs, it’s probably a viable option for weight loss.
8. DASH diet
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was originally developed by NHLBI for patients with high blood pressure. However, it’s now a popular diet for weight loss and general health as well.
The basic concept is to include healthy foods from all the food groups while reducing processed foods, added sugar, and salt.
So, most meals contain plenty of lean proteins like fish and poultry, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Calorie recommendations are based on age, gender, and activity level.
GO FOR IT! The DASH diet earned the top spot in US News & World Report’s “Best Diets”. Experts ranked this diet #1 because it is nutritionally sound, maintainable, balanced, and relatively easy to follow.
It’s also ranked #1 as the best diet to manage diabetes and heart disease if you’re concerned about those. If you think DASH is a good option for you, check out the NHLBI’s Guide to DASH.
9. Dukan diet
This diet promises fast weight loss, even without counting calories. The theory is that protein is the key to weight loss, so dieters follow a very strict, high-protein plan and then gradually add back in carbs like bread, fruit, and veggies.
The diet has four phases, the last of which you commit to following for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, it’s highly restrictive, hard to maintain, and may cause kidney disease and/or worsen heart problems.
SKIP IT. In terms of diets for weight loss, this one isn’t the best. In fact, the medical experts at US News & World Report ranked it among the absolute worst (second to last in the “overall” group).
Due to its very restrictive nature, the Dukan diet is unlikely to provide any long-term benefits. It also increases the nutritional deficiencies (given that you’re cutting out entire food groups) and may cause harm to your renal and/or cardiovascular system.
If you’re hoping for healthy weight loss, avoid this diet.
10. Diabetic diet
Unlike some of the diets discussed above, there is no specific “diabetic diet.” Instead, this term refers to the eating pattern that people with diabetes use to help manage their disease.
The main goal is to eat in a way that promotes more stable blood sugar levels and helps you reach a healthy weight if necessary.
As a result, a well-planned “diabetic diet” should keep an eye on total carbs while including measured portions of whole grains, plenty of fiber, vegetables, and lean proteins.
Most diets targeted at people with diabetes also place an emphasis on reducing sugar (especially added sugar), salt, and fat intake.
One thing that differentiates a “diabetic diet” from other plans is that the timing of eating also matters. When aiming to manage blood glucose levels, it’s important that you eat at least every 4-6 hours while awake.
GO FOR IT! If you have diabetes, diet is critical to managing your condition. Different meal choices (and timing) can result in highs, lows, or improved glucose control – it all depends on the choices you make.
Even if you don’t have diabetes, shifting your focus to an eating plan that helps level-out blood sugar levels may prove beneficial for weight loss.
We experience stronger cravings and are more likely to overeat when blood sugar dips, so a diet that helps blood sugar remains stable over the course of the day is beneficial for most people.
Many individual diet plans (e.g., the Mediterranean diet) can also be healthfully followed as a “diabetic diet.”
Choosing a Healthy Diet
Moral of the story: choose a diet that’s sustainable and reasonable. Chances are that you won’t lose pounds as quickly in the beginning, but you’ll keep the weight off long-term.
If you’re not sure about whether a new diet is healthy, look for these red flags:
- Promises quick, dramatic results (for example: “lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks!”)
- Eliminates entire food groups (for example no fruit)
- Seems too good or too easy to be true
If your new diet fits any of these criteria, do your research and really find out if the plan is healthy & sustainable before committing to it.
Are you planning to start a new diet in the new year? If so, which one and why? Share with us in the comments section below!