Here are the facts about several options
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Losing weight represents a top New Year’s resolution. Considering the obesity epidemic, it is a good idea. Many people turn to a popular eating plan or “diet” to shed pounds.
The following are some of the plans popular in 2022:
1. 5:2 Diet / Intermittent Fasting
• How it works: With 5:2, you eat as normal five days a week and restrict yourself to 500-600 calories on the two other days. With standard intermittent fasting, you eat only during an eight-hour window every day.
• Why it works: You are not restricted on what you eat, which helps you feel satisfied and not deprived. The calorie depravation days will result in overall calorie reduction. Most people think this is easier to stick with long-term.
• Caveats: You are not restricted on what you eat, which means you can eat a lot of unhealthful foods. You may also really overdo it when you do eat.
2. Sirtfood Diet
• How it works: Initially, you drink a lot of green juice smoothies. Then, you eat primarily foods that contain sirtuin proteins, such as kale, parsley, red wine, onions, strawberries, soy, matcha tea, salmon and mackerel.
• Why it works: The initial phase restricts calories, and the second phase includes foods many people enjoy.
• Caveats: It can be hard to stick with the smoothie phase and with the second phase, it can be challenging to eliminate many favorite foods. You also need nutrients from foods not on the list.
3. The Mayr Diet
• How it works: You reduce high acidity foods and mindfully consume high-alkaline foods like vegetables and fish.
• Why it works: You are not eating as many calories by boosting the intake of low-calorie foods.
• Caveats: It is difficult to sustain longterm as it eliminates entire food groups. You can also miss nutrients found in certain foods.
4. The New Keto
• How it works: You eat as minimal sugar and carbohydrates as possible and eat moderate amounts of healthful fat and high levels of protein. (The standard keto diet limited protein to 20%).
• Why it works: Minimizing consumption of sugar and carbohydrates will reduce caloric intake and force the body to burn stored calories (fat).
• Caveats: It demonizes good sources of nutrients and can be hard to commit to long term.
5. Meal Kits/Ready-to-Eat Meals
• How it works: A company ships you packages of ingredients to prepare as your meals or completely prepared meals.
• Why it works: You have the convenience of home-cooked meals without the time commitment. Restaurant food can be high in fat and calories. If you fix it yourself, you may save calories. The portions of meal kits or ready-to-eat meals may be lower than at restaurants as well.
• Caveats: Unless you select a company with dietary considerations built in, you may not save as many calories as you think. This is also expensive and could be repetitive (most companies have a limited number of entrees and may not vary them often), which can make it hard to stick with.
• How it works: The app tracks your calories and helps you learn whether they are helping you lose weight or not.
• Why it works: It also offers the support of coaches for accountability, along with facing the cold, hard nutrition facts. People who like technology can find this very convenient. Noom can help you learn about food, which can result in lasting changes.
• Caveats: You can fudge about your consumption of fudge and other foods. No one will ever know. Also, it can seem a hassle for people who do not like using technology.
7. Pescatarian Diet
• How it works: You eat mostly produce, along with seafood. Its focus is on whole, natural foods, eschewing processed foods. Grilling is an important part of food preparation.
• Why it works: By reducing calories, you will lose weight. Whole foods are also healthful source of nutrients.
• Caveats: Cooking with so few ingredients and methods of preparation is tough. It can take considerable time ensuring you are obtaining all the nutrients you need from such a limited number of foods.
8. Mediterranean Diet
• How it works: You eat healthful fats and, about twice a week, fish, along with beans, produce, whole grains and, in moderation, cheese and red meat.
• Why it works: Reducing your caloric intake will result in weight loss. It also offers some benefits by nixing simple carbohydrates. The food is delicious and easy to stick with for weight loss.
• Caveats: Eliminating food groups is tough. This can make it hard to stick with for life.
9. Paleo Diet
• How it works: You eat only food that would have been available in the wild to people: nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and lean cuts of meat.
• Why it works: By cutting out processed foods, you cut lots of calories. Many of the foods are tasty and appealing.
• Caveats: Entire food groups like dairy, grains, beans and legumes are eliminated, making it hard to stick with long-term. These food groups offer nutrients you miss.
10. DASH Diet
• How it works: The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet was meant to help people reduce their blood pressure by reducing sodium intake. You eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or nonfat dairy products, while limiting saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.
• Why it works: Eliminating processed and fatty foods helps reduce calorie intake. You would also feel better by lowering the body’s inflammatory response. This can make it easier to stick with.
• Caveats: You should still be mindful of calories even while eating very healthful foods. Some people may feel deprived not eating treats occasionally.
11. Volumetrics Diet
• How it works: You focus on foods that offer the most nutrition for the least among of calories by dividing foods into four categories, from least to most energy dense and then eat more of the lower-density foods as you can.
• Why it works: Filling up on low-calorie foods will reduce overall caloric intake. The plan will also help you stay satisfied as you eat the most nutritious foods most of the time, yet occasionally can have treats.
• Caveats: It can be difficult to determine what is low-calorie and higher calorie for some people, so Volumetrics does present a learning curve. It also requires constant scrutiny to stick with it.
12. W.W. (formerly Weight Watchers)
• How it works: With this still-popular classic, you follow a program that assigns points based upon calories and nutrition.
• Why it works: By keeping the calorie count low, you lose weight. It can be easy to stick with as you can eat as much as you like of zero-point foods. You can sign up for a point tracking app and get access to meetings. The accountability makes a big difference.
• Caveats: WW can be tricky to learn. Members with budgetary constraints may find it expensive to maintain at more than $500 per year to join (although WW offers some free information online). Plus, to keep weight off, they will have to learn how assess foods.
• How it works: You gradually reduce the amount of meat you eat while eating more vegetables and fruits until you eat no meat five days out of seven a week. On the days you do eat meat, you consume no more than nine ounces of meat and select organic, free-range poultry or pasture-raised, organic, lean cuts of beef. Processed foods and sugars are limited.
• Why it works: Sticking with more produce and less meat reduces calorie intake. It’s also beneficial that the Flexitarian diet is easy to follow, with no calorie counting, little label reading and few rules to remember. Most people find it easier to stick with this eating plan.
• Caveats: It is still possible to consume too many calories while eating as a Flexitarian. Adherents still must watch portion size and learn to cook so they eat better at home and when dining out.
So, What Do the Experts Say?
Amy Shults, registered dietitian and nutritionist is also a certified diabetes care and education specialist. She owns AMS Nutrition Counseling, PLLC in Lockport.
“I think that ‘diet’ is a four-letter word,” she said. “An ‘eating plan’ is maybe a better term. It has merit. Weight loss can be helpful for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. The vast majority of people who go on a ‘diet’ don’t keep the weight off. They need to find something sustainable. That’s extremely important.”
As indicated above, many eating plans have caveats that make them difficult to follow. Customizing it to fit one’s life and needs can make it doable. Shults is also a fan of eating plans that offer some flexibility.
“You should be allowed to eat all the food groups,” Shults said. “If some are completely off-limits, that’s a red flag. You should eat a wide variety of foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Those are going to be important.”
Some “diets” include numerous pre-packaged meals and snacks. Shults is wary of those, as “ultra-processed foods and those with lots of added sugar can be part of a healthful diet, but should be limited. Prepackaged things are convenient, but you can’t do it long-term.”
She believes that an eating plan that is hard to stick with — “cheat days” seem to happen more and more frequently — is not sustainable. Or if the rest of the family cannot follow it, so the individual trying to lose weight has to prepare two meals.
“If it negatively affects your mental health, social life or finances where you have to make sacrifices elsewhere, you can’t sustain that,” she added.
She said that the Mediterranean and DASH diets are not necessarily weight loss-oriented but can cause weight loss if the user consumes appropriate portions.
Danielle Meyer, registered dietitian, and clinical director of the clinical nutrition dietetic internship in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences at UB, doesn’t like the term “diet,” either.
She said that of the most popular eating plans, the Flexitarian makes the most sense since it is less restrictive.
“I believe that as people tire of incredible restrictive eating patterns, the idea that they could have some flexibility is very reasonable,” Meyer said.
People who do not want to give up eating the occasional burger can still have one.
“There is room for most or all foods in someone’s eating pattern,” Meyer said.
Eating plans that include pre-package meals or meal kits can help picky eaters branch out to new foods with little risk. Meyer said that this strategy can be costly but help people expand their palate to new flavors and ways to eat healthfully.