Nutritional Bites: 10 Things We Learned
1) Body Positivity is Taking Over
Since the advent of the body-positive movement, most diet plan companies have shed the “beach body” outlook for a more holistic, healthy approach to eating. Rather than looking good, feeling good is now the goal. Case in point: Weight Watchers recently changed its name to WW to emphasize their new focus on “wellness” rather than “weight watching.”
2) Small Losses Work Wonders
Even if you suffer from obesity, you don’t have to reach a “normal” BMI (more on this concept later) to reap the benefits that come with shedding some pounds. According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, even a moderate weight loss ranging from 5 to 10 percent of the initial body weight can help you curb and prevent obesity-related illnesses.
3) New Year, Same Old Resolution
For Americans and most people all over the world, losing weight remains the number one New Year’s resolution. With 50 million Americans getting on a diet each year, it'sno wonder that dieting has become a $72 billion industry. What's surprising, though, is that regardless of resolutions and the billions spent, obesity is on a steady rise in the U.S., to the point that it has now become a “national epidemic.”
4) Added Sugar is Anything but Sweet
While the jury is still out on carbs and saturated fats, one thing is clear: added sugars are no good. They contain what are called “empty calories,” and their overuse has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart problems, and tooth decay. In fact, the USDA says no more than 10% of your daily calories should come from added sugars.
5) It’s All About Your BMI
Most, if not all, commercial diet plans are customized based on one factor: your BMI, or Body Mass Index, which is calculated by dividing your weight by the square of your height. For most people, a BMI ranging from 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal. To find out your BMI, take advantage of our free BMI Calculator:
6) You Should Never Go “Hangry”
The power of emotional eating should never be underestimated, as it is a strong factor in determining whether or not you'll be successful on a diet. When you eat less than you should, you inevitably get hungry, after which you might feel angry, and once this happens the “hangry” stage sets in and you’ll feel more inclined to skip the diet altogether or go on a food binge. For this reason, most successful diet plans prioritize satiety or the feeling of “fullness.”
7) Weight Loss Can Be Boiled Down to a Simple (Yet Flawed) Equation
The one thing that is sure to make you lose weight is this simple equation: CICO, short for “Calories In, Calories Out.” In short, it means: a) if you eat more calories than your body spends, you’ll gain weight; b) if you eat less calories than you spend, you’ll lose weight. In spite of all their differences, all diet plans that aim to help you lose weight must adhere to this seemingly simple equation. However, most experts agree that, by itself, CICO is an incomplete and flawed approach due mainly to its focus on quantity over quality, and the fact that it doesn't take nutrients into account.
8) Obesity is More Than Skin Deep
Right now, 2 out of 3 Americans are overweight or obese, and the number keeps skyrocketing year after year. Some experts consider obesity an epidemic more dangerous than that of opioids due to its role in the rise of life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, asthma, and osteoarthritis. Obesity is responsible for 18% of deaths among Americans over 40 years old, and 1 in 5 children in the US suffers from obesity. The medical costs for obesity-related treatments have now reached an exorbitant $150 billion per year.
9) The Same Diet Plan Can Yield Very Different Results
All bodies are not created equal, and this is why there is no one “magical” diet solution for all. What’s more, even when two people with similar body compositions try the same diet plan, the difference in results can be overwhelming. “Bodies react differently depending on their genetic makeup and metabolism rates,” said Barcelona-based and Certified Nutritionist Carla de la Torre, and added, “this is why, for example, some people can get abs on a bread and cookies diet, while others cannot get the desired 'six pack' even after undergoing rigorous eating and exercise regimes.”
10) The Jury is Still Out
One of the main takeaways from our extensive research is the fact that there aren’t many real facts regarding weight loss and healthy eating. Most diet fads seem to be created by cherry-picking certain results and studies that prove their theory, ignoring all other contradictory data.
For example, when researching the advantages or disadvantages of animal fat, we found two opposing views: one that treats it as a “cure for all” (keto enthusiasts) and another that swears it off completely (vegans). Both claim to hold the truth, but an objective analysis of data does not support either claim completely. This is why, when it comes to researching the different diet plans, all claims made by diet providers should be taken with a grain of salt.
A Quick Bite on the Most Popular Non-Commercial Diets
While the focus of this review is to find out which are the best commercial diet plans out there, we feel it's important to provide you with a crash course on the most popular and effective diet theories. Why? Because most commercial diet plans are created based on one, two, or a combination of the theories listed below. Let’s take a quick look:
This diet theory, consisting of 10% or less of daily calories from fat, is the flip-side to Atkins, Keto, and Paleo. Proponents of the ultra-low-fat approach adhere to a diet rich in plant foods, low in animal products, and high in carbohydrates (80% or more of daily caloric intake). An example of this type of theory is the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Association with the purpose of helping people combat heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, and prevent digestive problems.
The TLC approach, contained in the 80-page manual “Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC,” recommends less than 7% of daily calories from saturated fat, less than 200mg of cholesterol, 30 minutes of daily exercise, and drug treatment when necessary. However, critics of the low-fat plan point to its shunning of healthy high-fat plants and its ignoring of the fact that it's calories, and not fat, what determines whether or not a person loses weight.
While there are many vegetarian factions, all of them share the same basic dicta: no fish, meat, or poultry. But that’s where the similarities end for this eating plan/lifestyle practiced by 18% of the world population. Studies suggest that a vegetarian diet is good for reducing cancer risks, stabilizing blood sugar, and promoting heart health, while others raise a flag regarding nutritional deficiencies including Omega 3, vitamin B, calcium, and iron. Plans range from the most flexible to the most restrictive. Here are two of the most popular examples of each extreme:
Vegan: In addition to meat, poultry, and fish, a vegan diet prohibits the consumption of ALL animal products, including dairy, eggs, gelatin, honey, and whey, to name a few.
Flexitarian: A mix between the words “flexible” and “vegetarian”, the Flexitarian diet can be described as a vegetarian going on a short carnivore vacation. It is a mostly vegetarian diet that sometimes incorporates meat, fish, and poultry, and it is ideal for people who want to benefit from vegetarianism but cannot resist the temptation of animal products. Also, a recent study suggests that, by going meatless from time to time, you may actually help in the fight against climate change.
Right now, this is the trendiest of all diet theories. It prioritizes the consumption of foods high in protein and fat while limiting the number of carbs per day to less than 20%. This means abstaining from grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits, and filling up on protein and fat. The most famous of all low-carb plans is the Keto Diet, an approach based on the metabolic process of ketosis, which happens when you restrict your carb intake to less than 70 grams per day and your body starts using fat, and not carbs, as its main fuel.
Some studies show that, by causing a huge reduction in blood sugar and insulin levels, ketosis is capable of reversing Type 2 diabetes. However, while a proper keto diet consists of no less than 90% of daily caloric intake from fats, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 5% of fat per day.
Eat like the Italians and the Greeks! This is the dietician’s darling, named #1 non-commercial diet by many experts in the health and weight management industries. It's not a fixed diet with a fixed menu, but rather a general guideline based on fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, healthy grains, fish, olive oil, red wine (yes, red wine), and small amounts of meat and dairy. It is one of the most flexible diet plans out there, as it is highly customizable to fit anyone’s tastes and needs. It does not require calorie counting, mainly because most of the foods in this diet are filled with fiber and healthy fats, which makes you digest them slower, so you feel fuller longer.
The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, like the TLC described earlier, is endorsed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Association, the American Heart Association, and the 2015 Dietary Guide for Americans. It was developed with the purpose of helping people reduce blood pressure, prioritize the consumption of calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and, most importantly, abstain from sodium.
In practice, this means salt is substituted with herbs and spices. There are two models: the Standard Model, which recommends less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and the Low Sodium Model, which recommends less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Studies suggest DASH is also good for preventing osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Based on the concept of caloric density, which states that some foods have few calories in proportion to their size (say, a lettuce), while others have lots of calories packed in small portions (a regular chocolate chip cookie comes to mind), Volumetrics divides foods into 4 categories based on their calorie/volume ratio, and is perfect for people looking to binge on some foods while still shedding pounds. However, as with the calorie counting approach, Volumetrics does not take into account the quality of the calories, prioritizing quantity instead. The app Noom and Weight Watchers (both reviewed above) share similarities with this diet theory.
According to its fervent proponents, humans were not made to be eating constantly; rather, we were designed to eat for short periods of time followed by hours (and sometimes days) of fasting. Much like vegetarianism, intermittent fasting is practiced for two main reasons: health and religion/spirituality. There are no food or caloric restrictions, but rather a restriction on WHEN to eat. The most popular methods include the 16/8 (8 hours of eating followed by 16 hours of fasting), the “Eat-Stop-Eat” method (two 24-hour fasts per week on non-consecutive days); and the 5/2 method (only 500 calories for 2 non-consecutive days, and 5 days of normal eating per week). While it's generally considered a healthy approach to eating when done moderately, some studies suggest extreme fasting may lead to hair loss and anxiety.