These days, growing awareness of nutrition has popularized drastic diets that promise to produce significant weight loss, better moods, longer life, more satisfaction and other health benefits. From keto to raw food, vegan to low-fat, if you want to go on an extreme diet, you have plenty from which to choose.
But these regimens are rarely sustainable over the long run.
Despite decades of failure, the myth of the miracle diet is as irresistible as ever. As of 2018, about 160 million Americans annually spend over $20 billion on weight-loss schemes. Consumers are desperate enough to buy into the idea, again and again: the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet, the potato diet, fruitarianism, diets using juicing, tapeworms, staples, cotton balls, soap, feeding tubes and even air.
Extreme diets actually starve the body of necessary calories and nutrients, making them ineffective in the long term. This actually slows metabolism and eventually causes weight gain. If you attempt these diets repeatedly, you may suffer a weakened immune system, heart palpitations or cardiac stress, Isadore Rosenfeld, author of Doctor of the Heart: A Life in Medicine, told CNN.
The severe restrictions can themselves become a disorder. The Emily Program, which treats eating disorders, has determined that, for some people, dieting this way and starving your body of nourishment can change your emotional relationship with food because you view many nourishing foods as damaging and feel guilty and weak for straying from your diet. Depriving yourself of foods can also result in binge eating and more weight gain.
Some diets can be effective as a short-term reset, but as a long-term effort to lose weight, they can become dangerous.
A popular “extreme” approach called the ketogenic diet (high fat and adequate protein), typically restricts carbs to about 5 to 10 percent of your total daily calories (20 to 50 grams per day). It has a variety of undeniable therapeutic benefits toward treating chronic illnesses, such as metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, Parkinsons and chronic seizures in epilepsy, among others. If you suffer from these conditions, this diet may help. But it can be extremely difficult to sustain when used for weight loss. Less restrictive, effective options certainly exist.
The mistake made by many dieters (and diet promoters) is to count the quantity of calories but ignore the quality of calories. Eating low-calorie foods can often mean eating low-quality foods. Such a diet can cause insulin surges and ultimately contribute to weight gain and diabetes. Eating high-quality, natural whole foods, and worrying less about calories, decreases insulin levels and weight gain.
The smart nutritional approach is to blend food quality and quantity to attain sustainable health. Eat quality whole foods: plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, healthy fats, and some whole grains. Most of us eat far too many grains and other carbohydrates. The less you move, the less carbohydrates you need. Your body may be especially sensitive to carbohydrates, so you may need to dial them back considerably to achieve the right metabolic balance.
Avoid extremes and begin monitoring your portion size. For women that means that each meal should equate to about a thumb-size of fat-dense foods, a palm-size portion of protein, a fistful of veggies and a cupped handful of whole grains. For men, double these portions. Whether you are a man or a woman, if you are especially active, adjust your protein intake accordingly. This balanced approach will provide all of your key macronutrients and good peace of mind.
Some people have achieved an additional boost to regulating body weight through intermittent fasting. This is a trend that is safe, and it can be effective in decreasing insulin levels and increasing human growth hormone, which optimizes your body’s ability to burn fat. In a comprehensive review of data, intermittent fasting was found to bring about a reduction of free-radicals (which can damage cells), reduce weight, inflammation, glucose regulation, increase resistance to stress, and crush sugar cravings. It works by skipping one or more meals for a set period of time. The 16:8 method involves eating within an 8-hour window daily, and fasting for the other 16 hours (including sleep time). For example, you may skip breakfast and eat nutritious food between 12 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The answer to becoming healthy is the opposite of extreme diets. Eating should not be an extreme exercise, but a balanced, satisfying, energizing part of your life. Avoid extremes and simply begin disciplining yourself to get rid of health-destroying foods and to develop your taste for health-building natural foods. Notice your portion sizes and the quantity and quality of what you eat.