By now, many of us have set our 2020 resolutions and are just getting it together to start making some healthy changes. If the changes you have in mind involve weight loss, we need to talk about your eating plan (notice I avoided using the four-letter word: D-I-E-T).
You might find it surprising that I didn’t say we need to talk about exercise. After all, when it comes to weight loss, healthy eating and exercise go hand in hand, right? Well, it’s true that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but losing weight by just working out is very difficult—and it’s very easy to negate any calorie loss achieved in the gym with a few bites of the wrong food. In other words, rewarding yourself with ice cream after an hour at the gym is likely to undermine your progress on the bathroom scale. There’s no getting around it; making changes in what you eat is a must if you want to lose weight.
With that in mind, let’s get back to eating plans. It seems a few plans in particular are all the rage nowadays. You can hardly go anywhere without hearing someone talk about the Keto Diet or the Paleo Diet and all the fantastic weight loss they’ve achieved on it. With all the buzz these diets are generating, I’m reminded of the “Atkins Revolution” of 20 years ago!
Keto vs. Paleo
People often assume the Keto and Paleo diets are more or less interchangeable since both are low-carb. But there are some key differences. On Keto your calories come mainly from fat, whereas on Paleo your calories come from protein. Also, if you think Keto is a “cheese-for-all,” you’re mistaken because cheese contains carbohydrate in the form of lactose. It’s more about full-fat foods like butter and olive oil as well as meats, poultry, eggs, and fish.
Paleo, on the other hand, is more liberal and allows more options like fruit and vegetables. This eating plan, which is about eating like our ancestors of the Paleolithic age, does not enforce super-strict rations of nutrients. You do, however, avoid dairy foods, processed foods, legumes, and whole and refined grains—essentially everything a caveman could not eat. You can have grass-fed meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado.
You lose weight on both plans because you’re restricting foods and eliminating whole food groups. However, they’re often not sustainable, and once you start eating some of the restricted foods, the weight comes right back on (like the Atkins Diet of 20 years ago!). If you have to choose one of these, Paleo would be a better option as it is slightly healthier.
Even better choices
Better yet, choose the Mediterranean Diet, which is your best bet for a healthy eating plan. This plant-based diet—which has been around for at least 20 years (actually for centuries) and was named the “Best Diet of 2019” by US News and World Report—is often recommended to diabetics for blood sugar control.
Many studies have been done on the Mediterranean Diet, and it has been found to help with weight loss, depression, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, stronger bones, and a longer life, to name a few benefits. More a lifestyle than a diet, this eating plan encourages eating with friends and family, socializing with meals, and mindful eating. Processed foods are avoided, and the focus is on fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Animal-based choices revolve primarily around seafood and fish with some poultry and minimal intake of red meat. Oh, and let’s not forget the glass of red wine per day (now white wine is okay too)!
If you happen to pick up that US News and World Report article, you will also find that the number-one diet for weight loss is WW (formally Weight Watchers), on which you can eat over 200 zero-point foods every day—mostly fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
Think the “Three S’s”
So much of weight loss is mental, and having the ability to eat the suggested foods, with an occasional indulgence, is what is really important with a healthy eating plan. To achieve that, it’s helpful to think the “Three S’s”—Simple, Satiety, and Sustainable.
Is the plan something you can do? Is it going to make you feel satisfied? If you’re starving, you’re not likely to stay on the plan. When you start to eat again—“re-feed”—the weight comes right back on and perhaps more. Is the plan sustainable? Can you eat this way not just now but for a lifetime?
Remember, diets that eliminate entire foods groups and are very restrictive are not substantiated by science. Learning how to make healthy food choices is key, and making those choices on most days is my mantra! Whatever you do, be sure to educate yourself and choose a safe plan to improve your health.
Laurie Syring, RD/LD, is Clinical Nutrition Manager at ProMedica Flower Hospital. ❦