What Diet Is Right For Me ?
So first, a diet is what you eat… it doesn’t mean that you’re going to lose 10 pounds fat, or gain 5 pounds of muscle in a month, or that it’s going to shred you out and make you win your upcoming competition! A diet is JUST…what you eat. Anthropologists often study the ‘indigenous diet’ of different cultures to see how different types of food patterns affect human health or how different genes could affect people ability to thrive of different food patterns. However, this series is going to focus on various popular consumer and therapeutic diets that you commonly hear about, the types of diets that your friends try to corral you into doing with them (or maybe you’re the friend doing the corralling, like me J).
So here’s it is, and big 5 category break down of the diet world:
The 5 categories of diets:
Here’s a short list of examples of popular diets:
Keto, zone, paleo, whole 30, autoimmune, dash, weight watchers, wild diet, primal diet, IIFYM, Atkins, vegetarian, vegan, dash, gluten-free, raw foodism, juice fast, Daniel fast, fasting, intermittent fasting, and renaissance diet (breath a deep breath)
Okay lets start at the beginning with category 1 and the O.G. diet type- a portion or calorie based diet.
- Category 1: A Portion-Controlled Diet
- These diets give you pre-packaged meals, shakes, portion-sized containers or designate a calorie goal to control portion amounts of foods. These can also take the form of a ‘block’ or ‘points system’ to make it easier to follow. Saying things like ’10 points a day’ or you get 3 5-block meals each day.
- These can be very effective and work well for most people who don’t want to have to count each and every macronutrient, or learn how to use a calorie tracker.
- Popular systems that use this approach include: beach body, weight watchers, medifast, and other programs with portion sized frozen meals, bars and/or shakes.
- In general, these diets are successful when followed and are not necessarily meant to be followed forever. However, weight watchers and the ‘block method’ are flexible enough to include going out to eat, having an occasional drink and other social events and therefore could be reasonable permanent diets if you appreciated that type of consistency and routine!
Okay, now that we learned about the easiest style of diets to follow, lets get into the nitty-gritty calorie-tracking, crazy meal-prepping, every-nutrient crunching madness that is a Macronutrient-based diet.
- Category #2: A Macro-Based Diet
- Macros, of ‘If it fits your macros’ is a popular diet style that is capable of achieving measureable and predictable body composition changes that makes it perfect for body-builders and serious athletes alike. A macronutrient-based diet categorizes every food into 3 macronutrients: protein, carbs and fat – and then keeps track of intake of each precisely- to the gram. Popular ways to organize your diet is by grams or to a specific calorie amount as a percentage of calories from each of the 3 groups.
- There are technically 4 macronutrients (because alcohol is a macronutrient) but we only practically use 3 of them: protein, carbohydrates and fat. Carbs and protein are 4 kcal/gram, fat is 9 kcal/gram and alcohol is 7 kcal/gram.
- A popular example is the Zone Diet 40/30/30. Basically, you get 40% of your calories from carbohydrate, 30% from protein, and 30% from fat. This was initially research based as a way to still fuel intense workouts and high activity levels while maintaining healthy insulin sensitivity and a lean athletic physique without excess body fat. This is an effective and safe moderate plan that most people do well on and feel good on.
- Then, on the opposite side of the coin, we have the 0 parts moderate and much riskier ketogenic diet. This diet is high risk/high reward. The reward is the potential for extreme and rapid fat loss, improvement of gut health by reduction of a bad bacterial overgrowth, and promotion of nerve and brain health- if eased into and done properly. The risk is severe metabolic damage if you don’t eat adequate vegetables, choose the highest quality fats, and pair this diet with the most rigorous food quality standards.
- A ketogenic diet is defined as a diet in which your body produces ketones to use for energy (specifically by the brain) in a low glucose, low insulin state that mimics fasting. This diet was initially designed to treat epilepsy in the 1920’s. It was created in response to the observation that many people with epilepsy wouldn’t experience seizures during religious fasts. Side note: it is my opinion and practice that you really need to ease into keto and it’s not a good permanent diet but rather to cycle in and out of for therapeutic or fat metabolism purposes if you don’t have epilepsy. Performance-wise there can be significant ‘boosts’ from optimizing your fat metabolism during the keto period. However, during peak competition season it is important to add higher carbohydrate meals and higher glycemic snacks, specifically around your intense and heavily glycolytic workouts.
- Ketogenic diets are a hot and controversial topic. This diet has experts lined on opposite sides of the fence… yelling and throwing things at each other. However, the politics of this controversy will be covered in a future episode J. Okay… I’m going to leave you hanging on that – it’s going to be a big and very loved and hated episode J
- Okay so then there’s keto’s more moderate cousin: the low carbohydrate diets, and ‘keto’s parent’ that’s been popular much longer – the Atkins diet.
Annnnnd we’re moving on after that very long rant – you can see where my interest lie J
- Category #3: Food Quality Based Diets
- I would argue that a majority of diets fall under this category from the South Beach Diet, the Paleo Diet, the AIP Diet, the Mediterranean Diet, a primal diet, the wild diet and so on.
- These diets do not require you to log your food daily though you can pair a macro-based approach with a diet that’s food quality based and often people will do this. These diets can be followed forever but many are not designed for this, and of course humans aren’t perfect. Following a diet like this 90% of the time is often just as good or even better than following it 100%. A large issue with diet is the stress that comes with approaching them as a perfectionist and using that as an added stressor or as a means to stop going out to eat or engaging in social and community bonding around food – don’t fall prey to this! Again – perfection is not the goal, it’s a lifestyle and 80-90% of the time that is just as good or better!
- So the most popular diet in this category is probably Paleo. This diet was named for the diet that hunter-gatherers ate in the Paleolithic era before agriculture and dairy cows. This diet includes whatever you could hunt or gather: meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. It is often called the ‘caveman diet’ and your friend who does CrossFit has absolutely tried this diet – just google ‘paleo…and insert your favorite recipe’ and I guarantee there’s a paleo version of it that doesn’t suck!
- Also popular in the category are elimination diets which include the Whole 30…which as it’s name suggests it is meant to be followed strictly for 30 days and the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). These elimination diets are meant to lower inflammation from autoimmune disorders, to heal leaky gut which could be fueling autoimmune issues, and then slowly reintroduce foods one at a time to see which foods triggers inflammation. I think everyone should do this at least once in their lives!
- Additionally in this category is the primal diet coined by Mark Sisson in the Primal Blueprint, which includes lifestyle components such as sleep and varied movement and exercise patterns.
- Also in this category is the wild diet, the vegetarian diet which includes no animal products for either health or ethical reasons, the stricter version of that, the vegan diet which additionally excludes products from animals like leather accessories or fur coats
- Just as popular as Paleo is a gluten-free diet, and then more rare diets such as raw foodism, and more short term diets such as juice fasting, the Daniel fast which is biblical in nature and all sorts of other fasts!
- These food-quality based diets give no regulations on how much to eat of any one food or any of the different ‘groups’ of macronutrients. Instead these focus on the ‘quality’ of foods and tend to focus on removing or avoiding foods for health or moral reasons.
- Okay and lastly – our topic of the week hits this category- Anti-inflammatory diets. This is a bit of a misnomer because there isn’t just one, but rather many diets fall into this subcategory– paleo falls here, The Whole 30 and its best friend the Autoimmune Protocol are extremely anti-inflammatory. Anti-inflammatory diets focus on removing any possible preservatives, inflammatory compounds or irritants such as gluten, even healthy ‘natural’ sugar alcohols such as erythritol. There is usually no dairy or processed foods. In the strictest diet in this subcategory, the Autoimmune Protocol, there’s also no eggs, nuts, seeds, or nightshade vegetables for the first 6 weeks. This is not because they’re bad in general, but because many people have inflammatory reactions to these foods and we are quelling inflammation to heal potential SIBO or leaky gut! The goal of that first phase is to lower inflammation in the gut so that your gut can heal any bacterial imbalance along with any active inflammation that could be perpetuating inadequate absorption of your vitamins and mineral from the foods you are eating. Then in phase 2, the reintroduction phase, you slowly reintroduce foods over a 5 day period per food to see if sensitivities exist. More on this later.
Just a quick highlight on category 4…food-timing based diets. In general these are used in combination with other categories with the exception being intermittent fasting.
- Category #4: Food Timing Based Diets –
- In this category are the Renaissance Diet, intermittent fasting, water fasting, Daniel fast, really all the fasts, the core diet used by endurance athletes to periodize their carbs, and many other religious and performance diets.
- The most popular diet to highlight here is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is often paired with a ketogenic diet used as a means to get your body using fat for energy during the fasting period, which is often 16-19 hours of the day. This leaves 5-8 hours for eating food. Many people report losing fat and weight on this diet, but it is not designed for that exclusively. Intermittent fasting is a great and more moderate way to ramp up your fat metabolism without having to do a strict ketogenic diet.
- On the other side of this coin, if your goal is to get lean, the completely opposite approach achieves that for many of the leanest people who do bodybuilding competitions. It is just as popular and often effective (though not always convenient) to eat every snacks and small meals 2-3 hours.
Okay we finally made it to the last category! You thought we’d never make it, but here we are!
- Category 5: Therapeutic Diets –
- There are many clinical and outpatient based diets used by registered dietitians to help patients manage diseases such as carbohydrate counting for diabetes, the DASH diet for cardiovascular diseases, a low FODMAP diet for some GI disorders, the Renal Diet – low in potassium sodium for kidney patients, and then fluid, autoimmune protocols for autoimmune conditions, and dietary texture modifications for patients with swallowing issues including: ground meat, mechanical soft, clear liquid, nectar thick liquids, or pureed diet. We won’t be talking about these because these diets are for clinical use and don’t generally have applications in a healthy population.
- To be noted – Combo Macronutrient-Based Diets and Food Quality-Based diets are OFTEN PAIRED by bodybuilders and athletes
- Paleo-zone, popular with bodybuilders and crossfitters alike, is a great combo for achieving a predictable change in body composition.
- Another example would be paleo-keto, which would be more drastic and extreme in nature, but often athletes can do this in the off season or bodybuilders leading up to a very important competition.
- These diets can be very complicated and often repetitive in nature. They usually involve meal prep and a lot of time and effort if you can’t pay a fortune to have it done for you. These diets also require the highest level of motivation.
In recap: the 5 diet categories are portion-controlled, macronutrient-based, food quality based, food timing based, therapeutic diets, or a combination of multiple categories such as paleo-zone or paleo-keto.