What Is the Best Diet?!
As a fitness professional in the field for over 25 years, I have seen and heard a lot but one question I almost always get is “What is the Best Diet?”
To be honest it’s a loaded question and a lot of the time the answer I give falls on mainly deaf ears because at the time I think the person is just looking for confirmation of the current and most popular diet craze that is going around or to to debunk it and have the “I knew it” phenomenon. However, all things being equal, the most common theme amongst those that do ask is…
Most people are looking for the Magic Pill!
So what is the Best Diet?
The short answer to this question is that the “Best Diet” is the one that is Sustainable. I know I know, I hear your response right now “C’MON, here I am looking for the magic pill answer and you give me that!”
Yes, sustainability is the secret ingredient. So what does that mean? Don’t worry, I am going to show you how to identify the Best Diet for you, but it’s also going to take some work, from you!
Calories. Regardless of what your eating habits look like, it almost ALWAYS comes back to the total amount of calories you are consuming on a regular basis. For the most part, it is a math problem. Now, there may be a few exceptions to the rule, but all in all, it’s important to maintain balance in your caloric consumption. We know that an overconsumption of calories will lead to weight gain, and an underconsumption of calories, will lead to weight loss (and possibly other issues if too great a deficit). But all in all, total calories matter.
If you want evidence of this, Ben Brown from BSL Nutrition showcased a client who continued to drink craft beer, occasional chicken tenders and ZERO vegetables and still lost over 70lbs. You can listen to her story here.
Don’t just track your food, learn your food. If the best diet is the most sustainable one, then you need to find out what foods you are eating and will eat for the rest of your life. Recognize what your normal eating looks like in terms of quantity and quality so you become more and more aware of HOW MUCH you are eating, not only WHAT you are eating. Some individuals are great at tracking food, most are not. Most can do it for the short term but quickly give up. That’s fine, but I would challenge you to learn your food. Learn and remember the typical number of calories the food you are eating accounts for. As a result, you begin to get better at selecting more appropriate foods. It is the very reason why meal prepping is so successful, you are controlling the amount of food you are eating based on the total number of calories. If you are not a prepper, don’t worry, there are other tools you can use. But when it comes to tracking, be honest. The only person you are fooling is yourself and if you are really serious about changing your body, take it serious.
Look at Quantity before Quality. Why most “diets” work in the short term is not because they give you magic foods to eat, most will be lower calorie and put you in a deficit really quickly and thus you are eating much less than normal. However, restricting food intake, particularly in larger levels like most diets is not the answer. When trying to work out your best dietary approach, you need to identify how much food you are eating. You need to be completely honest with yourself and track the food you are eating to see exactly how much food you are eating. But wait, shouldn’t we be talking about eating healthy, better quality food first? Not yet. Traditionally we are both conditioned to eat certain sizes of food and it takes a while to get used to eating smaller plates, and we don’t always have access to better quality food (and we tend to see less accountability trying to “eat healthy”). So we get used to eating less first, and then we get better at choosing healthier food options. Quantity before Quality.
Your Calorie Maintenance Window — What is that you ask? Well, we don’t tend to live robotic lives and each day/week is very different, including the amount of activity and exercise we do, as well as the types of meals we eat and as such our ranges in total calories can differ slightly. But here is the trick. As you learn more about your food and the amount of activity/exercise you do, you begin to learn your boundaries. And by boundaries I mean how much food you consume before you gain or lose weight. Most people fluctuate between 1–2 lbs on a regular basis without really considering this, but I also know that there are weeks or months through the year where slight overconsumption beyond their maintenance window leads to weight gain. And thus the battle between gaining and losing weight continues.
What is your maintenance window? By knowing your window you can learn to stay within it for long periods of time, but you also know the effect of eating outside that range. If you want to gain weight, you know where to reach, if you want to lose weight you always begin to understand what adjustments to make.
Lastly, there are a couple of other important factors that we ALWAYS need to take into consideration.
Who’s asking? We have all seen it (and even experienced it) that nutrition is not a one size fits all model and there’s not one singular diet that works for everyone. The reason why is because we are all different. We are all different shapes, sizes, ages, body composition, metabolic rates, genetics, activity and exercise habits, work habits, and we vary vastly in our taste in food. So we have to look at the person and identify all the characteristics about that person because they ALL matter. One of my clients recently asked about cottage cheese as a replacement for regular cheese options. And I said it was a good substitute from a total calorie and protein/fat level. BUT if you asked me personally to cottage cheese, I’d say no, I don’t like cottage cheese, so MY Best Diet is one that doesn’t include cottage cheese.
What’s their goal? Is the goal of your eating habits to lose weight, gain weight or maintain weight? It is important to know this because the amount of food and the type of food will be dictated by this question. In addition, the time frame from which to make any adjustments is also figured into the equation.
Sustainability = CONSISTENCY of appropriate food choices + TIME
Dr. Dan Dodd is an Exercise Science professional and Coach for BSL Nutrition. Dan is an avid writer on nutrition, exercise, metabolism and body composition. If you’d like to receive more stories, subscribe to his weekly emails.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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