It’s that time of year again. Holidays are just around the corner, and before we know it, January will be here, and a new year will begin. Given the way 2020 has gone, and so many of us have had significant life changes in the past year, predicting how this will change how people view diet and health is challenging.
Usually, people use the new year to try to make positive changes when it comes to their eating habits. That can be the right choice if done correctly and with guidance. With a few small lifestyle adjustments, the changes made can be sustained long term and have clinically meaningful results.
In 2017, the DIETFITS study was finished, and we learned a tremendous amount of great information about what diets help people and then reported the results. Several different diet approaches were compared, and outcomes were reported from 600 people who participated in the research.
As someone who has been in the business of food, health, and wellness for over 27 years, I have seen my share of specialized diets that have come across the headlines. “Experts” claim that each of them is the key to long-term weight loss and looking great on social media. The DIETFITS study debunked those claims, and the findings were helpful to us as we guide our clients in the area of nutrition.
The study affirmed what we in the nutrition field already suspected by providing evidence that there is no solitary approach that will magically be the key to weight loss for every individual. Some will do well with a low carb diet style while others may do well with a low fat, low-calorie approach.
There were some commonalities among successful patterns of eating that should be noted. They were limiting added sugar, leaning toward a more plant-based approach to choosing foods, including only a minimal amount of highly processed foods high in sodium and sugar.
You may be asking what determines success with specific diets and how they affect long term weight loss. Evidence points toward adherence to a chosen eating plan. The best way to facilitate this is by personalization. More simply, choose the best diet to fit your lifestyle and seek guidance and accountability from a Registered Dietitian. It also helps to have a support system, whether it’s family, friends, or a group. Having people cheer you on and encourage you goes a long way to helping you achieve your goals.
That brings us to where I’ve seen people making mistakes in this area. Not only does an eating style need to be personalized, but so does calorie level based on ones’ unique metabolic needs. This means age, activity level, past dietary habits, budget, family structure, and food sources all play a part in making this determination. Research suggests that yo-yo dieting with meager calories and eating very high calories as a rebound may slow metabolic rates. This adaptation is roughly 10-15% and up to a 35% decrease in metabolic rate for some
Individualized plans that fluctuate over time as more weight is lost and sustaining that loss and avoidance of weight gain seem to work best. One single type of diet doesn’t work for everyone.
As I explain to my clients, there’s much more to health than just weight loss. The most crucial factor is to focus on long term health. Improving biomarkers such as triglyceride levels, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol is equally essential. Body composition and metabolic rate play a role in how certain nutrients are metabolized. For example, if one carries more fat around their midsection, they may be more at risk for metabolic syndrome. In this case, following a diet with a lower carbohydrate level with increased protein might be the best approach and result in positive health outcomes. When one carries weight in their thighs and lower body, that indicates a different approach would work best for that individual.
Don’t expect too much too soon. It takes time to lose weight correctly and to make changes that last. Implementing a lifestyle overhaul that is hard to sustain and makes you hate life may prevail in the short term, and you might lose significant weight, but it won’t work for you long term. This is where the yo-yo dieting originates. Be patient, learn to be happy in your body while focusing on nourishing health, not a number on a scale.
Don’t neglect movement, and don’t overdo it. Spending hours at the gym may look like fun on Instagram, but it isn’t realistic for your average person. I’m not against it if you prefer it; however, it isn’t necessary to maintain muscle and strengthen your cardiovascular system. I’ve spoken with personal trainers who have told me that a few critical exercises correctly can help most people gain or maintain muscle. Walking, cycling, or swimming for 30 minutes a day is reasonable and doable. Finding something you enjoy affordably and can be sustained is what makes the most significant body composition improvements.