Will Extreme Diets Help You Lose Weight?

With so many different diets and nutrition programs available these days, it can be difficult to figure out which strategy you should adopt to get the results that you want. Some diets claim that carbs are deadly, whilst others advocate a complete avoidance of all dairy products.
The fact is that the majority of these diets promote extreme methods that are not sustainable in the long run. There are no quick fixes or magic pills to guarantee you results, but there certainly are nutritional approaches that will help to maximize your results.
The focus here is on health and making healthy food choices. But first, lets have a look at some of the most popular diets and why they don’t make the best choice if sustainable results are what you are after.
The Atkins Diet
Extremely low carb diets like the Atkins diet do seem to work well in the short term, but because they advocate a complete removal of carbohydrates from the diet, sustainability is an issue. Any diet that completely removes one of the three macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat or protein) should be approached with caution, and the fact that the Atkins diet comes with a warning that those following it may experience weakness, fatigue and leg cramps speaks volumes.
Moreover, very low carbohydrate, or ‘ketogenic’ diets have been shown to be inferior to diets that contain a more balanced ratio of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. A large study was performed comparing ketogenic diets (high protein and high fat, zero carb diets) with non-ketogenic, moderately low carbohydrate diets. The ketogenic diet was associated with an increase in harmful LDL cholesterol.
In addition, the ketogenic diet showed no metabolic advantage over the non-ketogenic diet and those participants following it had less energy than those on the higher carb diet. It does become clear then, that there is little benefit of completely removing carbohydrates from your diet.
The Paleo Diet
Another very popular diet at the minute is the Paleo diet. If you can’t go a day without eating meat, then you may think that this is the perfect diet for you. The diet is based on that of our Palaeolithic ancestors, and focuses on lean meats, seafood, non-starchy vegetables and fruit. Dairy products, grains, legumes, and all other processed foods are to be strictly avoided.
Sustainability is therefore an issue, as are certain micronutrient deficiencies. With all dairy products removed from the diet, it can be difficult to consume enough calcium when following a Paleo lifestyle. Vitamin B6 – found in grains, might also be an issue for those on the diet, who will struggle to meet their requirement for this micronutrient through the consumption of lean protein alone.
A Better Approach…
The problem with extreme nutritional approaches like those highlighted above, is that they only work for a short period of time. Many people will struggle to follow the rigid structure of these diets, and will quickly fall back into their old habits.
Small but sustainable changes are a better place to start. Focus on consuming plenty of whole foods, which will improve satiety and are naturally rich in vitamins and minerals. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and try to limit processed junk food as much as possible. Unless you are lactose intolerant, there is no need to avoid dairy. It is rich in calcium and other micronutrients that help to support good health.
If you are looking to maximize your results, then there are a number of other factors that you will need to consider, like nutrient timing and your macronutrient ratios. However these more advanced nutritional strategies should be put in place only once you have the basics covered. Get these right and you will set yourself up for long-term success.
References:
1.) Denny, S. (2013). Should We Eat Like Our Caveman Ancestors? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved from http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442471551
2.) Foreyt, J. (2012). The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet: Smart, Simple, Science-Based Strategies for Losing Weight and Keeping it Off. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 96(3). Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/96/3/681.full
3.) Heimowitz, C. Trager, S (2007). The All-New Atkins Advantage. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/Media/content.aspx?id=10507#.UmsQZiSxM7I
4.) Heller, M. (2013). The Dash Diet Eating Plan. Retrieved from: http://dashdiet.org/
5.) Hutchins, H. Johnston, C. Sears, B. Swan, P. Tjonn, S. White, A. (2006). Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over non-ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 83(5). Retrieved from: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/83/5/1055.abstract