In the many years that I have been working with clients who want to lose weight, first as a personal trainer and now as a weight-loss coach, two questions come up over and over again. The first is, ''Will you give me a specific diet to follow?''|
To that, my answer has always been the same: ''No, I will not prescribe a diet plan for you. I am not a registered dietitian. However, I can teach you the principles of eating for optimal health, well-being and weight loss, and can help you create a plan that will work for your body, preferences and lifestyle.''
The second question is usually something like this: ''That sounds so hard. Why don’t you just tell me what diet to go on? Which one is the best?'' My answer then is, ''The best diet is the one you will follow and stick to.''
In my mind, whether you are looking to lose weight or not, we are all ''on a diet.'' The word ''diet'' simply means the foods and drinks you consume on a regular basis. Depending on how you choose to eat, your diet will either support weight loss, contribute to weight gain or maintain your current weight.
I am not a big proponent of ''going on a diet.'' My personal philosophy, which has proven successful for so many of my clients, is that we all need to create our own personal diet plans. Your food plan needs to be one you can live with in the real world for the long haul. It needs to fit your particular tastes, preferences and lifestyle, and it has to agree with your body. Different ways of eating work for different people--and that's perfectly fine!
The act of ''going on a diet" often has many connotations and beliefs attached. In our society, this ''diet" generally means a plan with a beginning and an end. For some, it is a form of punishment and deprivation. Still others think of it as a road leading up to a big event, such as a wedding or a high school reunion. And for most, it is anticipated as a time that will be difficult, requiring extreme discipline and sacrifice.
The truth is, after all the hard work and restrictions, most diets fail miserably. If a diet is too restrictive (which they often are), people tend to fall off the wagon and never get back on--putting back on every pound they lost (and then some!).
So, should you just toss out all the plans, never go on a diet again and throw your hands up in defeat? Not necessarily. Although my preference is for individuals to learn small, manageable lifestyle changes for slow but steady weight loss, there is a time and place for choosing and following a structured diet plan.
A diet plan based on sound science and research by qualified professionals such as doctors, dietitians, metabolic specialists and/or nutrition educators can be very successful at helping certain people succeed at their weight-loss goals. A sensible plan can help teach the basics of healthy food choices, portion control, menu-planning and more. It can also provide structure, support and motivation for those who feel lost or disorganized. Some diets will even eliminate guesswork and confusion by supplying daily meal plans, recipes and shopping lists.
The key to all weight loss is cutting calories--period! But many people like having "rules" to follow to help keep them on track, which is what makes specific weight-loss plans so appealing. Whether you choose to lose weight by following a low-fat plan, a low-carb plan, or by eating all foods in moderation, the plan you choose is all about your individual preference and how your body responds. The ultimate success is not how much or how fast you take off the weight, but whether or not you are able to maintain the loss.
If you decide that going on a specific diet plan is your next best move to get you closer to your ideal body weight, how will you choose which plan to follow? Here are nine questions to ask yourself when evaluating a plan to determine if it is the right one for you.
1. Is the diet based on scientific, sound and proven nutritional principles? Should you expect weight loss at a reasonable rate of .5 to 2 pounds a week, or is it promising a quick fix? If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
2. Do the foods on this plan sound appealing to you? When looking at the list of permissible foods or meal plans, they should be pleasing and varied enough that you will look forward to your meals and snacks. If there is a big ''yuck'' factor, the chance that you’ll stick to the plan are slim to none.
3. Will this plan fit easily into your lifestyle? If you don't have time in your schedule to shop for exotic ingredients and cook complicated dishes, a plan that requires a lot of food preparation will likely frustrate you. You'd be better off with a plan where the food choices are more basic and quick to prepare, or you might even try a diet service that offers pre-made, portion-controlled foods and drinks.
4. Do you like choices, or do you prefer more structure? Do you want your diet plan to allow room for creativity, or do you like the structure of being told what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day?
5. Will your family eat the same foods, or will you (or your partner) need to prepare separate meals for other family members? If you don’t live alone, it might be best to choose a plan that the entire family can follow--or accept that you might have to prepare separate meals to meet everyone's needs.
6. Could you stay on this plan for an extended period of time without getting bored or feeling deprived? Make sure there is enough variety and choice. Diet plans that eliminate entire food groups, never allow for an occasional treat or require the same few choices each day will usually fail, even for the most motivated and disciplined dieters.
7. Does the diet include group support through in-person meetings, online forums or call-in counselors? If you are the type of individual who needs and wants support, make sure it is available. Aside from having a place to go to with questions or for encouragement when commitment falters, being part of a group can make dieting a lot more fun.
8. Is this a plan you can follow as long as you like, or is there a specific beginning and end point? If there is an end point, do you have a strategy in place that will allow you to ease into a lifelong plan? Ultimately, you want your diet to be a pathway to a sustainable way of eating that will nourish you properly and keep you at your healthy weight for years to come.
9. When you read over your plan and imagine yourself following it, do you feel optimism and excitement--or dread? Listen to your gut! If the plan doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right for you.
No matter what road you take, I wish you great success in achieving your weight-loss goals. If one road doesn’t get you where you want to go, recalculate and choose another. Consult with your doctor before beginning a new diet plan, and reach out to a registered dietitian or wellness coach if you feel you need more guidance.
Fletcher, Anne MS, RD. 2003. Thin For Life. New York: Houghton Mifflin Books.
Harvard Health Publications. "Choosing the Diet that Will Work for You," accessed August 2014. www.health.harvard.edu.
Kovacs, Jenny. "For Savvy Weight Loss, Know Thyself," accessed August 2014. www.webmd.com.
Tribole, Evelyn, MS, RD. "Warning: Dieting Increases Your Risk of Gaining More Weight," accessed August 2014. www.intuitiveeating.com.