What’s the best diet to lose weight? What if I were to tell you the diet that will guarantee you weight loss quickly, with no exercise required, involves only beer and chocolate? Would you believe me? Probably not.
Well, guess what? If you’re just eating and drinking beer and chocolate but your total calorie consumption is less than your body requires, then you are going to lose weight. Is it healthy for your body? No way! But you already knew that. Whenever you cut out major food groups, you know you’re missing out on vital, health-giving nutrients.
So if everyone already knows that following a restrictive diet in which major food groups are totally off limits is a bad idea, then why are diets like Paleo and Atkins so popular? After all, they require you to cut out certain foods completely or have restrictive rules to follow. I have a few theories:
First of all, diets work. The more restrictive they are in the beginning and the more different they are from your normal way of eating, the faster they will work. When something works, it’s exciting. Maybe you’ve tried for years to budge five pounds, then you go on Atkins and lose not just that five pounds, but another nine you didn’t realize you’d be able to lose.
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Add to that the fact that it’s easier to follow a plan set out by someone else (who we always assume is an expert with our best interests at heart), because then you don’t even have to think about anything when dieting. "Is that yogurt? Nope, I’m Paleo, can’t eat that." We are given carefully constructed orders, with easy to follow rules, and when we follow them, we lose weight. It’s beautiful in its simplicity.
Beautiful, until it all comes crashing down around us. Because the sneaky truth about diets is that they are perfect in what is undoubtedly the goal -- short-term weight loss, followed by weight gain when you stop following the diet or relax the rules. Diet gurus don’t want you to succeed long term. They want you to put that weight back on so they can then sell you the new, improved version of their product, which they know you’ll believe will finally make the difference for life. Don’t believe me? I just went to Amazon, typed in "Atkins Diet Books" and found 620 results. That’s 620 separate books. A search for "Paleo Diet Books" pulled up 598 results. The keywords, like "essentials," "solution," "revised," "answer," "everyday," "for beginners," in the titles of all these diet books are aimed at making you think that the newest book is "The One" that will work for you.
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Now, I know that when something works for you, it’s very easy to take criticism of your chosen method of weight loss personally. This isn’t personal -- all I want you to do is evaluate if the way you are eating to lose weight is full of rules, or foods you can’t eat, or things to avoid, and ask yourself: "Could I follow this way of eating for the rest of my life?" If you answered yes honestly, then more power to you. But if even a small part of you says, "No bread? Ever? Or an overwhelming sense of guilt when I do eat bread?" then ask yourself if this is really the right choice for you.
What do I recommend to my clients? A few simple guidelines: More fruits and vegetables; focus on portion size; listen to your body’s hunger signals; and most importantly, don't attach guilt or emotion to treats. Enjoy your food, enjoy your workouts, and reject diets. For good.