Daniel’s sparse plate at the Christmas table had everyone staring: turkey, no skin and some steamed broccoli - passing on the potatoes, yams, carrots and dressing. His explanation was routine at this point, “I’m on the Keto diet and can’t have any of that other stuff.” Consuming one serving of starchy vegetables could put him over his entire carb limit for the day and set him back a couple of days in his goal of losing 45 pounds - something he wasn’t willing to sacrifice, even at Christmas.
The Keto Diet is one of the more popular trending restrictive diets, with reports flooding in on Facebook from participants losing weight. While such diets may be wonderful for losing weight and gaining energy, many may fail to take into consideration the other aspects of a healthy life.
So, how do you choose? We’ve broken it down to three of the most popular restrictive diets so you can see what works best for your body.
Ketogenic (Keto) Diet
When your body doesn’t have enough carbs for energy, it uses ketones instead, which are a by-product of fat putting you in a state of ketosis, hence the name. The 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 45% to 65% of daily calories come from carbs, but less than 10% from saturated fat. This 28-day diet operates on about 80% fat and 20% protein.
What to Eat: Lots of high-fat foods like red meat, eggs, dairy products, avocados, nuts and oils
What Not to Eat: Pasta, rice, oats, beans, root vegetables and vegetables high in carbs
Pros: You’ll see results immediately because without carbs there’s less water retention. Also, you’re not spiking your insulin with carbs, so your body is more efficient at burning fat. Plus, when you exercise, your calorie burn is considerably greater.
Cons: The high fat content, particularly from the meats, may put you at greater risk for heart disease and certain cancers if you stay on the diet for an extended period. More a caution than a con: the diet changes your metabolism and your bowel movements. The brain needs glucose to function, a component of carbs, which you’re not getting in this diet.
The breakdown for a Paleo (Paleolithic) Diet is about 30% of calories from protein, 35% from fats, and 35% from carbohydrates. It’s referred to as the Caveman’s Diet because a study done at Emory University has concluded that is what Neanderthals consumed – and they hunted mastodons and lived in the Ice Age!
What to Eat: Fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meats, nuts, seeds, all of which should be organic, grass-fed and free of pesticides
What Not to Eat: Dairy products, legumes, grains, anything that comes from a jar or box and – get ready- alcohol.
Pros: This is an uncomplicated diet that provides cleaner foods in helping to lose weight. It also adds muscle and the more muscle mass, the more blood flow. The foods that you can eat are a good source of iron, which helps fight inflammation.
Cons: However, the diet doesn’t include some foods that nutrition research has shown to be healthy, like legumes, quinoa and oats. Organic foods are more expensive. It would be hard to keep up with what foods are free of pesticides – not to mention embarrassing to order in a restaurant.
This is a 30-day program designed to determine what foods or food groups might be causing allergies or problems in your body and which ones could help you feel your best.
What to Eat: Mainly meat, fruits and veggies
What Not to Eat: Sugar (including honey and maple syrup), alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, MSG, sulfites, baked goods, treats or snacks
Pros: You could discover that you have an allergy to a food group. You’re likely to feel better in addition to losing weight.
Cons: There’s no fudging on this diet, it has more rules to follow and is more complicated than the other two diets. More label reading involved.
For Jace Lopez, personal trainer and owner of Apex Training, diets are not so black and white. “I think you should be Whole 30 all the time with a “mental break” meal or “cheat meal” once a week,” he says.
He says restrictive diets work for many in the short term, but they generally don't instill eating patterns that you can stick to in the long-term. Clients come to him after they’ve tried these diets and then gained weight again.
Instead, Lopez creates what he thinks is the most sustainable way of dieting: He starts with macro-nutrient plan based on estimated caloric intact of proteins, carbs and fats. Clients are provided a grocery list of clean foods to choose from for each meal and provide Lopez with an update each week based on measurements, pictures and weight. Together, they see what the body responds to and go from there. Each week becomes more customized.
“To be able to sustain restrictive diets is not realistic. Some people have been over weight all their lives; it’s going to take longer than six months to change that. You start by helping them believe in themselves and gain confidence in their bodies,” says Lopez.
Yvette Quantz, RDN, CSSD, LDN, CLT who is a registered dietitian, nutrition expert and owner of Food Therapy agrees emphasizing when using a restrictive diet for weight loss, you are not getting to the root of the problem nor teaching new habits or behaviors that create a healthy lifestyle.
With ten years’ experience in health and nutrition, Quantz counsels both adults and children considering the whole person – their personality, lifestyle, family and career. One of her biggest concerns with eliminating food groups from a diet is that it can cause feelings of restriction and social isolation in some, as well as increase the risk for binge eating and eating disorders.
“I am personally a fan of the Eat Fit philosophy,” says Quantz “which includes 100% whole grains (no white carbs), and is low in added sugar, animal fat and sodium. This philosophy helps to embrace a variety of foods and promote flavor, without creating unnecessary restrictions.”
Restrictive diets are not for everyone. Diabetics, cardiac patients, people with kidney and liver disease, those who are anemic or who have Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s Disease are just a few who should check with a physician before starting any new diet plan and work with a dietitian.
Ideally, you want a diet that works in losing weight, but one that isn’t too restrictive. If it causes you to become stressed or avoid social situations, there’s nothing healthy about that. Keep in mind, a healthy diet takes psychological and social as well nutritional aspects into account.