I’ve gained and lost a lot of weight in my life and tried my hand at a fair few crash diets (I’m looking at you, cabbage soup diet). Some are definitely better than others from a health and weight loss perspective. I looked at the 2018 Best Diets Rankings by U.S News and World Report and did some independent research to explain and debunk a few diet trends.
Keto: Keto started as a way to treat patients with epilepsy in the 1920s. The ketogenic diet, or “keto” was designed to mimic the body’s response to fasting, which had been used for centuries as a means to treat epilepsy. The idea is to have an extremely low carb, high fat diet. The goal is to have your body enter a state of ketosis, in which it breaks down fat for fuel and produces ketones. From what I can tell in online communities, bacon is a huge component of a keto det.
Everything about this diet raises red flags for me. It was created to trick your body into thinking it was starving to help prevent seizures. Why don’t more people find that concerning? As someone who has thankfully never had a seizure, I don’t understand why I would want to do this to myself.
Experts aren’t convinced either. In the 2018 Best Diets Rankings keto ranked 38 out of 41. SlimFast did better at 27. Experts were concerned at the amount of high-fat foods participants consume.
If all of that wasn’t enough to convince you keto might not be the greatest diet of all time, it may make your vagina smell. Reports of “keto crotch” are rampant online. That’s in addition to tales of bad breath and diarrhea. For me, no diet is worth a smelly vag.
Paleo: The paleo premise is simple: if cavemen could eat it, you can too. It cuts out all processed foods and sugars including my beloved bread. Just based on premise alone, the paleo diet (short for the Paleolithic era or “stone age”) has never made much sense to me. Why would we want to emulate the hunter-gatherer diets of pre-agrarian humans? This was back in a time when food was a struggle and it’s likely that people didn’t live very long. Plus they didn’t have beer, which really makes me question the sanity of its proponents. Psychology Today has a great article breaking down the logic in some of the premises behind the paleo diet if you’re interested in further reading.
From a diet perspective, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to reduce or eliminate heavily processed foods and refined sugars. The main problem with paleo, (other than the lack of beer and bread) is that it’s difficult to maintain and relies on very high protein. In the 2018 Best Diets Rankings, paleo placed 33 out of 41. It’s also unclear if paleo will support weight loss.
Atkins: This is the OG low carb diet. Its popularity comes and goes, but it’s remained in the American consciousness for decades. Designed by Dr. Richard Atkins and outlined in his 1972 book, “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution,” this plan relies on participants to cut out carbs like white bread, potatoes, white rice, candy and pasta, to name a few. Generally people start out with severe carb restrictions and count how many carbs they consume from natural sources like veggies (not potatoes) and may gradually re-introduce more carbs over time.
My beef with Atkins, as with keto and paleo, is that I don’t like diets that completely cut food groups. I think they’re designed for failure because eventually, we all want to eat a piece of cake. I’m a fan of diets that support eating anything in moderation.
Experts have gone back and forth on Atkins, but the high fat and high protein options most dieters rely on likely aren’t great for a healthy, long-term plan. It ranked 37 out of 41 on the 2018 Best Diets Rankings, edging out keto.
What works: The simple truth to weight loss is that you need to take in fewer calories than you burn. You can literally lose weight eating just Twinkies if you remain at a caloric deficit. For a lot of people, that means calorie counting. Calorie counting is no more difficult than carb counting in my book, and can give you a better overall picture of what you’re eating on a regular basis. The main drawback to calorie counting is that there’s no differentiation between eating 100 calories of kale and 100 calories of peanut butter cups. Technically, it may not matter to weight loss, but I think most nutritionists would prefer a balanced diet. You can find more info on balancing your diet at choosemyplate.gov.
As for the 2018 Best Diets Rankings, some of the highest rankers were the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH diet and Weight Watchers. It seems like the common thread is a balanced diet rich in fruits and veggies and low on red meat. I haven’t personally tried the Mediterranean Diet, but I have had success with Weight Watchers in the past, losing over 40 pounds with them in 2011. My mom is also currently trying out DASH at her doctor’s recommendation to help lower her blood pressure and seems to be doing well.
No matter what you decide, ALWAYS talk to a healthcare professional before starting a new diet. They may have recommendations for your specific health needs.