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How to choose the perfect diet?

Introduction

The best diet is the one that you can stick to for the longest time. Adherence governs every aspect of dieting. 
 
“What is the best diet for weight-loss?” This is a question you see pop up over and over again. And if you look at all the answers that are given you might think “Is there even a single best diet?”.
 
On a physiological level (for your body) the answer is “Yes”. Although you are unique as an individual, the physiology (how your body does it’s thing) of every human is almost identical. If you remove personal preferences and the little difference in how it handles food, the biggest player is… You.
 
Every person has their favorite foods, a diet that works for them. You might be lucky and the diet of some one else works for you as well. But how often did you try a diet from a friend, a magazine, the internet and that didn’t work? Or worse: It worked while on it, but after you returned to “normal” eating you got even heavier than you were before the diet? 
 
We all have been there. And this is not a gender-thing.
 
To return to the initial question with a rather sobering answer: The best diet EVER isn’t even a diet. It’s your behavior. And to be exact: ADHERENCE.
 
Bear in mind that dieting involves a time commitment. On one side it takes some time for the body to react to changes and make adaptations. One the other side are you, a human being in a unique environment who has to stick to a diet long enough for these adaptations to occur. The best diet is the on you can adhere to, endure, stick to.
 
It’s been demonstrated time and time again, that those who stick to a diet the longest are the ones who achieve their goals.
 
This sticking-time has another important factor: If you adhere, tweak and fine tune you will end up with habits that are the foundation for longtime success.
 
This long time successes is mainly a behavioral question. You will only endure if you have enough will power and that is aided by a diet you enjoy.
 
How about we compare a few diets and pick those features that suits us best? You might find that a certain diet is perfect for you just the way it is. If not, feel free to use this article to help you better gauge if a diet will fit you. And how to decide what a good diet has to have.
 
So, what’s in it today?
 

Content:

  1. What is a diet? Difference between “diet” and “dieting”
  2. Types of diets
  3. What qualities should a “good” diet have?
  4. Which diet is best for me?
  5. Mix and Match 
  6. Conclusion

1. What is a diet?

Before we look at a selection of different diets, let’s have a look at what a “diet” actually is.  There is also the question about “dieting” and the difference between the two.

What is a diet?

A diet is simply a way (your way) of eating. How is that for a quick- definition?
 
The dictionary says this:
 
Noun: diet.
The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.
 
 
Keyword here is: habitually.
 
So, a diet is the food that you eat on a regular basis. It does not necessarily need to have a distinct goal other than providing nourishment (via macro- and micro-nutrients) to your body. Even pleasure is not necessary.
 
Therefore, a diet in it’s simplest form describes how a person eats most of the time. That can be the foods that you grew up with. You might still eat the foods you are used to from being raised, but I am sure you added a few (that you enjoy more) and dropped some (those that you didn’t enjoy).
 
That also meas that we all are on a diet. The difference is obviously  on which and – if any – for what purpose. Many people choose different ways of eating to either express them self’s in the form of a lifestyle or for moral decisions and because of health and fitness goals they peruse.
 

The difference between “diet” and “dieting”

“Dieting” or “to diet” implies a certain goal. “Being on a diet” meas to eat with a clearly defined purpose in mind. Most of the time dieting is referred to when a change in body composition – manly weight/ fat loss – is the desired outcome. But even recreational athletes use the techniques of their professional counter parts to achieve higher goals.
 
For example, a hobby (but enthusiastic) marathon runner will mimic the carb load of the pro’s prior to the run.
 
Another form of outcome is used by doctors and dietitians who found that specific compounds in our food can aid or worsen medical treatment. Allergies are just one aspect. Another very prominent example is the treatment of diabetes and epilepsy, where a very restricted and specific dieting-approach is necessary.
 
But diets do not always have a medical or health related background. Many people give up meat out of moral considerations nowadays. You might have noticed that diet trends come up every year and with them a lifestyle. People define themselves by the way they eat. “I am on a keto-diet” “I go paleo!” are some of the used terms. No judgement here, my approach to dieting is a bit more liberal, but we get to that at the end of the article.
 
Diets can also have geographical/ regional origins. The Mediterranean-diet for example is immediately associated with foods that are rich in nutrients, fresh and lower heart related diseases.
 
In a nutshell:
  • A “diet” is a (your) habitual way of eating
  • “Dieting” is doing so, with a purpose or outcome in mind
  • The purpose ranges from:
  • Fitness and athletic performance to
  • lifestyle and moral considerations (vegetarian/ vegan) and
  • medicinal requirements for treatment of illnesses such as diabetes and epilepsy
 
For the purpose of this blog we are mostly looking at lifestyle and body-composition/ fitness diets. There is plenty of overlap in between those categories, because the majority of people who are concerned with the way they eat do so for either or both: lifestyle and sports.

2. Types of diets

Now that we understand the difference between “diet” and “dieting”, let’s have a look at a few types of diets and their representatives. There will be a little definition with some of the key-features for each diet type. This list is of course just a selection.

There a many, many other diets but I think these are the ones that are worth mentioning. They where and still are either very successful (= helped a lot of people), trending (=created a lifestyle) for some time or simply evergreens (= been around for “ever”).

Elimination Diets

That sounds fancy, right? Think low carb, high carb, low fat, high fat, Atkins, Paleo, Keto, vegan and vegetarian. All of these share one key feature: The elimination of a macro-nutrient (protein, fat or carbs) or a complete food group. The motives range from health and fitness to moral concerns.
 
The Atkins-, Paleo- and Keto-Diet can be summed as low-carb diets. Vegetarian and vegan dieters exclude or limit animal products from their menu.
 
Low fat diets were all the gist back then and featured all the carbs you could handle. Main reason for the reduction of dietary fat was to decrease saturated fat and cholesterol as they were seen as a major cause for coronary heard disease. People still got fat, no surprise. And people still get strokes because of obesity. Still, no surprise.
 

Geographical Diets

Since I haven’t read this term somewhere else, but am also pretty sure that it’s been used before I am not going to claim anything here. Let’s just use it as I think it describes this kind of diet very well: Diets prominent and related to different places and regions on our wonderful planet.
 
Well known examples are the Mediterranean and Greek diet which share many similarities and are sometimes interchanged. Both consist of fresh foods and a lot of high quality olive oil. In some regions olive oil is the main energy source of the people.
 
The many health benefits olive oil has is a key factor which is related to the low rates of heart diseases and cancer in these regions.Typical for theses regions are the fresh vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onions, …) and seafood, but meat from different animals is also commonly eaten.
 
Bread and other baked goods is rather a side then the main course. Pasta in all colors an shapes imaginable is, of course, a staple on every Italian menu.
 

Asian Diets are also rich in fresh vegetables, meats and sea food, but are cooked and fried in oils coming from sesame, peanuts and other seeds. Contrary to the general perception, rice is not a main component but rather the food of the poor and hard working people. Its high carbohydrate content is an excellent energy supplier, which every athlete (amateur or pro, weightlifting, crossfit, marathon, runner, ..) does appreciate.

 
I mention these examples as they all have one thing in common: A very healthy and long living population. Especially in the Asian areas many people get very old. One factor might be that they stay active till very high ages.
 
“Wer rastet, der rostet!”
German pro-verb, freely translated to “Those who rest, begin to rust!”
 
But I thinks it’s save to say, that their diets have a huge impact on their longevity. Meals are freshly cooked and – at least in the traditional sense – no processed foods are added.
 
To come back to our topic of fitness and athleticism this type of eating has many benefits. The carbs from pasta and rice deliver the energy to perform regularly and with high intensity.
 
Olive oil, oil from seeds and omega-3 fatty acids from fish provide the body with high quality fat needed for so many good things in the body (other than being a long-term energy storage).
 
Together with cheese, meat and fish as protein sources they create a very rounded and complete diet. Add plenty of vegetables for vitamins and minerals.
 
Lookin’ pretty good! So, if you have no clue where to start and need a complete over-haul this would be my recommendation. Tasty, healthy and lot’s of variety.
 

Health Diets

Okay, back to something that actually heals or helps to heal people. Health diets can be rather limiting but especially in the treatment of diabetes and epilepsy low- to no-carb diets worked very well. Theses diets are designed by doctors more-so than dietitians or athletes. The restrictions help with treatment or even are essential for success.
 
Of course, dieting (lower calories to promote fat-loss) itself is a form of treatment for obesity.
 
A bit more general are the dash diet and the ISO diet which gained popularity over the last years. These diets are not supposed to treat any specific diseases, but promote a healthy lifestyle all together. I mentioned the ISO diet in the Complete Meal Prep Guide as an example, so check it out for more detail. Basically you spread your daily calories evenly across the macros protein, fat and carbs (33% each).
 
To quote this article:
” DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is a lifelong approach to healthy eating that’s designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension).”
 
Although this diet is geared towards “the stop of hypertension”, it’s more about prevention than treatment. The article is very informative, I highly recommend you give it a read.

Fitness Diets & Specialists

Let’s have a look at some of the more advanced diets. They originate from the fitness industry and have the purpose to maximize performance and/ or bring body-fat down very low levels.
 
See these diets as your special tool that you get out once there is a base. You don’t bring in the furniture when the house is just a pile of raw materials. You first need to build the house, put roof on, install windows, walls, electrical installation and so on. Then its time for the furniture.
 
Hope that makes sense. On to the diets:
 
 
Body-Building (Classic)
The standard go-to if you ask any big dude in the gym. Plenty of protein, just enough fat to stay healthy and the remaining calories go into carbs to fuel the long, hard workouts. A main stable is chicken with (brown) rice and broccoli, eggs, milk and oatmeal. Really nothing special and the only hard thing is sticking to the very limited food choices.
 
Cyclical Diets
Take the diet from above but only eat your carbs on days that you train. You now cycle carbs. Another way to “cycle” is to add a meal on training days. This way you cycle calories.
 
If you remove carbs from your training days and don’t make up with additional protein and fat for the calories which where provided by the carbs you basically cycle both: a macro-nutrients and calories.
 
The idea is to provide the body with exactly what it needs in just the right amounts at certain times. A typical goal would be weight-loss, or if you tend to over eat during a mass-phase to control calories and give the body only the extra calories needed to build muscle.
 
Cyclical Diets require a lot of planning and preparation. The diet itself is usually very easy to work with. And because you cycle through different meal compositions you wont get bored so easily.
 
Ketogenic Diets
This approach makes use of an adaption that occurs in the body when carbohydrates are depleted by removing them from the diet. As carbs are the bodies favorite energy source, especially the brain runs on (=loves) carbs, the body (brain included) can switch to a different type of energy with works as a substitute for carbs. From body- and dietary fat it can create ketones or ketobodies. Keto = Ketones, “genic” from the greek work genesis which means something like “creation” or in our case “to create”. Hence the name “ketogenic”. A ketone creating diet.
 
The body is rather lazy when it comes to burning fat for fuel when it has carbs available, but when in ketosis it’s back-burner is activated. Additionally it’s not very effecient in creating ketones from fatty acids. I hope you are still with me, I am getting to the point. Theses features, using fat (body fat) to fuel all the bodily functions and the in-efficiency in creating this alternate energy source are why this diet is so hyped right now. All theses features lead to an accelerated fat burning without the craving for sugar. At least on paper. It’s a bit like a substitute teacher, who can teach the class, but does it in a different way and it feels okay, but still is different.
 
Some people don’t work well in ketosis, it takes time to get into this state during which many people suffer from brain fog as the brain learns to switch from sugar to ketones.
You cannot eat plenty of protein because protein can raises insulin, which, when high enough, can kick you out of ketosis. Lastly, you have to understand that this an emergency plan of the body during starvation. Some people run very well on a ketogenic diet and are happy for the rest of their lives, other just don’t. Don’t force it if you are not doing well. Also, this diet is not a guarantee for becoming skinny. Calories still matter and I’ve seen people still get fat on a keto-diet. I don’t wan to paint a bad picture, this diet has profound effects in the treatment of epilepsy for instance and as mentioned many people really strive on it.
 
So, give it a try. You’ll be eating all the fatty goods you love so much! I tried it and found it to be a very pleasant experience, but after bringing carbs back into my diet I noticed that I made better gains in the gym. Again, try for yourself. I would always encourage to to try and figure out what works best for you. But please consult you doctor before making such drastic changes to your diet.
 
Intermitent Fasting
This diet gives you an eating window during which you are allowed to eat all your meals. The classic concept by Martin Berkhan has you eating for 8h after fasting for 16h. For most people that moves the beginning to the afternoon and ends  when you go to bed. Not eating for 16h has some a few effects on the body that make this diet very appealing for a lot of folks.
 
First it cuts back a whole meal, which saves you time and effort. The portion size of the meals eaten during the eating-window become larger but total daily calories get lower. This is a nice win-win as you eat lesser calories overall, but still get to eat full plates of goodness. Make sure to stick to healthy foods though. It’s not unheard of people eating two large pizzas within 8h and then complain why they don’t loose fat. (The face palm is the appropriate reaction here).
 
Similar to eating only for a certain time of the day, many people have great successes with the 5/2-diet. This diet allows you to eat normally on 5 days but fast on the remaining 2 days.
 
In all cases, vegetables, broth,water, coffee and tea a permitted during the fast – in essence everything that does not contain calories.
 

Diet Trends 2019

Intermittent Fasting, intuitive eating, ketogenic and paleo-style diets are still very popular today. Many people even make them a lifestyle. These diets are not new, people figured out how they work and which they prefer over the last couple of years. What is “trending” though are supplements supporting or aiding theses diets seem for 2019 and the coming year(s). IF, Keto and Paleo are still the big players in fame, though. 
 
We talked about Keto and IF already, so lets have a quick look at two very prominent diets of 2019. Intuitive eating and Paleo.
 
 
Intuitive eating
Back to the basics so to say and use what you are already equipped with. Let the body tell you when and what to eat. Enjoy the foods, eat slow and eat consciously. Intuitive eating is more of a philosophy than it is a diet which is stated in the 10 principles that you may find online. It’s also is not a weight-loss plan and not a “get thin quick scheme”. For weight-loss I would at least track calories as the body tends to make you over-eat just a little bit (link to article: How you got fat over the years), as every drip of body fat represents survival. It’s a honest approach to a natural way of eating. So, if you hate every diet (in general) this might be just for you.
 
Paleo Diets
Back to the basics, but with a twist! The diet of our ancestors consisted mainly of foods they found and could hunt. No bread, pasta and  – sorry to be the bearer of bad news – no microwave lasagna. Fruit, leafy greens, nuts, berries, roots and the occasional catch of meat and fish where on the menu thousands of years ago. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
 
Many of us are returning to this kind of diet which mimics the diet we evolved from. If you check social media you find big chunks of fattier meat cuts, avocado, berries and nuts. I would argue that the meat content was lower than what you find prescribed today, but I love the general idea. Back to the roots! (Pun intended) And away from all processed foods.
 
Control over ingredients is a huge topic in the fitness and health world, so a paleolithic diet makes total sense in that regard. The only drawback I have found the lack of an short-term energy source (carbs).  So, if you are into any highly demanding physical activity this can become an issue. Other than fructose from fruit there is mostly fat for energy.
 
But as in the case with a ketogenic diet, some people really strive on that kind of eating scheme. To counter that a few “neo-carbs” could be added, but I am getting ahead of myself.
 
I will get to that in a minute.

3. What qualities should a "good" diet have?

When choosing or creating your own diet it’s important to cover a few features. The goal remains: We are looking for health and fitness benefits!
 
Physiological (Your Body)
A good diet will cover your essential needs for certain nutrients. That’s a high enough protein and fat intake of good enough quality. A very active or hard working person will add an energy source to fuel those activities. Incorporate at least a little bit of animal protein (meat once a week is fine), high quality fatty acids (olive oil, fish oil, coconut oi, nuts, …) and a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit. That’s your vitamins an minerals.
 
Psychological (Your Mind)
Now that your bodily needs are covered we need to make sure you stick long enough to a diet for it to actually work. All processes in the body have a lag-time. It’s as if the body waits to see if this new situation is now the default. Once it recognizes the new default adaptations will occur. This is super simplified and not even everything that’s going on, but you get the point.
 
So the body needs time but your minds needs pleasure to accept a new situation. This goes right into habit building. If you’re not enjoying your diet and hate cooking, you will return to your old ways of doing things. New habits need time and repetition.
 
Back to “qualifying” a diet:
If you enjoy dry chicken, steamed cabbage and rice EVERY DAY – good for you! (Or maybe it’s actually sad because you miss out so many fun and delicious foods?!) But usually a variation of foods that you enjoy will stick best. Look for a diet with foods that appeal to you but still features healthy ingredients.
 
Taste changes over time and some reports even show that gut bacteria influence which foods you crave. In a sense, you have to starve those that make you want to eat burger, so the bacteria that loves veggies and salads can become dominant.
 
Hope that makes sense and you don’t feel guilty for killing those little fellas. Just eat your veggies and salads and over time you will start to crave those.
 

4. Which diet is best for me?

From the previous paragraphs you might have a good picture already which diet will suite you best. To help you decide how your optimal diet will look like I want to dig a little deeper.
 
The human brain does so many incredible things, but for some reason it fails to keep us thin and healthy. Why it’s doing that is a topic for whole other article, though. What I like to you to think about are the following topics that make you question diet trends to find the real value of a diet.
 
 
Adherence
Guess what the #1 reason for failed diets is. Hint: It’s not the diet. It’s adherence. Diets fail, because people don’t stick to them long enough. The last part is super important. Studies show that the person who sticks longest to a diet will ultimately be successful with it. Makes sense, right? So, why are so many choosing a diet that sucks for them? A diet that isn’t even designed for long-term use? A diet they hate? Makes me scratch my head, really. When ever choosing a diet or just components of it ask yourself: “Can I do this forever?”
 
Health issues
Make sure the diet meets your requirements to be healthy. Someone with diabetes should be careful with a diet that has plenty of carbs (not giving any advice here). If you are allergic to peanuts, don’t eat PBJs to pack on muscle. This is a medical question You get the idea 😉
 
Personal preference towards certain foods
This goes back to adherence so I hope you understand the importance. Create or choose a diet that you enjoy. Learn to make foods tasty and delicious. If you are new to this whole dieting and healthy eating thing start with something that you are familiar with. Foods that you know. And every now and then try something knew. That doesn’t have to a whole dish, but maybe a side. Couple your well known veggies with something new.
 
I didn’t like tomatoes for most of my childhood and can now hardly live without them. And that’s not just as tomato sauce on pasta or pizza 😉
 
Lifestyle considerations
Of course the perfect diet for you should reflect your lifestyle. As mentioned in the beginning, many people choose to no longer eat meat or at least reduce it to the bare minimum to stay healthy. Another factor are physical activities that require energy to do them. This ranges from going to the gym and being able to perform to physical taxing jobs.
 
Maybe a low-carb approach works for you, but if you find yourself struggling with lack of energy don’t shy away from carbs. They are not evil and if you read some of my other articles (and checked the web) you should already know that loosing weight is a matter of calories, not the food that you exclude from the diet.
 
 
Turn those top-lines into questions and use them as gauge whenever you find a diet that looks appealing on first sight.
 

 

5. Mix and Match

I thinks it’s time to reveal a secret. Something the media does not tell you. Something that most people don’t even know is possible. Ready? Here we go: You can mix and match, pick and choose every aspect from every diet that exists and create a new totally custom diet. Only for your self. Shocked? Me too when I first realized that. 
 
Above I listed a few criteria or qualities of a diet that will provide you with tasty, healthy foods that you enjoy and that are go with how you live your life. Instead of looking for a diet that has all the features we are looking for (some already existing diets have that, though), why not pick and choose to piece together what you know will work for you?
 
I want to share my personal experience and how I ended up eating most of the time today. Being a regular lifter requires a lot a energy to keep going and progressing. But during quite some time I thought carbs were the most evil and hideous thing ever existed. Sugar is bad, rice, bread and especially pasta is even worse.
 
Without really knowing I was kind of eating a paleo diet. Which is cool, but also I was missing out on a lot of potential in the gym. I remember reading an article about “neo carbs” (that’s why I called them this way in the paleo-paragraph) in addition to a paleo-diet for someone lifting regularly. This sparked my interest and actually made sense.
 
You would still get the healthy portion of unprocessed food, but have the energy from natural carb sources like rice, oatmeal and potatoes. And what can I say! The training got better, I was fuller looking (carbs stored in the muscle pull water which makes it/ them look bigger), recovery got better and a so on and so forth.
 
Another example is someone who wants to put on muscle but insists on IF’ing. Why isn’t that working to a satisfying degree? Well, the body builds muscle 24h and does it at max rate when sufficient protein is available.
 
But if you eat only 8h a day this is hindered. The body can’t store protein well. It’s either in the food or the muscle you already have. (That’s why you should spread out protein throughout the day, btw.)
 
The point I want to stress is, that the features and concepts of a diet should match the desired outcome.

Conclusion

Don’t make the mistake and follow a diet just because it sounds fancy and is super trendy. It should always hold up up to your goals, provide your body with needed nutrients and be tasty.
 
There are many many ways to eat and there are many ways to eat with a certain goal you want to reach. Pick a diet try it for a month, see how you like it how your body reacts. Add features like a snack, or take features away. An example could be that carbs make you tired at work. Go for a low-carb meal then and have all the carbs at night!
 
Are you following a certain diet? Are you happy with it? Did you use a mix-and-match diet yourself? Let us know in comments below what your journey looks and looked like.

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