If you search the internet there are literally hundreds of articles which talk about the best diet for weight loss. Unfortunately they’re often packed with conflicting messages leaving people feeling confused and frustrated.
“Will I get better results if I try a low carbohydrate or a low fat diet or should I use the 5:2 approach or the Mediterranean diet?”
Trying to sift out fact from fiction about the best diet for weight loss can be hard. There’s little doubt some information comes from those with limited nutrition qualifications or from diet companies with a vested interest in promoting just one approach. New weight loss diets regularly emerge, dismiss all other approaches as ineffective, but promise their approach is THE solution for effortless easy weight loss.
What the Science Tells Us About the Best Diet for Weight Loss
To answer the question of whether there is a best diet for weight loss we need to move away from celebrity opinion and the diet industry and look at what the science tells us. A number of high quality studies have recently shown there isn’t one best diet for weight loss but instead a range of evidence-based options that achieve similar results.
So for example the DIETFITS study published earlier this year explored whether there was any differences in the amount of weight lost between groups of people who followed a low carbohydrate compared to a low fat diet. By the end of the 12-month study both groups had lost on average around 5-6kg with neither diet being more effective than the other.
However what they did find was a large variation in how well individuals responded to their particular diet with some people losing much more than the average 5-6kg and others far less. This big variation in response to diets has been seen in many studies and underlines the importance of personalising dietary changes and the need to move away from the idea that there is one best diet for weight loss that will suit everyone. It also underlines why its really important not to feel negative towards yourself if one approach doesn’t work well.
What we now need science to help us figure out are the specific reasons why some people respond to a particular diet much better than others. This area of research has huge potential in guiding people towards the most helpful approaches. Although we are some way off being able to do this there are a number of interesting areas of research exploring whether for example genetic factors may be involved or if the gut microbiome (the populations of bacteria in the gut) may influence how the body metabolises foods.
In the Meantime….
While we wait for research to provide more guidance on who is likely to do best with which approach there are a number of practical areas to think through that may be helpful in choosing a plan.
Think through causes of weight gain
Before deciding on the type of diet plan to try its worth spending time thinking through in detail the behaviours and habits linked with weight gain. The more you understand about the specific causes the more likely you are to focus management on these particular issues. This can challenging to do on your own and it may be helpful to talk through with a health professional who can provide some guidance on relevant areas to discuss.
But as an example, say for instance you think snacking may be linked with weight gain. Before diving into a plan that gives suggestions of healthy snack choices you need more detail about exactly what is happening.
Think through some of the following
1. Does it happen at a particular time of day
2. What are you doing during these times [watching TV, driving]
3. How are you feeling beforehand [hungry, tired, stressed]
4. What thoughts run through your head before and after snacking
Think through whether a plan addresses these causes
What you’re trying to work out here are the specific triggers to your snacking habit so you can focus on these as part of your process of changing. If you work out snacking happens when you’re stressed and anxious, you feel really ashamed and frustrated afterwards and this often results in more snacking then you need a plan that helps you address this. If it doesn’t help you respond differently to these triggers but just focuses on information around what and how much to eat it’s unlikely to be helpful.
Also consider whether a plan fits with
1. Your food tastes and preferences
2. Your daily routines, schedules & responsibilities
3. Any health conditions you may have
4. The type of support you find helpful
Is the diet plan backed by scientific evidence?
Its wise to steer clear of fad approaches (e.g. the blood type diet or the alkaline diet) that have no scientific credibility and choose plans such as the Mediterranean or the DASH diet which have solid scientific backing and focus on choosing nutritious foods as part of a healthier approach to living. There are other evidence-based options that health professionals can guide you towards.
It is also important to recognise that for some people, particularly those with a long history of yo-yo dieting or significant emotional overeating, adopting a non restrictive/non dieting approaches using cognitive behavioural therapy or mindfulness approaches may be more beneficial.
For some people focusing on the core dietary messages present in many diet plans of more vegetables and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, lean protein and limited sugars may be sufficient guidance. However, for others concentrating only on what and how much is eaten may neglect the critical questions around why and how eating is taking place.
Take Home Message
The best diet for weight loss is the one you feel most able to follow, which addresses the key issues linked with your weight gain, fits with your preferences, daily routines and health conditions, and provides support and skills training for long term habit change.