When I reflect about ALL the ‘diets’ I have tried, followed, failed, and succeeded over the years, I realize they’re all the same. I see how they have come and gone like fads. We hope this will ‘be the one’ to shed the pounds, and quick! They are a place to start, not a place to end.
Most of the headlines emphasized the fact that the two diets researched, low-fat and low-carb, ended up having the same results across almost all end points studied, from weight loss to lowering blood sugar and cholesterol.
What’s most interesting, however, is how these two diets are similar.
What DIETFITS revealed about weight loss
The study began with 609 relatively healthy overweight and obese people, and 481 completed the whole year. For the first month, everyone did what they usually did. Then, for the next eight weeks, the low-fat group reduced their total fat intake to 20 grams per day, and the low-carb group reduced their total carbohydrate intake to 20 grams per day. These are incredibly restricted amounts, considering that there are 22 grams of carbs in my organic seedtastic whole grain bread I’m enjoying as I write this, and 20 grams of fat in half of the dark chocolate bar I enjoy (I eat one ½ inch by 1 inch square at a time).
That kind of dietary restriction is impossible to maintain over the long term and, as this study showed, unnecessary. Participants were instructed to slowly add back fats or carbs until they reached a level they felt could be maintained for life. In addition, both groups were instructed to
- eat as many vegetables as possible
- choose high-quality, nutritious whole foods and limit anything processed
- prepare food themselves at home
- avoid trans fats, added sugars, and refined carbohydrates like flour.
People were not asked to count calories at all. Over the course of a year, both groups attended 22 classes reinforcing these very sound principles — and all participants had access to health educators who guided them in behavioral modification strategies, such as emotional awareness, setting goals, developing self-efficacy (also known as willpower), and utilizing social support networks, all to avoid falling back into unhealthy eating patterns.
Participants in both groups also were encouraged to maintain current US government physical activity recommendations, which are “150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week.”
Get all that? Basically, the differences between groups were minimal. Both lost the same average amount of weight (12 pounds) over the course of a year. Genetic and physical makeups didn’t result in any differences either.
I love this study because it examined a realistic lifestyle change rather than just a fad diet. Both groups, after all, were labeled as healthy diets, and they were, because study investigators encouraged eating high-quality, nutritious whole foods, unlimited vegetables, and avoiding flours, sugars, bad fats, and processed foods. Everyone was encouraged to be physically active at a level most Americans are not. Also, this is a big one, everyone had access to basic behavioral counseling.
This study could have been called a study of sustainable healthy lifestyle change.
The best diet is the one we can maintain for life and is only one piece of a healthy lifestyle. People should aim to eat high-quality, nutritious whole foods, mostly plants (fruits and veggies), and avoid flours, sugars, trans fats, and processed foods (anything in a box). Everyone should try to be physically active, aiming for about two and a half hours of vigorous activity per week. For many people, a healthy lifestyle also means better stress management, and even therapy to address emotional issues that can lead to unhealthy eating patterns.
I don’t diet anymore. I love food that fuels my body and mind. I have adjusted my habits and routines to manage meal planning, shopping, and cooking so eating doesn’t feel like a chore. Food is on the bottom of my daily priority list, having a healthy body and mind for as long as I can is at the top. Here’s how I do that:
- I choose to live in harmony with others
- I choose to stretch and challenge my mind.
- I choose to be aware of and accept my true feelings.
- I choose to live each day consistent with my morals and ideals.
- I choose a work path that is consistent with my values, interests, and beliefs.
In addition to ongoing learning about the nutrition of food and the importance of exercise, the most important skill is mastering your mind. A re-trained attitude is the only map that can get you out of “dietville” once and for all.