How To Choose A Diet
I’ve fallen for it myself, and so have my family and friends.
It really annoys me off, far more than it should.
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So when I see another outlandish claim come out about ‘5 Food you need to Avoid’ or ‘The #1 Supplement for Weight Loss’; I strain my eyes rolling them so hard.
There are a lot of us who are genuinely misinformed about the information we’re spreading; good intentions & poor execution. At least these people are making the effort to spread a good message.
Everyone is wrong about something, at some point in their career (myself included).
But, there are also plenty of people out there trying to take advantage of many of us, with misinformation, gimmicks, fad diets & quick fixes. The marketing is so good, they even have a lot of professionals convinced.
If you ever find yourself getting caught up in the hype about a new nutritional approach, here are a few guidelines you can follow, to help you dismiss any BS coming your way.
Energy Balance is King
This is the most important point you can remember when it comes to nutrition & fat loss. If you only take one point away from this article, let it be this one.
When it comes to weight loss (and specifically Fat Loss), it always comes down to Energy Balance. This is the energy coming in to your body (through Food & Fluid) balanced with the energy going out of your body (through Exercise, General Activity, Digestion, and vital bodily functions).
When there is more energy going out of your body, than there is coming in; you can lose weight. When more energy is coming in, than out, you can gain weight.
There is no supplement, no time of the day, and no magic foods that can change this law. None.
If any nutritional strategy claims it can overcome this, it’s full of shit. Honestly.
It nice to think we can take a certain pill, or eat at a certain time to help us change our weight; but it can’t. It’s only wishful thinking. Marketing tactics may try to convince you otherwise (you may even try to convince yourself), but as long as you can always come back to this rule, you will be bulletproof against 90%+ of the shit out there.
Energy Balance is always King.
Does the approach, demonize a specific food or nutrient?
Most nutritional approaches claim that there are certain foods (bread, fruit, red meat, eggs) that are causing all the world’s problems. They’re not, but good marketing can make us believe anything.
Any kind of over-simplified approaches that claim specific foods are causing Fat Gain, Poor Health, or Weight Gain, are full of crap.
All nutritional advice belongs in the context of the entire diet. Even if you do cut out bread completely (because bread is evil), you could still easily over eat with the cereal, rice, wrap & potatoes you’re having throughout the rest of the day.
There is no single food that can make you Fat in any way. The only reason cutting out a specific food will help you drop fat, is by creating a calorie deficit.
The same goes for any single nutrient. Dietary Fat used to be our biggest enemy, everyone was going low fat back in the 80s/90s. I see a lot more people demonizing carbs in the same way now. Carbs do not make us gain fat, too many Carbs can lead to us gaining fat.
The only way avoiding carbs is gonna help you drop body fat, is if you create a calorie deficit. They still need to be balanced with the calories in the rest of your diet (coming from Fat/Protein/Alcohol).
There is no food that you should be shamed out of eating either. Not all foods are technically the most nutritious, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in your diet somewhere. If you enjoy eating a specific food, you can make room for it.
Nutritional advice should not encourage restriction, it should encourage better choices through positive reinforcement.
Restriction of any kind draws on a very limited supply of willpower, usually followed by almighty relapses. It’s not healthy, mentally or physically; and if it’s not contributing to our bodies, why are we doing it at all?
If the advice being given claims you need to give up something forever, or it claims that there is a single source of all your problems, it’s more than likely BS.
Does the person advocating the Diet, exclusively encourage that Diet alone?
Creating a calorie deficit is King, but there are hundreds of ways to go about setting up that deficit. So if one method doesn’t suit you very well, there are always other options available.
It’s not always a matter of just ‘eat less, move more’. A lot of us don’t want to eat less, we like food, and it should stay that way. The nutritional strategy you use, needs to be specific to you.
There are a lot of coaches who have their own favourite methods of manipulating food intake (IIFYM, Flexible Dieting, Intermittent Fasting, Atkins, Weight Watchers etc), the list could go on for days.
I even have my own Go-Tos to use with clients, we all do.
Although as coaches we can be drawn to one method more than others, it does not mean that our way is the best way. If the nutritional strategy is stressing you out, we need to change it.
One of the most commonly used methods among a lot of coaches, it the classic Diet Plan. This involves a set structured meal plan, where every food you’re eating is chosen for you.
Diet plans can work, and they do get results; but that does not mean they are the best, or the only way to go about getting these results.
They’re tough work, and they can have a lot of negative side-effects.
From my own personal experience; when a coach put me on a diet plan, I started to develop cravings & obsessions with foods I never used to eat before. When it becomes clear what you can’t eat, all of a sudden a spotlight gets put on these forbidden foods, and they become all you can see.
You’re allowed a cheat meal once a week, reinforcing the idea that the restricted foods are a reward. This frames your usual ‘diet plan’ as something that is inherently bad, which we need to be rewarded for enduring. It’s psychological warfare.
If you have ever tried a restrictive diet plan, and your advice was to suck it up and pull more willpower out of your arse, you’ve got a lazy coach.
If you find you have major relapses coming off the back of your ‘6 Week Transformation’, chances are you need to find a different way to change up your food intake. Yo-yo weight loss is unhealthy, and it should never be encouraged with your dietary habits.
There are soooo many options available to us when it comes to nutrition. There is no ‘best diet’ to stick to, there’s only the best diet for you.
If your coach is telling you their way is the only way; they’re making the process about themselves, not about you. Exclusively advocating one nutritional strategy, while discouraging all others, is moronic and completely unnecessary.
Is a special food/supplement claiming to have an effect on your weight?
Every time I walk by my local health shop, there’s a new poster claiming a supplement has special weight loss effects. There’s even an entire section in the store for weight loss pills & shakes.
Energy Balance is King; regardless of what the sales associate is trying to sell you.
Many health foods or supplements get caught up in the marketing cross-fire; if a food is good for you in any way, it usually gets sold as having a weight loss effect too. Coconut Oil is a recent example of this.
Raspberry Ketones, Green Tea, CLA etc are a few of the many many supplements alleged to be able to help us lose body fat, without changing up our diet at all.
BS; the body does not work in that way.
It still comes back to energy balance. If you are taking more energy in to your body, than you are burning off; it needs to be stored somewhere. A supplement will not change this.
Most of these supplements are sold with some pseudo-science waffle; ‘boosts your metabolism for 24 hours’. If you do manage to find a supplement that genuinely ‘boosts’ your metabolism, chances are it’s either a prescription drug, or illegal.
There are soooo many articles online about the ‘5 Top Fat burning Foods’. The same way no single food will make you fat, no single food will directly cause Fat Loss. BUT these foods may actually be very useful in creating a calorie deficit.
Many of the ‘Top Fat Burning Foods’ also happen to be low calorie options. If you were to swap out your usual chocolate biscuits in the evening, for some ‘Blubber busting Blueberries’ (no lie, I saw this on a well known news website once); you are lowering your calorie intake, which can cause Fat Loss.
The blueberries themselves don’t have any magic powers, they’re just lower in calories than most foods.
There is no single food that will have a direct effect on Fat Loss, the same way there is no single food that will have a direct effect on Fat Gain. It always depends on the context of everything else you’re eating.
Is there a reason why this might work?
One of the most powerful questions you can ask in nutrition, is why? If a specific method/supplement works, there should be a definite reason to explain why it works. Research and science can back up a majority of claims in nutrition. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part if something works we have a good idea why.
I’ve always found people intuitively know when something isn’t quite right. They know they should be sceptical, but they’re not quite sure why. If an article, coach or salesman claims that their way works, and you’re a little unsure, feel free to ask them why it works.
There are 3 ways that they could go about answeringGiving a genuine and accurate responseSpoofing their way around giving a legit answerGetting aggressive and throwing shapes
If you have concerns, and you would like more information; any coach with that info available to them would be more than happen to answer.
If your coach doesn’t have an accurate explanation, or they dodge the questions; that’s not to say they’re always deliberately trying to deceive you, they may not be massively well informed themselves. There are several methods I’ve used in the past that I haven’t quite been able to explain on the spot. Give them the opportunity to head off, do their homework, and get back to you.
If they outright refuse to explain their approach, or if they’re blatantly trying to blag their way through an answer; it’s probably best to get a second opinion. If you’re looking for more information and they’re deliberately withholding an answer to your Q, they may have something to hide.
On a side-note, ‘It’s what we’ve always done’ is not a legitimate reason to apply the same method to everyone, and it’s a major red flag.
There should always be some rationale behind the approach you’re taking, whether it’s from science, or from practical experience. If no one can explain why (without any solid rationale to back up the claim), there a good chance it’s BS.
Does the approach guarantee a result in a set amount of time?
‘Drop 7Lbs in 7 Days’
Seeing specific numbers like these is a very big warning sign.
Our bodies are not machines, and we have no idea how it can react to specific nutritional strategies. The human body is unpredictable and there is no guarantee that your body will respond to a particular method, the same way as everyone else.
Changes within the body depends on a huge number of variables, including; age, weight, body composition, past/current diet, environment, genetics & a whole bunch of other things too. So it would be impossible to tell how your body is going to change over a set amount of time, using the same method as everyone else.
Losing 7lbs of fat in 7 days would also be pretty much impossible without surgery. The human body stands to drop 3lbs of Fat per week MAX (and that’s with a large calorie restriction), 1lb of Fat per week would be far more realistic.
BUT, that’s not to say you won’t drop 7lbs of actual weight.
If someone stands to lose a large amount of weight from water, or waste within the digestive tract; they can see massive changes on the scales very quickly (drops of 2-3Kg wouldn’t be uncommon). It doesn’t mean you’ve lost body fat, but the scales could make you think otherwise.
There is no formula to determine exactly how much fat you will lose in a set amount, all we ever have is our best guess (no matter what the ad on TV tells you).
When nutrition is a brand new topic to you, it’s so easy to get caught up in all the shit information that’s out there, too easy.
If something sounds too good to be true, there’s a good chance it is. The reality is that all we ever need to achieve what we want, is food. Supplements & complicated nutritional strategies are always going to come second to the quantity & quality of food we put in to our body.