Q: Erika, I’m having a hard time picking out a diet that I can stick to for my weight loss resolution, and it’s making it hard for me to lose the weight I put down in my goals. Is there a particular diet that I should be eating? Which one is best for me and what I’m trying to do?
So, every year, U.S. News does an annual ranking of the best—and, by extension, worst—diets for weight loss. And, every year, there’s a rush to the bookstores because people want to absorb every ounce of information they can about the newly crowned “dream diet.” (For the record, going paleo was considered the worst. Imagine that.)
For years, it was the Mediterranean diet, right? Olive oil, fish, spinach, red peppers, yadda yadda. For a while, it was the DASH diet, a smart strategy for reducing high blood pressure which also reportedly produces weight loss success. This year, in terms of overall diets, these two are tied. (The book pictured above, The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, is a great place to start. Check it out here.) (Oh, and if you use this link or any of the other book links in this post to check out my recommendations, Amazon will give me a few coins to thank me for referring you.)
For weight loss specifically, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and the like top the list.
I tend to resent the January weight loss rush—not because ‘all these newbies are in my way’ (I’m at the gym at like 9 at night, I always totally miss the crowds.) but because a lot of important information gets jumbled up and overlooked in the quest to kind of check off another item in the to-do list.
That’s not to say that I don’t get it, I totally do. I want 2018 to be the year I finally get my finances in order—something I should’ve done December 31st and every damn day before that—with 401Ks and IRAs and 529s and other fancy acronyms that I can’t quite explain yet but feel ashamed of not having, and I’m sure someone out there is going “Giiiiiirllll you better stop playing and get your sh-t together, forreal.” It’s kind of like that.
The introduction of this diet ranking tends to contribute to the skewing of the “weight loss” conversation towards diets, much to my dismay. Now, “diets” in the technical sense are helpful rubrics and rules to help you understand how to eat differently from how you’re used to, intending to produce weight loss… but some of these diets are downright ludicrous.
Like, come on—what the hell is The Cookie Diet, y’all?Q&A Wednesday: Which Diet Is the Best for Weight Loss? Click To Tweet
If what you’re looking for is a list of rules of sorts, then by all means check out The Mediterranean diet. It centers on fresh produce, light consumption of meats, healthy dietary fats, and an abundance of options. It’s not just Italy—countless countries benefit from that access to the Mediterranean Sea (the region for which the diet is named) and their foods are all flavored, seasoned, and otherwise prepared similarly because…. when it grows together, it goes together.
But it goes beyond that, right? The Mediterranean diet works because it is, whether we admit it or not, the food of a culture largely uninterrupted by the prevalence of processed food, and that culture’s community benefits from that. The region’s inhabitants are frequently listed as among the healthiest in the world.
But, believe it or not, wherever you find culture uninterrupted by the takeover of processed food—food low in fiber, protein, healthy dietary fats; food insanely high in carbs—you are likely to find the healthiest people ever. In the book The Blue Zone Solution, even a quick read would make it clear: the healthiest diet isn’t necessarily a list of foods you must eat, but a clear boundary line determining what must be off the table.
In fact, that’s what I’ve learned weight loss is, entirely: a removal of habits and choices that contribute to the weight gain to begin with. You can’t lose weight while you’re still serving yourself large portions, regardless of the diet you choose. You can’t keep weight off while you’re committed to vegging out on the couch from the time you get off work to the time you go to sleep. And, if you find that you can’t be satisfied eating the foods you’re most used to at smaller portions, then you have to change the foods you eat.
This is why just about any diet that pulls you away from a predominately processed food lifestyle is going to produce some kind of results.
This is also why the most important question to ask yourself when choosing a diet it always, “is this a way I could see myself eating forever?” The answer to that simply has to be “yes.”
For the record, The Mediterranean Diet isn’t the only diet that achieves this, and isn’t the only processed food-free culture you could pull recipes and inspiration from. The book I mentioned earlier, The Blue Zone Solution, showcases lots of different cultures with wonderful dishes and lots of food inspiration you can pull from. What’s more, the book What I Eat also gives a much more diverse perspective of what kinds of meals happen around the world, many created by cultures not besieged by the heart disease, diabetes, and—yes—inability to get a grasp on their weight. Honestly, you could walk into any bookstore and pull any cookbook dedicated to a particular country from the shelves and go to town. And you’d do just fine. (That’s how I learned different ways to make fish. Viva Peru.) (Also? Viva Jessica Harris.)
So, by all means, explore any number of diets and test out what brings you the most satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment. But the process of setting boundaries is most important for you. Separate yourself from the old habits that make it hard for you to lose and maintain your weight, and replace them with new habits that are healthy, fulfilling, and satisfying—in every sense of the word. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way.