Types of diets

Types of weight-loss diet

The following brief explanations will tell you about the main varieties of weight-loss diet which are promoted today to people hoping to lose weight. Please note that these include only weight-loss diets as there are many other types of diet (religious, ethical, cleansing etc) that don’t emphasise weight-loss as their main goal.

Restricting the amount you eat of all types of food (portion control, calorie counting).

Basically this means that you keep to your usual range of foods, but you eat less at each sitting and cut down snacks. Over time you become accustomed to having less food in your stomach, and so you feel full and satisfied with less on your plate. The less food you eat, the fewer calories you take in, and if your lifestyle remains the same you should find that you cease to gain weight and (if you are expending more calories than you are eating) that you actually lose some weight. The amount you lose depends on several individual factors which you have to balance against each other as you go along: the types of food you typically eat, the amount of exercise you usually get, your own muscle-to-fat ratio, how much food your body needs that day to convince it that it’s eaten adequately, etc.

Pros: You don’t have to give anything up. It’s convenient, with minimal change to lifestyle, so it’s comparatively easy to maintain for a long time. Probably one of the few ‘diets’ that is actually a sustainable way of eating for a lifetime, and one of the most sensible diets because it maintains a healthy range of different types of food.

Cons: People often feel hungry on this diet, especially at the beginning, and may need ‘distractions’ to keep off the idea of food – extra work, new leisure interests etc. It needs good self-control not to eat that next piece of chocolate or handful of chips, which can be a problem for some. Also, over-enthusiastic dieters who try to cut down their food intake too much too fast can force their body into ‘starvation mode’ where it limits its calorie expenditure and ‘refuses’ to lose weight. So this kind of diet should be introduced gradually and therefore does not produce instant results.

Eventually, people using portion-control or calorie-counting diets will nearly always also start to restrict their high-calorie foods since these are clearly the main culprits. It’s easy to see that cutting down fat and sugar selectively gives faster results and allows the dieter to eat a little more food without consuming more calories.

Restricting the amount you eat of high-calorie foods and/or high-glycaemic-index foods (WeightWatchers, Slimming World, many other ‘unrestrictive’ diets.)

Often also includes some element of food combining (see below).
Similar to portion control but this type of diet only restricts the high-weight-gain foods. These are usually classed as high-calorie foods (oils, fats and alcohol) and high-glycaemic-index foods (refined carbohydrates such as flour and sugar). High-calorie foods (oils and fats) contain many concentrated calories which are easily eaten to excess and then stored by the body as fat. High-glycaemic index foods raise the body’s blood sugar levels abruptly, forcing it to quickly store the excess calories (ultimately, in the body’s fat stores) and often leading to an energy slump or ‘sugar blues’ shortly after eating. This kind of diet does not restrict some kinds of foods, so you can eat as much as you want of vegetables, fruits, salads, and sometimes potatoes, pasta, beans, eggs etc. The dieting principle of restricting only high-weight-gain foods is the basis of many popular commercial dieting ‘clubs’ – but it is a perfectly good dieting principle to follow by oneself too.

If done by membership of a club, this type of diet is typically presented in a highly systematic way with plenty of lists, tables, charts and procedures. This in itself can help dieters feel they are imposing some kind of control and ‘being in charge’ of their food, which again helps the dieter to succeed. They usually also make allowances for a certain amount of ‘non-diet food’ such as butter, cheese, red meat, sweets or chocolate to be consumed during the week, which helps dieters feel unrestricted.

Another key element in this kind of diet is the group of similarly-minded dieters who meet locally each week with a group leader and provide encouragement and moral support to each other. The ‘weekly weigh-in’ – or at least moral support from one’s nearest and dearest – is a strong contributing factor to the success of such diets and should not be underestimated as a powerful tool for weight loss in its own right.

Pros: Usually effective, quite convenient and quite easy to maintain over time, so can be classed as a ‘lifestyle’ as much as a ‘special diet’.

Cons: It can be difficult to maintain the good habits without the support of the group, so dieters usually need to make themselves available for the weekly meetings and pay a membership fee (which is not necessarily very much). Some common foods such as flour and oil are very much restricted and this is inconvenient if you regularly eat outside the house at restaurants or while travelling, for example.

Zero- or low-carbohydrate diets (Atkins diet, Stone Age diet, South Beach diet etc.)

Roughly speaking, the common dietary principle behind this class of weight-loss diet is that the body functions most efficiently by consuming proteins, fats and (sometimes) fruits, while carbohydrates provide calories which the body will preferentially store as fat. Therefore, the foodstuffs that must be restricted in this case are carbohydrates, and especially refined carbohydrates and starch (such as flour, rice, pasta and potatoes). In the case of the Stone Age diet, the argument is that the human body is still a hunter-gatherer type of animal, which has not ‘caught up with’ foods derived from agriculture such as grains and dairy products. In principle, then, these foods cannot be efficiently digested and lead to health problems including overweight.

Pros: Depending on the exact nature of the diet, foods that are usually off-limits for weight-loss dieters, such as cream, fat red meat, oils, egg-yolks and cheese etc can be eaten as much as the dieter wants. ‘Feeling full’ is not usually a problem.

Cons: The lack of sugar can lead to ketosis (in which protein is burnt for energy, potentially causing bad breath, headaches etc). Many medical practitioners and nutritionists argue that a diet based on animal proteins and fats is quite simply bad for the body’s health and leads to long-term problems and risk of cancer, heart disease etc.

Limited combinations of foods diets (Hayes diet, Fit for Life, food-combining, etc)

The idea behind this category of weight-loss diet is that excess weight derives largely or wholly from the body’s inability to properly digest the food that is eaten. Roughly, the original idea is that carbohydrates break down in an alkaline environment, protein breaks down in an acid environment, vegetables break down in either acid or alkali, oils too are neutral, and fruit breaks down very quickly and will ferment easily. Therefore, fruits must be kept separate from most other foods so that the by-products of fermentation don’t cause the body to bloat and store toxins, and carbohydrates and proteins must be kept separate from each other so that they don’t interfere with each other’s digestion, leading to more toxic by-products for the body and more weight-gain. The general idea is that excess weight is a direct symptom of a body that is unhealthy overall, and that by correct food combination the health of the body will be restored and with it the optimum weight of the body.

Pros: Many foods can be eaten, so long as they are eaten at the right time and in the right combination. Many people report feeling more energetic with better digestion.

Cons: The timing and combination can be inconvenient if travelling or eating out, or with other people. Many common meals such as pastas, pies, sandwiches, filled potatoes etc are off-limits. It has been argued by some that any weight-loss resulting from this diet has to do with the fact that it restricts consumption of fattening (and ‘non-combined’) foods such as pizza or meat-and-two-veg rather than being the direct result of the ‘correct’ combination of foods!

Body-type diets (blood-type diet, Ayurvedic diet, hormone-balancing diets etc)
This category of diet works on the following principle: bodies are different from each other, so the type of diet that suits one body may not suit another. However, there are broad types or classes of body (based on blood-type, physiology, hormones etc) so there are also broad types of diet that will suit these different bodies. Such diets usually provide lists, meal-times and sometimes strict quantities of foodstuffs that are deemed suitable for the body-type in question. These lists and quantities may be pre-decided for your body type so that you can just look them up, or may be individually decided for you after some sort of analysis of your body-type. If there is an analysis involved, the cost of starting the diet may be quite high. (This can be regarded as an inconvenience or as a point of motivation for the dieter to make the diet work!) Body-type diets may be promoted as lifestyles which can be maintained indefinitely (Ayurvedic, for example) or as immediate solutions to excess weight with a maintenance programme afterwards.

Pros: Such diets may indeed lead to rapid weight-loss, sometimes of very large amounts of weight.

Cons: They are difficult to maintain, especially in a busy lifestyle or while travelling, because they can be precise and demanding. If they include portion-control, the dieter may feel hungry to begin with. Usually, these diets are quite difficult to keep up, depending on how restrictive they are. This means unfortunately that many people cannot stick to them and therefore regain the weight they have lost.

It is also worth noting that dieters who lost a great deal of weight rapidly will probably experience some loosening of their skin. This can lead to bagginess or a somewhat haggard look, especially on the face. For people who had previously had a plump, ‘young-looking’ face, the sudden ‘aging’ effect of rapid weight-loss can be a shock!

Fasting diets (juice fast, soup fast, etc)
The principle here is that you can lose weight fastest by stopping eating entirely (ie undergoing a fast.) Equally important to this kind of diet is the idea that it’s healthy for the body to have the occasional break from eating. Sometimes it is also suggested that there is a spiritual benefit from fasting. The important thing from the point of view of survival is to maintain enough calories to stay upright, and a high liquid intake! Most fasting diets are therefore based around a high-water ‘diet’ – plain soups made of boiled vegetable or lean meat stock, and/or fruit or vegetable juices. Sometimes the fast consists of fresh raw fruits and raw or steamed vegetables. The idea is usually that you supply the body with the water, vitamins and minerals it needs, and a certain amount of light protein or sugars (from the broth or juice) without giving it anything that it will have to work hard to digest, and without giving it many calories. This allows the body to ‘clean’ itself of toxins, and, so the idea goes, also clean itself of excess weight, whether as water or fat.

Pros: These diets can encourage rapid weight loss of up to several pounds. Some dieters report that their bodies feel lighter, cleaner and better afterwards.

Cons: Often uncomfortable (headaches, nausea, tiredness, irritability), especially to begin with. Results in temporary weight-loss only, unless the dieter converts to another lifestyle afterwards. May encourage the body to enter ‘starvation mode’ and restrict calorie expenditure, which can mean rapid weight gain after the diet is over. Argued by some medical practitioners and nutritionists to cause long-term damage to the body if used to excess. Definitely not recommended for people with a medical condition.

One-food-diets (cabbage-soup diet, grapefruit diet, grape diet etc)
Closely related to the fasting diet is the one-food-diet. This type of diet also suggests that the body may need to ‘rest’ from eating or to ‘detoxify’. However, a one-food-diet also goes a little further to say that particular foodstuffs have a special cleansing or fat-burning property that can be utilised intensively to ‘strip’ or ‘burn’ fat, or to ‘detox’ the body extra-effectively so that excess weight is lost fast. Typically, such diets are only recommended for short periods such as five or seven days.

Pros: These diets can encourage rapid weight loss of up to several pounds. Some dieters report that their bodies feel lighter, cleaner and better afterwards.

Cons: Often uncomfortable (headaches, nausea, tiredness, irritability), especially to begin with. Results in temporary weight-loss only, unless the dieter converts to another lifestyle afterwards. May encourage the body to enter ‘starvation mode’ and restrict calorie expenditure, which can mean rapid weight gain after the diet is over. Argued by some medical practitioners and nutritionists to cause long-term damage to the body if taken to excess. Definitely not recommended for people with a medical condition.

NOTE TO THE ABOVE: Remember that body fat burns quite slowly, no matter how much exercise one does. To lose pounds and pounds of fat over a short period such as a couple of weeks is physiologically impossible while maintaining any kind of good health (ie while staying out of intensive care). Therefore, it is usually accepted (and has been shown in very many cases) that the rapid weight loss induced by fasting and one-food diets is mostly owing to stored water being lost from the body and not loss of body fat. To lose body fat takes some time and some effort to achieve.

Pill-based weight-loss diets
Typically, claims made for ‘weight-loss pills’ involve one or more of the following ideas or advertising suggestions:
It’s claimed that they ‘speed up the metabolism’, thus causing the body to expend more calories.
It’s suggested that they ‘melt fat’ – often there is no clear explanation of how the pills do this for the good reason that it is not physiologically possible!
It’s claimed that they ‘suppress appetite’, so that the dieter is satisfied with eating less.
It’s claimed that they ‘cleanse the system’ of toxins or colonic plaque, thus enabling the body to process food better and not ‘build up toxins’ which are stored in excess fat or water
It’s claimed that they ‘contain all the necessary nutrients’ and therefore might replace meals altogether.

Pill-based diets are typically viewed as fad diets and there appears to be some considerable justification for this as there is little emphasis on food or lifestyle alterations and instead a suggestion that by merely ‘popping a pill’ you can solve all your body issues. This is an advertising ploy that may be popular with the pharmaceutical or diet-pills industry but is not very useful to people who have crash-dieted using pills and then found that they regain more than their original weight immediately afterwards or have caused themselves physical ailments by aggressive use of pills with laxative or other chemical effects on the body. Not recommended.

Note to the above: use of regular vitamin or mineral supplements as part of a healthy and balanced diet can be very beneficial to the body and may help with weight loss by aiding the body’s normal metabolism and enzyme functions. There is plenty of evidence to show that modern food contains fewer vitamins and minerals than it did even fifty years ago and moreover that a modern lifestyle including work stress, caffeine, alcohol, pollutants etc does increase the body’s requirements for various vitamins and minerals.

HOWEVER the point to note here is that vitamins and minerals tablets are SUPPLEMENTS to your meals, ie they are additional in a diet to protein, carbohydrates, fibre and water. Don’t try to replace meals with vitamins or minerals. It will do your weight loss program more harm than good even in the medium term let alone long-term.