Kelly LeVeque is a holistic nutritionist, wellness expert, and celebrity health coach based in Los Angeles. Below, LeVeque shares her thoughts on a few of the most popular weight loss diets out there.
Looking to lose a few pounds and not sure what weight loss plan is right for you? As a nutritionist, I am constantly being asked by clients what diet is right for them. Most diets work in the short term, but the only diet that is going to work for you is the one you can consistently stick to.
I like to tell my clients to use different diet philosophies (like low-carb or keto) as tools rather than looking at it as a long-term change. The diets I outline below can be used to jumpstart your weight loss goals or help you experiment and find what works best for you. What I've found with my clients who lose weight successfully and keep it off in a healthy way is that they adopt small changes in their lifestyle (one at a time) and slowly build a new healthy routine that is based on light structure.
One of the keys to adopting a lifestyle change successfully when it comes to food is understanding the science behind how what we eat affects our bodies and how that impacts fat loss and body composition goals on a cellular level. Below, I break down some of the popular diets and how they can help you (or hinder) your weight loss goals.
1. Low Carb
A low carb eating plan typically means consuming around 25-75 grams of net-carbs a day (this means the total carbs minus fiber). When you compare that to the standard American diet (usually around 225 grams or more per day based on the government's recommended amount for a 2,000 calorie per day diet) it can be a pretty drastic change, depending on how you normally eat before you start a low carb plan.
Low carb eating works to lessen water weight and bloat initially, but a low carb diet that doesn't dip into ketosis (a state where your body burns fat for energy instead of sugar) or occasionally cycle in a starch can backfire. I have seen clients feel depleted, because they are low on fuel, given that they aren't being fueled on the fat or carbs they are used to. I call this low carb purgatory. It's ok short term, but not ideal since low energy levels can leave you feeling groggy or keep you from hitting the gym.
2. Carb Cycling
Carb cycling is typically used on a ketogenic or lower carb eating plan as a strategic tool for muscle recovery or to help prevent hormone imbalances. Some women who follow a ketogenic or low carb plan find it helpful for regulating their hormones on a low-carb plan to add in carb-cycling strategically throughout their cycle.
Overall this is best for athletes or those who are extremely active to ingest carbs post workout to refuel the muscles. So carb cycling for athletes would look like adding in carbs after a workout to help refuel and build muscles. The post-workout time frame is ideal for consuming carbs since your body can handle the glucose more efficiently once you've burned off excess glucose stored in the muscles during a workout.
The ketogenic diet has really exploded in popularity recently, but it's actually not a new diet by any means. The ketogenic diet has been used by the medical field for decades to treat or help manage certain diseases and requires dieters to keep net carbohydrates below 26 grams.
On the keto diet you get the majority of your calories from fat (usually around 80% of your total calories) and you eat moderate protein (usually about 15% of your calorie intake) and minimal carbohydrates (5% or lower of your total caloric intake.) A lot people think that the Keto diet is a high protein diet, but it actually is not. Too much protein can prevent you from getting into ketosis just like carbs can.
The diet works because you drop insulin levels dramatically by avoiding foods that metabolize into glucose. Once you start burning fat for fuel you can feel great and super energized. Being in ketosis helps your body burn fat since your insulin levels remain low for an extended amount of time. Insulin is a fat storage hormone, so essentially your body can't burn fat efficiently if your insulin levels are high throughout the day.
Why this diet may or may not be for you:
It can take 3 to 4 days to get into ketosis. That being said, if you are someone who enjoys their weekends then this diet isn't for you, because once you finally get into ketosis you will bump yourself out. Once you are in ketosis you feel whip smart, with constant flow of energy from fat stores, which is a benefit.
That being said, you have to be diligent about keeping your fat intake high enough and your carb intake low enough to stay in ketosis. This can be really difficult for people who don't want to calculate the stats on what they are eating throughout the day and it's just not realistic for many people. Also this type of diet can make you obsessed with food, which is not ideal for people with a history of eating disorders or any type of unhealthy relationship with food.
It's really important not to do what I call the "junk food keto diet," i.e. when you consume lots of processed meats like bacon or hotdogs and tons of processed dairy like cream cheese, and shy away from veggies because they have some carbs. This approach is robbing you of vital micronutrients and fiber you get from veggies, and there are plenty of non-starchy veggies you can eat and maintain ketosis.
4. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is when you alternate between periods of eating and fasting for specific amounts of time during the day or throughout the week. No food is allowed during the fasting period, but you can drink water, coffee, tea and other non-caloric beverages. Below are the most common intermittent fasting methods:
1. The 16/8 Method: Fast for 16 hours each day, for example, by only eating between noon and 8pm.
2. Eat-Stop-Eat: 24 Hour FAST: Once or twice a week, don't eat anything from dinner one day until dinner the next day (a 24-hour fast).
3. The 5:2 Diet: During 2 days of the week, eat only about 500-600 calories.
4. Spontaneous Meal Skipping
5. Warrior Diet: Fast all day, then eat at a huge meal at night (you can eat small fruits and vegetables throughout the day).
Like calorie restriction, fasting has shown to extend lifespan and there is promising research showing that it can protect against diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Intermittent fasting is like a nice break for the body, and gives it time to "clean house." Lots of people use coffee or other caffeinated beverages while they fast, but if you put collagen in your coffee or ingest amino acids it technically stops the "fasting" process. Fatty coffee (like Bulletproof coffee) is a form of fat fasting, but the biggest benefits come from ingesting less than 5 calories during a fasting period with water, tea or coffee only.
Keep in mind, research suggest the benefits of IMF are negated if the meal following the fast is a processed high glycemic meal. This diet is not for you follow a fast with an unhealthy meal.
The Whole30 is essentially a 30-day elimination diet that takes out gluten, dairy, sugar, grains and other processed foods and harmful additives and ingredients for 30 days. This program works for many people because it teaches them to eat whole foods.
Some cons: the program requires a lot of prep which might not be for everyone. If you break it or slip up on the Whole30, the rule is you have to start over — this perpetuates dieting. And for many people the "dieting" mentality can be a huge roadblock for real sustainable weight loss.
Still, other benefits of the program include that you're eating fiber-packed whole foods only, which is great for gut microbiome and blood sugar balance.
6. Fab 4, Vegan, Vegetarian and Paleo
Fab 4 is my signature nutrition approach that is based on light structure and managing blood sugar balance and calming hunger hormones. You eat meals that contain the Fab 4, aka protein, fiber, fat and greens. The Fab 4 work together to maintain blood sugar which keeps you feeling calm, and the nutrients also ensure that your hunger hormones are shut down which keeps you from needing to constantly eat or snack to feel satisfied.
The Fab 4, vegan, vegetarian and paleo are lifestyles more than they are "diets". They are intended to be longterm ways of eating and something I promote way more than a short-term fix. The diets above should be "tools" that are used occasionally to support detoxification. If you are dieting and end up binging post diet, none of these tools are truly for you.
I challenge you to build your own lifestyle, find what works for you, and learn the science and eat what you love. I've found that this type of approach is much more sustainable and realistic for my clients in the long term and doesn't leave them feeling deprived or like they can't enjoy food or their lives.