Almost half the people in the U.S. go on a diet each year. Some spend thousands of dollars on weight-loss shakes, slimming pills, ready-made meals and miracle herbs that guarantee quick results. Yet, more than one-third of the population is living with obesity.
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Like it or not, the only way to achieve a healthy weight and keep the pounds off is to change your lifestyle habits. What women — and men — who want to lose weight need is more exercise and a meal plan to lose body fat.
Why Fad Diets Don't Work
Have you ever heard of the baby food diet, the lemon detox diet or the famous cabbage soup diet? If crash diets worked, obesity rates wouldn't be on the rise. These weight loss plans deprive your body of vital nutrients, leading to muscle loss, fatigue, hormonal imbalances, metabolic damage, dull skin and other issues. Plus, they're unsustainable in the long run, setting you up for failure.
Read more: 9 Unhealthy, Even Dangerous Weight-Loss Diets
Take juice cleanses, for example. These diet plans claim to detoxify or cleanse your liver and colon, which in turn, facilitates weight loss. The problem is that living on only juices can deplete your body of micro- and macronutrients, such as protein, fiber, iron and omega-3s.
Vitamin B12, for instance, is only found in fish, meat, dairy and nutritional yeast, so you won't get it from juices. Additionally, juicing removes the fiber from fruits and vegetables; you need this nutrient to keep your digestive system running smoothly and to stay full.
Crash Diets Lack Scientific Evidence
As the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out, fad diets cause you to lose water, muscle and bone mass. Furthermore, there's no evidence that combining certain foods or eating just one type of food all day will result in fat loss.
A bananas-only diet, for example, may cause quick weight loss, but the results won't last. On top of that, you'll feel hungry and deprived, which can make everything a lot more difficult.
Best Fat Loss Diet Plan
Unfortunately, there's no such thing as the "best" fat loss diet for women. Some diet plans work better than others, but they're not ideal for everyone. The ketogenic diet, for example, has been shown to reduce body fat and visceral adipose tissue, especially when combined with strength training. This slimming plan involves limiting carbs to around 50 grams per day while increasing your fat intake.
Read more: The Most Shocking Diet Myths
The downside is that low-carb diets, such as the keto diet, may increase the risk of premature death by up to 32 percent and the risk of coronary heart disease by 51 percent. They have also been linked to higher rates of cancer and cerebrovascular disease in a 2018 study published by the European Society of Cardiology.
Low-carb diets, including the ketogenic diet, may cause the so-called keto flu. You may experience nausea, brain fog, headaches, constipation, poor sleep, fatigue and other unpleasant symptoms.
Consider Your Individual Needs
When choosing a fat loss meal plan, make sure it fits your lifestyle and food preferences. If you have a sweet tooth or engage in regular exercise, the keto diet might not be your best choice. Commercial diet plans, such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Volumetrics, can be quite expensive. Plus, you can't live off shakes and ready-made meals forever.
Other diets, such as IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros), are nutritionally balanced but difficult to follow. Be prepared to count your calories and macros, weigh your food and do a lot of math.
The Ketogenic Diet
If you're looking for a weight loss plan that really works, consider trying the keto diet. Be aware, though, that it's quite restrictive and challenging. This diet was initially designed to treat epilepsy in children. Today, it's popular among athletes and dieters alike.
The ketogenic diet restricts carbs, which in turn, causes your liver to produce ketone bodies that serve as a source of fuel. Dieters are encouraged to consume high-fat foods, with little or no carbs and moderate amounts of protein, such as:
- Meat and fish
- Heavy cream
- Butter and ghee
- Some types of cheese
- Coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil
- Nuts and seeds in moderation
- Almond flour, konjac flour, coconut flour
- Leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, Swiss chard, etc.)
- Berries and other low-carb fruits in moderation
Processed foods are allowed too — as long as they meet the requirements listed. This means that you can eat bacon, pepperoni, chorizo or ready-made egg salad. These products, though, aren't necessarily healthy and may contain hidden carbs. According to the Harvard Health Publishing, ketogenic diets may aid in weight loss and improve glycemic control, but their long-term effects are controversial.
Read more: Curious About Keto? Start With These 10 Recipes
The Dukan Diet
Another fat loss diet plan that has gained popularity is the Dukan diet. It has four distinct phases, making it easier to torch fat and keep it off. The Attack phase, which is the most restrictive, eliminates carbs completely; dieters can choose from 68 foods that contain nothing but protein. During the next phases, they are allowed to gradually introduce veggies and previously forbidden foods into daily meals.
This dietary plan is low in carbs and fats. It relies heavily on meat, fish, eggs and fat-free dairy, so it's not the best choice for vegans and vegetarians. According to a 2017 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, high-protein diets promote satiety and increase muscle protein synthesis. As a result, they may help reduce fat mass and preserve lean mass, leading to improvements in body composition.
Another study, which was published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism in 2016, confirms that high-protein diets are safe in the long run and have no harmful effects on liver and kidney function. As Today's Dietician notes, this eating pattern is more effective than low-protein diets for preventing metabolic slowdown and muscle loss during caloric restriction.
The Dukan diet is generally considered safe, but side effects may occur. A 2014 report published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine describes the case of a woman who experienced nausea, vomiting and severe ketoacidosis — a life-threatening condition — two days after starting the Dukan diet.
The Mediterranean Diet
This dietary plan receives a lot of praise from health professionals worldwide. It's rich in protein, complex carbs, fiber and heart-healthy fats, promoting a balanced lifestyle. Even though it's not specially designed for weight loss, it can help you shed fat and keep the pounds off.
The Mediterranean diet is largely based on fish, seafood, poultry, grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and olive oil. These foods are widely consumed in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy and Greece. A 2014 review featured in the journal Nutrients has linked this dietary pattern to a low incidence of high blood pressure, hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, insulin resistance and other risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of central adiposity and obesity by half.
Dieters don't have to measure food portions or count calories, which adds to the convenience factor. This approach may lead to overeating, though. When consumed in excess, even the healthiest foods can cause weight gain. The Mediterranean diet can help you get leaner, but you still need to eat mindfully, watch your portions and exercise.
As the American Heart Association states, Mediterranean-style diets are often high in fat, which may contribute to obesity.
The DASH Diet
This eating pattern was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute as a way to fight hypertension, a major risk factor for heart disease. It's based on whole, natural foods and can be considered a lifelong approach to healthy eating. It emphasizes the consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and low-fat dairy.
Read more: The 14 Best Foods for Your Heart
The DASH diet limits sodium and fats while encouraging the consumption of foods rich in fiber, calcium, potassium, magnesium and lean protein. This nutritional approach can help you lose those pesky pounds by restricting sugar, refined grains, junk food and other foods that contribute to weight gain. A 2017 study published in ARYA Atherosclerosis has associated DASH with a lower risk of general obesity, suggesting that it may help with weight management.
Most foods allowed on the DASH diet are rich in fiber. This nutrient promotes satiety, supports digestive health and keeps your blood sugar levels stable. Furthermore, dieters are encouraged to limit meat and increase their intake of plant-based foods, which may contribute to weight loss.
Vegan diets have been linked to fat loss, improved blood lipids and increased lifespan. DASH isn't a vegan diet but relies heavily on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, so it may help you slim down.
Change Your Eating Habits
When it comes to choosing a fat loss diet for women, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Every diet plan has its benefits and drawbacks. The DASH diet, for example, can improve your health and bring your blood pressure down, but it's unlikely to cause major weight loss. The Dukan diet is nutritionally balanced but complicated and difficult to follow.
If you're physically active, choose a diet that's high in protein. Plan your meals around your workouts to maximize your body's ability to use protein, carbs and fats for energy. Carb cycling, for instance, is a nutritional approach that alternates between high-carb and low-carb days. Consume less fat and more carbs on your heaviest training days to get leaner and make the most out of your workout.
Increase your carb intake on your heaviest training days to recover faster from exercise and replenish your glycogen stores. Cut down on carbs on your rest days to prevent weight gain.
Remember, it's all in the small details. Simple dietary changes, such as cutting down on sugar and swapping white flour for coconut flour or konjac flour, can go a long way toward your progress. Re-create your favorite recipes using healthier ingredients, such as whole pasta instead of noodles, stevia instead of sugar and extra dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. Feel free to have an occasional cheat meal — it's perfectly fine, as long as it doesn't become a habit.
Read more: The DOs and DON'Ts of Clean Eating
- U.S. News: U.S. News Reveals Best Diets Rankings for 2018
- OECD: Obesity Update 2017
- Cleveland Clinic: Diets: Fad Diets
- NIH: Vitamin B12
- SELFNutritionData: Nutritional Yeast Flakes
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Staying Away From Fad Diets
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: Efficacy of Ketogenic Diet on Body Composition During Resistance Training in Trained Men
- EurekAlert: Low Carbohydrate Diets Are Unsafe and Should Be Avoided
- Harvard Health Publishing: What Is Keto Flu?
- Current Opinion in Neurology: New Insights Into the Mechanisms of the Ketogenic Diet
- Ingenta Connect: The Ketogenic Diet: Making a Comeback
- Harvard Health Publishing: Ketogenic Diet: Is the Ultimate Low-Carb Diet Good for You?
- Dukan Diet: Dukan Diet Phases
- Taylor & Francis Online: Acute and Long-Term Impact of High-Protein Diets on Endocrine and Metabolic Function, Body Composition, and Exercise-Induced Adaptations
- Hindawi: A High Protein Diet Has No Harmful Effects: A One-Year Crossover Study in Resistance-Trained Males
- Today's Dietician: High-Protein Diets and Weight Loss
- JEM Journal: Acute Intractable Vomiting and Severe Ketoacidosis Secondary to the Dukan Diet
- Frontiers in Nutrition: Mediterranean Diet: From a Healthy Diet to a Sustainable Dietary Pattern
- MDPI: Mediterranean Diet and Cardiodiabesity
- Nature.com: Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Long-Term Changes in Weight and Waist Circumference in the Epic-Italy Cohort
- Heart.org: Mediterranean Diet
- NIH: DASH Eating Plan
- NCBI: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet and Obesity: A Cross-Sectional Study of Iranian Children and Adolescents
- Today's Dietician: Fiber's Link With Satiety and Weight Control
- Nature.com: A Plant-Based Diet in Overweight Individuals in a 16-Week Randomized Clinical Trial: Metabolic Benefits of Plant Protein