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Nutrition

5 diet plans explained


If you want to lose weight, you may have considered following a popular diet plan. But with so many options available, what do you need to think about when deciding on the best way to safely lose weight?

These days, there seems to be a new diet trend every few months: from the paleo diet to the Mediterranean diet and intermittent fasting, it can all feel a bit overwhelming. It’s also important to bear in mind that any changes you make to your diet should be healthy and sustainable in the long run.

What should you consider before going on a diet?


Cheryl Lythgoe, Society Matron of Benenden Health, offers her advice on what to consider before starting a new diet.

What’s your life stage?


Now you’ve decided to take steps to lose weight, you need to consider your stage in life and what you could gain from losing weight:

  • If you’re young, fit and healthy, losing weight (if needed) is a great way to future proof your health

  • If you’re in midlife, losing weight will help to improve both the quality and quantity of your life. Consider other things: for example, if you are menopausal, it’s not a good idea to be lactose-free as your bones need calcium

  • If you’re older, losing weight is much more about improving the quality of your life

What resources are available to you?


Think about what resources are available to you – environmental, financial, mental or physical. If you live somewhere very rural, think about how easily you can buy ingredients, or if you’re feeling stressed, it might not be a good idea to try a highly restrictive diet.

Do your research

  • It isn’t healthy to lose weight quickly – don’t be lured in by promises of rapid weight loss

  • Find out about the health benefits behind the diet

  • If a diet is asking you to avoid a major food group, check it’s right for you. Avoiding refined carbs is fine, but if you have an active lifestyle such as a busy parent or doing manual work, you need to maintain your energy levels

Check with the experts

  • If you have any concerns before starting a specific diet, it’s good to chat with your GP, especially if you have a medical condition such as high cholesterol, diabetes etc

  • If you’re one of our members, Benenden Health’s GP 24/7 service is on hand to give general medical advice

  • If you consult with a nutritionist, make sure their qualifications are from a trusted source

Be kind to yourself

  • Distract your mind during the first few days/weeks of the diet with activities such as exercise, crafting, and going for a walk. Also drink lots of water

  • My mantra is “everything in moderation”. Cake is always a treat, so if you have a slice or two, make sure you try to eat healthily for the day’s other meals

  • It’s much healthier to make subtle changes, rather than dramatically change your diet, and these will be easier to sustain in the long term

5 popular diet plans


To help you, here is a brief overview of some of the most popular diets right now. Remember, do your research and bear in mind your medical history:

1. 16:8 fasting

This diet limits food and calorific drinks to a set window of 8 hours a day, while abstaining for the remaining 16 hours.

How?

Pick your 8-hour window. Many people choose to eat between noon and 8pm which means you fast overnight and skip breakfast

Eat nutritious food during the 8-hour period and supplement with water or unsweetened tea or coffee while fasting to help control your appetite and stay hydrated

Pros

  • Easy to follow, it achieves results (losing weight, burning fat) with minimal effort

  • It can improve your blood sugar levels

Cons

  • Overeating or eating the wrong type of food during your ‘window’ can cause more harm than good

  • Check with your GP if you have any underlying health conditions, as intermittent fasting may not be right for you, for example if you are trying to get pregnant

2. Paleo diet

The paleo diet is based on food our ancestors might have eaten in the Stone Age through hunting and gathering. The reasoning behind the diet is that the human body is not genetically designed for the modern diet that emerged with farming practices.

How?

Focus on foods such as lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds

Exclude foods that became common with farming methods such as dairy, legumes (such as chickpeas, peanuts, peas), and grains. So, butter, milk, bread, pasta, and any processed foods are out!

Pros

  • It’s a ‘clean’ diet without additives, preservatives or chemicals

  • It helps you lose weight due to its restrictiveness

  • Eating more protein and healthy fats will leave you feeling more satisfied between meals

Cons

  • It’s a high protein, low carb diet so watch your energy levels

  • It can be time-consuming – it helps to pre-plan meals in advance as breakfast will be no longer about grabbing a slice of toast!

  • It avoids whole grains and legumes which are good sources of fibre and vitamins. It’s also eliminates dairy products, which are good sources of protein and calcium

3. Flexitarian

Combining ‘flexible’ and ‘vegetarian, the diet is based on the concept that you don’t need to cut out meat completely to enjoy the health benefits associated with vegetarianism.

How?

Stick to a vegetarian diet most of the time but can still enjoy a burger or a Sunday roast on occasion. Start by aiming for 1-2 meat free days a week

It’s a great way to increase the variety of healthy foods you eat

Pros

  • Eating more plant-based food and less red or processed meat can help you lose weight and improve your overall health

  • Offers flexibility - if you have a special meal out planned, for example

Cons

  • Involves more home cooking

  • Planning meals can take more time when you can’t rely on meat and two veg!

4. Mediterranean diet

This diet is a plant-based healthy eating plan based on the traditional cuisines of Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy.

How?

Whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices are the heroes

Eat less fish, seafood, dairy and poultry, while red meat and desserts should be limited

Food is cooked with olive oil

Pros

  • Numerous studies since the 1950s have revealed the diet helps to prevent heart disease and strokes

  • It encourages ‘good’ fats such as those found in olive oil, nuts and seeds, while offer eating fatty fish such as mackerel and salmon give you an Omega-3 boost

Cons

  • It’s more a healthy eating diet than a weight loss diet as eating more fat (from olive oil and nuts) could lead to weight gain 

  • Consuming less red meat means you should watch your iron levels

5. Keto diet

The ketogenic (keto) diet is a low carb, high fat diet – similar to Atkins and low carb diets. By drastically reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat, your body is put into a metabolic state called ketosis. This means your body become very efficient at burning fat for energy.

How?

Avoid any food high in carbohydrates e.g. sugars, rice, potatoes, grains, legumes, sweets, juice, and most fruits

Plan meals around meat, fatty fish, eggs, butter and cream, cheese, nuts and seeds, healthy oils, and avocados

Low-carb veggies are allowed such as greens, tomatoes, onions, peppers

Pros

  • It’s an effective way to lose weight and lower disease risk factors

  • You are less likely to be feel hungry

Cons

  • It is a more challenging diet and takes a lot of planning

  • You may experience ‘keto flu’ as your body adapts

  • It is important that you consult with your doctor if you have any underlying health conditions before starting the keto diet . For example, it is not suitable for those who have kidney damage, are at risk for heart disease, are pregnant or nursing, have Type 1 diabetes, or any conditions involving their pancreas, liver, thyroid or gallbladder

Finally, remember that losing weight is a very personal thing so don’t ever feel pressure to try a diet plan that doesn’t feel right for you. If you don’t feel you have the time to commit to a particular diet, a good start might be to pick and choose a few healthier habits that work for you such as eating less red meat, cutting out processed food or trying to incorporate more vegetables into your everyday meals.

Whatever path you choose, weight loss success is not about a quick fix. It’s about making healthy changes to look after your body and your health which you can sustain over the long term. If you have any concerns, you should always check with your GP or specialist nutritionist.