Stafford-based personal trainer and nutritionist, Gregg Slater lifts the lid on the fad diet world – and tells us all why they actually might work
What does the paleo diet, Bulletproof coffee, Weight Watchers, the Atkins diet, detoxes, Herbalife, Slimming World or any fad diet you can think of have in common? They have all helped thousands of people lose weight despite having vastly different criteria as what a diet should look like. High carbohydrate or low carbohydrate, meals or shakes, inclusive vs exclusive diets… How can such a wide array of diets produce similar results?
Without knowing it, they inadvertently create a caloric deficit.
Simply put: our body needs a certain number of calories to live and move, this is known as our total daily energy expenditure or TDEE for short. If we eat above this level, we gain weight, if we eat below this level, known as a caloric deficit, we lose weight. How much weight depends on the size of the caloric deficit. In order to lose one pound of fat (losing weight isn’t always body fat but that’s for another day) we must burn 3500 calories more than we take in through our diets which for most people might mean 500 calories less per day (unless of course you like to eat and drink a little more at weekends like most of us do).
Despite offering sensationalised claims such as lowering insulin to melt fat, helping you to detox or “revving up your metabolism” these type of fad diets do nothing more than unintentionally create a caloric deficit by default. Let’s take two common examples to highlight my point.
Firstly, popular detox diets often come with a list of foods that cannot be consumed such as bread, alcohol or processed foods like crisps. These foods, whilst not inherently fattening, are higher in calories and easy to over consume. These higher calorie options are replaced with lower calorie fruit and vegetables. The products claim weight loss is due to detoxification when in reality those undertaking the diet will drastically reduce caloric intake. The ensuing fat loss has everything to do with eating drastically less calories and nothing to do with the need to “detox”.
Secondly, many will have tried the Atkins diet in which you are instructed to remove carbohydrates from the diet. Is it because carbohydrates are somehow fattening? No. In fact a myriad of studies have shown time again when people are kept in metabolic wards (think science prison) and when calories are matched, high carbohydrate or high fat diets result in the same fat loss! Removing carbohydrates from someone’s diet naturally limits their choices, often inadvertently removing lots of “junk foods” we typically over-eat such as crisps, cake, biscuits and sweets. Less choice, less food. This type of food restriction also often sees an increase in protein, which helps keep people fuller for longer once again lowering the number of calories they consume. The true benefit of Atkins has nothing to do with removing carbohydrates and everything to do with inadvertently creating a caloric deficit. Ever lost 6,7 or 8 lbs the first week on the Atkins diet only to see weight loss halve the following week? An important point to remember when starting a low carbohydrate diet is that all weight loss is not fat loss. When we restrict carbohydrates our body burns through it’s own reserves in the muscle and liver. In doing so it also flushes out a lot of water, hence the large initial weight loss.
But I Never Track My Calories!
Even if you don’t count calories, your body does. You don’t have to count every pound that goes into your bank to dip into your overdraft! If we cut your wages by 20% but kept spending at the same level you would soon be spending more than you’re earning. This is also true for calorie intake and fat loss.
Don’t get drawn in by clever marketing, potions and pills. The number one factor that contributes to a successful diet is your ability to stick to the calorie deficit. What is right for you, your needs, your circumstances and preferences may not be right for your friends.
Gregg Slater is a personal trainer, certified nutritionist and head of education for Lift The Bar, providing education and mentoring to thousands of personal trainers across the world. Have you got a topic you want to see covered in upcoming articles? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.