What is the best diet?

If you were to walk down the diet and weight loss section of your local bookstore, you would find hundreds of different diets all promising one thing: weight loss. How can you differentiate between healthy diets that deliver results and unhealthy fads that lead to failure? The best diet is not temporary. The best diet will lead you to weight loss while also improving your overall health. The best diet is not a temporary fix, but a permanent set of changes that will lead you to a weight loss free lifestyle.

Weight Loss Free Lifestyle

The best diet will create a lifestyle that is free from weight loss by introducing you to long term healthy behaviors rather than temporary diets that cause a yoyo pattern of weight loss and weight gain. Instead of using temporary crash diets that cause a lot of weight loss in a very short period of time (followed by a period of weight gain), the best diet prescribes slow changes that will lead to sustained weight loss over the long term.

Healthy Weight Loss

Our diet can best be described as all the food we eat including meals, snacks, junk food or protein shakes. Losing weight requires changes to the diet in the form of eating less and eating healthier. A diet or weight loss plan that promises to help you lose a lot of weight will requires a lot of change. Since you are looking to lose weight, a safe assumption is that you eat too much: for example, 3,000 calories per day.

A quick diet would require you to cut your calorie intake by 1,000 or more calories per day. A 3,000 calorie diet over four meals equals 750 calories per meal. A 2,000 calorie diet over four meals is only 500 calories. While that might not seem like a big difference, if you are used to eating a 750 calorie meal, dropping down to 500 overnight is a pretty drastic change that is hard to get used to.

Any weight loss plan that promises quick results will also require that you change your exercise habits. Most overweight and obese Americans are physically inactive. Going from avoiding exercise to spending 45-60 minutes per day working out (which is what a quick diet would require) would take a lot of getting used to.

The point is that the drastic changes that would deliver quick change are not sustainable. They might work for a few weeks but eventually, the 45-60 minutes of exercise each day combined with eating 1,000 calories less than what you’re used to would prove too much for you to handle. At the point, you would go back to your old habits and gain back any weight that you may have lost plus an additional few pounds.

A better plan is to make smaller changes in both your diet and exercise habits. Less change is a lot less noticeable which decreases the risk of failure. The smaller amount of change is easier to handle and will lead to long term and permanent change.

Weight Loss Basics

All weight loss strategies are based on the same foundation: eat less, move more. Combining a moderate decrease in calorie intake with an increase in physical activity is the best way to lose weight.

Losing weight requires a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit is a state in which you burn more calories than you eat. You can create a calorie deficit by eating less, exercising more or combining the two. Any diet that produces results is based off of this principle. Any diet that promises you can eat anything or not exercise very much will not produce results.

Slow, Steady Changes

A successful diet requires a calorie deficit which means you will need to change your eating and exercise habits. Your first step is to figure out how much you need to eat and exercise each day to lose weight. You can do this with the help of the calorie calculator. Based on your age, size, gender and physical activity level, the calculator will estimate how many calories your body burns each day which is the same as how many calories you need to eat to maintain your current weight. You can play around with the physical activity level to see just how many more calories additional exercise burns.

Once the calculator estimates how many calories your body needs each day to maintain your current weight, the next step is to create a calorie deficit by eating less and exercising more. This step needs to be spread out over time. Here is an example:

Calories needed to maintain weight: 2,750
Calories Eaten per Day Exercise Performed per Day
Week 1 2,600 2x per week @ 15 minutes per session
Week 2 2,450 2x per week @ 25 minutes per session
Week 3 2,300 3x per week @ 35 minutes per session
Week 4 2,150 3x per week @ 45 minutes per session
Week 5 2,000 4-5x per week @ 60 minutes per session

In the example above, the calculator estimated that you need 2,750 calories to maintain your current weight. To lose weight, you need to eat less. A calorie deficit of 500-750 calories per day is enough to sustain weight loss at a rate of about 1-2 pounds per week. Cutting more than 750 calories per day could lead to a slowdown in your metabolism (starvation mode).

Another important element to note about the above example is the slow change both in terms of calorie reduction and increased physical activity. Each week, you’re only cutting 150 calories per day. One hundred and fifty calories is as easy as getting rid of one soda or fruit juice, adding less sugar to your coffee or slowly decreasing the amount of sugary snacks you eat. One hundred and fifty calories is very manageable. The same slow progression is also true about increasing your physical activity level.

When you slowly make changes like this, you are much more likely to stick to your plan because slow change gives you time to adapt.

The Bottom Line

The best diet is not a temporary solution. The best diet is a lifestyle which promotes a healthy weight range through small and sustainable changes to diet and exercise. Successfully starting a healthy lifestyle means you will never need to go on a crash diet or temporary weight loss fix ever again. A healthy lifestyle is the only permanent fix to being overweight.

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