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Are Any Diets Actually Worth It?

'Tis the season where everyone is worried about the holidays... And planning their "lose the holiday weight" schemes already. I hear a lot of, "Are any of the diet plans really worth it?"

My answer: It depends what you consider to be “a diet plan.”

WeightWatchers, the DASH Diet, and the Mediterranean diet are the only ones that are realistic and legit validated by science. Why? Because they focus on real, whole foods including nuts, seeds, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. None of those “diet plans” cut out food groups, they simply encourage you to indulge in the sweets and treats and red meats less often.

WeightWatchers uses a points system that turns foods’ specific nutritional info and turns it into a single number. Based on your current information (age, gender, height, and weight) and your goals, WW suggests a nutritional plan around how many points you should eat each day. They have lists that help you learn foods’ point values, which are based on food label data (like added sugars, fiber, and the different types of fats).

I like WW because it doesn’t restrict foods or cut out food groups. They also have a list of over 200 Zero Point foods to encourage you to focus less on calorie count and more on the value of the food you’re eating. These foods include non-starchy veggies, fruit, eggs, chicken, turkey breast, and more. So in other words, they’re encouraging you to eat more real, whole foods in order to stay full and energized vs. categorizing certain foods as good or bad.

The DASH Diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and it’s an eating plan designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure by including foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. This diet limits foods high in sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars, and studies support this “diet” as way to legitimately lower blood pressure.

I like the DASH Diet for the same reasons I like WW: It focuses on real, whole foods and lowering the extra crap that’s added to so many of our food products these days. The DASH Diet has a straight-forward daily nutritional recommendation: 6-8 servings of whole grains; 4-5 servings of veggies; 4-5 servings of fruit; 2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products; six one-ounce servings or fewer of lean meats, poultry, and/or fish; 2-3 servings of fats or oils; 4-5 servings per week of nuts, seeds, and legumes; and 5 servings or fewer per week of sweets or added sugars.

The Mediterranean diet is simply a way of eating that’s based on traditional cuisines of Greece and Italy. This includes mostly plant-based foods such as whole grains, veggies, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. This “diet” includes fish, seafood, dairy, and poultry in moderation, and rarely any red meats or sweets. There are large studies that support plant-based eating for lowering all forms of mortality as well as prolonging life. Why? Because plant-based foods don’t spike the body’s natural inflammation response like animal-based foods do.

I like the Mediterranean diet because, like the two above, it doesn’t cut out food groups and it focuses on real, whole foods (see a trend!?).

The thing that most people refuse to listen to and learn from (and adopt) is that diet plans that cut out food groups are not right for most people. The only times that cutting out food groups is necessary is when you have a food allergy or a legitimate autoimmune issue that inflames with certain foods. Most people do not need to “go keto” or “cut out carbs” or “go gluten-free.” The hard truth is that most people need to become more disciplined and eat less sugar, eat fewer processed foods, drink fewer calories, and eat more fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds.

Why is this so hard to do? A few reasons… Packaged and processed foods are easier to consume—just open a bag and dig in! While fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds can use more prep work and/or go back quicker. A lot of people don’t set aside the time to actually make a grocery list and a plan and do the prep work, so they throw a lot of good foods away. And… The real kicker… Our taste buds are so accustomed to eating crappy that good, real foods don’t taste as great because they don’t have additives that your body is used to consuming.

So what do I suggest? Instead of saying, “That’s it, no more sugar!” (which won’t work), make a plan on what you are going to eat vs. cut out. The more real, whole, healthy foods you eat, the less room there is for crap. Start small, crush it for two weeks, then add on.

A great way to start: I’m going to drink at least 64oz. of water a day plus at least one fruit, one veggie, and one serving of nuts per day. See how you feel once you do all that every day for two weeks. My guess is you’ll want to add on another fruit and veggie and you’ll drink fewer calories throughout the day.