The concept of a healthy diet is an interesting, multi-faceted one. My previous article suggests some guidelines for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ nutrition habits and the main things to look out for in a well balanced diet.
However, in reality the majority of my clients are people who want to lose weight. In fact, in many cases, losing weight is the single biggest factor that will improve their health. This prompts the question, whether the healthiest diet for this client is simply the one that gets them losing weight?
Eating ‘healthy’ is often prescribed for weight loss. While the definition of health may be up for debate, advice on healthy eating usually involves more fruit and vegetables, less refined carbohydrates, less saturated fats, no alcohol, little to no processed foods, and general reductions in sugars and artificial sweeteners.
Adhering to these general ‘healthy eating’ principals can be one useful method that may bring about weight loss.
However, ‘healthy eating’ is not the mechanism of weight loss (see my method vs mechanism article). As the table below demonstrates, losing weight can be achieved by numerous methods as long as the mechanism of a calorie deficit is created.
As shown in the table, there are clear reasons why some of the traditional advice such as eating fruit and vegetables and non processed foods are beneficial for weight loss (such as being more filling, and more voluminous per kcal). While in theory the “Pizza is Life” diet will bring about weight loss, the practicality of adhering to this diet makes it all but impossible.
However, understanding why these traditionally healthy foods are a good choice for weight loss is the key to knowing when and where to prescribe them to your clients.
The table below shows some different ways to lose weight:
If adhered to, both the “Protein Mars FTW” and “Super Clean Bro” diets would bring about weight loss, with similar levels of muscle maintenance.
So why is “Super Clean” a better choice?
If someone was following the highly processed, low fibre and mirco sparse diet of ‘Protein Mars” they would most likely find adherence very difficult, as they would be pretty hungry eating just 1600kcal of mainly processed foods.
On the contrary, the “Super Clean” diet has the advantage of lots of high fibre, fruit and veg, that provide voluminous quantities of food for the same 1600kcal, this will leave the client feeling more full and therefore more likely to adhere.
Moreover, a diet bursting with micro nutrients and slow releasing energy sources provides the client with a more consistent energy level. This is more likely to encourage additional energy expenditure through activity or exercise.
Meanwhile, the more sluggish client on a less filling, processed diet may experience highs and lows of energy throughout the day (crashes), making them less likely to exercise or expend additional energy through movement.
Some Draw backs of the “Super Clean” diet?
In theory the clean diet is the obvious way to go. It’s the most nutritious, the most filling and most likely to have you feeling your best too!
However, in reality clients trying to lose weight are often transitioning from a diet very high in calories, and more often than not, high in processed foods, alcohol, large portion sizes and snacks.
Completely turning someone’s diet on it’s head is a good way to lose them after week one. Then, no matter how great the super clean diet is, it becomes useless if the client isn’t following it. The strict nature of the super clean diet can make adherence very difficult.
The Sweet Spot?
The sweet spot moves the client closer towards more filling foods, more fruit and veg and more high protein, high fibre options. However, it makes room to keep in some of the foods the client enjoys.
Here are some scenario trade offs:
> Super Clean: the client isn’t allowed any chocolate throughout the weight loss process, this gives more calories to spend on filling foods, better energy levels and less chance of gateway induced binge eating. However, the client loves chocolate and wishes weight loss didn’t have to be this hard.
> Sweet Spot: the client swaps their greek yogurt and berries for a chocolate bar, they feel a little hungrier than they might have later that day but still hit 1600kcal. The client feels empowered that they are losing weight while still enjoying foods they like.
> Conclusion: depending on the client the later may be better for long term adherence.
> Super Clean: the client isn’t allowed any alcohol throughout the weight loss process, this gives more calories to spend on filling foods, better energy levels and less chance of hangover induced binge eating. However, the client is sad about missing out on drinks with her friends, and wishes weight loss didn’t have to be this hard.
> Sweet Spot: the client factors two gin and tonics into her otherwise filling and nutritious meal plan for the day. She is a little hungry throughout the day, but enjoys her night with her friends. She feels empowered she can still go out and have fun while continuing to lose weight.
> Conclusion: depending on the client, the later may be better for adherence
Room for Progress:
The best thing about the sweet spot diet is it is flexible for progression and regression. If the client understands why foods like fruit, veg, lean meats and legumes help with their weight loss adherence they can start to work towards including more of them.
Likewise, if a client understands the mechanism of weight loss, they can learn to manage their nutrition themselves rather than relying on arbitrary rules. It is empowering to know you can manage a sensible meal at a restaurant with friends without feeling like you’re “cheating” on your diet.
Learning to personally manage adherence is how a client can make changes for life. Some days this may resemble “Super Clean Bro” some days it may resemble “Protein Mars FTW” and most of the time it may be more in the “Sweet Spot”. This is ok!
The Take Home:
We want happy, healthy clients. Missing birthday parties and meals out with friends because it’s not Paleo is not fun or healthy. Nor is struggling with obesity. As is often the case, the solution lies somewhere in the middle, our job is to find where this is for our client.