Different diets for weight loss – which one is right for you?

In 2020, comfort food made a comeback. Google Trends data show interest in burgers, cookies and ice-cream was higher in 2020 than in 2019 and food producers worldwide reported double-digit growth in sales of the likes of cakes, custard and sugared cereals. Amid the stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 crisis, you may have sought solace in sweet and savoury treats too. Working from home, learning from home, quarantining and social distancing, you may have turned to nostalgic and indulgent foods and – with the pantry stocked up and within reach – you may have found it a little too easy to snack throughout the day.

Comfort and junk food can offer you a quick fix of happiness, but do these feel-good foods really make you feel good in the long run? We’re now in year two of the global pandemic and many of our clients crave their pre-pandemic bodies back.

If weight loss is your new year goal, it’s important to know that different diets suit different people. What works for someone else may not work for you. In fact, the wrong diet could harm your physical, mental and emotional health.

What are the different weight-loss diets and which one is right for you? IMI Naturopathic Physician and Dr Joëlle Touchette Bradford, a Hong Kong specialist in nutrition and diet tailored to support client’s optimal health and wellbeing, shares the risks and benefits of four of the most popular diets today.

The Ketogenic diet

The keto diet is a low carb, high fat eating plan that involves reducing your net carbohydrate intake and increasing your fat intake. The goal is to aim for fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day, although the exact amount would depend on your body.

Keto diet: what you can eat and what you can’t
This diet involves significantly limiting your intake of high carbohydrate foods like bananas, apples, melons, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, grains and milk. Meats, fish, seafood, cheese, low carbohydrate nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits are allowed within the 20-50g net carb limit.

The benefits of the keto diet
The ketogenic diet can help with weight loss, reducing hunger, skin health, hormonal health (particularly with PCOS), and mental clarity. It is also clinically proven to help with treating seizure disorders, including the reduction in frequency of epileptic seizures in children.

The disadvantages of the keto diet
This is an incredibly restrictive diet that is difficult to sustain. In the early days, tracking and limiting your macro nutrients requires a lot of hard work. Two to seven days in, you’ll likely experience ketosis, a process that occurs when your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to draw energy from, so burns stored fat for energy instead. This can trigger side effects like the ketogenic flu – headache, fatigue, nausea, sleepless nights, nausea and more – as well as keto breath, an unpleasant smell accompanied by a metallic taste in your mouth that’s either sweet or similar to nail polish remover.

The risks of the keto diet
Unless you are on the ketogenic diet for medical reasons, this eating approach is not recommended as a long-term plan. Keto can cause significant health risks if not rapidly and appropriately addressed. These include dehydration, constipation, and electrolyte imbalances, which can lead to cardiac arrest. This diet is not safe for people with kidney, liver or gall bladder disease, and not recommended for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, or children unless medically necessary.

The Vegan diet

There’s a difference between vegetarianism and veganism. While vegetarians and vegans both eat a plant-based diet, vegans strictly eliminate animal products in every form. They don’t eat food items derived from animals; they don’t wear animal products like leather, and they don’t use toiletries tested on animals.

Vegan diet: what to eat and cut out
The vegan diet consists of whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables and excludes meat, seafood, dairy, eggs, honey and gelatin.

The benefits of a vegan diet
A vegan diet is anti-inflammatory – it’s proven to reduce the inflammation in your body that can cause a myriad of health conditions from daily aches and pains to obesity, depression, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers. A diet rich in plant-based foods is also known to reduce cholesterol and improve skin health and hormone regulation. From an ethical perspective, it avoids cruelty to animals and lowers the carbon footprint.

The disadvantages of a vegan diet
Dining out, particularly when travelling, can be a challenge. However, Hong Kong is home to Buddhist restaurants and a growing number of mainstream restaurants that cater to the vegan diet.

The risks of going vegan
There are long-term risks of essential nutrient deficiencies namely Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids. Iron deficiency and an insufficient intake of protein can be a challenge too. These deficiencies, which can cause multiple health issues like poor immunity, anaemia, fatigue and mood changes, can be prevented with a few key tweaks.

The Paleo diet

Also known as the caveman diet, the paleo diet is a high-protein, high-fibre eating plan intended to mirror what our ancestors ate before agriculture and animal husbandry changed our diets. Processed foods and refined grains are out and wholesome foods are in.

Paleo diet: what you can eat and what you can’t
The paleo diet includes most fruits and vegetables, grass fed meats, seafood, egg, nuts, seeds and maple syrup. It avoids refined sugars, dairy, grains, legumes and nightshades (white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, cayenne pepper and paprika).

The benefits of the paleo diet
The paleo diet is anti-inflammatory. It helps to avoid a build-up of inflammation in the body that can cause multiple health issues. Some people also report improved digestion, increased energy and better mental focus.

The disadvantages of paleo
There are some dietary limitations and restrictions to the paleo diet, which can make it challenging and time-consuming (say goodbye to packaged foods) to follow long-term. However, it is doable and if you’re eating out, a lot of restaurants offer paleo-friendly options.

The risks of the paleo diet
There are no short-term risks of the paleo diet, however if you choose to adopt the paleo way for five to years or more, you can be at risk of long-term bacterial imbalance caused by a lack of whole grains. This risk can be avoided by ensuring you eat fermented foods or probiotics.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between fasting and eating. You don’t have to control what you eat; you control when you eat. Intermittent fasting (also known as Alternate day fasting) involves fasting for 24 hour every other day. Some people opt for Time Restricted eating, when you limit your eating hours. 16:8 means you fast for 16 hours and eat within an 8 hour window. 5:2 means you eat 500-800 calories on two non-consecutive days each week and eat a regular (healthy!) diet the other five days.

Intermittent fasting: what you can and can’t eat
You can eat whatever you like during your eating hours and days. However, it is recommended that you eat a balanced diet rich in vegetables and avoid junk food.
When you are fasting, you can drink tea, coffee, broths and electrolyte beverages, so long as they’re calorie-free.

The benefits of intermittent fasting
In addition to weight loss, most people report improved mood, energy and focus on the days that they fast and fewer digestive symptoms on the days they eat. If you reach ketosis (the body burns stored fat for energy) on the days that you fast, you will not feel hungry. This makes fasting an easier process.

The disadvantages of fasting intermittently
Emotionally, the restrictive nature of 24-hour intermittent fasting can take a toll, which is why it’s important to notice if you enjoy fasting or it makes you feel down.

The risks of intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting can lead to low blood pressure, hypoglycaemia, and all the risks linked to the ketogenic diet such as electrolyte imbalances. Intermittent fasting is not suitable for underweight individuals, hypoglycaemic individuals, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or children.

There are many more diets out there and if you’re looking to lose weight safely, we highly recommend you seek professional advice. It’s important to take a holistic approach before embarking on a new diet, considering factors including existing and prior medical conditions, nutritional deficiencies, intolerances, lifestyle habits and mental health. Whether you’re thinking about tweaking your current eating habits, or adopting a vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo, pescatarian or raw food diet, it’s important to know what your unique body needs to remain healthy and well.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with Dr Joëlle to help you meet your weight loss goals, please call +852 2523 7121 or connect here.

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