Diet prescriptions and trends are something almost everyone thinks about. Often to reduce weight, people flock to this or that diet in search of answers to their weight problems.
The answer is both more simple and complex than you might think. Diets are not about what to eat, but what your body needs and how you can use your intelligence and creativity to supply exactly that, without losing interest in food because you can’t eat anything that tastes good.
Most fad diets recommend specific foods, or specific food groups, telling you to avoid all others. For instance, the paleo diet recommends eating proteins and fats first followed by carbohydrates only if you still feel hungry. Why would this diet work? Because proteins are very filling but tend to be used by the body for systemic maintenance, repairing muscle tissues, etc. Fats are also very filling, and, while high in calories, provide nutrients that the body actually needs for proper organ function. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, can only be used by the body as energy, and if you do not use the energy, it gets stored as fat. Hence, this diet will, in most people, cause weight loss.
But, 2 questions must be asked here: 1) is this diet sustainable in the long run? And 2) can you actually follow it? Vegetarians would have a hard time with such diets, as would people who simply do not enjoy eating meat that much. Also, such a diet is designed to restrict carbohydrate intake. But the body’s natural response to carbohydrate-rich foods like cakes and pasta is to make you feel good. This is because it gives the primitive instinct for survival a sense of comfort. Someone who follows such a diet but relaxes for a party or family gathering and ends up eating 2 pieces of cake and a sugar-loaded cocktail ends up bingeing and falling off the diet soon after because they can’t control their cravings. So, in the long run, it is not sustainable for most people.
Such fad diets create psychological dependencies and also a schizophrenic mental state where you are eating foods that you do not like and craving things that you do.
The answer lies in the scientific approach to understanding what the human body needs.
It is quite simple. The average human body, assuming no thyroid disease, etc., is subject to thermodynamic laws of physics. That is, if energy consumed exceeds the energy spent, it will store the excess as fat, and if the energy consumed is less than what is spent, it will burn fat to compensate. Additionally, the body requires an enormous profile of different micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals, without which it will gradually fall sick and/or affect mental health. Lastly, the body requires a minimum of good fats and protein to maintain itself, typically 50 grams of fat and 80-100 grams of protein for a 2000 calorie diet.
What is essential to maintaining, gaining, or losing bodyweight is the overall caloric balance. And what is essential to maintaining bodily function is sufficient good fats and proteins. For general health and wellbeing and to protect against disease, micronutrients, phytochemicals, and various minerals in varying quantities are required. Beyond this is superstition.
So, the reality of things is that it is up to the individual to choose the right diet for him or herself. As long as target caloric balances are maintained, your weight will change as you intend. And in terms of body health and fitness, if you consume 50g of fat of which at least 25-30g are ‘good fats’ along with 60+g of protein (depending on your gender, age, and body weight) along with a daily ration of fruits and vegetables, your physical health will be in near peak condition as far as diet can help.
It is noteworthy to mention that there are numerous ‘powdered greens’ supplements available today, which contain dehydrated powders of various fruits and vegetables and can supplement a diet with fewer fruits and vegetables quite well. One significant challenge people face today is finding fruits and vegetables palatable when their taste buds are accustomed to roasted meats and other heavily flavored foods. Greens supplements can help.
To conclude, diet is about knowing your body, how it functions, and how you can support it to achieve your health, body weight, and muscle mass goals (if you are a gym-goer). It is not about this or that food being good or bad or about avoiding any food or food group in particular. It is about using knowledge and intelligence to consume what is best for you, and often that can easily include a slice of cake for dinner or a burger with fries for lunch. Learn and apply, as with all things. There is no shortcut.