The word “diet” has gained an undeserved bad reputation over the years. What started as an innocent term to describe eating habits has become synonymous with desperate attempts to lose weight and slim down.
Certainly, I’m no nutritionist; but over the years, like many others; I’ve flirted with different diet types in an attempt to get lean and stay lean. I did copious amounts of research, and spoke to many people about what worked for them.
I’ve tried low carb-ing, calorie counting, macros tracking, and intermittent fasting. I’m going to share my personal experiences with you – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Furthermore, I’ll also discuss a few other types of diet and the research I’ve put into it. We’ll look at 5 types in total. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Why is dieting so confusing?
Losing fat is easy, theoretically, at least. The only way to lose fat is to go into a caloric deficit, which means the calories consumed is less than the calories expended. All diets work on that principle. Working out, or upping your physical activity would give you a larger buffer of calories to play with.
There are 3 macronutrients we need to become familiar with:
Our bodies require all 3 to function at optimum, and each play a specific part in how our bodies work.
Did you know that Weight Watchers is essentially calorie counting? The Weight Watchers programme assigns points to foods, and no food is off limit, as long as you stay within your goals.
With calorie counting, the first step is to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is how many calories your body requires to function, just by existing, and being at rest. Then, you calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). From there, depending on your goals, you add a percentage of calories for muscle gain, or deduct a percentage of calories for fat loss. No matter how much you want to lose, or how desperate you are, you should never go below your BMR.
Using a meal tracker like My Fitness Pal would help make calorie counting easier!
Calorie counting forces you to be more disciplined, and to really take note of what you eat. Even the tiniest cookie or potato chip counts. And if you keep sweeping those under the rug, you’ll be wondering why your fat loss isn’t working.
It allows you to eat a variety of food, without labelling anything as “bad” for you. Above all, it also teaches you to practice moderation in consumption; because no one wants to blow a whole day’s worth of calories by lunch time, right?
Calorie counting, like all things that require significant effort, can get tiring. It’s not easy entering every meal into your calorie tracker before eating, or even every chip! After some time, it’s tempting to just not log the little things.
Calorie counting can be unhealthy for people with eating disorders, or who are in recovery. You know yourself best, so please assess the state of your mental health before embarking on this diet.
Macros tracking (If It Fits Your Macros)
Macros counting is essentially like calorie counting. However, you take it a step further, by breaking down your daily caloric goal into Carbs, Protein, and Fat.
As a generic guide:
1g of carbs = 4 calories
1g of protein = 4 calories
1g of fat = 9 calories
You can split your calories any way you want – 50C/30P/20F, 40C/40P/20F, etc, according to what your goals are.
Macro tracking involves weighing out every portion of food, or when you’re a pro, eyeballing it. When you weigh out everything, or measure out everything, you’d actually be shocked by the difference in each serving compared to what it says on the container or wrapper.
There are IIFYM groups on Facebook you can join that can help you get started! They will teach you how to calculate your BMR and TDEE! They are also incredibly supportive, good with advice, and sometimes offer personal coaching by certified nutritionists.
The good: YOU CAN EAT ANYTHING THAT FITS YOUR MACROS. This was legit the part I enjoyed the most. The freedom to eat anything and everything, as long as you hit your macros at the end of the day. It’s a flexible form of dieting that teaches you healthy eating habits. You develop a better relationship with food, and start seeing it as a way to fuel your strong AF body. Nothing was off-limits, and everything was permissible. You just have to make the right choices.
The bad: It’s hard to begin. It can sound incredibly overwhelming because there are so many things to remember.
Macro tracking, like calorie counting, can be tedious.
In fact, it requires even more effort because it involves weighing out each portion. Or if you can be honest with yourself, eyeballing it.
I personally struggled with this. With consequence of the Asian culture, especially at family meals, it’s just so hard to track everything I eat. The sauce, the cooking style, and the ingredients all make a difference in the total macro count.
I also remember the days I only had protein left, with a few grams of fat, and 0g of carbs. Every day was a challenge to hit my macros, but the days on which I nailed them. I felt particularly victorious.
The ugly: Macro tracking can be unhealthy for people with eating disorders, or who are in recovery. You know yourself best, so please assess the state of your mental health before embarking on this diet.
A low carb diet is generally less strict than its disciplined cousin, Keto. In a low carb diet, you avoid sugary foods, pasta, bread, potatoes, and rice, focusing instead on whole foods like fruits and vegetables (which are also carbs!), and natural protein and fat. Eat as much as you want, but stop when you’re satisfied, before you’re stuffed.
The good: No counting is required! It’s great for people who don’t math well, and who can’t commit to counting and tracking. All you need to do is cut down on starchy carbs, and load up on the rest to feel full. In recent years, fat has been scientifically proven to NOT be the enemy it has been made out to be in the past. Fat is good for you, and your body needs a certain amount of fat to function. Certain vitamins; like vitamins A, D, E and K, and some micronutrients also need to be absorbed with fat for optimum absorption. Practicing a low carb diet may help to stabilise your blood sugar, which in turn, may stabilise your moods.
The bad: Not counting/noting what you eat may actually lead you to overindulge in proteins and fat. Because hey, carbs are the evil ones, right? So just be careful.
The fact is that our bodies and brains need carbs to function. In the early days of low carb-ing, you might find yourself being a little slower than usual. Your body will adapt in due time. But you may need to trial and error to find the sweet spot between sufficient carbs and too much carbs.
The ugly: Although a low carb diet may seem like an ideal balance between a stricter diet, and just eating anything and everything, a certain sense of self-discipline and restraint is required to not go overboard.
Recent research has also been investigating possible links between a low carb diet and coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases including stroke, and also cancer.
Please check with your doctor before trying a low-carb diet.
In our traditionally carb-heavy Asian culture, it may also be harder to low-carb, especially when eating with the family!
Keto is a stricter form of a low carb diet. In keto, a mere 20g to 50g of carbs is permitted daily, and is rich in proteins and fats.. It involves a lot of counting and tracking.
Most cells prefer to use blood sugar, which comes from carbs, as an energy source. In a Keto diet, the body is forced to break down stored fat into ketone molecules for energy, thus releasing these ketones into the bloodstream. The aim is to reach a state called “ketosis”, in which cells use these ketones until carbs are consumed again.
The good: A balanced keto diet would include meats, eggs, fish, nuts, butter, oils, seeds, and fibrous vegetables. Restricting carbs so severely will not only assist in fat loss, it will also reduce bloating. Most of us suffer from bloating when we eat foods that disagree with our bodies. But we also bloat when we consume carbs. This is because carboHYDRATES cause our bodies to retain water; which then contributes to the bloat we see at the end of each day.
Keto is a term often bandied about in certain communities with medical conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Because most PCOS warriors are predisposed to diabetes, pre-diabetic, or diabetic, they often find that being strict about their carbs consumption not only helps them to lose weight, it also reduces their PCOS symptoms, and helps them to conceive.
The bad: Long-term strict restriction of carbs may not be sustainable; because most foods do contain some carbs, at the very least. Unless of course, we’re talking about pure, whole forms of protein. People also tend to consume protein and fats in the form of low quality, processed foods, instead of whole foods. Thus the diet lacks important nutrients found in fruits and vegetables.
The ugly: Like with low-carbing, people on Keto will feel tired initially, while the body adjusts to a different energy source. Constipation is also a possibility, as the body has to deal with a sudden change in the amount of fibre consumed daily.
Many people on Keto also report having bad breath, or “fruity” breath, because the process of ketosis releases acetone, a ketone that exits the body through your breath or urine.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) involves reducing caloric consumption by restricting the hours in which you are allowed to eat.
Common types of IF practiced include:
a) 16:8 method – fast for 16 hours each day, and restricting your eating window to 8 hours, during which, you can fir 2-3 meals
b) 5:2 diet – fast for 2 days a week, in which caloric consumption is limited to 500-600 cals, and eat normally for the other days
c) Eat-stop-eat – a complete 24h fast 1 or 2 days a week, with only water, coffee, tea, or other 0 cals drinks allowed
d) Alternate day fasting – done with either 500-600 cals per day, or a complete 24h fast
When we eat, excess sugar from the digestion process is stored in our fat cells for future usage. Sugar enters our cells when insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, is released. Insulin brings the sugar into our fat cells, and stores them there. IF works by lowering our insulin levels, which causes our fat cells to release their stored sugar for use as energy. The basis of IF is to allow insulin levels to decline enough, and for long enough, for the fat to be burned off as energy.
The good: IF can be intuitive, and easy to start on. If you’re a late-riser who usually skips breakfast anyway, then just have your first meal at noon, and stop eating at 8pm.
A noteworthy point is that it is flexible. You can decide how you want to do it, and there are no restrictions on what you can eat. It would also train you to make good choices when it comes to food. As a result, binging during the eating window would defeat the purpose of IF.
IF doesn’t have to be intimidating. If you’re just starting, you can always decide to begin with a 14:10 window, and ease your way into things.
Women are generally recommended to practice 14:10, or even 15:9 daily, with these durations appearing to work best biologically.
This diet is supposed to be good for diabetes prevention. It may also improve heart health, and lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol.
The bad: The beginning can be rough. If you’re used to having a Teh C or Kopi Peng in the mornings, that’s a habit you need to kick if you set 12pm to 10pm as your eating window.
The overwhelming hunger you feel in the beginning might also lead to binging during the eating window. Self-discipline is required to ensure you don’t consume the same amount of calories, or even more during the eating window.
The ugly: Low blood sugar. People with diabetes, or are predisposed to hypoglycemia might feel dizzy, nauseated, or start shaking. Headaches, fatigue, blurred vision, or breaking out into cold sweat are other side effects.
It might also cause you more stress due to increased levels of cortisol production, and definitely does not work with other strict, restrictive diets like Keto.
If you have past experiences with eating disorders, this is also one to avoid.
Other important points to note: If you regularly take medication that requires the consumption of a meal beforehand, this is also not the diet for you. Remember, at the end of the day, the most effective diet is the one you can sustain over a long period of time.
In a Nutshell
It is more important to select a diet that practices moderation and that you can stick to for the best results. Crash diets for quick and extreme weight/fat loss often results in your weight yoyo-ing, and in the long run, could affect your metabolism adversely.
Always speak to your doctor before embarking on a diet, or consult a certified nutritionist. For best long-term results, a good diet should be supplemented with an active lifestyle.
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