Fed up with yo-yo dieting? Emily Foster explains how a sensible weight loss plan can be best achieved through a combination of diet and exercise
If you were asked to name three popular weight loss diets, you probably wouldn’t have to think too hard. With national and international obesity rates rising, it’s no surprise that talk of weight loss diets have crept into daily conversation.
If you’re trying to lose weight, how do you choose the best diet to follow? It’s a total minefield! A diet plan offering a healthy, balanced diet with consistent physical activity and emotional support goes a long way. How do the most popular diets of the moment stack up with that approach?
“A Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or over is defined as obese„
The Paleo Diet
The Paleo Diet claims to take root in the Paleolithic era of our ancestors, spanning from 10,000 to 2.5 million years ago. This “caveman diet” is well known for being low in carbohydrate-rich foods. However, carbohydrates were likely to have been eaten in the paleolithic era, but they would have been from other sources than the foods we find in the supermarket today. What our ancestors ate would also vary based on where they lived, the current season and what they could get their hands on.
This high-protein, low carbohydrate diet excludes processed foods, dairy, wheat and other grains, potatoes, salt and refined sugar. There is no one definition of the Paleo Diet so you may spot references made to “primal paleo, normal paleo or strict paleo” depending on the book or website you are browsing.
On the plus side, the Paleo Diet encourages followers to eat fruit and vegetables which is great as most people living in the UK don’t get enough of them. The latest National Health Survey (NHS) Statistics found that only about one quarter of UK adults are eating the recommended 5-A-Day of fruit and vegetables. The diet also emphasises using healthy fats such as olive oil.
One of the downsides of the diet is that it recommends eating quite substantial amounts of meat. Eating large amounts of red meat has been linked to bowel cancer and the NHS recommends people eat no more than 70 grams of red and processed meat a day.
Many types of grains are removed from the diet, so followers miss out on the excellent source of fibre grains provide – along with their contribution to gut health.
Avoiding dairy is unnecessary unless you suffer a dairy allergy or intolerance.
The Paleo Diet tends to be quite expensive due to the amount of animal-based protein it recommends. There is also a possibility that it doesn’t provide enough nutrients, particularly calcium and iodine.
The Cambridge Diet
If you head to the Cambridge Diet website, you’ll see they walk you through six steps which you review with your Cambridge one-on-one consultant. The plan includes a variety of Cambridge Weight Plan (CWP) meal replacement products such as smoothies, soups, bars and pasta and rice dishes. To give you an idea of what the steps look like, a beginning step includes three CWP products and four pints of water. As you progress, you move to a combination of CWP products plus foods you’re preparing.
The daily average calorie count can be as low as 600 calories, which is very low. To put this in perspective, it’s recommended that you should not follow a 1,000-calorie diet, or less, for more than 12 weeks at a time. The British Dietetic Association also recommends that if you’re following a diet under 600 calories, you should seek the advice and on-going support from a healthcare professional.
When a diet cuts back on so many calories, it normally means it’s lacking in essential vitamins and minerals. It could be argued that this is less of an issue with CWP because their products are nutritionally supplemented. CWP followers receive on-going support, however if the consultant is not a suitably trained healthcare professional they may not have the expertise to manage your health conditions safely.
The weekly price of following the diet is currently listed at £48.30 a week and this includes the cost of the CWP specific products and one-to-one sessions with your consultant.
Since this diet is extremely low in calories, it may offer a quick initial loss of pounds but it’s probably not a plan you could stick with for long term weight loss.
Support is an important part of successful weight loss which is perhaps why many people opt to join group based programmes such as Slimming World. Online support and face-face group membership options are available and the cost varies depending upon your selection and tier of membership. ‘Free foods’ on this plan include lower fat dairy and selected meats and fish.
Slimming World plans are designed to help you lose weight at the recommended rate of one to two pounds (0.5-1kg) a week, which is a welcome relief to some of the other extreme calorie-chopping options out there.
The Slimming World programming doesn’t particularly focus on calories and portion sizes, which is a shame as knowledge of these are important to appreciate when trying to lose weight and keep it off.
On a more positive note, one benefit of the Slimming World plan is that it doesn’t exclude any foods and this helps ensure you don’t miss out on the vitamins and other nutrients you need for a healthy diet. Exercise is also a recommended part of the Slimming World plan and plenty of information and support that encourages you to become more active is provided.
“A healthy weight loss goal is about one to two pounds (0.5-1kg) a week„
How to choose the “right” diet for weight loss
If you’re looking for ways to lose weight and feel healthier, then you’re certainly not alone. In 2014, the World Health Organisation stated that around half of all adults were either overweight or obese. Closer to home, another survey found that nearly half of all British adults had tried to lose weight in the past 12 months and almost one third of adults were obese. To be classified as obese, you have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or over.
With the huge number of commercial diets around, it’s understandable that many of us are tempted to turn to the next new diet-of-the-day to try and lose weight. In reality, most popular diets are only, at best, a quick fix. Many lead you into a cycle where weight loss is fast but only short term and not one that you can follow for long. It can be even worse though – some can be unsafe.
Any recommended weight loss targets above one to two pounds (0.5-1kg) a week are not healthy weight loss goals. For successful weight loss, we need to use more energy than we take in, so a lower calorie intake combined with increased physical activity remains the best solution.
It’s important to remember that everyone is different, so when you’re choosing a weight loss plan consider the following:
- Is it sustainable? Can you continue to follow it over time?
- Does it provide support? If not, who could you turn to?
- Does it eliminate whole foods/food groups? If so, it may not be nutritionally sound
- What are the recommended weekly weight loss goals? Fast weight losses are not recommended
- Does it recommend regular activity? Regular activity is an important part of any successful weight loss plan
Discuss the effort and commitment required for weight loss as well as a plan with your GP, dietitian or other healthcare professional who can help you find the right plan for you. Your healthcare professional will be interested in your physical and mental wellbeing too, which are both incredibly important when you’re trying to lose weight. They can also help you decide the best way you monitor your weight and can help you stay on track.
For further, reliable weight loss advice, head to:
- Your local GP, dietitian or healthcare professional
References available upon request.
Emily Foster is a Canadian and UK registered dietitian. Founder of Glowing Potential, a nutrition and marketing consultancy, she works with businesses and the public to develop and facilitate entertaining nutrition workshops and events. Emily is an ex-retail dietitian with a love for making nutrition education fun. Twitter:@theemilycfoster