Our modern diets are often saturated with processed foods, trans fats and E-numbers; coupled with our increasingly sedentary lives, our bad eating habits are contributing to a major ill health epidemic. According to the NHS report Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet—England, 2017, a shocking 58 percent of women and 68 percent of men in the UK were overweight or obese in 2015. Obesity is closely linked to severe diseases including diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and some cancers. The diet market has long infiltrated our culture and society, but which ones are the most effective in achieving weight loss and promoting healthy living in the long-term?
So-called because it claims to follow the all-natural ‘hunter-gatherer’ diet of our ancestors before the development of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. The paleo diet comprises of ‘hunted’ foods such as grass-fed meats and fish, and ‘gathered’ foods like nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Strict followers of the diet eliminate common carbohydrates such as potatoes and wheat. Advocates suggest that it aids in long-term weight loss and reduces the risk of diabetes and heart disease. However, further scientific studies are needed to substantiate these claims. While the plan encourages people to eat fruits and vegetables and reduce processed foods, some experts are concerned that eliminating essential food groups like carbohydrates may have a negative impact on health.
Slimming World has gained immeasurable popularity over the years. The organisation’s system is simple: swap high-fat foods for naturally filling low-fat options from a list of ‘Free Foods’ including rice, pasta, vegetables, fruits, lean meat and fish. The Slimming World diet is designed to help participants lose one to two pounds a week and involves weekly group meetings that offer weigh-ins, support and advice.
The 5:2 diet
In the 5:2 diet, participants may eat as they normally would for five days a week but must restrict calorie intake to 25 percent of normal consumption during the remaining two. The 5:2 diet is based on the principle of intermittent fasting which some claim helps to prevent conditions including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Be mindful that studies surrounding this type of diet are limited. Participants should also be careful to avoid deficiencies and dehydration on fast days where meals are skipped.
The Atkins diet
The Atkins diet was originally designed by physician Dr Robert Atkins. The four-phase diet is based on the principle that participants may eat foods rich in protein and fat but must limit their carbohydrate intake. The theory behind this is that in lieu of carbohydrates, the body will burn fat for energy instead. In the first phase, dieters must restrict carb intake to under 20 grams every day for the first two weeks. As time goes on, participants may slowly introduce healthy carbohydrates back into their diet. The ‘fat versus carbohydrates’ debate has been ongoing in medical communities for decades, however, and critics of the diet have suggested that its high fat allowance would negatively impact health. With this said, a 2003 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that women placed on a low-carbohydrate diet lost 2.2 times as much weight in six months compared to women placed on a low-fat calorie-controlled diet.
Back to basics
Structured diets like the ones mentioned provide easy-to-follow plans that offer a network of support. While these elements can be valuable to individual motivation, they can also be costly and unnecessary. Cut back on processed foods high in sugar and fat and increase your daily consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein. In tandem with an exercise regime, this simple approach to dieting can help to significantly reduce weight without the hefty price tag. The NHS also offers a free 12-week weight loss plan for those seeking guidance when losing weight. Participants receive an information pack for each week of the programme containing food advice and tips for maintaining weight loss.