There’s nothing quite like the first day of a new diet. It feels almost miraculous when you’re able to stick to it; saintly, when you’ve skipped sugar. As the days proceed, the first week can sometimes turn into torture—until you see the results you’ve been hoping for. That’s the turning point, where the past few weeks or months of discipline show results and are enough to spur you on further. It’s also a tipping point, where discipline might turn into an obsession to constantly watch the scales tip further down. A diet is meant to be a lifestyle choice—something you should be able to maintain long term, but most importantly one that doesn’t affect your body or mind negatively in the long term. “Food and you are a ‘forever lifestyle’,” as nutritionist and author of Eat. Delete., Pooja Makhija says. “Whatever you start, ask yourself if you can maintain it.”
With new diets hitting headlines every few weeks, our platter of choices is only getting larger. Some like keto are high maintenance, although those who worship at its alter beg to differ; others like intermittent fasting (IF) just demand severe discipline from you. Diets are best embarked upon after consulting doctors and/or nutritionists. They need to be customised to your specific body type, lifestyle and dietary demands. Adopting your BFF’s diet just because she lost 11kgs isn’t necessarily going to work. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. “There is no such thing as a great diet or a bad diet,” explains Makhija. “Each one’s body will react differently to a diet. What worked for a friend might be dangerous for you, because multiple factors go into what diet works for you and what doesn’t—like age, hormones, lipid profile, body fat percentage, sugar or insulin levels and so much more. Intermittent fasting might not be for you, but it might be beneficial to help reduce insulin levels for someone else,” she says.
So how does one zero down on a diet? “My mantra is to look for something that is sustainable for ‘you’ in the long term, be it a diet, skin or hair care routine, or even an exercise plan. Ask yourself when you’re starting a new diet—Can I do this forever?,” says Makhija. There’s also the fact that a diet that is changing your food intake, be it through portion control or eliminating certain food groups, will have the opposite effect the moment you stop it. “People assume going on a diet is a temporary thing. Lose the weight and then just maintain it. That’s not how it works. The moment you add the foods you weren’t having before back to your regular intake, of course the results will be reversed,” the nutritionist adds.
So what’s solution? Listen to your body, says Makhija. “We’re so attuned to the beeps on our phones that we distinguish a WhatsApp message from an email without looking. But we’ve forgotten how to listen to our bodies. Excessive hair fall, gas, constipation—these are the beeps the body is giving us.” And when it comes to the newest diet in the market, consult a professional and find out about its particular hazards before embarking on it. Read on to figure which diet might work for you, and learn about all the possible health risks to each one.
The keto diet
What it is: Like Atkins, this is a protein- and fat-rich diet that cuts back quite sharply on easy-to-digest carbs. Goodbye bread and sodas, hello steak and bulletproof coffee. The idea is for your body to burn fat instead of carbs to lose weight. This is done by depriving it of carbs and sugar, which forces the body to turn to reserved fat for energy (called ketosis). It’s not necessarily a health-oriented diet, although some say it helps with epilepsy and diabetes. It is, however, more focused on weight loss.
Look out for: Constipation or digestion. Keto flu is a condition you might encounter in the first week of going on the diet—marked by headaches, weakness, fatigue, all of which are temporary. Low carb diets can also lead to kidney stones or high acid levels in the body. A minimum of three months is the recommended time frame for being on this diet, but because it involves such a drastic change in eating patterns, there is a large possibility that the results will reverse once you’re off it.
Intermittent fasting (IF)
What it is: One of the more popular eating plans today, IF covers a number of different approaches to diets under one blanket plan—fasting. There are different ways to fast—some fast every alternate day, some two days a week, others fast every day for 16 or 12 hours at a stretch. Fasting periods usually allow only water, green tea or black coffee. It’s easy to adapt because you’re not changing much except sharpening your will and control.
Look out for: Long periods of not eating anything can result in your body being in an acidic state, which isn’t ideal as it lowers your immunity and increases the risk of migraines. For some, long periods of fasting can also affect their hormonal balance, leading to more stress in the body. If you have PCOS or are going through menopause, this could make things worse for you.
Dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH)
What it is: It includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. You are also allowed some fish, poultry and legumes, while nuts and seeds are to be consumed just a few times a week. This isn’t a weight-loss programme, although it is very beneficial for those with hypertension. It focuses on controlling salt intake, ranging from 1,500mg (three to four teaspoons) to 2,300mg of sodium a day. Additionally, DASH can also helps to prevent osteoporosis, cancer, heart diseases, strokes and diabetes.
Look out for: While beneficial for your health, this one is not easy to maintain, especially if you have an active social life. Also, it’s not designed for weight loss specifically.
The Mediterranean diet
What it is: Essentially, this is a low fat diet that advocates eating plant-based foods, seafood, dairy, poultry and eggs and occasionally red meat. You’re allowed whole grains, beans, herbs, spices and nuts (although restricted to a small handful because they’re high in fat). Dessert is frowned upon, and processed food is definitely tossed out. There’s a good deal of inch loss that can result from being regular with this diet. It’s also relatively easy to maintain in the long term.
Look out for: It’s very easy to overeat on this diet because portion control hasn’t been defined clearly—which kind of defeats the very purpose of it. Although fish is such an important component of the diet, check the source of your daily pescetarian intake, as the toxins and risks of seafood contamination have risen sharply.
The paleo diet
What it is: Somewhere along the way, we decided that eating like our ancestors from the Palaeolithic era (2.5 million to 10,000 years ago) would be a healthy choice. This is based on pure conjecture of what Stone Age man was eating, never mind the fact that the modern digestive system evolved over centuries and does not resemble that of our paleo pals. It boils down to the consumption of lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds—all that could be easily hunted and gathered. As with any controlled intake of food, this does result in weight loss if you can plan and maintain your schedule.
Look out for: Two big omissions in this diet are grains and dairy. While both aren’t ideal for weight loss, their omission also means negating the intake of valuable nutrients like fibre and calcium. It may result in Vitamin D deficiencies affecting bone health.