If you're tired of failing on diets and beating yourself up for not seeing results, it's time to rethink your strategy. Stop wasting money and time on nonsense and false promises made by companies just looking to make a buck off your weight loss woes, and turn to trusted advice. How weight loss works and what you need to eat to achieve your goals is not as complicated one might think. The hardest part is figuring out how to do it consistently.
Don't know where to start? We got you.
We've taken a look at the latest diet trends (beyond the results you see on Instagram) and are diving into what the science says to give you the facts. Here's the complete breakdown of the 30 most well-known diet programs and how to decide which is the right for you.
- How Weight Loss Works
- How to Choose the Best Diet
- Quick Weight Loss Diets
- Detox Diets
- Low Carb Diets
- Health Focused Diets
- Lifestyle Diets
- What is the Best Diet for Weight Loss?
How Weight Loss Works
Before diving into the array of diets to choose from, it's essential to first understand the basics of how weight loss and fat loss work.
Contrary to what the Internet and self-proclaimed nutrition gurus like to tell us, this process is not as complex or confusing as we make it out to be. The science is simple and rooted in calorie control.
You eat food to get calories for energy. If you eat more energy than you burn, you gain weight. If you eat the same, you weight stays the same. And if you eat less, you lose weight. That's it.
Learn exactly how many calories you should be eating a day to lose weight with this simple online TDEE calculator.
There is no secret, special food, pill, or metabolism hack that overrules this basic law of physics. Understanding this concept, along with how to put it into practice, is the first crucial step in any successful weight-loss journey, and a concrete pillar for your overall happiness along the way.
What is Evidenced-Based Nutrition?
Research matters. It's pretty easy for anyone to pull one piece of information from a small study and make a claim about potential benefits. But in order for something to be proven, or even respected in the science community, thousands of peer-reviewed research articles are necessary to validate the claim.
In other words, one study is not proof.
Following science-based nutrition advice is your best bet for getting results and transforming your health and wellbeing for the long haul. Don't get caught up in the noise!
How to Choose the Best Diet for Weight Loss
Here is where things get the most confusing for a lot of us.
While a calorie deficit is the answer to losing weight, how you get there can differ from one person to the next. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. What works for some doesn't necessarily work for everyone. You've got to find your own way.
Many diets claim to have the answer to lasting results, but the truth is, the best diet for you is the one you can stick to the longest.
Unless you are in this for fast results that disappear as quickly as they came, consistency is the name of the game. If you can create a new habit or behavior change and repeat it enough, lasting change is inevitable.
So as you root through the options below, keep this one thing in mind: Does this seem like something I would enjoy doing forever?
We craft meal plans that help you keep the weight off for good. Ready to start your transformation?
Quick Weight Loss Diets
Let's dive right in and kick this off with the most radical of selections - the ones that tend to promise you extreme weight loss in a very short amount of time. Also commonly referred to as "crash diets".
Apple Cider Vinegar Diet
Okay, this one is not technically a crash diet, but it's included in this section as it still falls under the list of more unusual approaches to losing weight.
While exact dosing recommendations vary, there is a theory that drinking 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before or with meals can support weight loss.
Many believe the "mother," or combination of bacteria and yeast in the vinegar, is the reason for many of its proclaimed benefits. While the "mother" portion is technically a probiotic, there isn't any research to substantiate these claims.
There also aren't any studies linking apple cider vinegar specifically to weight loss, but there are some studies linking vinegar in general.
In one study, participants on a calorie-controlled diet who added 1 to 2 tablespoons of vinegar to their diet lost 2 to 4 pounds more over twelve weeks than those who did not (5). Another smaller study discovered vinegar consumption promoted greater feelings of fullness after eating. However, this was mainly because the vinegar increased nausea (6).
- Apple cider vinegar is essentially a calorie-free food, and an easy option to include as a part of any healthy diet.
- There is no research looking specifically at apple cider vinegar in humans to support its role in weight loss. Additionally, the existing studies referenced are small and limited.
- Because apple cider vinegar is very acidic, drinking it straight can damage your tooth enamel, hurt your throat, and upset your stomach.
- The only reason this approach appears to work is due to decreased appetite - resulting in decreased calorie intake overall. Meaning, there is likely nothing special about the vinegar that causes fat loss.
Including vinegar is probably not an effective approach to weight loss, especially if calorie control is ignored. The very limited research only shows a modest weight loss amount. Not to mention, the potential for nausea and sensitive teeth.
That being said, including a small amount of apple cider vinegar or other types of vinegar in your recipes (not drinking it straight) isn't likely to be harmful and is fine if you enjoy the flavor of it.
Cabbage Soup Diet
The concept of this diet requires you to eat mostly cabbage soup (veggie broth) for roughly seven days to promote fast and drastic weight loss - with results advertised as high as 10 to 15 pounds of weight loss in a week.
However, this approach only works because it causes a significant decrease in calorie consumption. Plus, there is no research looking at cabbage soup and whether or not there is something special about it for this purpose.
- You can cut a large number of calories in a short amount of time which will cause the numbers on the scale to decrease.
- You can only lose so much body fat in a week, and a lot of the weight loss from this approach is likely water weight.
- Cabbage soup is not very nutrient-dense, and eating only low-calorie soup is essentially starving your body, so this diet is not recommended for long-term results.
- Soup broth can be high in sodium which may not be the best dietary approach for everyone, especially those with blood pressure issues.
This is not a sustainable or recommended approach to losing weight. Once you start eating again, you will likely gain all of the weight back (since a lot of it was water weight) - especially if you go back to your previous calorie intake.
Fat burners are supplements or natural food products used to increase your rate of fat oxidation (fat burning) and are advertised as a way to increase quick weight loss by allowing your body to burn more calories.
However, it is not really possible to hack your body's metabolism and drastically increase your body's ability to burn fat in a safe manner. Additionally, most of the research looking at fat burners is mixed or only suggests minimal weight loss benefits - increasing calorie burn around 50 calories per day or less (7,8,9).
- Natural "fat-burning foods" like caffeine and green tea don't necessarily boost your metabolism, but they might support weight loss in other ways like reducing appetite and increasing energy levels.
- Fat burning supplements are associated with serious side effects in some people like increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, anxiety, headaches, and dizziness (10,11,12,13,14,)
- Other common issues include nausea, constipation, abdominal pain, and headache.
Don't waste your time or your money on these supplements. They likely don't work and have also been linked to dangerous health issues.
The HCG diet combines the use of calorie restriction and hormones - specifically human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone produced by pregnant women that is thought to reduce appetite and increase metabolism. But this is not backed by research.
The meal plan itself consists of only 500 to 800 calories a day with restricted fat and sugar intake. HCG diet plans typically recommend two meals a day consisting of lean protein and complex carbohydrates like fruit, veggies and whole grains.
There have not been any studies since the 1950’s that have shown this method to be effective for weight loss, and promising early studies have since been refuted and heavily criticized by the science community.
- Severe calorie restriction is likely to result in weight loss.
- Just because hormones are naturally produced by your body, does mean it is safe to inject them.
- A 2016 review in the journal of dietary supplements outlining the research on HCG for weight loss raises strong concerns around versions of HCG that exist on the market that have been linked to growth, metastasis, and resistance to therapy in many cancers (15).
- The FDA considers the sale of HCG supplements for weight loss illegal and reckless (16).
Nope, just nope. This diet is not only dangerous, it's also not an effective approach to weight loss outside of calorie control. Eating a very low-calorie diet can speed up your results, but using hormones in conjunction is just not necessary.
Moreover, the extreme calorie restriction is likely not sustainable long term for most people.
The military diet is a three-day eating plan followed by a four-day rest. This pattern is repeated until you reach your goal weight with claims that you can lose as much as 10 pounds in a week!
This diet goes by several other names as well, including the navy diet and the army diet, but it is not actually associated with any military or government institution.
During the three-day diet, you are required to eat as low as 1,100–1,400 calories per day, with three meals and no snacks. The meals consist of simple foods like peanut butter and toast, tuna, hard-boiled eggs fruits, veggies, and even ice cream, along with other common foods found in a military dining hall.
During the four-day rest period, restrictions are loosened, but you are still required to limit calories (less than 1,500) and aim for a healthy meal plan overall.
Advocates of this diet proclaim that the food combinations help increase fat-burning abilities, but there is no research to support this.
- Calorie restriction is an effective approach.
- The plan uses a somewhat balanced approach to healthy eating with simple, whole foods that require little culinary skills.
- The diet is limited to only certain foods and likely deficient in essential nutrition.
- The calorie amount may not be the best for everyone, especially those that need more calories in the first place. You can check your daily needs using an online calorie calculator.
- This diet is likely not suitable long term
While this diet is probably not harmful and will result in weight loss for some people, it doesn't mean it's the best solution either.
There is nothing special about this diet outside of the calorie deficit - eating certain combinations of foods has not been shown to increase weight loss or provide any special benefits. So, if you're not into the meal plan, you're likely better off cutting calories with foods you enjoy eating.
Additionally, the calorie amount is a blanket recommendation, when it is well understood that our individual needs can differ. Instead of subscribing to what may work for someone else, find your own daily calorie needs and start from there.
Weight Loss Shakes
There are multiple versions of weight-loss shake programs out there with everything from Slim-Fast to Herbalife. Protein shakes can also be bucketed in this category if they are being used to drop pounds.
The concept around each brand of shake is fairly similar—get nearly complete nutrition in a low-calorie shake designed to fill you up and help you lose weight (typically through meal replacement strategies).
This works for some people because a 200 - 300 calorie shake is often significantly less than the usual breakfast, lunch, or dinner they're replacing.
- Shakes can be fairly nutrient-dense, especially if fruits, veggies, and quality proteins are used.
- They tend to taste really good and make sticking to them enjoyable.
- They are convenient, easy to prep, and can be taken on the go.
- If you ignore your intake and just rely on the shakes to do their magic, it is still possible to gain weight and drink too many calories.
- This approach doesn't teach you how to control calories through actual meals for long-term success.
- For some people, the calories they drink may not register as strongly as the ones they eat, leading to increased hunger.
- Some blends are loaded with added fiber, herbal mixtures, or other ingredients that can cause GI issues.
If you really enjoy the occasional shake over a meal, then go for it! But don't ignore the need for balancing your entire eating habits in general. And if you don't enjoy shakes or they make you feel hungry, well there isn't anything magical about them in the first place and you don't have to drink them to reach your goals.
Detox diets or cleanses have become a popular way to clean up your diet and reset your health through fasting, teas, herbal supplements, etc. However, there is no research to back these methods up, and some approaches might be harmful to your health.
Regardless of popular opinion, there are no "toxins" in your food that your body needs to detox from. Additionally, detox diets have not been shown to do a better job than your liver which acts as your natural internal detox machine.
Moreover, overhauling your diet and adding too many restrictions is not a sustainable approach to healthy eating for most people. And some detox supplements may be dangerous to take, no matter how "natural" they sound.
Juice cleanses are often sold with a series of specific juices you are supposed to drink during a fast to detox your body and kick start weight loss.
Not eating and solely relying on juice likely cuts a ton of calories and is comparable to a fast.
- Fruits and veggies are very nutrient-dense foods.
- Veggie juice in particular can be fairly low calorie, and if done right, a juice diet is one way to cut a significant amount of calories out of your diet.
- The act of juicing removes the fiber from the fruit and veggies.
- Juice tends to be a very poor source of protein and healthy fats - both of which support healthy weight loss.
- Can be lacking in certain essential nutrients not typically found in fruits and vegetables, like calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
- You may feel pretty weak, tired, and hungry.
- Drinking only high-carb juices can cause poor blood sugar control.
You do not need to detox your body. Just increasing your intake of healthy foods is more than enough to get your body on the right track.
Juice fasts are highly restrictive and hard to stick to, not to mention they teach you nothing about eating well after the cleanse ends. Thus, they are probably a poor choice for lasting weight loss.
The master cleanse is as close as it comes to not eating anything.
This approach involves eating no food and drinking a mixture designed to spike your metabolism and decrease hunger - although there is zero research to back up these claims.
The drink itself is water mixed with maple syrup, lemon, and cayenne pepper. It is advised you drink it at least six times a day and follow the cleanse for a minimum of 10 days for best results.
- Eating nothing cuts a lot of calories.
- There might be some potential benefits to fasting. Some people find it increases mental focus and clarity, however, the research has not proven this.
- Starvation. You are literally eating nothing for more than a week, which is not only painful to endure but not safe for everyone.
- Lacking in almost all nutrition.
- You might feel weak, tired, and hungry.
- Teaches you nothing about long-term weight loss success.
While fasting is practiced around the world for various reasons, including religion, it is probably not the best approach to weight loss. Fasting to lose weight is essentially the practice of starving yourself to cut as many calories as humanly possible. And unless you never plan on eating again (which would ultimately result in you dying of starvation), it's not a sustainable solution. Additionally, it doesn't teach you how to manage your intake once you bring food back into the picture.
Low Carb Diets
Cutting carbs for weight loss has become extremely popular in recent years and a number of diet programs explore various ways to achieve a low-carb lifestyle.
While there is a growing body of research suggesting a low-carb diet may be more beneficial than low-fat diets for some people, scientists still aren't clear whether it is the macro balance or types of foods included in the diet that support losing weight (17,18,19,20).
Regardless, weight loss from low-carb diets still seems to be due to decreased calorie intake, not from the actual lack of carbs.
There is also quite a diversity of carb choices available, ranging from vegetables to table sugar. And they are not created equal. Often times when people cut carbs they cut out a lot of excess calories from "extra foods" like snacks, desserts, sugary drinks, etc. But if you go too far and try to eliminate all carbs, you're probably cutting a ton of essential nutrition as well.
The Atkins Diet is often described as the original low-carb eating plan, developed in the 1960's by cardiologist Robert C. Atkins. The plan restricts carbohydrates in various phases while emphasizing protein and fats.
Phase 1 lasts two weeks and is the most strict, starting at 20 grams of carbohydrates or less. The diet then advances through phases 2 - 4, allowing you to incorporate more fruits, nuts, and veggies and slowly increase your healthy carb intake to around 50 grams a day.
- Some research suggests this diet may be an effective approach to losing weight (23).
- Higher protein intake aids in fat loss by decreasing appetite, and supporting lean muscle mass.
- Offers a scaled approach to reintroducing carbohydrates and a "maintenance" approach in phase four that supports more long-term success.
- Cutting carbs is not best for everyone, especially active individuals who rely on this energy source.
- This approach is very restrictive and may be hard to follow.
- Eliminating carbs too quickly might cause headaches, mood swings, dizziness, fatigue, and increased cravings.
- May lead to higher intakes of saturated fats and processed red meats that can negatively impact your health.
In reality, most of us don't lead very active lives and don't need as many carbs as we consume on a regular basis. Thus, low-carb diets can be effective and manageable for a lot of people.
It really depends on how this type of diet makes you feel. If you feel better on lower-carb diets and find the lifestyle enjoyable, go for it! And as long as you maintain your calorie intake consistently, adding in the occasional high-carb food won't ruin your progress or wreak havoc on your diet.
But if you really love carbs and how they make you feel, there is no need to restrict them to such low levels to lose weight. It is entirely possible to succeed on other eating plans you do enjoy.
The carnivore diet is just as it sounds - the most intense of all low-carb eating plans, with a diet composed entirely of animal products. This includes meat, fish, eggs, and certain dairy products.
Since carbohydrates come from anything that grows out of the ground (plants), a carnivore diet is almost entirely carb-free. Advocates of this lifestyle say a carnivore meal plan can help cure depression, anxiety, diabetes, and arthritis, among other health conditions.
Never mind that there is no research to back up these claims, but this diet was invented by a former American orthopedic doctor, Shawn Baker, whose medical license was revoked due to competency concerns (24).
- Increases your protein intake and decreases your intake of sugar-sweetened foods.
- Extremely restrictive and hard to stick to long term.
- Lacking in nutrition like fiber, healthy fats, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and other beneficial nutrients mostly found in plant foods.
- May lead to higher intakes of saturated fats and processed red meats that can negatively impact your health.
This method is not recommended and there is no research to suggest that any potential benefits outweigh the negatives behind an all meat, zero-carb lifestyle.
Not to mention, it is basically impossible to get all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs solely from animal products, and any program that relies on supplements to meet your basic health needs is probably not the best call.
The keto diet sounds new, but it has been around since the 1920's as a dietary approach to treating epilepsy in children.
This style of eating is unique in that it uses a macronutrient ratio designed to switch your body from its primary source of energy - sugars (aka carbs) - to fatty acids through a state called ketosis. Which, in turn, is thought to support fat loss and more metabolic efficiency.
Disclaimer: ketosis is not required for you to burn fat. Just cutting calories can help you do this as well!
On keto, the majority of your calories will come from fats (roughly 60 to 75%), followed by moderate protein intake and very little carbs (less than 5% of calories).
The early studies on a ketogenic meal plan for fat loss are promising, but so far, have not shown that ketosis is more effective than counting calories. Thus, the most effective way to lose weight on this plan still requires you to track your daily food and beverage intake.
- Might be a great approach for those that prefer rich, savory tasting food and have a hard time sticking with a traditional, lean meal plan.
- May help reduce appetite and support improved energy levels (once ketosis is achieved) (25).
- Potential benefits of low carb diets for those with diabetes.
- Can feel restrictive and may be difficult to stick to.
- There isn't much research looking at long-term adherence.
- The whole keto flu thing.
- May lead to higher intakes of saturated fats and processed red meats that can negatively impact your health.
- High probability of nutrient deficiencies if you aren't choosing nutrient-dense, low-carb veggies often.
- Keto cheat days can feel more drastic by messing with your blood sugar levels and ketosis.
This lifestyle is not the right fit for everyone, especially active individuals that rely on carbs for fuel (ketones don't always cut it). It can be challenging to stick to and if you don't have a decent understanding of nutrition, meal prepping your own keto meals can cause you to miss out on important nutrients.
However, for those that can't seem to stomach traditional diets, upping the fat intake (while maintaining calorie control) can be an effective way to kick start weight loss. This is because the best diet for you, is one you can stick to! Whether or not its the right path long term remains.
Lastly, it doesn't seem that ketosis is necessary to reap the potential benefits of low-carb eating. So if you are starting keto, focus on hitting your daily calorie goal getting good nutrition to get the most out of it.
Want to crush your keto meal prep? Grab this free Meal Prep Toolkit for Keto. Complete with custom macros recommendations, food lists, and menu planning templates.
The South Beach Diet, named after its origin in Miami, is a less restrictive low-carb plan that does not require carb counting. Created by cardiologist Arthur Agatston, this method emphasizes higher protein and fat intake along with overall healthy eating.
Instead of eliminating carbs, the focus is on including more quality whole grains and fiber-rich options over added sugars and more processed options. In fact, most people will still get 45 to 65% of their calories from carbs on this plan - making it a very modest low-carb plan.
Additionally healthy, unsaturated fats and lean proteins are prioritized over saturated fat and animal fats.
Similar to Atkins, a three-phased approach is used. In phase 1, carb foods are cut back drastically, then healthy carbs are reintroduced in phase 2, followed by a maintenance phase to set you up long term.
- Emphasizes healthy food choices.
- Uses a long-term approach for maintenance.
- Is less restrictive than other low-carb plans.
- Does not work unless calorie control is used.
- Phase one may cause undesirable side effects for those that cut carbs too quickly, such as cravings, mood swings, decreased energy, headaches, etc (26).
- Does not teach you how to incorporate cheat meals/unapproved foods when it inevitably occurs.
- Does not consider individual macronutrient needs that can differ from one person to the next.
In reality, there is nothing groundbreaking about the South Beach Diet and its approach is not that different than a generally healthy eating plan, besides the fact it is bucketed into phases and uses food lists. Thus, this may be a fairly effective method for weight loss if you enjoy the foods and find it easy to stick to your daily calorie goals.
The Zone diet is really one of the first macro diets that became popular—with a 40% carb, 30% protein, and 30% fat approach.
It was developed by an American biochemist, Dr. Barry Sears, and is rooted in trying to reduce inflammation in the body to promote quick fat loss by putting your body into a so-called "zone". However, there isn't any research to back up these claims around inflammation and whether this "zone" exists (27).
Portion sizes are determined using a hand-eye method (basically eyeballing it and measuring servings against the size of your hand), or using zone blocks - which is really just a fancy way of counting set serving sizes for each macro food group.
As for food choices. carbs should be low glycemic, fats should be high in monounsaturated fat, proteins should be lean,
- Emphasizes many healthy, nutritious food choices.
- Teaches portion control.
- High protein intakes may support losing weight (28).
- Can be somewhat restrictive if eliminating many fruits and other healthy high-carb foods.
- Does not consider individual macronutrient needs based that can differ from one person to the next.
Again, as far as we know, there is nothing magical about this "zone," the approved foods, or the macro balance that will cause you to lose more weight than if you followed any calorie-reduced diet. Additionally, the relationship between food and inflammation is not well understood, and the science behind the zone claims is not really there.
That being said, using portion control and macro balance as a key focus can be a great way to learn how to balance your overall calories on any diet.
There is a certain sector of healthy eating emerging that mimics something close to a "healing diet" (or any pattern of eating designed to transform your health, allow your body to function better, and lead to weight loss).
The science surrounding many of these diets is shaky at best. This is exactly why it's no surprise they tend to contradict each other. In one diet legumes cause inflammation whereas in another they prevent disease.
Not to mention, most of these approaches are not intended to promote weight loss.
AIP stands for paleo autoimmune protocol. It is a much stricter version of paleo, combining the Paleolithic method with food lists designed to reduce inflammation and autoimmune conditions caused by something called a "leaky gut".
First, "leaky gut" is not a medical term. Not to mention, your intestines are designed to be "leaky" - this is how you absorb and digest your food. What most people are referring to when they talk about a leaky gut is increased intestinal permeability as a result of injured or inflamed intestinal walls, usually from heavy alcohol use, food allergies, or other chronic diseases that impact your gut health like chron's disease, celiac, etc (29).
Regardless, the focus and research surrounding overall gut health continue to grow and we understand that a healthy diet likely plays a role in inflammation and gut health - how exactly is not yet understood (30,31,32).
AIP is technically designed as an elimination diet to treat possible food causes of gut irritation and not as a weight loss program. But some will lose weight just from cutting out a lot of processed foods and entire food groups like grains, helping them restrict energy intake naturally.
The basic eating principles for AIP include avoiding the following:
- Processed foods
- Refined sugars
- Processed oils
- Nuts and seeds
- Nightshade vegetables
- Artificial sweeteners
- Emulsifiers and food thickeners
- Emphasizing more nutritious, whole foods can improve your health in many ways.
- Little scientific backing.
- Cuts out many healthy foods.
- Very restrictive and hard to follow for longer periods.
- Not designed for weight loss.
- Does not teach portion control or balance that includes "cheat foods".
Unless you are suffering from digestive issues and your doctor agrees an elimination diet may be a good starting place to figure out what is irritating you, eliminating so many things from your meals is not recommended.For weight loss, it is unlikely you will be able to stick to such a strict plan for more than a few weeks to see results. Additionally, there is no scientific reasoning to do so in order to drop pounds.
The Alkaline diet stems from the theory that you can alter the PH of your body through food—increasing or decreasing your susceptibility to disease. This includes eating less acid-forming foods like meat, poultry, fish, grains, eggs, and alcohol, and consuming more alkaline foods such as fruits, nuts, legumes, and vegetables.
Food choices may alter PH levels in your urine, but it doesn't exactly translate into your blood PH or negatively impact your health. If the PH of your blood were to change outside of its normal range (7.36–7.44), it would be fatal - and this only occurs in serious medical conditions like ketoacidosis (32,33).
Additionally, research suggests that cancer and other diseases are not restricted to acidic only environments. So even if you could regulate your body's PH in this way, it doesn't mean you reduce your risk of all disease (34,35).
- Promotes eating more nutritious, whole foods.
- Little science backing to these claims.
- Cutting out meat, dairy, seafood, eggs and grains can cause you to miss out on beneficial nutrition.
- Not designed to promote weight loss and no focus on calorie or portion control.
It is not really possible to change your body's PH levels through foods and beverages (that we know of). However, this diet does encourage more nutritious, whole foods which can benefit your health in many different ways.
If looking to follow this plan to lose weight, it does not hold any advantage over tracking your calories.
Anti Inflammatory Diet
Inflammation is a natural process your body uses to heal itself from harm. It can be good, in terms of wound healing, or bad, in terms of chronic disease.
Thus, the anti-inflammatory diet was born - promoting high intakes of proclaimed anti-inflammatory foods, like fruits and veggies, and decreased consumption of supposed pro-inflammatory foods like added sugar, fried foods, and red meat.
The problem is that it's not well understood how food impacts inflammation exactly. In fact, most people have no idea what inflammation is or how it works and scientists are just beginning to understand the connections between metabolism and the immune system.
Regardless, eating a nutritious, balanced diet does still play a major role in improving and maintaining good health (38).
There also isn't any research to suggest that inflammation plays a part in your ability to lose weight. It's more like weight loss itself (through eating less) can reduce inflammation markers, potentially more so than food choices (39,40).
- Celebrated anti-inflammatory foods tend to be nutrient-rich and support better health.
- Cleaning up your diet can often help cut out excess calories.
- More research is needed.
All nutritious, whole foods we are designed to eat are likely anti-inflammatory.
Your health is the product of everything you’ve done thus far in your life and eating certain foods will not reverse/combat inflammation, aging, or disease, or overhaul your diet and lifestyle.
Following any nutritious diet, including an AIP diet, is certainly going to have some potential health benefits. However, if you are looking to drop pounds, the amount of food you eat is still more important than the type.
Low FODMAP Diet
There is a certain strain of carbohydrates found in a variety of foods that have recently been linked to potential digestive issues in some people - specifically those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (41,42).
FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols) are a type of pre-biotics notorious for causing bloating, gas, and diarrhea. A FODMAP diet uses elimination and reintroduction to determine which of these specific types of foods are causing the issue.
However, this doesn't apply to everyone and it likely won't help you debloat or "get a flat belly" if you don't have IBS. It's also not an effective approach for weight management since it has little to do with portion control.
- May be beneficial for those diagnosed with IBS.
- Does not focus on food quantity or nutrition in any way.
If you are suffering from GI distress, speak with your doctor before trying any elimination diet on your own. These diets can be restrictive and hard to follow, causing you to miss out on beneficial nutrition.
Additionally, elimination diets like this aren't designed to help you lose weight.
The MIND diet is a mash-up of Mediterranean and DASH diets and stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Researchers designed the MIND eating plan with the intention to support brain health and reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's (43).
It emphasizes high amounts of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets have been heavily supported by research as a way to promote good heart health and they may also support weight loss through a balanced meal plan (44,45). Regardless, a MIND diet will only result in pounds lost with controlled portions.
- Emphasizes a nutritious, balanced approach to eating backed by science.
- May support brain health and heart health.
- Uses food lists and suggested servings to emphasize portion control.
- Still need to count calories.
Although not necessarily designed for weight management, eating a healthy balanced meal plan like the MIND diet can support your fitness goals by increasing your nutrition intake. Not to mention both the DASH and Mediterranean diets have been used successfully in weight loss studies.
This method could be a great way to improve your health and support losing weight if portion control is followed.
The following programs are bucketed into a category I like to call "lifestyle" because the focus is less on quick results and more on changing your eating habits for the long haul. Moreover, a lot of these plans also take into consideration improving overall health and wellbeing, not just weight loss.
You may find that each of these diets are really just variations of one another. And that's because healthy eating isn't a great mystery. We know and have always known that nutrient-dense whole foods are good for your health.
Where they really differ is in the claims they make and whether or not they can be truly backed up by science.
Blood Type Diet
Eating for your blood type became popular more than 20 years ago and is based on the philosophy that different blood types are linked to our ancestors' genetic traits, including which type of food they thrived on.
There are four blood types and each is associated with a different suggested eating pattern.
- Type A - mostly plants, with no red meat.
- Type B- plants, some dairy, and certain meats (everything except chicken and pork). No wheat, corn, lentils, and tomatoes.
- Type AB: seafood, tofu, dairy, beans and grains. No kidney beans, corn, beef or chicken.
- Type O: meat, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables. Limit grains, legumes and dairy.
Research does suggest a possible link between blood type and risk for certain diseases, however, there are no studies indicating that what you eat plays a role (46). Additionally, the claims that eating for your blood type can help you lose weight, are not backed by any science.
- Emphasizes nutritious, whole foods
- Little to no scientific backing
- Eliminates some nutritious foods for certain blood types
- Doesn't consider portion control or personal health needs
Besides the fact that there is no research to support this approach, we are much more diverse in our personalized health needs than our blood types can predict. This diet does not account for individual health conditions, food allergies, fitness needs, or other factors that can determine what is truly healthy for each of us.
That being said, there isn't any harm in trying this diet. If you are curious about eating for your blood type, go for it. Just remember to pay attention to what makes you feel good, your taste preferences, and calorie needs to be successful.
Clean eating is an approach that involves focusing on more whole foods while eliminating or cutting back on processed foods and artificial ingredients.
While there are no "dirty" foods that are unsafe to consume, there are some potential benefits to cleaning up your diet in this way.
There is a small amount of research that supports the use of quality food choices in promoting more weight loss over calorie control alone, but more research is needed to understand exactly what is going on (47,48).
We do know that whole foods tend to be more nutritious than processed, and in some cases can help you cut out excess calories from added sugar and fats. Additionally, following a nutritious diet may help you manage your hunger, mood, and food cravings (49,50,51).
- Cutting out processed foods and increasing your intake of fresh fruits and veggies can be a great way to support your health and potentially weight loss.
- Can require a drastic change in eating habits for some people.
Cutting out processed foods and increasing your intake of fresh fruits and veggies can be a great way to support your health and potentially weight loss through good nutrition. You just don't have to restrict everything all at once, especially if your eating habits aren't that great from the start.
Focus on hitting your daily calorie goal and adding in more nutritious foods that you enjoy.
Want to kick start your ideal clean eating meal plan now? Use this free Meal Prep Toolkit for Clean Eating - complete with daily calorie recommendations, food lists, and menu planning templates.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and a DASH diet is commonly used in individuals who suffer from high blood pressure.
A DASH eating plan restricts high sodium foods while promoting high-potassium foods and nutrient-rich foods that support heart health like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins.
- Promotes intake of nutritious foods
- Uses calorie control and strategic food portioning
- Promotes heart health
- Backed by research
- Requires some meal planning and basic understanding of nutrition to follow
A DASH diet is a nutritious, balanced approach to improving your heart health and supporting weight loss for many people.
However, if you aren't in the habit of measuring and portioning out all your meals, you can still get results by tracking your overall daily intake and resorting to more DASH approved foods.
Intermittent fasting is really just a fancy term for your daily eating pattern. It involves restricting your intake to only certain time periods each day and building your workouts around these eating windows accordingly.
For example, many people will use the 16:8 method, where they fast for 16 hours (usually overnight and the following morning) and then are allowed to eat during an 8-hour window. Other versions involve full-day fasts like the 5:2 method, where you fast for two days per week.
It is theorized that skipping meals in the morning and working out fasted may help you burn fat more efficiently. However, there isn't any research to suggest that when you eat or how often you eat has a big impact on your ability to lose body fat (54,55,56,57,58).
No surprise here, fasting and restricting your eating can help you cut calories more easily, which is exactly how people get results with this approach. And likewise, it is also possible to gain weight on these diets if you overdo it when you do sit down to eat.
- Might help cut calories.
- Provides a routine to follow that might help build habits/help you stay consistent.
- Does not focus on food quality and nutrition needs.
- No emphasis on portion control or calorie intake directly.
- Working out fasted is not desirable for everyone.
- Skipping meals may increase hunger levels, mess with your mood, and cause overeating at your next meal.
There is nothing special about the act of fasting or intermittent fasting (besides calorie restriction) that promotes more weight loss than other approaches.
If you're someone who would benefit from some structure or routine when it comes to your eating, something like intermittent fasting might help get you set up on a better eating schedule to help you cut calories.
But on the flipside, if you find this style really messes with your appetite control, energy levels, mood, etc, you might just want to stick to your normal eating routine and track your daily intake.
The Mediterranean diet follows an eating pattern similar to the types of foods one would find in countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea—like fish, olives, tomatoes, fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and small amounts of meat, dairy, and wine.
Through high intake of mostly nutrient-rich, whole foods, the Mediterranean approach has been linked to numerous health benefits, especially heart health (59,60,61,62,63). It has also been strongly linked to weight management, as the moderate amount of healthy fats in the plan are thought to promote satiety and adherence to the plan (64).
However, opting for a Mediterranean meal plan alone won't necessarily result in pounds lost. Yes, it can help you cut out a lot of excess calories from processed foods, but without paying attention to your serving sizes, you won't get the results you're looking for.
- Promotes intake of nutritious foods.
- Promotes heart health.
- Backed by research.
- Does not emphasize portion control directly.
If you enjoy richer tasting foods, like healthy fats from olives, avocados, and olive oils, and want a nutritious, balanced approach to eating, a Mediterranean diet may be a good fit for you. Just remember to pay attention to how much you are eating, along with the what.
A Paleo diet follows the basic principle of “eat foods a caveman would eat.” This whole-foods approach would include plenty of healthy fats, proteins and produce, and exclude more modern foods like grains, dairy
Paleo also emphasizes grass-fed, sustainably caught, and free-range options, similar to the type of protein options a caveman would hunt or gather.
The theory behind this style of eating stems from the theory that our DNA make-up has not changed much since paleolithic times, yet our diets have changed drastically. Advocates of this lifestyle argue that we have fallen susceptible to numerous diet-related diseases because of our modern diet (65).
However, the research behind this theory is far from conclusive.
- Focuses on nutritious, whole foods
- Helps cut out excess calories from processed foods and grains
- Tends to be higher in protein which may support weight management
- Eliminates some nutritious food options that might not be necessary to exclude
A well-executed Paleo diet is one way to focus on more
Because processed foods are eliminated, a Paleo diet may lead to natural calorie control and better macros, helping to increase intake of protein and healthy fats while slightly cutting back on carbs. However, paying attention to how much you consume on a regular basis still applies to achieve your desired results.
Interested in going Paleo? Get everything you need to crush your nutrition and fitness goals with this free Meal Prep Toolkit for Paleo eating.
Pegan is a mash-up of paleo and vegan. At first glance, this might sound confusing considering Paleo is heavy meat and fish whereas Vegan is none. In reality, this diet is neither paleo nor vegan and is just another fancy way of saying plant-based eating, with an emphasis on whole foods.
This method encourages most of your intake to come from plants, with small to moderate amounts of quality proteins like meat, eggs and certain fish (all grass-fed and sustainably caught).
Unlike paleo though, Pegan still allows for legumes and small amounts of processed sugars, oils, and grains.
When it comes to weight loss, there are no studies looking at how effective Pegan is.
- Promotes nutritious, whole foods
- Helps cut out excess calories from processed foods and grains
- Slightly less restrictive than Paleo or Vegan
- Uses unnecessary food restrictions like eliminating certain whole grains and legumes
While the name Pegan may be unique, this style of eating is not. It seems to be another approach to emphasizing whole foods and quality, sustainable proteins while getting you to eat more plants. This is also called a balanced, healthy approach.
This may be a good model to look at as a starting place for improving your diet, but if you enjoy some of the "forbidden foods", know that you can still include them and lose weight if you are counting calories.
A Pescatarian diet is also often considered plant-based because it looks a lot like a Vegan diet but with fish included. Sometimes eggs and dairy will also be allowed, but no meat or poultry.
This approach gives you all the benefits of a plant-based diet with additional protein options and notable sources of omega 3 fats from fatty fish and seafood.
- Promotes nutritious, whole foods
- Includes nutrient-dense proteins like fish
- May support heart health and brain health
- No research suggesting this plan is better than others
Personal preference is king when it comes to choosing your meal plan. If you enjoy a Pescatarian model, then have at it! This is a great way to include lots of nutritious food choices to support your health and weight loss goals.As long as you opt for nutritious foods you enjoy and control your calories, you're on the best meal plan for you.
The term plant-based is used frequently, but it doesn’t necessarily describe just one style of eating. Plant-based really just means the bulk of your food choices come from plants. It does not necessarily mean Vegan, although most interpret plant-based in this way.
Plant-based foods (anything that grows out of the ground) include fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains.
Plant-based diets have been linked to longevity, reduce risk of chronic disease, and better weight management (66,67,68). And research continues to emphasize the importance of these foods for our health and nutrition intake.
But this doesn't mean that meat and dairy are bad for you. Many animal-based foods can offer health benefits and essential nutrition that support your weight loss goals—specifically high amounts of protein, zinc, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12. There is also no research proving 100% plant-based diets are better than a balanced, healthy meat-based diet that includes plenty of plant foods. It just depends on the person and personal preference!
Just as you can eat a poor quality meat-based diet, it is also possible to eat a poor plant-based diet. After all, french fries and Oreos are technically Vegan. Additionally, balancing your macros (especially protein) can feel more challenging on a 100% plant-based diet (even more so if you are following a whole-foods, plant-based program).
- Can include high intakes of nutrient-dense foods
- Supported by research
- Does not teach macro balance or calorie control directly
- Plant-based is a loosely defined term
Yes, eating more plants can be good for you, as long as they are the right type. But this does not mean 100% plant-based is the best solution for everyone. Unless of course, that is the type of food you enjoy eating most and can stick to long term.
To get the benefits of this diet, be sure to include plenty of quality whole-food plants in your day, and balance the remainder of your choices accordingly. And of course, pay attention to how much you consume!
Tom Brady Diet
Tom Brady's ultra-restrictive meal plan consisting of alkalizing foods and no nightshades became trendy a few years ago. But as it turns out, he has loosened the reigns a bit and now follows a more balanced approach to healthy eating (69,70).
Brady now drinks plenty of water, and loads up on fruits, veggies, and nutritious whole foods that support his athletic performance.
He's also supposedly added cheat meals back in (like pizza), which allow him to maintain his sanity and followed a true maintenance approach to healthy eating long term.
- Emphasizes nutritious, whole foods
- Supports athletic performance
- Uses balance and portion control
- His previous diet was extremely restrictive and lacked scientific backing
It is common for a lot of us to turn to our idols or fitness inspiration and want to mimic what they eat in hopes of achieving similar results. But the thing is, we are all very different in our individual nutrition needs, and what works for Tom Brady won't work for everyone.
Being too restrictive with your food can only work for so long. At some point, you will need to learn how to balance your taste preferences, incorporate healthy foods you enjoy, and practice proper portioning.
Veganism represents the strictest form of plant-based diets that eliminates all forms of animal products including, meat, seafood, dairy, eggs, and animal-based ingredients.
While there are many reasons people try Vegan, including humanely raised, sustainability, and health, there also seems to be some potential weight loss benefits to this lifestyle.
Plants tend to be nutrient-dense, meaning they are low in calories and high in nutrition. This makes them a valuable food group for any dieter. And when done right, a well-planned Vegan menu can help you shed pounds (71,72).
However, there is no research looking specifically at Vegan over diets that just include high amounts of plants, so the jury is still out on whether or not Vegan offers advantages over a mixed -diet approach.
- Increased intake of key nutrients like fiber, vitamin A, vitamin E, potassium, etc.
- Can be challenging to get high amounts of protein, zinc, iron, calcium, DHA omega 3 fats, and vitamin B12 found in animal-based foods.
Veganism is nothing more than a food preference. If you enjoy eating plants and feel best on a Vegan diet then go for it! As long as you choose nutritious foods and manage your portions, weight loss will happen.
But if you hate Vegan food and are having a hard time sticking to it, don't. There is nothing special (that we know of) that makes Vegan better than any other calorie-controlled diet for losing weight.
Looking to go Vegan? Here's your free Meal Prep Toolkit for a 100% Plant-Based Diet. Complete with everything you need to improve your nutrition and lose weight.
Vegetarian is similar to Vegan, focusing almost entirely on plant foods while eliminating meat and seafood. Unlike Vegan, a Vegetarian diet allows for eggs and dairy.
Just as with other plant-focused diets, going Vegetarian is one way to improve your nutrition and support weight loss (71,72). However, the amount you consume still has the largest impact on getting results.
- Increased intake of key nutrients like fiber, vitamin A, vitamin E, potassium, etc.
- Including some dairy and eggs can help you get higher protein intakes compared to Vegan.
- Lacking in important omega fats found only in seafood
It is possible to have a nutritious Vegetarian diet as well as a not so great one. Just because something is Vegetarian doesn't mean it is healthy or going to help you drop weight—take cheese pizza for example. Thus, going Vegetarian alone is not going to guarantee improved health or weight loss.
If choosing this lifestyle to achieve your goals, be sure to find nutritious vegetarian options you enjoy and keep serving sizes in check.
Whole Foods Diet
A Whole Foods diet is a lifestyle approach to eating that emphasizes more whole foods and less processed foods. This includes choosing more options that closely resemble how they are found in nature, with few ingredients, and little to no artificial ingredients or preservatives.
This style of eating is thought to provide nutrition and health benefits because it promotes higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins, while minimizing your intake of added fat, sugar, and empty calories.
However, sticking to only whole foods can be challenging and isn't necessary to achieve good health. Not all processed foods are bad and having the occasional, highly processed option likely won't harm you. Moreover, eliminating too many things can cause you to be too restrictive, leading to food cravings and inevitable diet failure.
Also, most restaurants and ready-made options wouldn't fit into this diet, so you'd likely have to meal prep a lot of your food or stick to raw options.
Lastly, just eating whole foods alone won't cause you to lose weight or automatically improve your health, you'll still need to pay attention to your macro and micronutrient intake to get the most out of your food.
- Emphasizes nutritious, whole food choices
- May increase intake of vitamins, minerals, and fiber
- Can help you cut back on added sugar and processed foods
- Does not emphasize calorie control or macro balance
- Hard to follow long-term
Following a whole-foods approach to healthy eating can be one of the best options to choose, especially when you incorporate calorie and micronutrient intake. Just make sure you aren't too restrictive and don't get into the habit of demonizing certain processed foods that you enjoy from time to time.
So... What is the Best Weight Loss Diet?
It can be extremely tempting to jump on the bandwagon of the latest diet craze, especially those promising extreme results in a short amount of time. However, when it comes to losing weight, following a healthy, balanced diet made up of foods you enjoy is your best bet.
Results take time and require patience. Unfortunately there is no special diet or pill that can help you skip the process.
Consistency is key, and the best way to stay consistent is to enjoy the process.
This means learning how to balance your favorite cheat foods with long-term calorie control and nutritious food choices. It takes a bit of time, and trial and error, but with enough practice you will get there. Just keep at it!
When it finally clicks, you'll be much happier and better off than going through the constant cycle of one crazy diet after another.
A great way to set yourself up for success on any diet is with coaching from experts, food lists, tracking and goal-setting tools, and workouts proven to burn fat.
Get all of that for FREE in this Ultimate Weight Loss and Healthy Living Guide. Download your guide here!