Every January, people around the country get geared up for their “new year, new you” diet resolutions. They jump on the latest trends – from paleo to keto to intermittent fasting – and often last just a few weeks before resuming old habits.
If you routinely find yourself on this rollercoaster, it’s not necessarily your fault. A “diet” is considered a temporary, restrictive eating pattern that might help someone meet a short-term goal, such as losing 10 pounds before a social event.
However, long-term, daily habits have the biggest impact on our health. Instead of focusing on quick wins this year, try our two-step action plan to find a sustainable, healthy eating pattern that incorporates a variety of foods rich in nutrition and flavor. But first, let’s discuss nine diets that are popular right now – and a few things to think about if you try one of them.
Diet trends – what works and what doesn't
Does the keto diet allow unlimited steak? Is all vegan food healthy? With so many diet plans to choose from, I understand why many patients have a tough time finding an eating plan that works. To help simplify the confusion, click on the nine diet trends represented here – and we'll discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of each.
Step 1. Identify why you want to change your diet
When considering a new diet plan, try specifying the reason you want to eat differently, which will help you follow new eating patterns more consistently. And if you slip back into old habits, you’ll have a firm reminder of why you wanted to change in the first place.
Your initial reason to try a new eating plan might be to lose weight. If so, try to be more specific and ask yourself:
- Why do you want to lose weight? Is it solely because you want to look thinner?
- Or is it for health reasons, such as lowering your risk of heart disease or breast cancer?
- What other adjustments will you pair with dietary changes? After all, weight loss is about more than eating fewer calories; genetic, lifestyle, environmental, and physical and mental health factors all contribute to weight gain and should be considered when pursuing weight loss.
Another reason might be to align your diet with personal values. Some people choose to eat fewer animal products or more locally sourced foods for ethical reasons or to reduce their impact on climate change.
Whatever is motivating you, base your lifestyle changes on the desire to feel better mentally and physically – not because your friend is trying a new diet or a family member criticized your food choices during a holiday dinner.
Once you have a solid reason, it’s time to choose the best eating plan for you.
Related reading: Chew on this: Is food friend or foe for better health?
Step 2. Plan for long-term diet changes
Sustainability is usually the determining factor in whether people meet their dietary goals. Restrictive plans that cut out entire food groups generally produce short-term results at best. They also can cause nutritional deficiencies and lead to eating disorders due to cyclical binging and starving, not to mention a fixation on the amount of calories consumed and weight lost.
The simpler the eating plan, the longer you’ll stick with it. A plant-based diet, for example, is easy to remember and adapt to different cuisines.
Not to be confused with a vegan or vegetarian diet, plant-based means most of your meals include vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains, and seeds. Meat and processed foods are not off limits – just recommended in limited amounts. Eating more greens is also recommended by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine to help prevent and treat chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Regardless of the plan you choose to follow, be sure to build in flexibility. Have a goal of eating healthier 80-90% of the time, not 24/7. Whether you enjoy cake at a wedding or pizza during family game night, it’s fine to enjoy an occasional treat.
Related reading: Farm to table: Rediscovering a simple, practical approach to food
Seek medical advice for safe eating tips
New Year’s resolutions likely will dominate conversations with friends and colleagues for the next couple months. Remember: Your body’s response to an eating pattern will not be the same as anyone else’s, no matter how much your friend or favorite celebrity raves about their diet.
To safely and effectively achieve your goals of eating healthier and feeling better, talk with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian about which eating plan might work best for you long term. We can help you modify or develop an evidence-based diet plan that matches your culture, lifestyle, and health needs – and that you can easily stick to throughout the year.