So many ‘fad’ diets come and go and many of them tend to cash in on people's desire for weight loss, offering false promises or short-term gains that are almost impossible to maintain.
Others claim to be a healthy diet yet have almost no long-term effect and it's a wonder they ever caught on – cabbage soup diet anyone?
Improved health equals healthy diet
To be truly healthy a diet has to be a plan for life where the aim is for improved health, as well as weight loss.
Weight loss might be the initial motivation for starting a diet but that is actually only a bi-product of the overall health benefits a good diet can provide. A diet can help weight stay off but can also help with symptoms of various health conditions, such as diabetes, PCOS, epilepsy and depression. Low carb diets have been shown to improve many health conditions and even have knock-on positive effects such as reduced bloating, more energy and clearer skin.
Different diets may use different strategies of reducing energy intake. Whether it’s reducing fat intake, total calories or carbohydrates. Or even specific recommendations, such as reducing portion size.
Healthy diets and diet plans
Healthy diets work within a diet plan: a framework that states how to stay on the diet and then how to maintain the healthy lifestyle once the initial phase is over.
Many diets work on the basic premise that cut calories and you'll reduce body weight. The aim is to leave the body hungry so you create a caloric deficient; your body burns up excess bodyfat and you become leaner. Whilst the basic premise may work - if you cut calories enough you will lose weight, but is it maintainable and is it healthy?
Creating a calorie deficit leaves you hungry so any dieter will have to cope with regular hunger pangs. Most people find this difficult in the long-term so studies show that a year, six months even, after low calorie diets, most people regain the weight.
In addition to this, there is the psychological and emotional damage of seeing all the hard work count for nothing, leading to a pattern of ‘yo-yo dieting’.
Atkins counters this and should be viewed as a ‘lifestyle change’ rather than a short term ‘fad’ diet. After the initial phase of reducing carbs, except vegetables, other carbs are re-introduced until weight stabilises. This makes it easier to find the amount of carbs you, as an individual, needs to maintain weight loss.
And that's all you can ask of any diet – are the aims realistic and is it a plan for the long term.