7 Popular Calorie & Weight Loss Diet Plans

Fad diets have come and gone, each promising results for those looking to lose weight fast.  Unfortunately, the weight loss diet plans can be confusing, restricting, or cause the user to gain back the weight plus some. Tidbits of information from each of these diets have stayed around, creating conflicting advice that can sabotage results. Should you eat this keto brownie on your high carb diet? How does intermittent fasting work if breakfast is the most important meal of the day?

Lucky for us, new studies have come a long way in learning how the human body works and how to eat for our metabolism. The focus has changed to feeding our body the nutrients it needs and reducing inflammation and processed foods. However, we have also learned that every person is unique and that the program that worked for one person might not work for another.

To find the right program for you, you can get help from a nutritional counselor to use testing, your goals, health history and lifestyle to put together a custom program, but in the meantime, here is an outlined breakdown of some popular weight-loss diets below. Each program uses a certain set of food pairings, timing, and rules in order to optimize weight loss-some that are effective and some I wouldn’t touch with a 20-foot pole. 

The Paleo Weight Loss Diet Plans: Following the Lifestyle of Ancient Humans

This popular weight control diet is based on the eating habits of humans during the Paleolithic era 2.5 million years ago. Why this era in particular? Well, the Paleolithic era pre-dates the invention of farming. It was a time when the human diet was based on hunting and gathering rather than on creating and processing one’s own food. The Paleo Diet is built around the idea that the modern diet does not align with the genetics of the human body. Many believe the body has not adapted to the rapid evolution of food production as well as the addition of chemicals and ingredients that should not be in the body in the first place, and we see the consequences in conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

So, what does the diet of a Paleolithic human look like? In short: fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins including grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish. The Paleo Diet requires individuals to avoid grains, dairy products, legumes, potatoes, salt (I don’t remove salt) and refined sugar, and any other highly processed foods. The diets I prefer to give to clients are generally paleo-esque as I find removing the processed foods and grains helps with reducing inflammation which can help us reach our goals of losing weight, building muscle, sleeping better, improving our digestion, and reducing illness that is caused or exacerbated by the inflammation from food.

Intermittent Fasting: A Schedule-Based Approach to Weight Control

Intermittent Fasting, or “IF,” is still a relatively new fad diet plan used for weight loss and energy gain from lowering the amount of time we spend digesting. Unlike most nutrition systems, IF is less about what you eat and more about when you eat. Fasting has been used in history for religious purposes, but this model of fasting is more based off of the Paleo diet. Like Paleo, Intermittent Fasting is about modeling the dietary habits of our distant ancestors. Ancient humans were hunter-gatherers, which means their diet depended on the availability of food. Sometimes they’d go for extended periods without a meal, and the body evolved accordingly.  Intermittent fasting is not about eating less, it is about eating the right number of calories for your body but within a shorter window of time.

There is no universal schedule for Intermittent Fasting. Different individuals choose different routines. A few popular patterns include the Eat-Stop-Eat method, which requires one or two 24-hour fasting periods during the week. The 16/8 method restricts the daily eating period to 8 hours only-some eating their first meal at noon and last meal at 8 PM for example. And the 5:2 pattern requires individuals to consume only 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days each week.  The 5:2 is a diet I would never recommend. When it comes to the human body, there are only two modes: eating and not eating.  If you are on an eating day, it is important to eat all of the calories you need for the day.  If you eat in a calorie deficit for the day, your body becomes stressed and releases hormones that cause you to hoard fat for energy. It is better to not eat at all on a fasting day.

While Intermittent Fasting is used primarily as a weight control diet, studies suggest there may be additional advantages such as reduced insulin resistance, increased brain health, and anti-aging benefits due to improvements in mitochondria function. I find intermittent fasting to help clients not only lose weight but also feel better, whether that be digestion or energy. However, Intermittent Fasting is not for everyone. Sometimes, highly stressed individuals are not suited for fasting as they require carbohydrates to help bind cortisol.

The Atkins Diet: A Low-Carb Weight Control Diet 

The Atkins Diet has proven to be a highly popular weight control diet, though not without controversy. Promoted by Dr. Robert C. Atkins, this low-carb dietary plan has been under fire for promoting the consumption of saturated fat. the Atkins Diet is indeed effective for weight loss. Increased consumption of protein reduces the appetite, making individuals feel satiated without the need for extra calories. Moreover, when the body has few carbohydrates to burn for energy, it burns fat instead.

Individuals on the Atkins Diet choose meat, eggs, fatty fish, full-fat dairy, low-carb vegetables, nuts, and seeds. They stay away from anything with excess carbohydrates, including grains, sugar, and vegetable oils. Many choose to observe the 4-Phase Plan of the Atkins Diet. Through these four phases of Induction, Balancing, Fine-Tuning, and Maintenance, individuals drastically cut carbs then slowly add them back into their diet, finding the right long-term balance to keep weight gain at bay. Atkins is essentially the origins of the keto diet. Regardless if you are doing an Atkins, Ketogenic, or a carb-filled diets, newer science that has shown the benefits of saturated fat in the diet for hormones, brain health, among many other things.

The Dukan Diet: Protein, Oat Bran, and Daily Walks

The Dukan Diet is a low-carbohydrate dietary plan created by Pierre Dukan, a French general practitioner, and nutritionist. Like the Atkins Diet, this plan is based on the idea that you can force your body to burn fat over sugar by consuming less carbs. The Dukan Diet features a list of approved foods—primarily protein, oat bran, and water. There is no limit to how much dieters can consume as long as they stick to the list. The Dukan Diet also emphasizes the necessity of a 20-minute walk every day.

Also in the spirit of the Atkins Diet, Dukan consists of four phases. These phases are Attack, Cruise, Consolidation, and Stabilization. The idea behind these stages is to take away almost all carbohydrates in the initial phase and then gradually add them back, ultimately finding the new balance that works for the individual.

I appreciate that the Dukan diet encourages walking and steady-state movement, the diet itself may be too restricting as far as getting in the proper nutrients that would come from a more variety diet.

The Kimkins Diet: One of Controversial Low-Carb Weight loss Diet Plans

The name “Kimkins” is a combination of the diet’s creator, Kimmer, and the Atkins Diet that inspired this weight control method. Kimmer was a low-carb advocate, though not a medical professional or nutritionist. Her weight control diet ultimately caused major controversy as many medical professionals deemed this plan to be dangerously restrictive. Ultimately, the diet’s creator was slapped with a lawsuit. Like Atkins, the Kimkins Diet promotes limited carb intake. However, this particular method allows significantly less carb, fiber, and calorie consumption than most other low-carb diets.

The Kimkins Diet offers five different approaches. These include a dietary plan that is almost exclusively protein, a shake-based plan, and a vegetarian option. Dieters who follow the most popular meal plan consume around 500-600 calories a day. In general, the Kimkins Diet allows lean proteins, veggies, and a multivitamin. Grains, fruits, starches, sugars, and added fats are non-compliant. 

At PH2 Nutrition, we have specific protocols as far as calorie consumption based on the client and would never support a program that called for only 500-600 calories a day.  When combined with a low carb diet, ketoacidosis can occur which is the breaking down of muscle to make carbohydrates and causing a blood sugar spike. 

The HCG Diet: An FDA-Rejected, Hormone-Inspired Method

The HCG Diet is another controversial weight control diet. This dietary plan claims to help dieters lose up to 2 pounds a day. Inevitably, such a bold promise requires extreme measures . . .  in this case, a strict diet of only 500 calories a day. Individuals who use this method also inject HCG, a hormone that functions primarily to support fetal development in early pregnancy. Dr. Albert Simeons was the first to suggest HCG could be used for weight loss in 1954.

This dietary plan consists of three phases. In the “loading phase,” dieters begin injecting HCG and spend two days consuming high-fat, high-calorie foods. In the “weight loss phase,” they continue taking HCG but reduce food consumption to 500 calories a day for 3-6 weeks. Finally, in the “maintenance phase,” they remove HCG from their routine altogether. They can gradually increase their caloric intake, but they must still avoid starch and sugar for three weeks. 

An extremely caloric deficit like this can cause long term issues like metabolic syndrome among other serious issues.  When you restrict calories for that long, your body can overcompensate and cause you to hoard fat which will cause you to gain back the weight and then some as well as make it more difficult to use in the future.

The Zone Diet: A Balanced Meal Plan

This dietary plan developed by biochemist Dr. Barry Sears emphasizes a precise balance of fats, carbs, and proteins in every meal. The Zone Diet is designed for gradual, sustainable weight loss. The claim is that by maintaining an intelligent balance for every meal, you can feel satiated and still encourage your body to burn fat, even in your sleep.

The Zone Diet allows three meals and two snacks every day. While this weight control diet does separate favorable foods from unfavorable ones, it focuses more on meal proportions. Specifically, each meal must be 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrates. This distribution applies every time you sit down to eat. You can’t binge on carbs in one meal and make up for in the next. The diet also restricts women to 1,200 calories per day and limits men to 1,500 calories. There are also behavioral rules. Dieters must eat a meal no less than one hour after waking up. They must have a snack before bedtime. And they cannot go more than five hours without eating.

While I agree that certain clients programs may benefit from macronutrient patterns as well as timing for eating, eating in a calorie restriction of 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day can lower metabolism, causing us to go into a stressed state and gain all the weight back plus some once the diet is over.  The effects are not as great as HCG but the mechanisms are the same.

Not Sure Which One of the Popular Weight-Loss Diet Plans is Right for You?

Let us help! Weight loss and weight control should be about more than achieving the shape you want. Your health, healing, and happiness belong at the center of any new dietary plan. At PH² Nutrition, we take the time to understand your goals, health history, and metabolism to pair you with the plan that’s right for you. If you’d like to make an appointment or learn more, please don’t hesitate to reach out anytime.