You could have a model diet ready to go. Lots of salads, barely any meat (and certainly no processed stuff) with the strictest, most draconian restrictions imaginable. However, you won't get much healthier, because chances are you won't stick to it.
This is the conundrum many people face when first starting on their fitness journey. The temptation to "go hard" is overwhelming, but it's no good setting out a grand plan and not following through with it. Scientists and dieticians all agree there's only one secret to a healthy diet, and that's finding one you can stick to.
One study, conducted by researchers from Canadian Universities and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (opens in new tab), looked at different popular diets from across the fitness spectrum and evaluated which ones helped people lose the most weight.
Of course, healthy diets are all about overall body health rather than just weight loss, but this is the metric the study used as a benchmark.
The study searched multiple different databases for existing research, looking at the Atkins diet, Weight Watchers points system, Zone and other diets. In the end, the study found "significant weight loss was observed with any low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet. Weight loss differences between individual named diets were small. This supports the practice of recommending any diet that a patient will adhere to in order to lose weight."
That's right: it didn't matter which diet was used in the long run, as long as it was relatively healthy. The deciding factor was how long the participant stuck with the diet.
Forget all the fad diets, all the two-week detoxes, and all the very strict weight loss attempts that only last a few days. Sustainable dieting is all about making good choices in the long term, such as swapping sodas with water.
One of the easiest ways of doing so is by using simple food swaps to get started. Adhering to the Mediterranean diet, for example, is less about following a rigid healthy eating plan and more about the diet's general principles: lots of vegetables, oily fish and healthy fats, with less processed meat and grains. Swapping burgers and chips for grilled fish and vegetables, a couple of nights a week, is a great way to get started.
Recording what you eat with a food diary has also been proven to effectively double participant's weight loss. Try recording the food and drink you consume for a full week, then look back and identify where you can swap to a healthier alternative.
Liked this? More from Wellness Week:
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Wellness Week on Fit&Well
Wellness Week is brought to you in association with Wiggle (opens in new tab). Each day this week, we'll help you accelerate your wellness journey by making improvements across areas including fitness, diet and nutrition, mindfulness and more.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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