As Finnick Odair said before his untimely reptilian demise in The Hunger Games, “It takes 10 times longer to put yourself back together than it does to fall apart.” While deadly giant lizards may not be peering over your shoulder as you navigate the dieting process, trying to lose weight once it is gained can still feel like your own personal dystopia.
Over the years, a plethora of diet plans have promised to help anyone trying to lose weight, gain muscle mass, or just stay healthy, but most achieved a limited level of success, had no plan for long term sustainability, and/or advocated behavior that ran contrary to any kind of common sense. Fletcherism in the early 1900s encouraged followers to chew their food until it was completely liquefied before swallowing. It cut back on dinner conversation and failed to produce any lasting results. The “pray your weight away” approach popular in the 1950s was equally ineffectual, as was the grapefruit diet; and, the once-popular cookie diet did lead to some weight loss, but it produced some embarrassing side effects that made even eating cookies seem less than desirable. The sleeping beauty diet might have seemed like a dream come true, but since it advocated the use of sedatives to avoid overeating it was, in fact, extremely dangerous and ultimately deemed a form of extreme eating disorder.
Subway sandwiches, cabbage soup, baby food, apple cider vinegar, liquid diets, only fruit, no fruit, no protein, only protein — each scheme had its day of reckoning with the American weight-conscious public, but most either didn’t produce results, were impossible to maintain, or, in the case of some pre-packaged food plans, were unreasonably expensive for most people to pursue.
Experts agree that what makes a good diet — and what needs to be the cornerstone of any weight loss plan — is first and foremost practicality. If too much work is involved in finding and preparing food or if the program completely excludes the possibility of enjoying a meal with others who aren’t scrounging the earth for the exact balance between ingredients or consuming products that only come in mail-ordered cellophane, it will not be a sustainable diet. Dieters should find a program that stays within the USDA dietary safety guidelines and won’t threaten overall health by depriving the body of essential nutrients or, in the case of the sleeping beauty diet, keep the person under sedation. Ideally, sugar should be decreased significantly, sodium limited, fruits and vegetables emphasized, and sleeping pills should not be any part of the equation.
Protein is still a big part of current healthy eating habits, and dairy, especially the low-fat variety, seems to be making a comeback. Puffs, rather than chips, are the new go-to snack food, and cauliflower, dehydrated pea protein, and quinoa are replacing the traditional grain ingredients in many carb-heavy entrees. Below are the top 2020 diet plans, some of which incorporate many of these fashionable food trends and all of which promise both long-term results and sustainability.
Ranked No. 1 in health benefits, weight management, and ease of implementation by many diet experts, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes the consumption of plant-based rather than meat-based foods. It probably will not satisfy those seeking a quick fix for being overweight, but it may reduce the risk of heart-related illnesses, improve overall health, and, when followed consistently, result in some weight loss.
Named due to its reliance on foods typically eaten in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, this diet focuses on healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil and fatty fish, vegetables, fruits, beans, and eggs. Herbs and spices replace a reliance on salt, whole grains are encouraged, and some dairy products may be eaten in moderation. While red meat is not completely forbidden, small lean portions consumed only occasionally are allowed. And adding to its high marks in both popularity and sustainability, red wine is on the “yes, you may in moderation” list.
This diet is similar to a vegan or vegetarian diet but with much more flexibility, thus the name. The goal is to add more plant-based foods without taking any choices completely off the table. The founders encourage a three-four-five approach to eating: 300 calorie breakfast, 400 calorie lunch, and 500 calorie dinner, plus two 150 calorie snacks. Depending on body size and activity level, these numbers can be changed because, again, it’s flexible. And while non-meat proteins, such as beans and eggs, as well as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are the primary foods consumed, the occasional red meat entry or sweet dessert is permitted.
Flexitarian enthusiasts claim that it is an easier and thus more sustainable diet method than other stricter plans that allow for no compromise. At the same time, it still yields a slow yet steady rate of weight loss while simultaneously lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Because of its lack of absolute constrictions, the number of flexitarian recipes that fit into the guidelines are endless; however, if you are not a huge fan of fruits and vegetables or don’t enjoy preparing many of your own meals, this might not be for you.
Promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, this “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” is one of the top diet plans for 2020. Once again, the emphasis is on plant-based foods, but DASH also strictly regulates sodium intake, starting with a beginning daily allowance of 2,300 milligrams that is ultimately streamlined to 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. Full-fat dairy products, red meat, and sugar-sweetened desserts and beverages are discouraged, promoting instead the consumption of lean proteins, low-fat dairy, vegetables, and whole grains.
The primary goal of the DASH diet is to stop or prevent high blood pressure, but if followed long term, it may also lead to weight loss and better overall health. Followers do have to be responsible for much of their own cooking to keep the salt at bay, so if spending time in the kitchen is not an enjoyable experience, long-term sustainability may not be achievable.
While the flexitarian diet naturally promotes flexibility and the Mediterranean and even the more rigorous DASH diets allow for a little give and take now and then, the Whole30 does not, especially during those first 30 days.
An offshoot of the popular Paleo diet, which allows only “clean” unprocessed foods, the Whole30 diet starts with a 30-day strip down of everything participants put in their mouths. The rules are unyielding: the first 30 days prohibit the consumption of any processed foods, alcohol, dairy, sugar, grains, and legumes. No cheat days, no nibbling contraband, and no special occasion sipping are allowed. The goal is to eliminate unhealthy food cravings and to reset hormonal, digestive, and immune systems.
On day 31, some forbidden foods may slowly be reintroduced into the diet one item at a time, allowing the participant to assess his or her body’s reaction to the newly allowed food. If no ill effects occur, then that food may stay on the “only occasionally” list, but if the reintroduction produces any sort of negative symptom, physical or emotional, then it needs to be eliminated completely.
Participants do tend to lose weight quickly during those first 30 days, but some individuals may have difficulty committing to that level of minimalist eating, which is even harder to follow long term, even after the 30-day commitment is completed.
Any diet that advocates eating chocolate, albeit the extremely high in cacao and low in sugar version, is going to be popular. Designed to help followers lose weight through the elimination of body fat, Keto followers ironically consume mostly foods that are very high in fat. Proponents of this extreme rendition of a low-carb diet argue that eating mostly fat will cause the body to start burning body fat rather than carbs, and they suggest a daily food intake breakdown of 70 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 10 percent carbs or sugar. The goal is to enter a state of ketosis, in which stored body fat is broken down and fat, rather than sugar, becomes the primary energy source.
While Keto followers will lose weight quickly, the strict limit on carbs may be too stringent for some to use as a long-term approach to dieting, and it could have negative health effects as well.
Unlike other diets, no foods are forbidden and calories are generally not counted during mealtimes, although healthy, low-fat foods are encouraged. Instead of sticking to strict, unyielding guidelines to what they eat, proponents of intermittent fasting pay attention to when they eat. The most popular method is the 16/8 plan: followers eat only during an eight-hour period, perhaps 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and then abstain from all food and beverages, with the exception of water, for the remaining 16 hours. Other versions of this diet plan include the 5:2 method, in which food is eaten normally for five days in a week, but severely (500 calories or less) limited the remaining two days a week; or the Eat-Stop-Eat method, in which nothing at all is eaten one or two days a week, but a normal, healthy diet is encouraged at all other times.
The goal for fasting plans is similar to the Keto diet: encourage the body to use fat, rather than sugar, for energy. In addition to losing weight, intermittent fasting followers also claim to have a more positive relationship with food, making healthier choices when eating is permitted.
A couple of possible red flags come with intermittent fasting. Some experts suggest that there is a risk, especially during exercise, of burning both body fat, which is good, and muscle mass, which is not. Another concern is that fasting may eventually lead to a slowdown in body metabolism. On the positive side, while changing patterns of eating may be difficult initially, the diet has very few constraints. And since the actual dieting, i.e. fasting, time is limited to certain periods of the day or week, normal interaction with non-dieters is much easier to maintain.
Like the diet crazes of yesteryears, time will tell whether these popular programs will help lead weight conscious followers to positive results and long-lasting health benefits. But if we learned nothing else from The Hunger Games, we know that hope is stronger than fear and that to succeed at anything you need to be your own victor.
May the dieting odds be ever in your favor!