Popular Diets for 2019

What will work for you?

Now that the holidays have wrapped up, it is easy to look back over the past months with guilt and look forward to the New Year with anticipation of eating healthier and perhaps finally losing that “stubborn” weight. Many feel the need to cleanse themselves of the sweets and the more indulgent food they consumed since Halloween. We turn to the internet for ideas and inspiration. What will work for you? Paleo? Veganism? The Whole 30? Or perhaps the very trendy Keto diet?

Diet Plate

Sadly, none of it will work for most of you, at least not long-term. That high from the temporary “success” will hook you into thinking that it’s your fault when you fail, and that if only you tried harder you would have succeeded. However, the diet industry is worth over 68 billion dollars for a reason, and, as a dietitian I am going to outline why these diets can actually be harmful. This is especially true if you have, or ever had an eating disorder. 


The idea is to eat like our ancestors of the Paleolithic time period long before agriculture and food industry. It misses the fact that not only have the animals and plants changed over the past millions of years through natural selection, but so have humans and the organisms inside our bodies. It makes little sense to eat in the same way after all of this evolution.  This caveman diet limits foods that are supportive of our health including whole grains, beans, legumes, and dairy. Foods that cover many of our nutritional needs including ensuring that we consume adequate fiber and avoid uncomfortable constipation. 


Possibly a gateway to Orthorexia and eventually Anorexia Nervosa, Veganism can be highly restrictive. It can also be an environmentally-conscious lifestyle that takes the wellbeing of animals into empathetic account. Whether one can fully recover from and ED and be vegan is somewhat controversial. I believe you can, but it comes with its challenges. Food will always require some additional thought (something we typically want to eliminate in recovery) as vegan food is not yet easily accessible when traveling and eating out and therefore creates a restrictive lifestyle and unneeded anxiety. There are also nutrients of concern in vegan diets. These include Iron, Zinc, Vitamin B12, Calcium, Vitamin D, Iodine, and the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. From protecting your immunity, maintaining energy levels, muscle/nerve function, bone health, to DNA creation, these nutrients each play important roles in your health. In order to do a vegan diet right, one has to be ready to eat a LOT. Larger servings and almost double the amount of iron is required as plant-sources are more difficult to absorb. 


From the Whole-30 website “millions of people have transformed their health, habits, and relationship with food through the Whole30 program; eliminating cravings, improving energy and sleep, relieving medical symptoms, and losing weight healthfully and sustainably”. It goes on to list the rules of the program which include eliminating all added sugars, grains, dairy, legumes, baked goods, etc. And yet we know that some of these foods are actually protective to our health. Cutting out carbohydrates will not decrease cravings, but in fact, increase them. Restricting your intake will actually lead to sleep problems and anxiety, and decrease energy rather than increase it. The site goes on to use language that I, as an eating disorder dietitian find particularly troubling, and insulting. Here are few excerpts: “You never, ever, have to eat anything you don’t want to eat.” “You’re all big boys and girls. Toughen up. Learn to say no” “Don’t even consider the possibility of a slip.”  “It is always a choice, so do not phrase it as if you had an accident.” “This is not hard.”

Really? Doesn’t this sound suspiciously familiar to your own inner critic? Do we really need more of this? Anyone who has ever struggled with disordered eating knows that when cravings hit and control is lost it is an absolutely overpowering force. It is hard. Choosing to listen to your body, to trust your body, and to take care of yourself in every moment, is hard. This diet is not unique. It is just another spin on the low-carb diet.


On this diet carbohydrates are limited so much that it induces a state of ketosis. This is a state in which the body burns fat for energy as it has no carbohydrate reserves left. It is a survival mechanism and not meant to be purposely induced. 

Though at first, this diet seems to help with glucose control and weight loss and can be helpful to control seizures in children with epilepsy, studies show that long-term ketosis causes elevated cholesterol and fat in your blood stream. This is proinflammatory and can lead to heart disease. It also affects the liver over time, leads to glucose intolerance and no further weight loss in mice after 12 weeks. It may also cause regaining of weight as researchers have observed visceral fat (that deep abdominal fat that surrounds your organs) accumulate and an interruption of appetite regulating hormones (high levels of leptin concentration). In fact, it has been associated with metabolic syndrome and risk for type 2 diabetes. Other more immediate side-effects include the keto-flu due to sodium and water loss, osteoporosis, kidney stones and, impaired growth in children. In summary, it is a drastic move and comes with some serious long-term risks.

What all of these diets have in common:

·     They require a lot of thought as to what you can and cannot eat

·     They will place foods into good and bad categories  

·     By not having permission to eat a food, that food increases in its value 

·     A food with increased value has more power and will start to “call your name” and/or make you feel negative emotions about yourself when consuming it or even just desiring it 

·     Missing vital nutrients whether they be macronutrients (carbohydrate, fats, protein) or micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) can cause binge urges as your body pushes you to meet your needs

·     Deprivation leads to food obsession and for most people a loss of control around food 

·     In recovery from eating disorders what we typically seek is freedom from food. Diets will give you the opposite. They will once again give you that initial false sense of control but soon the diet will control you. And then the food will control you. There is no freedom in that.  

In other words, Diets lead to bingeing  

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More reasons why you do not want to do this

You do not want to become a raging lunatic. At some point, take my word, it will happen. Maybe it will be before your period when your metabolism takes a little uptick and your emotions a downtick. Maybe it will be at the cocktail party where they serve hors d’oeuvre you cannot recognize. And you are hungry. And you are tired of not being allowed to have any food you damn well please. 

Your metabolic rate will most likely slow down. Yes, most of these diets promise the opposite, but the truth is that when you eliminate so many foods, you also eliminate a lot of calories. Those missing calories initially lead to losing weight and eventually lead to a stagnant, slowed metabolism. Now to maintain whatever weight you have reached, you need less calories. And when you splurge, which will inevitably happen whether it be during that time of the month or a full deprivation-induced binge from your diet, that weight will come back. And then some. We have now learned from enough years of people’s yo-yo-diets that if you want to gain weight, go on a diet.

 So why do these all seem to work so well at the beginning? Because they all require you to cut out those “scary” carbs. Well, here’s the science behind that. When we consume carbohydrates normally, we store some of the glucose as glycogen in our liver and muscles. This is a good thing! This storage allows us to release the needed glucose during fasts (when we sleep for example), between meals, and while we exercise in order to maintain our blood sugar levels, feel strong and energized, and feed our brains. Each gram of glycogen binds about 3-4 grams of water around itself. That means when you run out of glycogen storage from your low-carb diet, you will lose water and sodium. All of a sudden, you quickly see the numbers go down on the scale and you appear more “cut” because you are more dehydrated. This of course can be very motivating. However, it does not come without risks, such as headache, nausea, fatigue, bad breath, and constipation. And it is temporary until you rebound into mad episodes of bingeing. 


What to do instead? 

·      Eat more fruit and vegetables. Aim for 3 different types of fruit daily and 5 (½-cup) servings of vegetables 

·      Eat whole, less refined grains more often  

·      Eat about 3 servings of dairy or other Calcium-rich food sources daily. Incorporate some fermented ones 

·      Eat adequate, not excessive protein (that’s about 1 gm per kilogram of weight not per pound)

·      Eat plenty of unsaturated fats including those in nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish

·      Incorporate legumes regularly 

·      Limit highly processed foods

·      Listen to your physical cues of hunger and fullness. If you are not in touch with these, seek help from a qualified dietitian that understands and practices intuitive eating 


For specifics and a sample menu on how to meet your dietary needs stay tuned to my next blog….

Marlena Tanner6 Comments