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Ep. 07 – The Best Diet for Weight Loss: Explained

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A photo of James on an orange background with the words Vegetarian Health and Longevity

Here’s the seventh podcast of Vegetarian Health and Longevity from Hurry The Food Up and Sports Nutritionist James LeBaigue.

Listen to the podcast on your favourite provider or click play below.

Understanding Weight Loss and Diets and What’s Best For You

I’ve worked within general practice and sport and exercise nutrition for the last 8 years or so now, and over that time I’ve seen a recurring problem with patients, customers and 1:1 clients.

Many of them have the same goal: to lose weight. And many of them have been successful, but they might not have all followed the same path to get there.

Some radically change their diet while some keep to the same diet but made slight tweaks and moved more.

The Diversity of Diets

And there are so many potential diets out there that claim to either be beneficial for health, weight loss or for both; the ketogenic diet, the Atkins diet, Mediterranean diet, the 5:2 diet, and while this is a veggie-based podcast, it would be wrong to ignore those who claim that the carnivore diet is best.

And then within individual diets there’s also nuances such as time restricted eating, which is where you only eat within a specific time window rather than being able to eat whenever it suits you.

So when there are so many options available it can be a bit overwhelming to know what you should follow if you want to lose weight, and this is actually a common question which comes in to us at HTFU.

Exploring Weight Loss Mechanisms

Our readers will email in and ask what my opinion is on fasting, or one meal a day, or about adding some meat into their diet because they’ve heard that’s best for weight loss.

Probably the best place to start understanding what the best diet for weight loss is is to talk about what causes weight loss in the first place, and what factors might influence this.

Your body is an incredible, complex machine that processes so much information on a daily basis. You’re constantly interacting with your environment, speaking with friends, family, colleagues, and then you’re moving around too, whether that’s just around your home or doing exercise.

The Role of Calories

All this uses energy, and if you’ve ever heard of calories burned, this is what that means. Calories are the energy unit to describe how much energy your body uses, and you may have heard or seen comments like “adults need 2000 calories per day”.

These calories are consumed as food and when you eat something your body breaks down the complex food structures to individual units which it can harness and produce energy from.

And weight is directly linked to this calorie intake, because your body has to do something with whatever you put in.

In simple terms, if you consume more calories than your body burns then you’ll gain weight, because your body will store that extra energy as glycogen, which is stored carbohydrate, or as fat, both ready to be used at a later time.

Evolutionary Perspectives

This is actually a really important safety mechanism which humans need; we don’t eat all the time and we don’t eat when we sleep, so we need a way of providing energy.

And in days gone by when food was potentially less available this became even more important, because we may have gone for extended periods of time without eating meaning we needed to rely on our body’s energy stores to keep us alive.

Understanding Weight Gain and Loss

On the flipside of this is weight gain, if your body is using more energy or calories than you’re consuming, you’ll lose weight because your body is using some of its own reserves to provide the energy it needs to carry out its basic functions.

And this is weight loss in a nutshell; the act of eating fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its weight.

Now this is a simplistic view, but from experience I’ve found that this is often the best way to manage calorie intake and weight loss. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the specifics; trying to understand the exact diet which is right for you, how your body responds to fat, protein and carbohydrates.

The Complexities of Dieting

I’ve seen people get decision paralysis and not end up actually ever get round to trying to lose weight because they get lost in the possible complexity of “what’s perfect” rather than “what’s best for me right now”.

The truth is that we just don’t know enough about genetics or how individual factors influence how we digest and use food for energy, so it’s better to take a broader approach and understand the basics of weight loss, and this is why I’m a fan of keeping things simple.

Exploring Diet Influences

So let’s delve deeper into the mechanics of how different diets may influence this calorie equation, and more importantly, how they affect our ability to stick to a calorie deficit long term.

Firstly, it’s crucial to acknowledge that at its core, weight loss is about creating a calorie deficit. Regardless of the diet—be it high in protein, low in carbs, rich in fats, or any combination of this—what ultimately matters for weight loss is consuming fewer calories than your body expends.

This means that, from a purely numerical standpoint, all diets can be considered equal if they result in an equal calorie deficit.

The Role of Nutrients

But obviously the story doesn’t end there and this is where understanding the concepts of weight loss and how diets link to this becomes so amazing.

We know that there are nutrients and certain factors that significantly contribute to the ease with which we can maintain this calorie deficit, and these are protein, fibre, and overall enjoyment of the diet.

Importance of Protein and Fibre

Protein: High protein diets are renowned for their satiety-inducing properties, which means feeling full and satisfied with food.

Protein not only helps you feel full longer but also has a higher thermic effect, meaning your body uses more energy to digest it compared to fats and carbohydrates.

Although this isn’t a huge number in terms of absolute calorie amounts, this can subtly increase the calories you burn through digestion, which either means it’s easier to hit a calorie deficit or you can eat more and still be in a calorie deficit, which helps if you like eater larger quantities of food like I do.

We also know that adequate protein intake is vital for muscle repair and growth, especially important if you’re incorporating exercise into your weight loss plan, which by the way I absolutely recommend.

It helps directly with weight loss because you’re expending calories, but the bigger thing here is that it’s just so healthy for you. I’ve gone into this in more detail in episode 3, so have a listen of that if you want to explore how beneficial resistance or strength training can be for you.

So now on to fibre. Like protein, fibre—found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes—adds to the feeling of fullness.

It expands in your stomach, slows down the digestion process, and can help control blood sugar levels, which some research suggests can reduce the risk of cravings.

Considering Enjoyment and Sustainability

And finally, enjoyment. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of any diet is whether you actually enjoy it. If a diet feels restrictive, boring, or out of alignment with your preferences and lifestyle, the chances of sticking to it reduce significantly.

Enjoyment leads to consistency, and consistency is key for long-term weight loss success.

Sustainable vs. Quick Fix Diets

It’s tempting to be drawn to diets that promise quick weight loss. These diets often work by inducing a large calorie deficit, sometimes through cutting out entire food groups, which can lead to rapid weight loss.

However, much of this initial weight loss can be attributed to water weight and glycogen depletion, rather than actual fat loss. While the numbers on the scale might drop quickly, these diets are often unsustainable in the long run, leading to a cycle of yo-yo dieting.

The Mental Toll of Drastic Diets

This has physical repercussions in that you’ll likely lose significant amounts of muscle mass during each drastic drop, followed by a gain in fat mass, which will shift your body composition and increase your overall fat to muscle ratio, which is bad from a health point of view.

The other negative component to this yo-yo dieting is that it’s mentally so tough.

I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve spoken with who have had bad experiences with drastic diets where they lose weight and are positive, but can’t keep it up so end up putting more weight on there before and then feel absolutely awful about it. Guilty, shame and negativity can make it seem a pretty hopeless situation.

Embracing a Sustainable Approach

In contrast, diets aimed at gradual, consistent weight loss tend to promote healthier, more sustainable eating habits.

They might not offer the immediate gratification of seeing a significant drop in weight quickly, but they contribute to long-term health and wellbeing.

In part, the challenge here is psychological; we live in an environment that prizes quick fixes and immediate results, and it can be disheartening not to see rapid changes.

However, by focusing on the journey—enjoying the foods you eat, learning about nutrition, and celebrating the non-scale victories—you can create a sustainable path to weight loss that doesn’t feel like a constant battle.

Understanding Diet Choices for Weight Loss

So hopefully now you can see that there are 2 main points to understanding what diet is best for weight loss, but they are intrinsically linked.

First, what diets contain good amounts of fibre and protein

Secondly, what diets can you enjoy that will allow you to stick to it over the long term.

There are a few diets that are often mentioned in weight loss conversations:

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet: This diet is famed for its emphasis on whole foods, including a plethora of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as a healthy dose of olive oil and, if you’re not vegetarian or vegan, fish and poultry.

The Mediterranean diet is less about restricting food groups and more about embracing a variety of nutrient-rich foods. Its flexibility and focus on flavourful meals make it highly sustainable for many people.

The positive here is not just in its variety and taste but also in its well-documented health benefits, including heart health, diabetes prevention and reduction of the risk of cancer.

A 2023 study found that those following a mediterranean diet had a 28% lower risk of all cancers as well as a 29% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to those whose dietary patterns did not follow the med diet.

If you’re interested to learn more there by the way, the study is called “Association of a Mediterranean Lifestyle With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Study from the UK Biobank”.

The Carnivore and Ketogenic Diets

At the other end of the spectrum, the carnivore diet consists almost entirely of animal products. While some adherents report feeling great on this diet, its extreme restrictiveness in terms of food groups can make it challenging for many to adhere to long-term.

One of the pros of the carnivore diet is that anyone following it will consume a lot of protein, which as we’ve discussed can be beneficial for weight loss.

However, they will consume very little fibre because fibre is a plant-based nutrient, meaning they miss out on the health benefits of fibre as well as its satiety-inducing properties.

And anyone following a carnivore diet be consuming a high amount of saturated fat which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In a somewhat similar fashion,: The ketogenic diet focuses on high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrates, aiming to push the body into a state of ketosis, where it burns fat for fuel.

While it can lead to rapid weight loss, the restrictive nature of cutting out an entire macronutrient, which is carbohydrates, can make it difficult to maintain.

Because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love bread and pasta. Of course you’re going to be miserable if you cut that out.

The Importance of Enjoyment and Sustainability

Hah, I know I’m slightly biased, and perhaps you can see where I’m going with this, but I do try to see benefits of different diets!

Just a reminder that if you want to try out the vegetarian diet then you can download one of our free vegetarian meal plans at hurrythefoodup.com/try , that’s try. Check out how fun the vegetarian diet can be!

Overall, my preference, and what I often discuss with clients, is a Mediterranean-style diet, with or without meat, focusing on whole foods.

The Mental Framework for Success

But regardless of the specific diet you go for and whether or not you include meat, the culmination of all this is understanding that you can enjoy food and lose weight simultaneously.

Achieving a weight loss goal is as much about being mentally ready to make changes as it is about the physical aspects of altering your diet.

Having the buy-in, believing in the positive outcomes of your diet choices, and visualising a healthier future for yourself are all crucial components of successful, sustainable weight loss.

Gradual Shifts and Practical Changes

It’s about setting up a diet that aligns with your tastes, lifestyle, and nutritional needs—creating a positive feedback loop where good choices lead to positive outcomes, reinforcing your commitment to this healthier path.

This mental framework is so important in navigating a weight loss journey, helping to avoid the pitfall of quick fixes and instead embracing a longer-term view towards health and well-being.

Sustainable Weight Loss and Metabolism

What I usually say to clients is “the best diet for you is the one you already follow, just with a few tweaks”.

The chances are you eat that diet due to a combination of convenience, comfort and cost. Radically changing your diet probably isn’t that helpful because it’ll be overwhelming and feel alien and that’s why I recommend gradual shifts.

That doesn’t mean you can’t try a new diet, or for example a vegetarian diet if you’re never tried it before, but I suggest starting slow and being curious.

Try a couple of new recipes a week and experiment with your food, but don’t completely overhaul it.

This is generally a much more practical way of changing your diet and starting to understand what works and doesn’t work for you, and finding some new and fun foods along the way,

Managing Metabolic Rate

Regardless of what diet you choose for weight loss, one of the concerns I’ve heard is that your metabolic rate can drop over time and that this is bad for you and your health, and these are really important points to consider.

Firstly, yes, your metabolic rate absolutely can drop if you’re consistently in a calorie deficit for a long period of time.

Your body realises it’s not getting enough food to carry out its normal activities so it starts to switch little parts of it off which is essentially suppressing your metabolism.

This metabolic slowdown is inevitable when you maintain a calorie deficit for an extended period, but it’s crucial to remember that this isn’t a permanent change.

Your metabolism is remarkably adaptable, and it can and does rebound. This is a vital point for anyone concerned about long-term impacts of dieting on their metabolic rate.

Once you’ve reached your target weight, you can help your metabolism return to a more normal rate by increasing your calorie intake.

Typically, I would encourage clients to follow a gradual, controlled increase in calories over a week or two until they are back at maintenance calories.

This approach helps your body adjust to a new normal, ensuring that you maintain your weight while restoring your metabolism.

While the short-term decrease in metabolic rate might seem daunting, it’s important to balance this against the overall benefits of losing weight.

If someone is overweight, the advantages of reducing excess weight—improved heart health, better joint function, enhanced mood, and increased energy levels—far outstrip the temporary slowdown in metabolism.

It’s also worth discussing the role of exercise here. Physical activity can mitigate some of the metabolic slowdown by building muscle, which naturally burns more calories than fat, even at rest, because it’s a hungrier tissue.

Incorporating resistance or strength training into your routine can be a game-changer, helping to keep your metabolism more active and ensuring that your body is burning energy efficiently. You can check out episode 3 of this podcast to hear how useful resistance training can be for longevity.

The Most Important Thing

So as an overview, the most important thing when it comes to the best diet for weight loss is your ability to sustain it over the long term while hitting the most helpful aspects of known food science for weight loss; protein and fibre.

It’s being able to enjoy your diet that is going to enable you to stick to it over the long term, and that will significantly influence your weight loss success.

If this episode has been useful to you then please give it a quick rating on whatever podcast provider you’re listening on. It’ll only take a moment but it’ll help it to spread to more people and help them discover the truth about their food.

Studies used in this podcast and article:

Mediterranean Lifestyle Study

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4 comments
  1. Thanks for the podcast. I think it’s difficult to lose weight as, your body wants to maintain the weight you are at already. For me that is about 26 on the BMI. It is, a struggle to get it lower. I’ll download your plan. Thank you.

    1. Hi Barbara, you’re welcome. And yes, it can be tricky, absolutely! But I’m sure you’ll manage it if that is your goal – and I think the plans can help a lot. Please give us a shout if you have any questions!

  2. helpful information just a question will eating vegatarin make me gain with all carbs how do i get ur meal plan

    1. Hi Lisa, and thanks! So a vegetarian diet can definitely work for both weight loss and weight gain, and it can certainly be healthy as well. You can try our high protein meal plans here: https://hurrythefoodup.com/try and give me a shout if you have any more questions!