Which diet is best for you?
Friday, January 26, 2018
LifeTime WeightLoss in Anika Christ, Paleo, diet advice, ketogenic

We’re delving into the topic of lifestyle diets because we had quite a few requests from our last survey. As nutrition professionals, we get the confusion; there are so many diet trends out there, right?

And although each one may tout that it’s the best option, we’d beg to differ, because we’re all unique individuals that require a more personalized approach to nutrition — at every stage of our lives.

So take a read and decide for yourself. Maybe one fits you like a glove, or perhaps you’ll find you prefer more of an à la carte option with the eating styles mentioned below.  


1. I N T E R M I T T E N T   F A S T I N G

THE BASICS: Fasting isn’t new. It’s been around for thousands of years, and there is growing evidence for specific health benefits like controlling inflammation, increasing lifespan and supporting body weight regulation.1 There’s also not only one way to do it. Some will fast for 24 hours one or two times a week. Others will eat low amounts of calories every other day. But I’d say the most popular way is daily intermittent fasting, which means you’re fasting for 12 to 20 hours, then “feeding” during the other 4 to 12 hours.

THE BENEFITS: What I’ve learned from my clients who fast 12-hours between bedtime and their first meal of the day (which lands them around lunchtime), is that it tends to help them manage their weight and food intake. I’ve also found that their energy is better, and they have fewer gut issues when complying with this protocol. 

WHO IT WORKS FOR: It’s good for people who are already managing their blood sugar. It tends to also work well for people who can work out later in the day, although working out in a fasted state will help to burn fat because those are the only energy stores available.2 

WHO IT DOESN’T WORK FOR: If you wake up tired or starving, it’s probably not a good option for you, at least not right away. For athletes training multiple times per day, or if you’re doing high-intensity workouts in the morning, fasting may negatively affect your performance and progress. Also, men and women who are already lean (< 8% for men, < 18% for women) may not see much benefit from incorporating fasting, and they may face some challenges with maintaining lean mass if they do fast.

TIPS: Pay attention to how you feel and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated (black coffee or tea are fine, too). Also, make sure you’re eating properly for your workouts and plan them around your fasting time.


2. V E G A N

THE BASICS: Essentially, following a vegan diet means that you abstain from eating anything that comes from an animal, including honey and gelatin. Many strict vegans will also give up wearing clothing made from animals. Recently, this diet has become really popular with clients. Years ago, when I asked what led them to this strategy, it was most often because of a religious belief, or to support animal rights. Today I’ve noticed that more people are interested in this eating style because of environmental concerns and worry over an unhealthy meat supply.

THE BENEFITS: What’s great about this style of eating is (if you do it right) it automatically ups your plant and fiber intake. It has also been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease. And I think that a plant-based diet is going to be a trend or lifestyle that we will see more often, because people are interested in quality foods and eating from the earth. 

WHO IT WORKS FOR: Someone who is knowledgeable about nutrition and how to properly balance macros — or is motivated to learn how. It can also be beneficial for an individual who wants to get their cholesterol and blood lipids in check. 

WHO IT DOESN’T WORK FOR: I’ve had a lot of people go through this style of eating and not stick to it because they feel weak, or because their blood sugar regulation became more challenging. And a lot of that may have to do with not getting the right balance of macros, especially protein. So if you feel like you can’t get a good balance in, or you’re not feeling your best, this may not be the best plan for you. 

Also, because most plant-based proteins are dense in carbohydrates — which you don’t want to overdo if you’re trying to stay lean — it’s not always a great option for people who want to lose weight.

TIPS: I’d suggest your fat content be about 40% to 50%. Protein, at least 20%, and 40% carbohydrates. If weight loss is important we might up the fat to 50% and add a rice- and pea-based protein powder.

The hardest nutrients to get with this diet are B12, carnitine and creatine — because they are found in animal products — so supplementing is a good option. Because of the high content of phytic acid in a vegan diet, which can hinder digestion of certain vitamins and minerals, you may also want to supplement calcium and zinc. Sprouting your grains and beans can also help to mitigate this effect.

Aim to get a wide variety of protein in like soy, nuts and legumes. If you are choosing soy, make sure it’s non-GMO and organic. And if you’re female, because soy mimics estrogen in your body, you may want to consider confirming through blood work that you are clearing hormones.

Lastly, it’s not uncommon to feel amazing at first, and then notice your body needs something different over time. Be sure to monitor how you’re feeling and function each month and year to confirm it’s working for you. 


3. K E T O

THE BASICS: This protocol consists of eating a diet high in fat (70–80%), low in carbs (<10%) and moderate in protein (10–20%). It's high enough in fat and low enough in carbohydrates to achieve measurable levels of ketones in the blood to create ketosis, which reduces the feelings of hunger. The idea behind this diet is that you’ll start burning fat instead of glucose for energy, which in theory should lead to a more significant fat loss.3

Keto is super interesting to me, especially when I think back to when I on-boarded in my clinical dietetic work. There was a lot of research about ketogenic diet and children with epilepsy and using it as a way to control seizures. I’m excited about the new studies that will show the positive impact fats can have on your brain, (and also what the effects of sugars and processed foods can have on your brain).   

THE BENEFITS: When I was experiencing low cortisol, I definitely amped up my fats. I just felt better, my energy was better, and my mood improved. Which makes sense, because that’s what fats do for us, and I think that’s what people forget. The high-fat content of this diet can also keep people feeling full (so they’ll eat fewer calories) and drive fat loss. And it has shown to help people to lose weight more sustainably than a lower fat, calorie restricted diet — possibly because of a smaller decrease in resting metabolism. 

WHO IT WORKS FOR: It’s been exciting to watch how this has emerged into an adult diet, and can help whether someone is looking to lean out or control health conditions. It has also been shown to help people who struggle with depression or hormonal conditions. And it may be of benefit to individuals with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and diabetes.4 

Also interesting to note: in studies where individuals who are obese combined a ketogenic diet with resistance training — there was a significantly greater fat loss compared to a group who ate a “standard” healthy diet, and performed the same training program.5 The results are so compelling that the Swedish Medical Board now recommends the ketogenic diet as a first-line therapy for obesity treatment.

WHO IT DOESN’T WORK FOR: I’ve had clients who love this eating style and then those who experienced the exact opposite of the intended results. Some noticed an increase in gut issues, including the inability to digest and absorb the amount of dietary fat required. It’s not for everybody, and you shouldn’t stay on it if you don’t feel good. I think that just proves that we need to know more about genetics and metabolism, and why certain eating styles only work for certain people.

Although I’ve had clients who stick to this way of eating religiously, for most people that I’ve seen on this diet, it’s been short-term. Because when a diet is extreme in what we cut out, like carbs, for many, it can feel too restrictive and can limit social interactions. Studies have also suggested that the ketogenic approach is less helpful if you are overweight and insulin sensitive.6

TIPS: Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated; this will decrease the effects of the shifts happening internally. Because you are not getting many carbs, which hold onto water, you will be more apt to become dehydrated. Evidence also suggests following a resistance training program when on a ketogenic diet.4 Without the addition of resistance training, you risk losing significant amounts of skeletal muscle. Because of the extremely low calories coming from carbohydrates, those sticking to this diet need to limit their intake of full-fat dairy, starchy veggies, legumes and nuts. It’s also important to avoid any type of sugar, processed foods, grains and sweetened beverages.  


4. P A L E O

THE BASICS: Some of my clients love it because it’s simple: basically, you’re eating plants and animals. And what I do like about it is that it has a higher visibility around eating quality foods, like making sure your beef is grass-fed. Things you cut out while on this diet are dairy, grains, beans, legumes, peanuts (other nuts are ok), processed foods, sugars (although honey is approved in moderation).7

THE BENEFITS: A good chunk of us (two thirds) do have problems with dairy, so taking it out may be helpful for a good percentage of people. Gluten can also cause issues for many individuals, and our high intake of grains and processed foods can interfere with an optimal body composition — because we tend to overeat them. So this diet can help to keep an individual’s weight in check. It generally encourages intake of unprocessed, high-quality food.  

WHO IT WORKS FOR: I’ve seen the paleo diet increase in popularity over the past five years, and it’s where I would put most people because it’s fairly easy to follow and most people do well on it.

WHO IT DOESN’T WORK FOR: Even though I myself do not eat dairy and gluten, I believe our genes have evolved, and there are those who can absolutely consume it without issues. So if you like you eat dairy, grains, legumes — or limit your animal protein intake — this may not be the right diet for you. If you are an athlete or have a macro plan that requires higher amounts of carbohydrates, extra planning might be needed to get in the right amounts of root vegetables to meet your needs since grains are excluded on strict Paleo.

TIPS: Do I agree that there are things that we can learn from our ancestors? Of course. But what I think that this lifestyle — and some of the gurus out there — can breed, is an all or nothing attitude about food which can be a little rigid and restrictive. I’d say, if you want to follow this diet, but still want to consume a little dairy or legumes, don’t be hard on yourself about it.


W H A T   I S   B E S T   F O R   Y O U?

This brings me to what I’d like to suggest in general. Find what works for you. Don’t worry about what your neighbor, best friend or trainer is eating. Pay attention to your body and what makes it feel most optimal. What works for you now may be different than what works for you in 6–12 months. 

It may help to start with a clean-eating detox and reintroduce certain foods so that you can find what works best for you.

If you want to take it to the next level, get your bloodwork done to find out your sensitivities, nutrition status, blood sugar regulation and hormone balance. Really, before you choose any diet, you should know how your personal physiology might respond to the change — this is why we encourage comprehensive lab testing before embarking on your weight loss or fitness gain efforts.

One problem that we continue to see is specific gurus or practitioners only recommending an eating strategy/diet that works for them. They get amazing results (which is awesome) but get blinded by it thinking it will and should work for everyone.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and it’s important to assess (and reassess) your lab work on a regular cadence. In addition, our habits influence which genes are expressed and how they are expressed. We have no doubt that more and more practitioners will start using genetics (in addition to lab work) to help dictate nutrition recommendations as the research evolves. Our team of dietitians at Life Time has been slightly ahead of the curve because we have amazing access to our own lab testing to better understand current physiology, and we love staying on top of current research to help best support those pursuing their goals.

It just might be that your unique chemistry makes you the perfect fit for a keto diet. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, right? You can take something from each of these diets, like incorporating more healthy fats and whole foods, and decreasing your intake of processed foods and sugars. Or maybe you’d like to work on varying your protein intake and adding more plant-based options.

Start the journey in figuring out what is right for you. Email us at weightloss@lt.life to schedule an appointment with a dietitian and find out what your optimal personal diet should be. 


In health, Anika Christ – Director – Digital Programming & Events – Life Time Weight Loss


This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader. 


  1. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/1/7.full.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20837645
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945587/pdf/ijerph-11-02092.pdf
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19082851
  5. https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-7-17
  6. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-paleo-diet-half-baked-how-hunter-gatherer-really-eat/
  7. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1038/oby.2005.79/epdf
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