What Most Good Diets Have in Common
Nutrition is considered by some to be a “soft” science – overloaded with information, but lacking precision. Dozens of nutritional systems have come and gone over the past few decades, amassing a devoted following along the way. Experts and influencers spend much of their time squabbling over which system is superior. But here’s the puzzling thing: they all get results for some people, some of the time. While it’s tempting (and certainly worthwhile) to dissect the differences between diets in an effort to crown one as king, this article will explore a different but equally important question: if these diets all get results, what are some features they all have in common?
Elimination of “Junk Food”
When their diets are analyzed in detail, kale-eating vegans and steak-obsessed carnivores actually have much more in common than you might think. By virtue of following a dietary system with specific rules, most vegans and carnivores are not eating the nutritionally bankrupt, calorie-dense, processed foods that are so prevalent in the Western world. While it’s certainly worth debating the pros and cons of which food groups different diets include, it’s equally important to recognize that many different dietary systems converge on the question of which foods to avoid. Might this commonality account for some of the results attained by members of both camps?
Another common theme across most diets is caloric restriction. Regardless of what type of food a specific system advises you to eat, it often subtly smuggles in guidelines regarding how much of it to eat as well. Even if it doesn’t, the result of paying more attention to your diet is often unintentional caloric restriction.
This begs the question: is it the type of food, or the quantity which dictates results?
The short answer is that it’s both. We know that fundamentally, weight loss is governed by the laws of thermodynamics: if our energy intake exceeds our energy output, we gain weight. If our energy output exceeds our energy intake, we lose weight. Whether you go all-in on the Paleolithic, Mediterranean, or Carnivore diet, you’re probably consciously or unconsciously doing a better job of regulating your calories. While of course the composition of your calories is important, energy balance certainly plays a major role in dictating weight loss outcomes.
The Spill-Over Effect
When you adopt a new health habit, nutritional or otherwise, you tend to unconsciously make better decisions in other areas of your life. Committing to eating healthier food makes you identify as a healthy person. You subconsciously associate healthy people with a range of other health habits, like getting enough sleep and exercising consistently. Even if the original goal was to derive benefits from our diet, your new ‘healthy’ identity might subtly motivate you to make changes in these other areas as well, which enhances health outcomes. Therein lies the power of making one small change. It might start with nutrition, but as your identity transforms, you experience less resistance to engaging in other healthy behaviors, and the behavioral discipline from one domain spills over into others.
The Bottom Line
If you’re considering starting a new nutritional regimen, and struggling to decide which one is best for you, here’s some encouraging news: most diets have much more in common than you might initially think. Yes, some are probably better than others, and it’s worth trying to optimize your nutrition as best you can, but don’t be paralyzed into inaction. If you're struggling with your nutrition, consider speaking with one of our Physicians at The Wellness Company, who can offer expert, individualized advice.