What is a diet plan?
Whether your goal is to lose fat, build muscle or improve your health, diet will undoubtedly have the largest influence on your success. Nutrition should be viewed as the centrepiece for controlling your body composition, and is the pinnacle factor for an individual’s wellbeing. In a world where many topics are overemphasised or exaggerated in the media or online, whether for financial or personal gain, the core message of prioritising nutrition is one that cannot be said enough.
The problem is once people realise the immense value their diet can have on their progress, they don’t know where to start with regards to what nutritional changes they need to implement into their daily lives. This is where diet plans make life easy (or easier!). Diet plans give individuals a structure to follow, and are designed to give people a systematic approach to food. Like any other life ambition, you must have a blueprint that gives you the best chance of achievement. There must be a method to the madness, and diet plans are utilised as a step-by-step guide that is convenient for users to follow when cooking or shopping for their meals. Diet plans vary in nature, and they prioritise different factors and concepts in the hope that fat loss or muscle gain occurs i.e food restrictions, meal frequency, meal timing and portion sizes.
So now you want to follow a diet plan?
Well for many that is the first piece to the world’s most enormous puzzle. There are currently over a thousand different diet plans, so choosing which one to follow can be a painful process that leads you nowhere unless you research which one is suitable for you. None of us want to be the person claiming to have tried every diet but none of them seem to work.
Most diet plans are either “fad diets” or “crash diets”, based upon a lack of scientific research and no evidence that supports their good use. In many cases these diets can even cause serious damage to your health, and are not viable long-term options for sustainable results. Do not be tricked into believing the insane claims a diet advertises, or by the 2 week body transformation pictures scattered across the internet hyping up their self-proclaimed “belly shredding nutrition tips”. A bit of time and effort into learning basic nutritional knowledge, as well as the pros/cons and evidence behind various diets will save you infinite time in the future while others are spinning their wheels but remaining stable.
Diet Plans for Fat Loss
You may have already noticed that practically all diet plans flooding the web are designed with the intention of reducing body fat. Every week a new, innovative waist slimming diet plan is published on blogs or magazines and unfortunately, it is your responsibility to separate the fact from the fiction. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular fat loss diets around the world today:
This is arguably the most popular diet for fat loss as it places emphasis on avoiding carbohydrates, a nutrient commonly associated in the media to promote weight gain. The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. The main principle of the diet is to reach a state of ketosis, where the bodies main energy source becomes molecules called ketones produced from dietary fat.
The diet claims that being in a ketogenic state increases the likelihood of body fat being used as an energy source, as opposed to carbohydrates or glucose, and therefore is a beneficial method to lose weight. A low carbohydrate intake also decreases the amount of circulating insulin, a hormone that promotes body fat storage from glucose, which is said to further increase the rate of body fat utilisation and may also decrease levels of hunger. Certain subjective experiences from the ketogenic diet also report improved wellbeing and mental clarity.
IIFYM, also known as Flexible Dieting, is a diet that has gained immense popularity in the last five years due to its flexibility and ideology that losing weight does come hand in hand with having to restrict food choices. IIFYM is different from other types of diet plans, as it gives the user complete control and freedom regarding meal choices. The diet focuses on hitting macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate, fat) and caloric targets every day, with the targets being set at amounts suitable for weight loss. It follows the simple concept of energy balance, consuming slightly less calories than you are burning off per day, ultimately resulting in weight reduction.
Nutrient targets are set by the user (requiring some knowledge), and can be adjusted during the diet when weight loss has stalled. The diet is currently incorporated mostly by fitness enthusiasts, but can be utilised by anyone looking to follow a long-term dietary tracking system. As IIFYM is based on macronutrient and calorie counting, rather than conventional structured meal plans, it can be combined with other diet plans such as Intermittent Fasting, the Ketogenic diet, or an old-school bodybuilding diet.
The Paleo diet is a diet focused on improving health and body composition by replicating the diet of our prehistoric ancestors. The diet wants people to reverse back to the “natural ways of eating”. Paleo aims to switch the focus of our diets from fruit, processed foods and grains onto meat, fish and vegetables. Similar to the Ketogenic diet, Paleo revolves around reducing carbohydrate intake (specifically in the form of sugar) and claims similar health benefits such as stable blood sugar levels, lower inflammation, balanced energy levels and reduced body fat. The diet is opposed to calorie counting methods, and gives freedom for individuals to eat unlimited quantities of food whilst still improving body composition. Paleo claims to stabilise insulin levels in the bloodstream by avoiding simple carbohydrates, and therefore initiates lipolysis, a process where triglycerides (fat stores) are burnt as energy.
The Weight Watchers diet, also known as ‘Beyond the Scale’, is a unique process to losing weight that uses a points-based scoring system for people to follow. The program is designed to make people have better dietary choices by assigning every food and beverage with a ‘SmartPoints’ value. Based on the foods nutritional content, you are awarded points; higher amounts of saturated fat and sugar increase the point value, whilst higher amounts of protein and fiber bring the point value down. Individuals aim to not exceed a set amount of points per day, and therefore abstain from consuming excessive processed or junk foods.
Weight Watchers focuses on beginners who are not willing to track their caloric intake, but who are willing to learn about making better decisions from meal to meal. The plan also gives you the option to attend local group meetings once a week, so you can track progress and gain motivation from others who are in the same position as yourself.
Juice diets involve consuming only juice and no solid foods for varying amounts of time, from a few days to months in extreme cases. There are different juicing plans, but all plans essentially focus on blending many varieties of fruits and vegetables into a drinkable form for each meal. The amount of drinks consumed per day is variable on the plan, but most focus on 6 separate meals and aim for 800-1200kcal per day. Juicing gained popularity from advertisement by multiple high level celebrities, and advocates of the diet push its ability to “detoxify” the body by flushing out waste products and impurities. Juicing plans are promoted for use up to 11-14 days, with fast and noticeable fat loss seen during this short duration due to the low caloric intake.
Classic bodybuilding diets are still popular today, despite a shift to more conventional methods such as IIFYM, and revolve around eating a limited choice of ‘clean’ foods for 6-8 small meals per day. Meals consist of a protein source, usually chicken or tuna, a vegetable source, typically broccoli, and brown rice. Meal portions are dependent on the size of individual, but they are subjectively considered ‘small to medium sized portions’.
The ideology behind these bodybuilding diets is that eating 6-8 meals per day (~every 2-3 hours) speeds up one’s metabolic rate and puts the body into a ‘fat-burning mode’. The diet is typically very high protein to retain lean muscle mass, aiming to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Cheat days are often incorporated once per week, where individuals can eat whatever they want in large quantities, in hope to ‘shock the body’ and further increase the metabolic rate.
Intermittent fasting is a dieting technique where an individual has prolonged periods of fasting every day (completely avoiding caloric foods and drinks). It focuses on when to eat, rather than what to eat. Typically, a 24 hour day is split into a 16-18 hour fast followed by a 6-8 hour eating window. Breakfast is usually skipped, with people breaking their fast at ~1pm and ending their eating period at ~8pm. Fasting for significant periods is claimed to increase the amount of growth hormone production, improve the cellular regeneration process, improve insulin resistance, and control hunger levels. Intermittent fasting can be combined with calorie counting, but most users just rely on the reduced period of eating to naturally lower their caloric intake.
This diet is a modified form of Intermittent fasting, where you eat normally for 5 days a week and fast on the other 2 days. This program is advertised as a diet that can easily be incorporated into anyones life as it requires just 2 days of perseverance in comparison to 7, and therefore is suitable for beginner’s who want to start gradually lowering their caloric intake. The 5:2 diet wants to “recalibrate the diet equation, and stack the odds in your favour”. Calorie intake on the 2 days of dieting is recommended to be 500 calories for women, and 600 calories for men. The plan claims to cause 1 pound of fat loss per week, as well as decrease cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure and insulin sensitivity.
The Maple Syrup diet, also referred to as the Lemonade Diet/Master Cleanser Diet, is an extreme drinking method predominantly known for its dramatic weight loss results and ability to ‘cleanse and detoxify’ one’s body. Beyoncé claimed it allowed her to lose “20 pounds in 10 days”, with the diet guide also claiming “fat melts away at the rate of about two pounds a day for most persons”. The diet is highly restrictive, only allowing the consumption of a homemade drink consisting of 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/10th teaspoon cayenne pepper and 8 ounces of water. There is no official guide to how the diet should be approached, but approximately 6-12 glasses of the drink are allowed daily. It should be followed for a minimum of 10 days, and up to 40 days for extremely serious cases such as morbidly obese individuals.
Veganism is predominantly a lifestyle choice based upon ethical concerns that involves changes outside of just food. However, the plant-based diet that is part of the lifestyle is a method some use for weight loss. Quite simply, the diet eliminates the consumption of all animal products, including meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs and honey. The diet is a valid tool for losing weight as it tends to significantly reduce an individual’s dietary fat intake, as well as total caloric intake, due to the elimination of many energy-dense foods such as meat and cheese.
Converting to a plant-based diet will also likely increase one’s fibre intake, as well as increase the portion sizes of meals without increasing the calorie content, due to the focus on consuming high amounts of vegetables. This combination typically decreases the feeling of hunger throughout the day, therefore reducing total energy intake. The vegan diet also has evidence supporting its positive effects on cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and may reduce the chances of certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.
Similar to Weight Watchers, Slimming World is more of a marketable support system for first-time dieters looking for an encouraging, positive environment to help with their journey. Slimming World claims that the diet works through a multitude of proven, evidence-based methods. The method based around food is known as ‘Food Optimising’, the physical activity is known as ‘Body Magic’, and it comes with a group support system called ‘IMAGE Therapy’. ‘Food Optimising’ attempts to be a flexible eating plan that is easy-to-follow, rather than the typical restrictive diet that aims to burn the most amount of fat in the shortest possible time. Members choose from a list of given ‘free foods’ that are selected for their health benefits, as well as being high-satiety foods that will certainly reduce hunger and reduce caloric intake. Slimming World’s ‘free foods’ are focused heavily on a wide range of fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice, potatoes, eggs, lean meat and fish. ‘Free foods’ can be eaten in unlimited quantities throughout the day.
Diet Plans for Weight Gain
The amount of widely recognised diet plans for weight gain, or those specifically directed at building muscle mass, is basically zero. Common sense would suggest this is due to the fact that most people are aware that overeating, alongside an adequate protein intake, is ideal for gaining mass. We are either repeatedly taught this by friends or family from a young age, or may have even learned by first-hand experience once delving into the cookie jar a few too many times. Unlike people’s thoughts on losing weight, it is rare for someone to search for the latest revolutionary secret to pack on the pounds.
A quick Google search of “bulking diet plans” will give you an endless list of meal plans developed by some self-proclaimed diet gurus, but no actual methodical plan exists unlike those for fat loss. The closest version to a bulking diet plan you will get is If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM), as outlined in the previous section. Although IIFYM is a calorie tracking method as opposed to a dietary guide, some will still refer to it as a diet plan for weight gain. As IIFYM is a flexible tool and is controlled by the user, caloric intakes can be adjusted to fit the goal at the time, making it suitable for weight loss and weight gain.
Adjustments in portion sizes for an old-school bodybuilding diet, also mentioned in the previous section, may likewise be seen as a beneficial diet plan for muscle gain. It is common for bodybuilders to change their 6-8 ‘small to moderate’ size meals into 6-8 ‘moderate to large’ size meals when they reverse their body composition goals from cutting to bulking. Like IIFYM, it is not necessarily made to be a bulking diet plan, but with some alterations in caloric intake they are the closest thing to be being in such a category.