Fad diets have been around for a while now, coming and going with their promises of quick weight loss. Some of them work quite well, at least for achieving a particular aesthetic look, while others may actually be damaging to long term health.
Fortunately, in this day and age many people are embracing the notion that weight loss should come with a better sense of overall health, requiring a complete lifestyle change for long term results, rather than a strict and unrealistic dietary protocol for drastic short term physical change.
Yet even with this perspective, long term diet plans are on the rise for those who want to drastically change their lifestyle. Now it’s not uncommon to find restaurants catering to the dietary needs of vegans, the gluten free crowd, or paleo enthusiasts. There have long been vegetarians and pescetarians, but now there are even fruitarians. It can get a little overwhelming, and if you’re contemplating your own nutritional lifestyle change you may be wondering how to sort it all out.
We’ve developed a quick and simple guide to help navigate the “new” food world. Note that this is by no means comprehensive, and if you are truly interested in pursuing one of these diet plans, you should first consult your physician, and then seek out the complete protocol to ensure you’re following the proper guidelines.
1. Vegetarian: Probably the most well known and obvious, vegetarians shun meat. They do, however, eat other animal proteins, such as dairy and possibly eggs. If you have digestive issues with meat, or philosophical or spiritual reasons for avoiding it, this dietary plan is not as difficult to obtain the necessary nutrients for overall health.
2. Pescetarian: Shunning meat, with the exception of fish. As above, it’s relatively easy to follow, although purchasing good high quality wild caught or sustainably farmed fish on a weekly basis may get expensive! This lifestyle would be ideal for someone with a good aquaponics set up.
3. Vegan: While vegetarianism can be traced back to ancient days, and refers to the abstinence from eating meat, veganism began in the early 1900’s (with its official “vegan” namesake taking shape in the 1940’s) to include abstinence from dairy and other animal products. It became more mainstream in the 1970’s and has grown more as an ethical movement, based on the belief that animal based food production is cruel and inhumane. This lifestyle has enjoyed huge support since a book titled “The China Study” was released in 2005, claiming to be the “most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted.” In this book, the author made numerous conclusions about animal products, among them that animal proteins actually cause degenerative disease, that have since been challenged and/or debunked by other nutritionists, doctors and scientists (read more about that here).
However, many people find that converting to this way of eating cures ailments, gives them energy, and makes them feel great. Others find that they develop food allergies and ailments related to vitamin deficiency, specifically B12 (which can only be found in animal products). Anyone considering a vegan diet should be careful to craft a well balanced diet that doesn’t rely heavily on processed foods, wheat and improperly prepared grains.
4. Raw Food / Raw Vegan: A raw foods diet consists of consuming only non-cooked plant based foods, as in fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. It is based on the idea that foods heated over 104 degrees lose nutrients and become toxic. Because it does not allow any processed foods, people who embrace this diet lifestyle typically enjoy an immediate surge of energy and overall wellness. Over the long term, however, it may be necessary to supplement or introduce some form of animal products to avoid vitamin deficiencies.
5. Fruitarian: A fruitarian diet is a subset of veganism, with more restrictions. Fruitarians consume only fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, with no animal products or grains. Notable people who have claimed this diet lifestyle are Steve Jobs and, more recently Ashton Kutcher, who adopted the lifestyle as part of preparation to play the role of Steve Jobs in a movie. Kutcher wound up in the hospital after a month on the diet suffering problems with his pancreas, and Jobs died of pancreatic cancer in 2011. Some speculate that the high amount of fructose in a fruitarian diet may overwhelm the pancreas, while others don’t seem to suffer pancreas issues.
6. Gluten Free: A gluten free diet typically requires the elimination of wheat, barley and rye, as gluten is a by-product of these grains. However, other foods may be cross-contaminated with gluten, and due to modern food production practices, gluten is often found in a variety of other foods, as well. This diet plan originated primarily out of the rise in Celiac Disease diagnoses, and doctors began prescribing this way of eating as treatment for other ailments.
The story of how gluten has become such a problem in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is a long one. In short, modern wheat production bears little resemblance to the wheat harvests and production of ancient days. That fact, combined with our SAD over dependence on refined wheat products have led to an increase in gluten allergies. And many people who do not suffer an intolerance to gluten have discovered that eliminating it from their diet completely leads to weight loss and a feeling of better overall health.
The biggest problem with the gluten free lifestyle is that the commercial food industry has caught on to the trend and begun promoting some very unhealthy over processed foods as “gluten free” to appeal to this crowd. While gluten free can very well lead to improved health, anyone pursuing this diet lifestyle should be careful not to rely on processed versions of gluten free foods and opt instead for grain alternatives.
7. Metabolic Typing: Metabolic Typing originated in the 1960’s with the notion that each person has a unique genetic makeup that lends them to tolerating certain foods better than others, based primarily on ancestral origin. The basic thought is that people fall into one of three nutritional types: protein type, carbohydrate type, or mixed type.
Nutritionists in this field of study may incorporate blood or urine tests to assess a person’s dietary needs. Some depend on feedback about how a person feels after consuming proteins and carbohydrates and use that as a guideline to assessing their nutritional or metabolic type.
While there’s likely nothing dangerous about this nutritional approach, the downside is that nutritional testing and consultation for this diet protocol can be expensive, and many people find that simply by doing their own experiential testing (eliminating foods and evaluating how they feel with/without them) they can figure out what works for them equally as well.
8. Low Carb: Low carbohydrate diet fads have been increasingly popular in recent years and they come in various shapes and sizes. I suspect their popularity has a lot to do with backlash against the food pyramid driven Standard American Diet that relies so heavily on carbohydrate consumption and contributes to our country’s unhealthy addiction to processed foods.
Because cutting carbs often means eliminating or decreasing consumption of gluten containing grains, processed foods and refined sugars, people who embrace this diet lifestyle often report an immediate increase in energy and overall wellness.
Some of the following fad diets are versions of the low carb diet:
The Atkins Diet: click here for more info, or click here for cons to Atkins
Paleo Diet (aka Caveman Diet): click here for more info or click here for cons to Paleo
LCHF (Low Carb High Fat): click here for more info or click here for cons to LCHF
South Beach Diet: click here for more info or click here for cons to South Beach Diet
For other popular low carb diet plans, click here
9. Traditional Whole Foods: Thanks to the work of the Weston A. Price Foundation, traditionally prepared foods are making a comeback. The basics of this diet lifestyle involve high quality organic unprocessed foods (fruits and vegetables), grass-fed meats and dairy (preferably raw unpasteurized dairy), organ meats, cod liver oil, and plenty of fermented foods. While you may find some similarities between this diet lifestyle and low carb diets like Paleo and LCHF, the dietary guidelines of a traditional lifestyle allow for grains that are “properly” prepared with traditional methods of soaking or fermenting.
Many of the recipes and dietary guidelines you’ll find here at Souletics tend to follow the Traditional Whole Foods diet, however we do try to offer some variety for those interested in some of the alternatives mentioned above. We do not believe there is any one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition, but rather that each person should through their own research, as well as trial and error, figure out what works best for them. We also respect that for many people, food is intrinsically tied to their philosophical and/or spiritual beliefs.
The most important thing is to pay attention to what your body needs, especially at different times in your life. For example, someone with serious ailments caused by overly processed foods and meats may greatly benefit from a raw vegan diet for a period of time. After their body heals, they may find that their body needs meat and animal products. Additionally, both men and women of childbearing years may find through research that their bodies will be more fertile on a traditional foods diet and less fertile on a vegan diet. As an alternative, someone training for an athletic event may find they perform at optimal levels on a HFLC diet plan.
Regardless of which dietary plan we follow, let’s always remember to be thankful for the food we have! Malnutrition and famine are ills that plague individuals and entire societies even today. Let’s not take for granted the luxury we enjoy by even contemplating “how” we should eat, as opposed to where to find our next morsel of food.