by Val Schonberg
Many people agree that D-I-E-T is a four-letter word that simply denotes an unsustainable regimen of food rules and restrictive eating. In a recent New York Times article titled, “Losing it in the anti-dieting age,” the author describes changes in marketing efforts among diet companies, such as Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine, that reflect a growing sentiment among consumers that “dieting is now considered tacky.” Consumers do not want to hear about “dieting” and “weight loss” but rather they seem to have moved beyond the scale and care more about “being healthy”, “fit”, and “strong”. The author added that people still describe that they “want to be thinner” and “not quite so fat”…but do not want to deal with “diets.” 18
So, perhaps the question, “what’s the best diet?” needs to be replaced with “what’s the best healthy, anti-diet, diet?” Many athletes want to lose weight to be competitive and improve performance, but are also influenced by a culture that dictates a specific aesthetic or body shape for their sport. Consequently, diets (now referred to as “eating plans/programs”) such as Whole30, Intermittent Fasting, Low Carbohydrate/Ketogenic and Paleo have targeted active individuals and elite athletes by focusing their marketing efforts on achieving weight goals in a healthy way. These programs offer structure, guidelines, rules, support, and in some cases, include an emphasis on cooking with whole foods. However, what is often missed or not communicated are the potential pitfalls of many of these popular eating plans, including the following:
that encourage skipping meals, can deplete fuel sources in the body, resulting in fatigue and increased risk of injury.
•Nutrient deficiency or excess. Eating plans that limit or restrict the intake of whole grains, legumes, and fruit can make it difficult to achieve the recommended daily intake of 25 to 28 grams of fiber. There are numerous health benefits associated with fiber intake including a healthy gut microbiome. Omitting dairy foods may result in decreased calcium intake and compromise bone health, while very low carbohydrate diets can contribute to excessive fat intake, potentially increasing an individual’s risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
•Increased risk of disordered eating. Severe energy restriction and approaches to weight loss that eliminate foods or food groups increase the risk of pathogenic weight loss practices. Emotional distress due to hunger or fatigue can also contribute to a disordered cycle of under- and over-eating.
•Poor energy levels during activity. Diets that restrict carbohydrates, and programs
•Loss of lean tissue. With intermittent or alternate day fasting diets, it is difficult to obtain sufficient calories, including protein, during shorter feeding windows which may lead to lean tissue loss. Low carbohydrate plans can also contribute to lean tissue loss in the absence of glucose from the diet. •Lower performance, especially at high intensity. In addition to having insufficient carbohydrates or calories needed to sustain activity, a very low carbohydrate intake directly impairs carbohydrate metabolism. As a result, when performing high intensity, anaerobic activity, i.e. sprinting, or cycling uphill, performance suffers.
Changing behaviors and habits are challenging for most people. Therefore, to be successful with any eating plan, it’s essential that it 1) includes food you enjoy eating; 2) Provides a balance of essential nutrients; 3) fits your budget; and, 4) is sustainable with your lifestyle. For “healthy” performance weight management, focus on the following: