I decided to embark on a diet shortly after an extended overseas holiday, when all the delicious food I ate got the better of me and I saw the bathroom scales tip dangerously towards a 5kg increase. How do I lose weight?

Where do I begin, I wondered, as my research led me to a plethora of diet plans with varying food groups, eating times, cooking methods and portion sizes. I was stumped.

[Benefits of fasting that will surprise you]

There were so many dos and don’ts, that I almost gave up. Of course, I didn’t consult a doctor or a nutritionist, as I didn’t want to pay to be reminded of how imperative it was for me to lose weight.

The gym, too, would prove expensive, I knew. I wanted a quick solution, a magic weight-loss formula that would make me look and feel good in a short time. ‘Create a diet plan of your own,’ my friend advised. ‘Combine the best of all of these diets and see how it goes.’ So I decided to take her advice, and create a plan of my own that I could realistically stick to.

Going on a diet is harder than you think, especially now, when losing weight, looking good and eating healthy is all the rage. With the number of diet plans and food options available, it is of little wonder then, that those like me looking for a quick-fix weight loss programme find it difficult and confusing.

So, how does one know what diet to follow? Are these fad diets effective, particularly in the long term? What happens if the diet goes wrong for a day?

Anya Rabia, a UAE-based fitness enthusiast who’s experimented with a few diets off and on, says diets are not a lasting solution. ‘One starts off enthusiastically, then the excitement wears off,’ she says. ‘Eating the same kind of food does tend to get boring and one falls off the wagon. That’s when all the weight comes back on.’

To help all wannabe weight losers, we spoke to nutritionists and created a ready reckoner on a few popular diets.

Important note: Please consult your doctor before going on any kind of diet. This is particularly important for those with health conditions.

The Ketogenic (Keto) Diet

This is a low-carb, high-fat diet that involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with healthy fats. It also places a complete ban on sugar. This puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which supplies energy for the brain.

Pros

• The Ketogenic Diet is supposed to dramatically improve blood sugar levels, reduce risk of certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease symptoms and seizures in cases of epilepsy, while facilitating rapid weight loss.

Cons

• It bans a whole lot of food groups from the daily diet.

• Carbs are a total no-no, as are most fruits and vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and beetroot, and all types of flour, including wheat.

• The effects of high levels of fats on the body’s cholesterol levels, as a result of this diet, have yet to be documented.

Expert comments: Lauren Jacobsen, director of nutrition, Kcal World, says: ‘The Keto Diet focuses on using ketones to fuel your body instead of using its primary and first choice – carbs (glucose and glycogen). In order to switch your body to using ketones you have to be in a state of ketosis, which can be achieved by eating an ultra-low carb, high-fat diet.  Traditional Keto diets are high in fat – 75 to 80 per cent of your calories, while carbs would make up a minimal 5 per cent. The remaining would be made up with protein – 15 to 20 per cent.

The benefit are that it can result in quick weight loss. When you restrict carbs in the diet, this results in the release of more stored fat. This released fat is converted to ketones to be used as fuel.

The downside is that if you’re not used to a very low carb diet, you will suffer sugar cravings, brain fog, low mood and low energy. Additionally, eating low protein diets can result in lean muscle loss. This diet can be useful for those who have a lot of fat to lose – basically there is ample amount of energy to be converted and used by the body as fuel.

It can also be good for short-term or limited use; for those who just want to lose a few pounds before a holiday or vacation.

In the long-term, it is better to focus on a more balanced or phased approach.  

Can teenagers, pregnant women and the elderly follow this diet? No. They need a balanced, wholesome diet rich in all food groups. If an elderly person is keen to follow this diet, he/she must consult a doctor and do so only under medical supervision.

The 16-8 diet or the Intermittent Fasting (IF) Diet

This involves limiting consumption of foods and calorie-containing beverages to a set window of eight hours per day and abstaining from food for the remaining 16 hours.

This cycle can be repeated as frequently as you like – from just once or twice per week to every day, depending on your personal preference.

The diet has become extremely popular in recent years, especially with those looking for quick weight-loss results.

Pros

• While other diets often set strict rules and regulations, 16/8 intermittent fasting is easy to follow and can provide results with minimal effort.

•  It is considered less restrictive and more flexible than many other plans and can fit into just about any lifestyle.

• With inclusion into your lifestyle, this can be sustained long-term.

• This diet is said to improve blood sugar levels, boost brain function and enhance longevity.

Cons

• Fasting for too long and extended gaps between meals may cause acidity or gastric attacks.

• Lengthy fasting hours may reduce the body’s natural metabolism

• Might make you feel hungry, exhausted and unproductive, especially in the first half of the day.

•  There could be hunger pangs at night, and you might have to sleep on an empty stomach.

Expert comments: Shreya Katyal of Diets and More says: ‘Restricting the time you’re eating can result in eating fewer calories. There are no rules or guidelines for what to eat or not eat; therefore this diet can be combined with other diets. There is also some research to support Intermittent Fasting (IF), demonstrating that when you fast, you can burn more fat energy than carbs.

One benefit of intermittent fasting is that there are no rules – you don’t even need to fast every day. Basically, you’re working on calorie deficit. If you’re in deficit you’ll lose weight regardless of the type of diet you’re following. One pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories – if you lose these calories through workouts and food reduction you’ll lose weight.

‘One downside of IF is that because it doesn’t teach you what to eat, you may end up losing muscle during a fasting diet if you’re not eating enough protein. If you want to follow the IF diet, be sure you’re following a good guideline for your macros that give you enough energy to sustain your daily life and activity level and enough protein to support a lean body composition.’

Can teenagers, young adults, pregnant women or the elderly follow this diet? No. All these age groups require a healthy, balanced diet at regular intervals. These age groups cannot, and should not, go without food for too long.

The Zone Diet

It encourages dieters to consume a specific ratio of 40 per cent carbs, 30 per cent protein and 30 per cent fat, to stay “in the zone” and keep inflammation at bay. Carbs eaten should have a low glycaemic index, which means they provide a slow release of sugar into the blood to keep you fuller for longer. Protein should be lean, and fat should be mostly monounsaturated.

The diet encourages liberal use of fruits and vegetables such as berries, apples, oranges, plums, cucumbers, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, yellow squash, chickpeas; grains such as oatmeal and barley; fats such as avocados, peanut butter and tahini; nuts such as macadamia, peanuts, cashews, almonds or pistachios; and oils such as canola oil, sesame oil, peanut oil and olive oil.

Expert comments: Ruby Taneja of Expert Diet Solutions says: ‘The Zone Diet is good in that it includes all food groups and doesn’t have too many no-nos. It also encourages a lot of healthy food options. However, there is no proof to show that this diet reduces inflammation in the body. Studies also show there is no significant reduction in blood sugar or cholesterol levels as a result of a specific intake of 40 per cent carbs, 30 per cent protein and 30 per cent fat, prescribed by this diet.’

Can teenagers, young adults, pregnant women and the elderly follow this diet: No. Again, these age groups require a healthy, balanced diet.

Pros

• The Zone Diet does not strictly restrict any food choices

• It restricts unfavourable food options like added sugar and processed foods

• This makes the diet more appealing than other diets for people who struggle with food restrictions

Cons

• There is little evidence yet, to prove that the rationale behind the diet produces the expected results.

There you go! While there is much to be said in favour of most diets, they also have their limitations and are not practical in the long-term. Experts unanimously agree that there can be no substitute for a lifestyle that packs in a good mix of healthy diet and exercise. The diet should comprise all food groups and be eaten in moderation. Exercises should be a mix of cardio and strength-bearing, with plenty of fresh air thrown in. Any diet should take into account practicality, health condition, age and food allergies, if any.

The Daily Telegraph