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Three New Diets for Weight Loss: What Works and What Doesn't

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With summer here, everyone's thinking about wanting to look good and feel great, making diet plans the hot topic on many people's mind. So, I stopped by The Katie Couric Show recently to talk about three of the latest plans -- the Fast Diet, the Fast Metabolism Diet, and the VB6 Diet -- and offered my take on each.

With all the new diet trends that seem to spring up daily, it's not surprising many people are confused about what to eat. Most diets that promise optimal health and weight loss have their good points. But at the end of the day, all diets use a gimmick or trick to make you focus on how to change your eating habits to be healthier. They're each based on ideas like eating certain foods at a certain time or cutting out certain foods.

What works best is really very simple: eating real food, cutting out junk, sugar, and processed food, and eating sensible portions. If you look at the science of metabolism and weight, it says these basic things:

  1. We should stop the SAD diet (or Standard American Diet, which is heavy in processed foods, meat, dairy, flour, and sugar)
  2. We should eat more whole plant foods (veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains -- not whole grain flour)

This helps us eat in a way that balances our blood sugar and insulin, which is the hunger and fat storage hormone.

I'm all for anything that gets people to shift their diet in a healthy direction. So, with that in mind, let's look at how these three diet plans measure up.

The Fast Diet

The Fast Diet is also called the 5:2 Diet. This plan advises you to eat 600 calories two days a week, and then eat whatever you want on the other five days of the week -- pizza, junk food, whatever. This just doesn't make sense. Intermittent fasting is good and has been used for healing, but in this context, advising people to eat less at first and then feel free to eat pizza, burgers, fries, and soda sends the wrong message. It's not sustainable, and you end up feeling bad!

Calorie restriction -- reducing your calories by one-third -- has been proven to extend lifespan by one-third and helps to reverse the damage to our body caused by sugar and processed foods. But it's hard and not fun! We already fast every day, after dinner until breakfast (that's why it's called "break" "fast"). This helps our bodies heal and repair, which is why you shouldn't eat less than three hours before bed. But the 5:2 plan of fasting for two days and then bingeing for five is not a great idea.

Pros:

  • Regulates insulin and blood sugar to help with weight loss
  • Intermittent fasting helps your body to repair and heal

Cons:

  • No guidelines for the non-fasting days; the author makes assumptions that people will use their best judgment
  • It's not a fasting diet; it's a low-calorie diet, because you're cutting your caloric intake down by one-third

The Fast Metabolism Diet

The Fast Metabolism Diet focuses on simple strategies to boost your metabolism. It's actually based on a lot of the same functional medicine science that I write about -- getting to the root causes of things. The author of this plan advises people not to eat processed foods, junk, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, caffeine, and alcohol. She recommends eating small meals, and she focuses on the quality of the food, not counting calories. She had studied to be a vet, and all vets study nutrition. While doctors for humans know almost nothing about nutrition, vets know exactly the diet needed to make a thoroughbred horse perform. Professional athletes also eat in specific ways to enhance their performance, and this diet works in the same way.

Pros:

  • It teaches people about how the metabolism works, letting them know that certain foods do harm the metabolism
  • It cuts down insulin, which leads to weight loss; people can absolutely lose 20 pounds in a month on this plan, because it cuts down insulin

Cons:

  • It takes away a lot of things that are a staple in our diet and can be too restrictive for some
  • The weekly rotation, switching around of protein, fats, and carbs, is a bit complicated for many people

The VB6 Diet

The VB6 Diet is the most sensible and powerful of all the programs I've mentioned. It's not a diet; it's a way of rethinking your relationship to food. Mark Bittman, the author of the program, calls it being a "flexitarian." But I think the key is being a "qualitarian," eating only good quality real foods no matter what. The basic plan is to be a vegan -- no animal-based foods -- before 6 p.m., and then eat whatever you want afterward. But he really means for you to eat any real whole food you want. For most people, fruits and vegetables make up less than 10 percent of their diet. He wants to amp that up.

Cutting down on animal-derived foods makes good sense for a number of reasons. The consumption of 200 pounds of meat and 600 pounds of dairy every year is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. It damages our soil and pollutes and depletes our water supply. Just think about this: In terms of climate change, you would be better off driving a Hummer and being a vegetarian than driving a Prius and eating meat.

Bittman offers six simple principles to fix our health care and obesity crisis and help our environment. They are:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables
  2. Eat less animal products -- this is good for our bodies and good for the planet
  3. Eat no (or almost no) junk or processed foods
  4. Cook real food at home from fresh ingredients
  5. Choose quality over quantity -- be a qualitarian!
  6. Don't focus on weight, focus on health -- weight loss is the side effect

Pros:

  • Puts the focus on plant-based, whole food diets
  • It's not as restrictive; you still have choices after 6 p.m.

Cons:

  • You can't really eat whatever you want after 6 p.m. There are foods that are good and some that are bad. Trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, MSG -- these things are making us fat. So, eating them, in general, is bad. If you binge on bad foods every night, you won't see any progress.

Tips for Trying a New Diet

Be a "qualitarian." Focus on eating quality, real, whole foods instead of processed, industrial food, sugar, flour, dairy, and meat. It's easy to binge on the bad stuff. The average American drinks 57 gallons of soda per year and many can drink two 20-ounce sodas in a day. But it's hard to eat too much broccoli. Good luck trying to eat the equivalent amount of broccoli in a single day. That would be 15 cups! So, go ahead and eat plenty of the good stuff -- there's always room for more.

The Importance of Both Diet and Exercise

Exercise is the magic pill that cures every disease and illness. Exercise boosts your metabolism and reduces inflammation, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and even dementia.

But if you're eating a bad diet, exercise is not enough. If you have one 20-ounce soda, you have to walk over four miles to burn it off. If you eat a supersized meal, you'll have to run four miles every day for a week.

Bottom line: For optimal health, you need to exercise, but you can't exercise your way out of a bad diet! Choose real, whole, quality foods, eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and savor the experience of eating well this summer.

Now I'd like to hear from you...

What diet plans have you tried? And have you found one that works for you?

What are some of your favorite healthy summertime recipes?

In what ways have you shifted your diet in a healthy direction?

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a six-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.

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