With the New Year in full swing, social media is once again lighting up with loads of bandwidth dedicated to promoting this year’s newest fad diets. Much like everything else in America, we take diets to the extremes and then defend our dietary choices with an almost religious (or political) zeal. People who tend towards following a certain diet will cherry pick studies that support the notion that their diet is the one and only diet that all humans should be eating. Never mind the fact that most of those studies and conclusions they draw from those studies are taken out of context to support the individuals confirmation bias.

In our upcoming launch of our Primal Health Program, we will be working with individuals on developing dietary habits that support the two most important factors of long term success in nutrition that not only lead to weight loss but also longevity and vitality. Those two factors are: 1) the ability to sustain and adhere to a dietary lifestyle, and 2) creating a SLIGHT caloric deficit. Notice I said SLIGHT and not an extreme long term caloric deficit.

The main problem with people’s zeal towards particular diets is that to date, most studies that proclaim the health benefits of any particular diet fall into one of three categories. They are either a population study, animal study, or small controlled trials with questionable controls. Anyone who spends a good deal of time reading nutrition studies objectively would likely agree that the field of nutrition research is lacking high quality studies to draw any conclusions that any particular diet is “the best.”

However, when you dig deep into studies and begin working with patients in the real world you begin to notice certain trends that develop. The primary trend of what makes a diet effective is actually quite simple. No matter what diet is being studied, the primary factor that leads to success in the diet, whether the result is weight loss, improved glycemic markers, or blood markers, is the ability of the diet to produce a sustainable long term slight caloric deficit.

The concept of caloric deficit is simple. Eating slightly less calories than your body requires. In practice it becomes a lot more difficult due to the plethora of factors that affect an individuals metabolic rate. However, calories in versus calories out will always rule the day, but that is why any dietary approach is not as simple as following what a particular diet book or online wannabe guru says. The health status of the individual must be taken into account.

No matter what type of study was done or what species it was done on, a slight caloric deficit has always been shown to be the constant factor in attaining not only weight loss and long term weight management, but also improving factors that contribute to longevity and vitality in the vast majority of species studied. In humans, we don’t have significant long term trials looking at caloric restriction but we do have observation of numerous populations, such as the Okinawans of Japan, Icarians in Greece, Seventh day adventists in Loma Linda California, and other societies referred to as the blue zones. These cultures generally live well into their 90’s and 100’s. Much debate has been dedicated to whether or not it is the particular diet they follow that leads to longevity (I would argue that it's the comprehensiveness of their low stress, active lifestyle that leads to longevity). If you put the specifics of each society’s diets aside and don’t get caught up in the minutia of WHAT they eat, you will notice a trend of HOW they eat. Simply put, they eat less than western cultures and move more. Through daily physical activity and a diet that promotes eating minimally processed low calorie foods they are, by default, in a state of caloric restriction.

This year let’s try not to focus on the minutia and arbitrary rules associated with fad diets and look at the larger picture. Can you adhere and sustain this way of eating for the long term, and does it produce a caloric deficit that is healthy to maintain?

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