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The Four Fundamental Principles of a Healthy Diet...On a Budget

For a diet to be effective, the following four principles need to be considered:

First and foremost, the diet needs to be tasty and enjoyable enough to be sustainable. This is where most diets fail over both the short- and long-term. Note, that I am saying that the diet failed – not the person.

For example, Alice hated her very low-carb, high-fat (no names mentioned) diet because she didn’t like eating so much (fatty) meat and she really missed her carbs. She loved having fruit and oats in the morning and potatoes with her dinner as well as pizza once a week. She felt the diet was a success however because she lost 5kgs in the four weeks that she endured the diet, before starting to eat carbs again.

Initially she ate sparingly and so was bitterly disappointed when she regained three kilograms in the first week that she stopped the diet. Without going into too many details, this is about water fluctuations that occur when carb intake is increased or decreased.

To her horror, four weeks later she had put on another 3kgs. She was worse off than when she started a couple of months ago! She felt like a failure. Like she had failed to “stick to a good diet”. The problem is that for Alice, this is not a “good” diet. In her case, it’s a shit diet and Alice didn’t fail – the diet did.

The research is very clear (read the article "What Should I Eat for Weight-Loss?") that there are many dietary approaches that are both healthy and can facilitate weight-loss, and that people who lose weight and keep it off, are those that enjoy their diet enough to actually sustain it. Otherwise results are short-lived and weight rebound is a bitch.

Therefore, the number one principle of a healthy or good diet is that it respects the individual and their personal taste preferences, tolerances and goals.

Secondly, an energy deficit is required for weight loss, i.e. you eat less energy than you burn. It’s that simple. Simple, but difficult.

The media bombards us with conflicting advice all the time. Carbs are bad, fats are bad, protein is bad, and eggs are worse than smoking…blah blah blah!

Have a look at this article “The top 20 nutrition myths of 2020” to see what I mean.

The biggest myth ever is that calories don’t count if you don’t eat carbs. This is BS! Calories always count. Why do people often lose weight on low-carb diets? Well, besides water weight dropping, by restricting carbs people often eat less calories overall. No magic involved!

Following that, the diet needs to have sufficient food volume to satisfy huger, at least to some degree. Hunger is the real enemy of any diet. An example of high food volume is bunch of spinach, which is a lot of food, but it’s low in calories.

Satiety, which means satisfying hunger, is highest when you eat whole, minimally processed foods. Think fruit, vegetables and meat. They are filling and keep you full for longer.

Low satiety foods can leave you starving. And starving can often lead to bingeing. These are foods like bread, sweets and chocolate, pasta, fruit juice and other liquid calories, and even beer!

The thing to remember is that no foods need to be excluded from your diet. Everything can be eaten in moderation. It’s just that attention needs to be paid to hunger levels and how different foods satisfy these levels. Restricting certain foods or food groups is generally a bad idea!

The fourth and final principle is that a good diet needs to provide you with enough nutrients for energy, health and longevity, and to support muscle mass. Hopefully this is just common sense.

Besides eating enough micro-nutrients like vitamins and minerals, protein needs to be sufficient to maintain your muscles while dieting. The idea of this being about losing as much fat as possible without losing much muscle.

In addition to eating enough protein, muscle retention also requires some resistance training whilst dieting.

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