What Diet Should I Pick? Keto? IIFYM? Paleo?

As a trainer, I hear and see posts about diet failure, choosing the best diet, and what’s the best diet on the daily. After a few years of changing diets each year, my answer has become consistent for over a decade of helping people get fit; the diet that you can stick to for the long term, not the diet that you can do for a month or three or until the first vacation party. It doesn’t matter what the name is or what you do unless it works and works for a long time.

This answer seems to frustrate people as if I’m holding out until you pay me. Sorry, I’m not. This isn’t a “pay me for the magic secret” thing. It’s as though a trainer must know some secret or believe one diet is superior to create infomercial type results. I know this isn’t the answer anybody really wants because it isn’t really helpful. It’s the truth; it isn’t the type of diet but the person doing it.

Before I break down the diets themselves, I want to speculate on why we actually do the diets we do. See if any of this is familiar. We look to what the latest hot movie star is doing. We look at the diet that is being advertised as the best or sounds the best in the magazines and online. Not once, do we consider whether this diet will actually be a good fit for us, and then we get angry when we fail to find success.

Take IIFYM. Awesome sounding because you can eat anything you want as long as it fits your macros. Well, that’s a problem if you’re a binge eater and you can’t control the urge to down the whole bag of chips and the pint of ice cream. There’s more to fat loss than just reducing calories.

Or consider Keto because it’s the rage… but you love carbs. How long do you think you’re going to eat under 60g of carbs before you’re elbow-deep in a bowl of pasta? Just because a diet has shown promise for others doesn’t mean it will work.

A diet backed by a celebrity, promoted by a Ph.D. nutritionist, or loosely based on our ancestors doesn’t make it the best… a diet that works for us is what makes it the best.

Every diet has two common factors – they require us to do something we’re not currently doing and they create a caloric deficit. Whether the diet has us eating less, changing out HoHo’s for vegetables, or actually paying attention to what goes in our mouth. At the end, it’s the fact that we are consuming fewer calories than we expend in a day. No magic trick, just making sure we burn more than we eat.

And I can hear the person saying “But I burn 1000 calories working out, so why aren’t I losing weight?

There are a few reasons, but I’m going out on a limb and saying it’s one of two: you aren’t really burning 1000 calories or you aren’t really eating less than what you are burning in a day. If you are eating less than your burning, that leaves a medical condition that affected your metabolism (and hormones) causing you to burn far less than what you calculated. This is actually common in people that have crash dieted repeatedly.

But you didn’t come here for a lecture about how to choose and fail at the wrong diet, you came here for help.

Do You Know These Diet Answers?

Let’s start with two questions before starting your next diet; “Why am I choosing this diet?” and “Am I ready to do everything this diet calls for?” Every time you choose a diet and fail it takes a toll on us physically and mentally. You develop a “memory” of failure and begin to create the self-fulfilling prophecy. Think of all the people you know that diet and fail repeatedly, each time the diet lasting less time than the previous.

Regardless of whichever diet you are considering, there are some other important considerations:

What is my goal?

I have to say, I honestly respect the person that can give me a straight answer and not the answer they think I want to hear. Be honest about it. It’s YOUR goal, not mine, not your mother’s, not your doctor’s. If you try to sell yourself on a goal you don’t really want, it won’t last. If all you care about is a few weeks of beach season and treat your body like crap the rest of the time, own it. It isn’t the same as the person that wants to drop 45 lbs and keep it off for life.

What am I willing to do?

Meal prep? Count calories? Give up alcohol? Give up the morning donut, the work danish, and the after dinner bowl of ice cream? If you aren’t willing to make changes to how or what you do, all of your diets will fail. This isn’t something where you say “I can stop eating sweets” when deep down, you know you aren’t willing to stop. Change is hard. It’s even harder when you’re trying to fake yourself into making several big changes at once when you don’t want to. More often than not, this results in short-term progress, dissatisfaction, and ultimately, failure.

What is my nutritional downfall?

Seriously. What is your nutritional vice? Do you have to have carbs? Can’t live without wine? Don’t like vegetables? None of these things by themselves spell doom for your diet…unless you pick the wrong diet. Eventually, the daily misery isn’t worth it. It’s been said that willpower is a finite resource and expecting to overpower your misery every single day is unlikely.

What can I do with my lifestyle?

There is a huge difference between the diet a trucker can do versus an office exec versus an elementary teacher. The life you lead, at home, in the workplace, and on the weekends can determine if a style of diet even has a chance. If you’re a compulsive eater, a snacker, a late night muncher, a meat lover, or a carb-o-holic, it affects what diet you can be successful with. Your diet needs to fit your lifestyle, not vice versa. When you try to force a diet, it’s begging failure.

How strong am I?

I’m not talking about what you can lift. I’m talking intestinal fortitude. At some point in your diet, when you aren’t making progress, and trust me, it happens no matter how good your diet and your compliance, you’re going to be faced with temptation and the little voice telling you to just give up. If you have a tendency to derail at the first opportunity or quit when one iota of your plan isn’t lining up to your vision, you’ll need a lot of planning and to choose a diet that allows you to have those moments and motor through.

Who’s holding me accountable and motivating me when I’m struggling?

This is kind of important. When you’re accountable to someone, you tend to try your best. Whether it’s family, friends, or a coach, who is going to be the one that helps you stay on track? People rely on accountability and motivation whenever they are making a change. Now the bad news. Unless you live with the people that motivate you and you’re accountable to, you’re going to have to learn to do it on your own. If there isn’t a big enough reason and the right support, it’s easy to let it slip a little. Each slip is a little closer to looking for the magic bullet and quitting the hard work needed.

If you can answer all of these and feel good about your answers, it’s time to look at the diets. If you’re unsure, you might need to do a little more digging before you get into a diet.

The 6 Big Diets:

Intermittent Fasting – A diet where there are periods of fasting followed by periods of eating. There are several variations, with the most common being daily fasts between 12 and 18 hours followed by periods of eating. There are also variations where people will fast for an entire day or two each week. If you’re a female or can’t function without your breakfast, this diet might not be for you, but if you don’t need to eat when you get up in the morning, this might be your ticket.

Carb Cycling – The plan requires evening exercise and is as simple as it gets. Train hard and rotate the amount of carbs you eat each day. There are several versions of this, but the most popular is the high-low split where for every two low days, you have a high day. If you train with weight and high-intensity exercise that depletes your glycogen daily, this has a chance, by allowing carbs on some days and restricting them on others.

Paleo – The attempt to eat like our ancestors. By removing processed food and sticking to things that can be hunted or gathered, it promotes better health. There are several bastardizations of Paleo, but the truest form of paleo is limited meats with the majority of food coming from fruits, vegetables, and nuts or seeds. If you don’t mind meal prep and hate eating processed foods, this ticks the boxes. Be warned that some of your favorites may be “banned” despite their nutritional value if you go full-on Paleo.

Mediterranean – A simple diet that focuses on plant-based eating: grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, healthy oils, and herbs and spices instead of salt. For protein, the diet focuses on seafood, poultry, and dairy but limits red meat. If you like avocados, olives, cashews, squash, and white meats, this is your diet.

Ketogenic – A challenging diet based on healthy fats, limited protein extremely limited carbs, allowing the body to reach ketosis, where fat is used as fuel. If you love carbs, just walk away now.

IIFYM – Simply put, a diet that allows you to eat foods you enjoy as long as they are made to match your macro and caloric needs. The misconception of this diet is that you can eat whatever, whenever you want and achieve phenomenal results. If you can meal prep and control your urges, you can find success here.

The Diet is About YOU

No matter how perfect the fit, YOU have to work. You have to be consistent. You have to be persistent. This is a lifestyle change and it won’t come easy. These diets have been successful because they control the calories and result in a caloric deficit. Which one of these is right for you? Only you can answer that. If you need some help, contact us for free advice.