No one diet or nutrition plan works for everyone: bio-individuality means that each of us has to take into account our unique physiology, personal goals, internal and external challenges, and a range of other factors to determine our ideal dietary approach.
In this article, when we talk about diet, we’re referring to your consumption of food in general—not the more common and restrictive usage of the word. Because no one wants to “diet”. It implies self-punishment, sacrifice, and blandness. What we should ultimately be striving for is a way of life we can enjoy, supported by a healthy eating pattern that nourishes our bodies and helps us achieve our goals. The best weight-loss diets are the ones that suit your lifestyle and contribute to your overall wellness.
Below, we’ve outlined the four major types of diets, explaining how they work, giving examples of specific diet plans, and highlighting why each type may or may not be the best approach for you. We hope this helps you make the decisions that are right for your body as you continue on your health journey!
Diet Type 1: Calorie Restriction
As the name implies, calorie restriction diets aim to reduce body fat by counting and cutting calories. Generally, they work by reducing your energy or calorie intake while simultaneously increasing your caloric energy expenditure. While there is certainly more to a lean and healthy body than “calories in vs. calories out,” it can't be argued that achieving a calorie deficit is an effective way to lose weight.
In conjunction with other elements of a healthy lifestyle, such as quality sleep, daily movement, ample hydration, and stress management, some of these popular calorie restriction diets may be beneficial to you.
Example of calorie restriction diet plans: Weight Watchers or other calorie-tracking methods
Why it may work for you: For some, calorie calculating is like a fun puzzle or problem-solving exercise. Plus, it requires less effort once you get the hang of it. It can also be comforting to know that no foods are “off-limits;” instead, these diets are about being strategic and mindful of the cumulative effect of the food you’re eating.
Many of us who have never given much thought to exactly how much food we eat, or what that food is made up of, can find tracking our actual intake to be extremely helpful and enlightening. Surprisingly, we often have no concept of how much energy is in the things we eat, drink or snack on throughout the day!
On a final note, restriction diets such as Weight Watchers will typically focus not only on cutting calories but on building healthy habits, such as regular exercise, and adopting the right mindset toward food.
Why it may not work for you: For many people, time and patience to track food is hard to find. Additionally, if you have a history of obsessive or dysfunctional attitudes towards eating, spending a lot of time and mental energy tracking your food intake can potentially be harmful.
Lastly, while it can be fun and even easy to do in the short-term, you may find that the work of tracking calories in restriction diets can become tedious over an extended period of time. If you're in it for the long haul, you'll need a lot of motivation.
Diet Type 2: Macro Restriction
There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta, and rice), protein (meat, dairy, nuts, legumes), and fats (animal fat, butter, olive oil, nuts—to name a few). A macro restriction diet consists of determining a macronutrient breakdown to follow and logging your intake to stay on track.
The best way to find the right balance for your body is to seek help from a nutritionist or coach. Those who follow macro restriction diets will track how much they consume from each food category to make sure they are meeting the right macro-nutrient requirements on a daily basis.
Example of macro restriction diet plans: Ketogenic diet, Atkins diet, IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)
Why it may work for you: Similar to calorie tracking, macro calculating can be seen an engaging and interesting mathematical experiment. Likewise, once you get into the habit, you'll find that it takes less time and effort. As with calorie restriction diets, no foods are entirely off-limits; all you need to do is make strategic choices to meet your fat, protein, and carbohydrate needs on a daily basis.
Why it may not work for you: Since these diets are also based on tracking your intake, they come with the same disadvantages as calorie-counting diets. Besides requiring time and patience, the practice can be potentially harmful to those who have a history of obsessive or dysfunctional food attitudes. Finally, some of these diets can demand the restriction of one macro-nutrient, which many can find too strict or unsustainable. One such example is keto, as this diet consists mainly of healthy fats and a moderate amount of protein but heavily restricts your carb intake. (If you're having difficulty, nutritious products such as our keto bars can also help you meet your macro goals and satisfy your taste buds as well.)
Diet Type 3: Food-Type Restriction
These diets work by cutting out specific foods or food categories that are believed to be less nutritious or actively harmful to your health. Some of the most commonly restricted foods are processed carbohydrates and sugar, as well as red meat, processed meat, saturated fats, and other foods connected to heart disease and high blood pressure.
Other restriction diets can include gluten, soy products, and vegetables in the nightshade family. Vegetarianism and the vegan diet are based on food-type restrictions, as is the Paleo diet.
Example of food type restriction diet plans: Paleo, carnivore, vegan, vegetarian, AIP (autoimmune protocol), FODMAP
Why it may work for you: If you do the work of determining which foods your body doesn't respond well to, a restrictive diet can be a very effective and sustainable approach to improving your health. Sure, cutting bread from your diet may seem tricky at first but the list of foods you can eat is almost always bigger than the list of those you can’t. More importantly, the immediate and notable health benefits you reap once you remove inflammatory foods can be life-altering.
Further, if you determine that you are truly intolerant to certain foods, it becomes less of a choice you have to make every day and more of a prescription for living that prevents sickness or discomfort.
Why it may not work for you: Figuring out how your body responds to various food types—and what it can and can't tolerate—typically means going through an elimination diet. This process requires personal experimentation and a lot of patience, as it will take time to see the long-term effects of certain diets.
For example, individuals may switch from a standard meat-heavy American diet to a plant-based vegan one and quickly notice the health benefits of cutting processed foods. However, it may take months for them to notice the health issues that can result from a lack of animal protein in their diet.
On another note, many people find it extremely difficult to cut out foods they’ve eaten and enjoyed their whole lives—like meat, pasta, or bread. Societal factors can also be difficult to navigate: you might be able to control what you eat at home, but what do you do at a pizza party with friends?
Finally, while the 80:20 approach (following a certain diet most of the time but including “cheat days”) can work for some, it results in failure when an individual is intolerant to a certain food. On this note, it can be discouraging to eat well for a long time only to slip up once and go back to square one in terms of discomfort and negative side effects.
Diet Type Four: Timing Restriction Diet
In this approach, you designate specific fasting periods on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to increase autophagy and the use of fat stores for energy. This can range from a simple “time-restricted daily feeding window” of 4 to 10 hours to a weekly 24-hour fast, a monthly three-day fast, a quarterly five-day fast, and so on—depending on personal goals and lifestyle.
Example of timing restriction diet plans: Intermittent Fasting, OMAD (One Meal A Day)
Why it may work for you: Many people believe time-restriction diets are easier and more sustainable because there is less thinking involved. Instead of having to calculate and keep track of this or that, you simply pick a fasting period or eating window and stick to it. There are no other decisions involved: outside of your fasting times, you can eat as you like (within reason, of course).
Interestingly enough, many find it easier to eat nothing for 24 hours than to count calories or track macros to make sure they’re eating in the right proportions. Perhaps it's because fasting doesn't require any time; in fact, it saves time. For busy people, making time to stop, prepare, and eat food can even be stressful. Thus, having designated periods where they don’t have to think about food—and get to enjoy the health benefits of doing so—is seen as a positive lifestyle change.
Why it may not work for you: Conversely, depending on the kind of person you are, not eating for long periods might stress you out. If you’re used to regular meal times as a break in your day, or a time when you connect with others, you may find yourself longing to have them back.
Additionally, you may feel distracted or on edge when hungry, and this could make you more likely to binge when your "eating window" finally comes around. While you can work up to fasting for gradually longer periods, it’s not always the most suitable or sustainable approach—especially if you have a history of disordered eating.
With numerous types of diets out there, it's all about finding the one that is best for you. Start by outlining your core objectives: are you looking for the most sustainable way to lose weight, or is your goal to relieve high blood pressure and live a long life free of heart disease or cancer? From there, consider what is attainable to you.
Will your environment and social circle allow you to adopt a plant-based diet, or is meat an unmissable source of protein for you? Perhaps a vegetarian diet is not attainable but a pescatarian diet, which allows you to eat fish, is.
At the end of the day, choose a diet that your mind and body can feel good about.