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The Best Diets for Sustainable Weight Loss

Almost half of Americans try to lose weight every year[*].If you’re one of them, you likely already know that changing your diet is one of the best ways to lose weight. 

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But with so many different diets and so much conflicting information online, it can be hard to know what diet plan will actually help you reach your weight loss goals. 

The good news is that there are many diets that work well for sustainable weight loss. What matters is which one works best for you — and the only way to find out is to try a few and see what feels right for your body. 

These six well-researched diets are all good options for long-term weight loss. Give them a try and see which one gives you good results. 

Keto

The ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that focuses on cutting out carbohydrates and replacing them with low-carb, high-fat ingredients instead. 

Keto is great because it allows a lot of foods that you would normally avoid while dieting. Butter, eggs, cheese, bacon, steak, and other high-fat foods are all encouraged on keto — you want about 70% of your daily calories to come from fat. 

Cutting out carbs puts your body into a state of ketosis — with no carbs to use for fuel, your metabolism switches over to burning fat instead. Ketosis comes with a few benefits, including:

  • Faster metabolism. A 2012 study found that people on keto diets burn 300 extra calories per day, compared to people eating the same number of calories on low-fat and low-glycemic diets[*]. 
  • Less hunger. Keto may also make it easier to lose weight without feeling hungry. Studies show that keto diets suppress appetite and that people on keto spontaneously eat fewer calories and lose weight, even when they aren’t consciously following a low-calorie diet[*]. 
  • Fewer food cravings. Studies also show that low-carb diets like keto suppress food cravings, making it easier to stick to your diet plan[*]. 
  • Sustainable weight loss. Compared to a low-fat diet, a keto diet has better long-term adherence and leads to more weight loss over time[*]. 

You can start keto today with a quick trip to the grocery store. A keto macro calculator can help you figure out how much to eat. 

Low-Carb

A low-carb diet is similar to a ketogenic diet but it allows for slightly more carbohydrates — around 100-150 grams of carbs per day. 

Low-carb diets share some of the benefits of a ketogenic diet. Studies show that people on low-carb diets have better adherence lose more weight over time than people on low-fat diets[*], and low-carb diets decrease food cravings[*].

Unlike a ketogenic diet, a low-carb diet won’t speed up your metabolism or suppress hunger. The tradeoff is that low-carb diets are less restrictive when it comes to the foods you can eat, which makes them easier to follow long-term for some people. 

Both keto and low-carb are excellent options if you want to lose weight. You can try both and see which one works better for you. 

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Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a different approach to dieting. Instead of focusing on the amount or type of food you eat, intermittent fasting is all about when you eat. 

With IF, you consume all your calories during a shortened eating window — say, between 12 and 8 PM. You could even go shorter and only eat dinner each day, an approach called one meal a day (OMAD) fasting. 

The basic idea with IF is that overeating is harder when you restrict the time during which you can eat a meal. Many people also find that when they fast during the day, they can eat a big meal and go to bed satisfied while still losing weight. 

Studies show that intermittent fasting is effective for long-term weight loss[*]. Fasting also comes with a variety of health benefits that aren’t directly tied to weight, like decreased inflammation and better mental clarity. 

It’s easy to try intermittent fasting a few times and see how it feels. It may help you lose weight. 

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet doesn’t have a specific definition. However, it generally focuses on eating foods that are popular in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. Ingredients include:

  • Olive oil
  • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, etc.)
  • Chicken
  • Red meat (beef and lamb)
  • Green vegetables
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.)
  • Whole grains

Mediterranean diets are usually a fairly even balance of fat, carbs, and protein, and they focus on high-quality ingredients, little to no processed food, and lots of fresh veggies. 

Studies show that Mediterranean diets are excellent for long-term weight loss[*]. They offer a variety of food choices, emphasize healthy fats like olive oil and wild fish,  and aren’t overly restrictive, which can make them easier to follow for some people. 

In addition, the Mediterranean diet is one of the best-studied diets for long-term heart health[*]. Studies show that Mediterranean diets reduce blood pressure, oxidized cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease and metabolic syndrome. 

Plant-Based (But Not Vegan)

Vegetarian or plant-based diets cut out (or mostly cut out) meat. Instead, a healthy vegetarian diet emphasizes lots of fresh green vegetables and healthy fats like avocados and olive oil. 

It’s worth mentioning that vegetarian and vegan diets are different things, and vegan diets do not make this list. Because certain nutrients (notably vitamin B12, vitamin D, DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids, and iodine) are difficult to find in plant-based food, vegan diets are not nearly as sustainable as vegetarian diets. 

Vegetarian diets include non-meat animal products like eggs, butter, and dairy, which provide the nutrients that vegan diets lack. 

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A healthy plant-based diet typically includes lots of fruits and veggies that are high in fiber, which makes you feel full without contributing calories[*]. 

In addition, studies show that vegetarian diets are effective for weight loss and that they have fairly good long-term adherence[*]. 

How to Choose the Best Weight Loss Diet for You

Fundamentally, any weight loss diet works by putting you in a calorie deficit. When you eat fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight. 

However, there are many different approaches to creating a calorie deficit. 

For example, a keto diet works by suppressing your hunger hormones while also speeding up your metabolism. As a result, you eat less and burn more calories in a day — and over time, you lose weight. 

A healthy vegetarian diet is high in fiber, which fills you up without contributing calories. Again, you can decrease your calorie intake without feeling as hungry, and you’ll lose body fat over time. 

Intermittent fasting allows you to eat a larger meal at the end of the day, when your willpower is low and you’re most likely to snack or otherwise break your diet. You can go to bed feeling full while still in a calorie deficit. 

The approach you take depends on how you feel when you’re following a diet. And whether you choose a diet on this list or another one, it’s worth asking yourself a few questions to determine if the diet you pick will work for you. 

1. Is It Sustainable?

Fad diets encourage severe restriction to help you lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time. 

The problem is that they’re unsustainable long-term, and study after study has shown that short-term crash diets do not lead to long-term weight loss[*]. 

A healthy diet is a long-term lifestyle change. A good weight loss goal for a sustainable diet is 1.0-1.5 pounds of fat loss per week. It takes time to change your body and reach a healthy weight. 

Be patient with yourself and avoid the temptation to follow an extreme short-term diet. It won’t work out for you long-term. 

2. Is It Good for Your Overall Health?

You want to follow a diet that you can eat long-term about 80% of the time, and a big part of that is making sure that the diet you choose is good for your overall health.  

Most successful, healthy weight loss diets emphasize whole foods, moderate to high protein, lots of veggies, healthy fats like olive oil and omega-3s, and a nutritionally complete variety of foods. These are the pillars to look for when choosing a long-term meal plan. 

3. Do You Enjoy It?

An important part of a sustainable weight loss diet is enjoyment. Losing weight is challenging, and it becomes much harder if you’re eating foods that you don’t like.

If you love high-fat foods like steak, butter, bacon, eggs, and cheese, keto may be a good choice for you. 

If you prefer a more balanced blend of fat, carbs, and protein and you enjoy lots of variety in your diet, Mediterranean is a great choice. Staples include grilled meat and fish, hummus, rice, green vegetables, salads, tomatoes, eggplant, cheeses (like feta), lots of fresh herbs, and maybe the occasional glass of red wine. 

If you like huge portion sizes, vegetarian could be a good choice –– veggies and other vegetarian staples have low caloric density, so you can eat a lot of them, feel full, and still lose weight. 

Choose a diet that appeals to you, or try a few different diets from this list and stick to the one that feels best and yields results. 

The Takeaway

There are a lot of healthy diets that can help you lose weight. Some of the best options are keto, low-carb, intermittent fasting, Mediterranean, and vegetarian. 

If you’re struggling with weight gain and you want to make a change, all the diets on this list are great options. 

However, what matters most is finding a diet that fits with your lifestyle and food preferences. That way you’ll stick to it long-term and see results when it comes to weight loss.

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