BlogNutritionHealthy Eating vs Restrictive Diets: What Is Better for Weight Loss?

Healthy Eating vs Restrictive Diets: What Is Better for Weight Loss?

Mariia Roza
Written by Mariia Roza on May 31, 2021

Table of contents

A restrictive diet is something like a magic spell: Many of us believe that this is a solution to all of our weight problems. If you can just cut out certain foods, the fat will melt away immediately, and you’ll have your dream body for the rest of your life. 

However, most certified doctors and nutrition specialists agree that what really improves public health(1) is the combination of healthy balanced eating and proper physical activity. Whom should you believe: Instagram influencers with their own celebrity diets or scientifically proven balanced approaches? 

The thing is, an unbalanced yet restricted diet can be just as bad for your health as gorging yourself on low-quality fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Diets that look good on the surface might prove detrimental to your health in the long term. They are called fad diets(2).

Fad diets—a ticking time bomb

Restrictive diets are based on a calorie deficit(3) that allows you to lose weight as quickly as possible. More balanced versions of fat-loss diets and healthy meal plans pay attention to the needs of your body in both energy (calories), macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats), and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals). On the other hand, many fad diets disregard the benefits of balanced eating for health and focus only on burning fat. 

You’ll see this approach in many diets that remove entirely different types of food or categories of macronutrients. For example, on a carnivore diet(4), you can eat only meat. On a ketogenic diet(5), you should restrict your carbs intake to 50 grams per day (for reference, one apple contains 25 grams of carbs). Some crash diets offer you to reduce your calorie intake by half, which is sometimes insufficient even to cover your basal metabolic needs(6).

Fad diets don't work | Shutterstock
Fad diets don't work | Shutterstock

Reasons behind the weight-loss rebound

While overly restrictive diets can lead to a loss of weight (with particularly notable results at the beginning), their results are unsustainable. These diets cannot be maintained for extended periods for a variety of reasons.

The reason behind gaining back the weight you’ve lost with the extreme or unbalanced diet is the weight-loss rebound(7) effect. Many people who attempt these diets not only regain the weight they’ve lost, they can even gain additional pounds on top of that. This happens because of two main reasons.

First of all, your metabolic rate slows down. This phenomenon is known as metabolic adaptation(8). It was described by multiple studies, including the case study of the Biggest Loser participants who had a lower metabolic rate even six years after the TV competition.

The second reason is the higher levels of the hunger hormone. Ghrelin level is almost 20% higher(9) among people who’ve lost weight with the help of restrictive diets. So, the reason behind gaining weight back is not the lack of willpower but how your body reacts to heavy restrictions in food.

Restrictive diets have multiple side effects | Shutterstock
Restrictive diets have multiple side effects | Shutterstock

Side effects of overly restrictive diets

Along with the yo-yo effect that usually follows severe calorie restriction, extremely fast and drastic weight loss can lead to health problems. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines(10) state that the healthiest speed of weight loss is 1-2 pounds or 0.45-0.9 kg per week. A much faster weight loss can have multiple side effects, and these are only some of them:

  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Gallstones and gallbladder problems
  • Muscle loss
  • Hair loss
  • Electrolytes deficiency
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Malnutrition

Malnutrition and chronic malnutrition, in the long run, can seriously damage your health. In some cases, it can even be life-threatening. As on excessively restrictive diets, your body is running on empty and constantly low in energy. This leads to the degradation of your immune system, leaving you susceptible to infectious diseases or chronic conditions becoming acute. 

Good nutrition—a sensible answer

Confronting these fad diets are balanced meal plans. A nutrition plan that provides the body with the vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and calories it needs is a safer, healthier, and more efficient weight-loss option in the long run. Choose diets that include a vast amount of fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, grains, and healthy oils. Rather than blacklisting foods from your plate, balanced nutrition plans will focus on portion sizes and merely reduce the consumption of less nutritious or highly processed foods.

Healthy eating will help you lose and maintain new weight | Shutterstock
Healthy eating will help you lose and maintain new weight | Shutterstock

Summing up

It is entirely possible to lose weight through a well-balanced nutrition plan. It is a much safer option when compared to crash diets. Healthy eating with a slight calorie deficit provides gradual, sustainable weight loss, just as healthcare specialists recommend. By choosing slower and steadier fat loss, you can also manage your health problems, keep your immune system strong and maintain a good energy level to help you stay positive and happy overall. 

A diet should encourage you, gently pushing you in the right direction. It shouldn’t be a punishment that deteriorates your mental or physical wellbeing. Keep your eating balanced, and you will enjoy your favorite meals, explore new foods, and let your health improve along with your figure.

Sources

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. (2015, December). http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
  • Ruden D. M., Rasouli P., Lu X. (2007, June). Potential Long-Term Consequences of Fad Diets on Health, Cancer, and Longevity: Lessons Learned from Model Organism Studies. Technology in Cancer Research and Treatment. DOI: 10.1177/153303460700600312
  • Stasser B., Spreitzer A., Haber P. (2007, November 20). Fat Loss Depends on Energy Deficit Only, Independently of the Method for Weight Loss. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. DOI: 10.1159/000111162
  • O’Hearn A. (2020, October). Can a Carnivore Diet Provide All Essential Nutrients? Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity. DOI: 10.1097/MED.0000000000000576
  • Martin-McGill K. J., Lambert B., Whiteley V. J., et al. (2019, June). Understanding the Core Principles of a “Modified Ketogenic Diet”: The UK and Ireland Perspective. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. DOI: 10.1111/jhn.12637
  • Henry C. J. K. (2005, October). Basal metabolic rate studies in humans: measurement and development of new equations. Public Health Nutrition. DOI: 10.1079/phn2005801
  • Hall K. D., Kahan S. (2019, January 1). Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Medical Clinics of North America. DOI: 10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012
  • Hall K. D. (2018, April 10). Metabolic Adaptations to Weight Loss. Obesity (Silver Spring).  DOI: 10.1002/oby.22189
  • Cummings D. E., Weigle D. S., Frayo R. S., et al. (2002, May 23). Plasma Ghrelin Levels after Diet-Induced Weight Loss or Gastric Bypass Surgery. The New England Journal of Medicine. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa012908
  • (2020, August 17). Losing Weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/