It’s the most popular time of the year to go on a diet. But in my book, better health and weight loss begin not with fad diets but with choices that, over time, become habits — supporting lifelong change through tangible, actionable strategies that you can adapt for any scenario. (Hint: You can start by setting boundaries.)
First, here are my basics for a healthy approach to better eating habits:
- Pack on the produce: veggies and fruit
- Prioritize good-for-you fats: plant-based oils and other unsaturated fats
- Eat more seafood: fatty fish plus crustaceans and mollusks
- Choose 100% whole grains: farro, buckwheat, bulgur, wheat, and oats
- Enjoy conscious indulgences: chocolate, sweets, and baked goods in moderation
- Think inclusive vs. exclusive: full-fat and low-fat dairy, prioritizing quality over quantity
- Provide enrichment of multiple varieties: cooking with herbs and spices, enjoying favorite restaurants, and trying new flavors
All that said, if you’re keen to study up on the best and worst diet plans out there, you’re in the right place.
The Best Diets to Try in 2019
The Mediterranean Diet
What makes this “diet” so great is that it’s a lifestyle, not a traditional weight-loss plan that has you counting calories or measuring portions. It’s all about enjoying meals with friends and loved ones, savoring each flavor, indulging in delicious, quality items like flavorful cheeses and desserts, and making time for plenty of physical activity (ah, to be walking on the beaches of Greece right now!).
You’ll fill up on tons of veggies, fruit, 100% whole grains, pulses (like beans, chickpeas, peas, and lentils); choose lean protein like seafood, eggs, and some meat; and savor sweets and higher-in-saturated-fat choices (Prosciutto di Parma, anyone?!) in smaller amounts.
While there’s no “restriction” on this plan, the predominant foods in it promote both health and weight loss or management. The idea is to fill up on nutritious items in order to indulge, consciously. This approach naturally limits the amount of ultra-processed foods you’ll eat, which tend to have more sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar. Since the Mediterranean eating style prioritizes enjoyment of your whole dining experience, flavorful ingredients are at the forefront so you’ll never feel deprived.
The DASH Diet
This diet, which stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” can be both an overall healthier style of eating and a smart approach to weight loss. It emphasizes produce of all types, seafood, 100% whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts, and seeds. The predominant protein sources are poultry, pork, and seafood, with an emphasis on omega-3 filled fatty fish, like tuna, sardines, and salmon.
The DASH diet tells you what to eat without over-emphasizing any key nutrient. It’s high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which counterbalance the effects of sodium, promote better heart health, and help prevent hypertension (a.k.a. high blood pressure).
The plan limits higher-in-saturated fat foods, added sugars, and sodium by making red meat about half a serving per day and cutting back on processed food sources like condiments, sauces, breads, cereals, fast food, sweetened beverages, jam, syrups, and breakfast pastries. You’ll still get to eat smaller servings of real indulgences — similar to the Mediterranean diet. The basic tenants include:
- 2-3 servings of dairy products, mostly part-skim and unsweetened
- 6-8 servings of whole grains, like a slice of toast or ½ cup oatmeal or pasta
- 5 servings of fruits and veggies
- 6 ounces of lean protein, choosing a mix of seafood, poultry, pork, and eggs
- 2-3 teaspoons of fats and oils
- 4-5 servings of nuts and legumes, like 2 tablespoons nut butter or ½ cup beans
- 5 servings of sweets per week (each treat should stay at or under 18 grams of sugar)
The Volumetrics Diet
Developed by a team of experts at Penn State, this diet relies on some incredible weight-loss basics: more vegetables, more fruit, more creative ways to eat more veggies and fruit, and more calories from plant-based foods filled with fiber and lots of water. And if you look closely, you’ll see many diets have adapted the same general approach and mindset-shift (this one’s considered the O.G.).The thing people like most about a volume-based approach is that it makes you feel like you can eat a ton — without constantly thinking about “restriction.” Think: 4 cups of popcorn or a 1/2 cup of flavor-packed salsa with loads of veggie slices. The other great thing? Nothing is off-limits or set in stone, meaning you can adapt it to meet your budget and any dietary needs.
The approach to eating “more produce” works by displacing calories from other foods, making you feel both full and satisfied, and not resulting in the “OMG I can’t eat anything!” phenomenon of other weight-loss plans.
So if you have one takeaway for any diet you’re keen on trying, chew on this: Think more vegetables, more often. That thought process helps you combine great things about all great eating plans, including Mediterranean and DASH.
The Worst Diets to Try in 2019
Anything With the Words “Detox” or “Cleanse”
Cleanses took many forms in 2018 — from the Izo Cleanse made popular by Kelly and Ryan to the “teatoxing” promoted by Cardi B, so it’s only logical that we’ll see more of ’em in 2019. And while none of these celebs are healthcare professionals, this breed of “cleanse” and “detox” mania fuels the fire of an already problematic diet culture. They propagate a myth that binging and restricting can make you happier and healthier, when in fact, it’s more accurately linked to obesity and depression — not to mention spending hard-earned money just to sit on the toilet.
They’re not FDA-regulated and therefore, what they do in your body can’t really be determined. If you’re thinking, So what?! I want to lose weight quickly and it’s okay if it doesn’t work, I still want to try! Listen up: Outside the wide range of potential pitfalls, I have much larger concern about the long-term psychological effects that come from “detoxing.” The more we see words like “cleanse” and “detox,” the more likely we are to believe there’s something beneficial, scientific, or “proven” about it (there isn’t). It’s a elitist shame-trigger, and its wholly unrealistic from both a physiological and mental well-being standpoint.
The Carnivore Diet
Carnivore enthusiasts tout the life-changing benefits of their diet and lifestyle demands, which includes sole dependence on beef, water, and salt (plus bourbon, according the diet’s guru, Mikhaila Petersen).
The concern I have with this diet is that it isn’t just a “low” carb plan, it’s a completely exclusionary plan. There’s no way to survive on a meat-only diet without suffering some serious health problems: vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can result in bone loss, organ damage (and ultimately, organ failure), and unnecessary physical pain.
The Keto Diet
Let me say this first: If you’re currently on a keto diet and absolutely loving life, well then GREAT! I’m not here to shame anyone’s personal style of eating or stop you from doing what’s right for you. But there are a few main reasons why I bring it up as the “worst:”
To stay in the metabolic state known as ketosis, your diet can’t include more than 10% carbs and 20% protein — a distinct difference from other low-carb or Atkins diets. Eating dietary fat for 70% to 90% of your daily calories means cutting fiber-rich foods (fruits, veggies, legumes) and lean protein sources (fatty fish) — some of the most nutrient-dense choices on the planet.
When you severely restrict carbs, your body draws on glycogen for energy — meaning that you’ll drop water weight quickly during the first few weeks. This fact alone can encourage you to stick with it, but ultimately, if limiting most carbs and some protein is dramatically out of your comfort zone, then it’s crucial that you consider how you can achieve weight loss for the long haul.
Depending on the individual, a too-low-carb diet can negatively impact everything from energy levels to hormones. Plus, we have very limited stats on how eating keto for weight loss can affect long-term health. Without that info, it’s too early for public health professionals to universally recommend trying it.
Should you ever go off of this diet during the course of your lifespan, it’s also pretty likely that you’ll gain weight back (and then some), and that’s what I’m hoping to share with you by coming down hard on this trend — not because weight gain is “bad,” but because weight-cycling is physiologically and psychologically damaging. Diets that single out a food group or macronutrient make it that much harder to get out of the purgatory induced by today’s diet landscape. They become recipes for feelings of failure, fear, and self-doubt when we can’t “stick to the plan,” simply because the circumstances of our lives have changed!
The Bottom Line
The best diets promote inclusivity over exclusivity and rely heavily on produce. Highly restrictive diets depend on immediate weight loss to motivate you — but some may backfire entirely and others may leave you fully missing out on nutrients and experiences. Think about what works best for you before trying any new approach to eating, and use that as your framework for building healthier eating habits that stick.
For more ideas, tips, tricks, and healthier eating guides that’ll help you stick to your health-focused resolutions, check out our nutrition director’s new book: Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked): 11 Science-Based Ways to Eat More, Stress Less, and Feel Great About Your Body