Keto, Paleo, Intermittent Fasting, Macros, Whole 30…What is the best choice?

When it comes to diet plans there are seemingly an endless amount of choices, with more and more fad diets showing up all the time. You can find advice claiming a juice cleanse will cure what ails you. You can find Internet experts claiming the benefits of their diet methodology regardless of goals - or what science says. In this world of unlimited choices and every diet claiming to be personalized for you and your goals, what should you choose?

These diets have one thing in common: controlling consumption.

At the end of the day, your weight is going to be determined by the amount of calories you eat versus the amount of calories you burn in a day. If you eat more than you burn you will gain weight over time. If you eat less than you burn, you will lose weight over time. Whether the weight gained or lost is mainly muscle or mainly fat is impacted by your exercise plan - but weight manipulation is completely dependent upon calories in versus calories out. Your metabolism is not broken. You are not a scientific anomaly.

Each of the diets listed above seek first to control your overall consumption. The keto diet does this by eliminating carbohydrates. Without rice, bread, oats, potatoes, and all other carb-dense foods, you naturally tend to eat less. You can quickly throw this off by stuffing your face with bacon, but many people find success on keto through the simple fact they stop eating as much when they no longer eat carbs. The Paleo diet also eliminates entire food groups to control calories. The Paleo lifestyle takes away all grains, beans (including peanuts) and dairy. When you can't eat bread or rice, peanut butter or beans, and cheese, butter, milk, and yogurt, you naturally end up eating less. Whole 30 is in a very similar boat with Paleo.

Macros accomplishes this by giving you set amounts of each macronutrient you can eat each day. For weight-specific goals it does not matter where you get those nutrients from (ice cream or whole foods technically doesn't matter) but you absolutely cannot eat more than your plan says - so macros controls your calorie intake first and foremost.

Which one is best?

This needs to be made extremely clear - all diets can work for you. But just because they can doesn't mean each diet is made equal and is the right one for you. To think through this clearly, consider the keto diet. The keto diet is gaining tons of popularity right now, partially because it seems so easy on the surface. Just cut out carbs, right? Well, actually, wrong. You have to hit specific numbers of fat, carbs, and proteins to actually be in ketosis. Most people are simply doing low carb and thinking they are in ketosis. While this can work, if you want to feel good while working out and keep your energy levels high for things like your career and family life, this is a recipe for disaster. Essentially you've not switched your body from burning carbs to burning fat - because you're not in ketosis - but you've cut out carbs and your body has very, very little fuel source. This isn't just hard on your body, it greatly impacts your mental capacity, as well.

The Paleo diet, and Whole 30, run into similar challenges. Thankfully, you can fuel your body well on both of these by including enough sweet potatoes, bananas, and other fruits in your daily nutrition. While these diets are both fairly restrictive in terms of cutting out dairy, all legumes, and grains, they do allow you to still eat carbohydrates - just very specific forms. The big issue here is availability. Most people will go completely off the wagon the moment they cannot stick to their Whole 30 or Paleo lifestyle. Traveling without a Paleo option? Time to go for the burrito AND the chips because you already messed up your diet, right? Logically this is wrong, but it happens time and time again under restrictive diets. One small step out of line leads to a snowball of bad nutritional choices.

For the Summit team, we prefer macros as our go to nutrition plan. Here's why:

  • Macros are the most adaptable plan to every day life. If you're traveling, you can eat anything regardless of the situation - just make sure it fits within your numbers.
  • They are the only diet rooted in science. Macros are a math problem. If you're not seeing the results you're looking for and tracking accurately, we know exactly how to fix that problem.
  • Macros ensure you're fueled for your workouts and day - both physically and mentally ready for the challenges ahead.
  • Macros are easily flexed for social situations. There are guides for how to track alcohol, and even your most indulgent meals can be planned for by reducing intake beforehand.

To summarize, macros are the plan we've seen the most success with because they fit real life. They don't ask you to eliminate entire food groups, but rather to be smart about what you consume and to be mindful of the amount you consume. It is still strongly encouraged to get your food from whole sources and not packaged options, but if you're traveling or have a crazy day and simply don't have the time to cook you can definitely find many, many options for picking up that will fit your macros.

Your diet should support your life, not dictate it.

When you choose to follow an overly restrictive diet, you are setting yourself up for difficult social situations and a diet which constantly makes you feel like you are dieting. If you truly want to have long term nutrition success, it needs to become a lifestyle. That means it needs to be sustainable. While you may not always weigh and measure every piece of food that goes into your mouth, learning to count your macros will give you the skills to know how much you should be eating and to understand how each type of food fits into your overall plan for health and wellness.

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