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Over the last couple of years, the Ketogenic Diet and Intermittent Fasting have become buzzwords in the world of health and nutrition. But are they the right approach to staying healthy? Three leading fitness experts and nutritionists from Chennai — Jen Thomas, Minacshi Pettukola, and Shitija – talk about popular diets and what’s right for you.

popular diets

Diet trends are not new. For decades now, we, as a society, have been obsessed with weight loss and health improvement: From Paleo, GM, and Atkins to the newer Keto Diet and Intermittent Fasting (IF). But we don’t always get it right.

The Keto Diet and IF in particular have been a rage for a few years now. While keto is a high-fat diet-low carb diet that relies on the body converting fat (instead of glucose) into an energy source IF is a diet that gives you an 8-10 hour window to eat all your meals within. It’s been recorded that fasting allows people to have high energy, improved cell repair, and increased metabolism.

What we need to know about diets 

Straight off the bat, our panel agrees on one thing: In today’s times, we are far too dependent on convenience, and suffer, to some extent, from a lack of self-love. “This is not about just weight loss. Anything coming out of a packet or bottle tends to have harmful chemicals and additives,” says Shitija, a nutritionist and health and fitness expert who runs the healthy meal delivery service, Fit Chef in Chennai. “It’s far deeper. It’s about making informed choices to eat foods that don’t cause addiction, skin problems, hormonal issues, diseases, hair fall, and more. These foods may do the job fast or provide instant emotional gratification, that doesn’t make it right.”  

Nutritionist, food consultant, and fitness influencer Minacshi Pettukola agrees. “As a society, if we can’t eat real, whole food, we won’t gain the nourishment our bodies and minds need. So, stay informed and eat real food — that’s the first step to feeling good, looking good, and beyond. It’s also why so many of us find ourselves with imbalances and deficiencies.”

popular diets

The truth about FD and IF

So, what exactly do they feel about diets like keto and intermittent fasting? “Like the junk that has been marketed to us, fads probably came into play for quick results. But they’re not holistic because they only target a single point: Weight loss, detox, etc.” feels Pettukola. It is something Jen Thomas, nutritionist, fitness coach, and pre & postnatal coach agrees with. “The diet industry is an industry, at the end of the day, their focus is making money,” she says. “Often, to achieve their promises, diet programs can be extremely low calorie and cut healthy food groups out of your diet. And anything extreme has an expiry date. Diets can leave you frustrated, demoralised, and bored.”

Shitija, also feels that while diets show results, they can be short-term, often with long-lasting, negative side effects. “For example, high-fat diets can leave you with a major caloric deficit or increase in cholesterol. Don’t completely cut out any food group,” she says. While IF is made to curb overeating, doing extreme hours or prolonged periods, can have the opposite effect and mess up your metabolic cycle. It’s important to listen to your body. 

How to differentiate between and good and bad diet?

But is there any merit to these programs? “Yes, there is merit to most diets, because the science behind it isn’t fully wrong. At the end of the day, it’s about burning more than you consume,” says Thomas. “And oftentimes, if you consult an expert and do your research, provided you don’t follow intense regulations, you may find something that is sustainable and suits you. Ask yourself if the method is tricking you into buying too many supplements, cookbooks, powders, and specialised foods. If it is, you might be going in circles and buying into the gimmick.”

popular diets

So with a lot of misleading information out there, easily available fast food, and pressure to look your best, what’s the right way to go? “Sometimes diets are more than trends — they are a way of life or identification, like being vegan. In that case, it’s okay to work your diet around your lifestyle or preferences,” says Thomas. “If the diet is asking to drastically reduce calories or forcing you to follow a set of rigid rules that are unsustainable, then it won’t last.” 

What is the right way to diet?

A diet plan really varies from person to person. Nothing is cookie-cutter. “We often forget the fundamentals of healthy eating is just portion control, working out, and staying healthy. Unfortunately, it isn’t as sexy of a sell as dieting,” says Thomas.  

“Understand that effective is a very fluid term, and the first step is changing your mindset to understand yourself better. Slow down, tune in, and listen to your body. Then, make vitality and optimisation of your well-being a priority,” says Pettukola. “Weight loss is a hugely oversold word that the food industry thrives on. It is just a number. Instead concentrate on your emotional, mental, and physical health. On yourself, balance, and nutrition,” she adds.

popular diets

The dos and don’ts of dieting

  1. Pettukola says that quick fixes –packaged food, depending only on one food group to do the work – doesn’t work. “Building life-long habits is the secret to a happy life, one that allows indulgence, but shows you lasting results. Change the narrative from weight loss to being your happiest self,” says Thomas.
  2. If you’re looking for professional help, consult an expert with a holistic point of view, do the research, listen to your symptoms, figure out what you’re lacking and take it from there,” says Pettukola.
  3. Thomas also feels like we can stop falling for the one-trick ponies, and celebrate our bodies by removing negative terms like ‘lose weight’ from our dictionary. “And yes, junk is bad, but indulge in a packet of chips at the movies sometimes — that’s okay,” she says.
  4. Thomas isn’t completely against diets, “but because of how unsustainable they are, I often hear my clients talk about trying a certain diet for two weeks and then giving up due to a lack of results. This is another reason why I find them discouraging. Nothing is easy, sure, but build on something that is slow, do-able, and still allows you to be you.”
  5. Eat more whole foods, reduce junk significantly, and watch your portions. Another nifty trick: “One question I always ask my clients,” says Thomas, “is what’s so bad about appreciating yourself as you are? Because sometimes, answering that question is the best place to start.”

All images: Courtesy Getty

Devanshi Kapadia

Kapadia is a content writer & creator. For over six years, she’s worked with brands and digital portals like Asian Paints, Kellogg’s, Glamrs, MissMalini.com, and more. Reading is her first love and she’s got a penchant for drama. So, you can always find her chasing a good story.