In the past, I’ve talked about how you can use IIFYM / Flexible Dieting to optimize ANY diet. But for the most part, most people settle on one of these two approaches — I refer to them as “keto” (a very low carb, high-fat, adequate-protein approach) and “traditional”, which is a somewhat moderate-carb, high-protein, low-fat approach. And while it’s true there are probably a dozen other types of nutrition plans that you could plug into the “count your macros” approach and have success (paleo, for example), for the purposes of keeping things simple, I’d like to talk about the pros and cons of each of these approaches, since they both use a very different kind of body-chemistry to work.
The “Keto” (CarbX) Approach
The name “keto” actually refers to an entire family of diets which work by severely restricting carb intake. “Atkins” is probably the most well-known version of a keto diet. (Although Dr. Atkins failed to understand the critical role of protein, and failed to teach people that calorie restriction was an essential part of the diet — so a lot of people who did Atkins just assumed they could eat all the bacon they wanted and still lose weight…. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way).
“Keto” is short for “ketosis”, which is the name for the chemical change that occurs in your body when you eat VERY few carbs, and you force your body to get its energy from fat, instead. (Carbs are actually your body’s preferred form of energy — but it’s happy to fall back on fat when the carbs aren’t available). When your body is starved of carbs for more than a few days, a chemical change occurs and “ketones” are released, which essentially places your fat burning capability into overdrive — because literally 100% of your body’s energy is going to come from fat — and your body happens to have a large store of that lying around.
Without getting TOO much into the chemistry, part of the reason Keto works so well is because the incredibly limited carb-intake also prevents any spikes in insulin levels. If you’re diabetic, you probably already eat a keto-based diet because you avoid high-glycemic foods like the plague.
It’s also worth pointing out that I lost my first 50-60 lbs using this approach. I’m a huge fan of it.
Advantages of Keto (CarbX):
- It works fairly well even if you don’t exercise much (or at all). I still recommend at LEAST getting up and taking a 30 minute walk every night, but even if you do no cardio and no strength training, you’ll still lose weight. (Any sort of exercise will only super-charge this style of eating).
- You don’t have to give up the high-fat foods that most overweight people have learned to love. You can eat meat, cheese, eggs, and all kinds of good stuff. You get a fairly high fat allowance as a trade-off for almost no carbs, whatsoever. You will still count calories.
- For the reasons above, it tends to work really well for people who are significantly overweight (275+ lbs) — because when you get into that weight bracket, ANY form of exercise is extremely difficult. So I like to incorporate a keto-based nutrition plan to get them down to a manageable level, and THEN incorporate cardio and strength training.
- You can find something to eat at pretty much any restaurant. You might be giving them a fairly custom / specific order, but as long as you can keep the carbs out of the meal, you can eat pretty much anything you want.
Disadvantages of Keto (CarbX):
- You will burn muscle if you don’t exercise. Burning muscle slows down your metabolism. However, if you are SIGNIFICANTLY overweight (250 to 275 or more) then this is probably an acceptable trade-off for a little while.
- On Keto, you only get 20g to 30g carbs a day — and for some people, that’s a huge concern as many of their favorite foods, even healthy foods that they like (a sandwich, for example) do contain carbs.
- If you have a heavy workout schedule, it can make you tired or moody. (Carbs typically fuel workouts.. on keto, fat fuels your workouts, and SOME people report problems with this).
- Cheating is catastrophic. If you eat something loaded with carbs or sugar on a moment of weakness, it will knock your body out of ketosis mode, and it can take 3 to 5 days to get back into that mode. (Literally one bite of a snickers bar can cost you 5 days worth of weight-loss).
The “Traditional” (MacroFit) Approach
I strongly recommend this approach to anyone starting out under about 200lbs. (although, keto has been known to work wonders for people who are MUCH lighter). My thinking is that once you’re under about 200-225, cardio and other forms of exercise become much more viable, and thus having carbs in your diet is preferable, so you can properly fuel your workouts and preserve muscle.
The traditional approach involves having a moderate carb intake (anywhere from 80g to 200g a day, typically — depending on your personal plan), a relatively low fat intake, and a very high protein intake. (The protein protects the muscle, the fat fuels your normal, every-day activities, and the carbs fuel your workouts).
Advantages of the traditional approach:
- You get significantly more variety in your food. Although this point is relatively minor, since people on a keto diet still have access to a massive array of food options.
- You can properly fuel workouts.
- Cheating isn’t quite so catastrophic — in fact, you can occasionally fit “cheat” foods into your normal meal plans.
- It feels like a fairly “normal” way of eating.
- You protect muscle.
Disadvantages of the traditional approach:
- You really do need to do a mix of cardio and strength training. However, you will have made some commitments to changing your lifestyle, and these are a critical part of that commitment. (If you flat-out refuse to exercise, I strongly recommend the keto approach).
- Your fat intake might feel too limiting. If you’re the kind of person who can’t live without butter, cheese, and other super-fatty foods, you may find that the traditional approach means sacrificing key foods that you love.
In the end, you’ll need to decide for yourself which approach to take… But they are BOTH based on macros (keeping your ratio of carbs, protein, and fats to a certain level), they BOTH require that you restrict your calories, and BOTH allow you to eat a huge variety of food!
Personally, I did the keto approach for my first 50-60lbs, and then started incorporating cardio into my workouts (right about the time I dropped under 200lbs). Once I made the switch to adding intense cardio, I found the traditional approach to be a lot more comfortable. However, as mentioned above, many people report continued success on keto, even with a significant workout schedule.