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WORDS Cam Wild

When it comes to learning something new, the first thing we usually do is jump onto Google for a quick DIY crash course or ask a trusted friend. Whether it’s learning how to boil water or mastering the star jump, our circle of friends and the internet are full of answers to even the strangest of questions - and these quick, simple solutions can be ideal for our minor queries. However, when it comes to health and nutrition, specifically fat loss and muscle building, we can get overwhelmed by how deep the rabbit hole really is. We often give up before we’ve even started or worse… attempt a new diet or nutrition plan ill-prepared. That’s why I’m here: to cut through the confusion and give you a better understanding of what you are really getting yourselves into!

In this issue of MMH, I’ve broken down three of the more popular “diets” going around. First up on the list is the ever popular Paleo diet, followed by IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) approach - a favourite in the fitness and bodybuilding community – and the lesser known Zone Diet. They all adopt slightly different approaches to what we should and should not consume, but does one diet reign nutritionally supreme?

The Paleo diet is essentially based on the concept of only eating foods our ancestors ate up to two million years ago. This includes whole foods such as meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, small portions of fruit, and some starchy vegetables. This diet automatically has us eliminating a whole range of preservatives, hidden sugars, sodium, additives, colouring and artificial flavourings. As a result, we also eliminate inessential toxins and consume more nutrient-dense foods. For example, a sweet potato and a bowl of rice both contain carbohydrates but, unlike the rice, the sweet potato also contains a much higher ratio of essential micronutrients – making it more nutrient-dense. Depending on the individual’s preference, small intermittent portions of whole grains may be consumed, however full Paleo converts avoid them completely due to their low nutrient density and high phytic acid content, which has been said to prevent certain minerals from being absorbed in the gut.

The Paleo diet is rich in nutrients and plentiful in fibre, which together with adequate water intake and a complete removal of the toxic family of gluten (found in wheat, rye and barley) facilitates optimal digestive functioning and nutrient absorption in the gut, and greatly minimises disease risk. Additionally, due to the nature of this high-fat, high-protein diet, the body is primed to burn more fats and has a higher capacity for muscle anabolism – helping you to get leaner and build muscle simultaneously!

Most people experience consistent fat loss and muscle growth while eating a Paleo diet and keeping an active lifestyle. From improved metabolic processes, gut health, better sleep, stress management, sufficient Vitamin D and a healthy ratio of Omega-3/6 fatty acids, the Paleo diet aids in optimising body composition, morning-to-night energy levels and overall health.

Next up is the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) approach to dieting, which is the technique of counting your three macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. This can allow you to realise a body composition goal based on a more in-depth approach to caloric restriction. This plan ensures you consume adequate amounts of protein and fats, and monitor your carbohydrate intake to amounts that don't support fat retention.

Here is a breakdown of the three macros:
One gram of each macro has a calorie value.
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
- 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

Rather than typical calorie counting (for example eating 2,000 calories a day), flexible IIFYM dieters would track macronutrients (for example, eating 150g of protein, 80g of fat, 170g of carbohydrate = 2,000 calories), which more effectively influences body composition rather than just fat loss or fat gain.

The IIFYM approach could be considered the “flexible diet”, with the basis of a calorie deficit being important for fat loss. This approach permits all foods and food items available for consumption including pizza, donuts and even beer – as long as the total macros fit within your daily allowance. While this method of dieting would obviously appeal to a wide audience there is cause for concern as these foods are not as nutrient-dense as whole foods. Therefore it will be much more difficult to supply the body with adequate amount of micronutrients essential for optimal health.

The food that we ingest not only has a physical response but also a physiological and hormonal response too, and consuming these poor-quality foods can and does wreak havoc on our body. From a compromised immune system to constant sugar cravings it can be very hard to stay consistent and remain eating sustainably in such a way. It is important to note, however, that the base of IIFYM is NOT to just eat poor-quality foods, but the option is available if you see fit.

Finally, the Zone Diet is based around the moderate consumption of the right ratio of carbs, fats, and protein fitting somewhere in between the Paleo and IIFYM approaches. The method suggests consuming 2/3 of a plate of multi-coloured vegetables, with the remaining third of the plate containing a low-fat protein source. The key factor in Zone Diet is the hormonal balance and anti-inflammatory effect you accomplish with each meal. However, these same effects are achieved on the Paleo diet – and to a higher extent. The Zone diet allows for a higher fruit and vegetable consumption and instills good habits such as portion control and sugar reduction. Each meal or snack is calculated to be around the 40-30-30 ratio but, as with the IIFYM approach, it still requires a calculator to be brought to the table!

The Zone Diet encourages fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts, leafy green vegetables, adequate protein consumption, and eight glasses of water every day to promote the optimal functioning of the body. This diet also has many similarities to the Mediterranean diet, the primary difference being a reduction in grains for more fruits and vegetables to remove the higher GI carbohydrates in favour of the lower-GI starchy and fibrous vegetables and fruits. Again, like the IIFYM approach there is still no removal of gluten from the diet which can cause serious gut health issues among many other detrimental effects to fat loss and muscle building.

Interestingly enough, the Zone diet actually promotes the consumption of alcohol - albeit in smaller quantities due to the alcohol being treated by the body “just like a carbohydrate” (according to Dr. Barry Sears, the creator and promoter of the diet, which I’m sure will make a lot of people happy to hear!)

Which diet is best for you?
So which diet is best for me? Well, ultimately that choice is yours and yours alone. Just like 3 + 3 = 6 so does 5 + 1… there is more than one way to achieve the desired end result. However, in order for you to make a decision on how you are going to get there, it is critically important to first start with the end in mind. Here are a few essential questions you should be asking yourself when faced with the choices at hand.

What exactly are you looking to get out of the diet? Somethings to think about are health, body composition, energy levels, freedom and flexibility. Is this diet going to work with the lifestyle you want to lead? Maybe you want to eat lots of food more frequently or maybe you just want a few simple meals. At the end of the day it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each diet and the lifestyles that are inherently associated with them. No one person processes food the same as another so don’t beat yourself up about what works for someone else as we are all built differently!

Choosing what is going to work best can be confusing with all the conflicting nutritional information out there so be sure to seek out nutritional advice from an expert in the field (not your personal trainer). Pick someone with real world experience who has CONSISTENT results to show then ask questions and see if their approach will align with you!

Last but not least the final piece of advice is to ask yourself: “Can I see myself eating like this in the long term?” if the answer is no then chances are it’s not for you. There are plenty to pick from, just be sure it’s one you can stick to! Happy Eating!

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