feature: 13+ diets compared (find the diet that's right for you)

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There are a million popular diets out there. Which one should you try?

First things first – there’s only one diet that works. The diet you stick with.

Second: what happens when you stop dieting? For most people, they go right back to their pre-diet habits and gain back all the weight they lost (and more).

Don’t let that be you. Instead of doing a crazy crash diet, change your life. Make it permanent. Forever.

Yeah, while you’re trying to lose weight you’re going to need to be a little stricter. But when you’re done losing weight, your diet shouldn’t look that different.

Different Types of Diets

There are probably a dozen or more popular diets out there covering every circumstance you can imagine. Seriously, active.com has a list of the 11 Weirdest Diets in History. Spoiler alert: the list includes things like tapeworms, cotton balls, and cigarettes.

While those diets are fascinating to read about, they’re not something you should be considering.

Pretty much all the popular diets are surrounded in controversies. I’m going to do overviews of 13 popular diets. Not a single one of them is without controversy or critics, however, they’re all based mostly on real food consumption.

I’m going to the categorize diets into 4 groups.

  • Popular Low-Carb Diets

Low Carb diets include diets where you consume fewer carbs. I’ll cover Atkins, Paleo, Keto, and Whole30.

  • Popular Regional Diets

Regional diets are diets based on the way a certain part of the world eats. I’ll cover Mediterranean, South Beach, and Nordic.

  • Popular Reduced-Meat Diets

Diets that reduce (or eliminate) meat go here. I’ll cover vegetarian, vegan and raw food.

  • Other Popular Diets

There are a few other popular diets that don’t really fit into one of the above categories. I’ll cover DASH, Weight Watchers (now WW) and Fast 5:2. This is by no means an exhaustive list of other diets, there are probably thousands more that I’m not going to cover.

Let’s get going.

Low-Carb Diets

Low carb diets are all about limiting carbohydrate intake either directly (like keto) or indirectly (like paleo).

Not all low-carb diets are really focused on carbs, but any major reduction of grain products will result in a decrease in carb intake.

There are four major low carb diets that we’ll overview today – Whole30, Keto, Atkins and Paleo.

Whole30 Diet

The Whole30 diet is basically an elimination diet. For 30 days, you eat from a very limited list of approved foods. You’re avoiding foods that are known to be inflammatory in a noticeable percentage of people (such as grains, dairy, legumes).

Some people do a Whole30 and then bounce right back to their prior eating habits. Other people use it as a stepping stone to paleo or keto.

However, ideally it should be treated as an elimination diet. After the 30 dyas, you should slowly reintroduce foods and see if you have an inflammatory response to them. If not, keep eating it. If so, eat it no longer.

Whole30 Rules

The Whole30 rules are simple to understand but harder to follow. There’s essentially only 3:

  • Eat Real Foods: Eat off the approved foods list.
  • Don’t Weigh Yourself: Weigh yourself before you start and after you finish but stay off the scale during the 30 days.
  • Commit 100%: Know what you’re getting into before you start. Prepare yourself and commit to doing it 100% for the full 30 days.

Whole30 Approved Foods

  • Protein: Beef, pork, chicken, seafood eggs. Buy the best quality you can afford but don’t sweat it too much. Skip anything overly processed (such as deli meats and hot dogs).
  • Fat: healthy kinds like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil. No butter, but ghee (clarified butter) is okay.
  • Fruits & Vegetables: Eat them whole and unprocessed. Don’t drink fruit juice, but you can use it as a sweetener (sparingly). Green beans and peas are given a ‘legume-pass’ on Whole30, so enjoy them.
  • Vinegar: Skip malt vinegar, but otherwise you’re good to go.
  • Seasonings: Spices, herbs & seasonings are all okay – as long as you check the ingredients and skip any additives.

Whole30 for Weight Loss

Do people lose weight during a Whole30? Yes but it’s only 30 days, so be realistic.

A healthy weight loss rate is 1-2 pounds (up to 1 kg) a week. Therefore, you could expect to lose 4-8 pounds during a Whole30.

More Whole30 Resources

The best resource to learn more about the Whole30 diet is the official Whole30 website.

Keto Diet

The Keto diet is when you severely limit your carb intake, usually to under 20g a day, net. This results in ketosis – when your body begins using fat for energy instead of carbs.

Keto Rules

There are really only 3 rules to the keto diet.

  • Daily Carb Limit (under 20 grams, net): Under 20 net grams of carbs a day isn’t the only carb limit you can set, but it’s the most common. It’s generally considered the most effective as well. This is all the carbs you’re allowed to eat a day. 20 net grams.  Net grams are calculated as {Total Carbs – Fiber = Net Carbs}
  • Keep Track: Because you have to keep under a very strict (and low) carb limit, you have to keep track of everything you eat. Every. Single. Thing. Always be on the lookout for hidden carbs.
  • Be Smart: This isn’t really a rule, but it should be. Use your brain – diet soda has 0 net carbs but do you really think you should be drinking it? Hint: The answer is no.

Keto Approved Foods

  • Protein: All the protein sources – meat, seafood, birds, eggs, tofu, etc., Protein is good.
  • Dairy: Cheese!! Butter!! Yogurt and milk are okay (but keep an eye on the carb counts). Ice cream, while dairy, is usually loaded with sugar and will be over your daily carb limit. Sorry.
  • Fat: Choose healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil). You’ll need a lot of fat on a keto diet.
  • Vegetables: Mostly okay – but of course, you gotta check the carbs. Sweet potatoes, beets and green peas are almost certainly not going to fit into your carb limit.

Keto for Weight Loss

If you can follow the rules and eat only approved foods, you’re going to lose weight. Period.

Of course, your odds of failure are high. Failure will NOT equal weight loss (and might even lead to weight gain).

More Keto Resources

You can visit my post the Keto Diet for Beginners to learn more about going keto.

Harvard Health says that following a Keto diet can be dangerous and they recommend you pass.

Medical News Today recommends you proceed with caution but suggests several benefits of the keto diet.

Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is a low carb diet that uses four phases to help you lose weight.

Atkins Diet Four-Phase Plan

  • Induction (phase 1): The induction phase is 2 weeks of under 20 grams of carbs per day.
  • Balancing (phase 2): During phase two, you’ll slowly add more carbs to your diet in the form of nuts, low-carb vegetables and very small amounts of fruit. This phase lasts as long as you’re trying to lose weight.
  • Fine-Tuning (phase 3): When you’re very near your goal weight, you start (slowly) adding more carbs until your weight loss slows down.
  • Maintenance (phase 4): The rest of your life. You can eat as many (healthy) carbs as you want as long as you’re not regaining the weight.

Atkins Approved Foods

The approved foods will vary depending on the phase, but no matter your phase you shouldn’t be eating off the approved food list.

  • Protein: All the protein sources – meat, seafood, birds, eggs, tofu, etc., Protein is good.
  • Dairy: Full-fat dairy is permitted. However, you’ll need to watch the carb amounts in phase 1. Ice cream is not permitted.
  • Fat: Choose healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil). You’ll need a lot of fat on a keto diet.
  • Vegetables: Low-carb vegetables only for phases 1 and 2. During phase 3 you may start introducing higher-carb vegetables.

Atkins for Weight Loss

The Atkins Diet is a weight loss diet. The first 3 phases are based around the idea that you’re losing weight intentionally. Phase 1 is designed to kick your body into weight-loss mode.

Some people on Atkins will skip Phase 1 and other people will extend Phase 1 by a couple of weeks.  Phase 1 of the Atkins diet is very similar to being on a keto diet.

More Atkins Diet Resources

The Atkins website is probably the best source to look for more information about the Atkins Diet.

Paleo Diet

I’m going to try really hard not to be biased when I write this section. Full disclosure: I follow a mostly Paleo diet.

The Paleo diet is similar to Atkins and Keto but not the same. Atkins and Keto are deliberately low-carb, whereas Paleo’s low-carb status is a side-effect.

The paleo diet follows the principle that humans were healthier before the agricultural revolution so we should eat more in line with that.

Paleo Diet Basics

The Paleo Diet doesn’t really have rules or a plan. It’s more a style of eating. For some people this is a major advantage because it gives you flexibility. For others, it’s a disadvantage because you have to think about whatever you’re eating.

The lack of rules also means that everybody doing Paleo is doing something different.

I like to ask myself “10,000 years ago, would someone have made this?”

I choose to ask would, instead of could, because I feel it’s more indicative of the real possibilities of something happening.

Here’s an example:

10,000 years ago, could someone have made wine? Yes, not a lot and it would have been a lot of work.

10,000 years ago, would someone have made wine? Maybe, but only small amounts at a time. Not a glass (or four) a night.

Paleo Approved Foods

  • Protein: All the living protein sources – meat, seafood, birds, eggs, etc., No soy-based products.
  • Fat: Choose healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil).
  • Vegetables: Yes. No exceptions. Unlike Keto and Atkins, you can include tubers like sweet potatoes.
  • Fruits: If you’re trying to lose weight, eat in moderation.

Paleo Diet for Weight Loss

It’s not a weight loss diet, but you can lose weight following it. Don’t overeat, moderate your fruit and nut consumption. Don’t eat paleo junk food.

More Paleo Resources

Check out All About the Paleo Diet to learn more about Paleo.

Also, check out Paleo vs Keto if you’re trying to decide between the two.

Regional Diets

Regional diets are based on the way people eat in certain areas. The most popular regional diet is the Mediterranean diet. I’ve also included the South Beach diet, which could alternatively be classified as a low-carb diet, and the Nordic diet.

Mediterranean Diet

From Wikipedia, “The countries surrounding the Mediterranean in clockwise order are SpainFranceMonacoItalySloveniaCroatiaBosnia and HerzegovinaMontenegroAlbaniaGreeceTurkeySyriaLebanonIsraelEgyptLibyaTunisiaAlgeria, and MoroccoMalta and Cyprus are island countries in the sea.”

The Mediterranean diet does not usually refer to the diet of all the above countries. It generally focuses on Greece and Italy and the traditional foods that were eaten there in the early/mid-1900s.

Mediterranean Diet Rules

The Mediterranean Diet has guidelines as opposed to rules. Not surprising since there are so many countries in the Mediterranean.

Generally speaking, you want a diet high in plant foods and low in meat with seafood enjoyed a couple of times a week.

The key to this popular diet is to eat whole, single-ingredient foods.

Mediterranean Diet Approved Foods

  • Fish & Seafood: enjoy a couple of times a week.
  • Poultry & Eggs: A good protein choice
  • Meat: Eat in moderation. Red meat is usually very limited.
  • Fruits & Vegetables: Yes, including tubers. Bonus for fruits and veggies native to the Mediterranean.
  • Legumes, Nuts & Seeds: Enjoy.
  • Whole Grains: a healthy part of the Mediterranean Diet.
  • Dairy: skip the ice cream, but enjoy cheese, yogurt (especially Greek style) and milk.

Mediterranean Diet for Weight Loss

You can definitely lose weight on the Mediterranean diet.  The elimination of overly processed foods means that you’ll likely decrease your calorie consumption without having to count calories. Win.

More Mediterranean Diet Resources

Check out the Mediterranean Diet Guide to learn more.

Want to combine the Mediterranean Diet and the Keto Diet? You’re not alone, it’s a pretty popular combination. Learn more about it in the Guide to the Mediterranean + Keto Diet.

South Beach Diet

The South Beach diet isn’t really a regional diet. It was developed by a cardiologist in Florida, hence the name. It is not representative of what people actually each in South Beach (although maybe they should?).

However, for people afraid of low-carb, I didn’t want to scare you away from South Beach by putting it up there.

The South Beach Diet is a lot like the Atkins Diet. It uses three-phases, instead of four.

South Beach Diet Three-Phase Plan

  • Phase 1: The induction phase is 2 weeks of very strict eating.
  • Phase 2: Starts on day 15. You’ll start adding limited amounts of fruit and ‘good carbs’ to your allowed foods.
  • Phase 3: Starts when you hit your goal weight. You can add occasional treats of non-approved foods.

South Beach Diet Approved Foods

Phase 1 foods to include are:

  • Lean Proteins
  • Non-Starchy Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Oils & Fats
  • Sweet Treats: Limit of 100 calories per day.
  • Condiments

For Phases 2 + 3, you can add:

  • Fruits
  • Whole Grains
  • Starchy Vegetables
  • Alcohol: one daily serving of dry wine or light beer.

For a complete list of phase 1 and 2 foods, including examples, check out the South Beach Diet Website.

South Beach Diet for Weight Loss

The South Beach Diet is a weight loss diet. The first 2 phases are for losing weight and phase 3 is for lifetime maintenance.

More South Beach Diet Resources

The South Beach Diet Website will be the best resource for anyone looking to learn more about this popular diet.

Nordic Diet

The Nordic diet is based on what’s commonly eaten in the Nordic countries.

According to Wikipedia, “The Nordic countries are generally considered to refer to DenmarkFinlandIcelandNorway, and Sweden, including their associated territories (Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and the Åland Islands).”

The Nordic diet was created in 2004 to address obesity and unsustainable farming practices in the Nordic countries.

Nordic Diet Rules

The Nordic diet is all about healthy, sustainable foods. Locally sourced foods are given high preference on the diet.

If you don’t live in a Nordic country and want to follow the Nordic diet, you can. However, you should focus on foods that are locally sourced from your area.

Nordic Diet Approved Foods

  • Eat Often: fruits, berries, vegetables, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, rye breads, fish, seafood, low-fat dairy, herbs, spices, & canola oil
  • Eat Moderately: game meats, free-range eggs, cheese, & yogurt.
  • Eat Rarely: other red meats & animal fats

Nordic Diet for Weight Loss

You can lose weight on the Nordic Diet. It will not be fast and if you revert back to your old eating habits, you’ll gain the weight back.

More Nordic Diet Resources

Legion Athletics has a great guide about the Nordic Diet.

Reduced (or No) Meat Diets

This is a fairly self-explanatory category. Diets that involve eating less meat. This could be for ethical, health, cost, or any other reasons.

Disclaimer: I’m not even willing to entertain the idea of giving up (or significantly reducing) my meat consumption. I love meat. All the meat. I’ll try not to let it influence my writing though – maybe giving up meat would be good for you.

Vegetarian Diet

Being vegetarian is rather flexible. The one standard is no meat – from there, it’s anything goes. Some vegetarians give up eggs, others don’t. Some give up dairy, some give up fish, etc., But there are no hard rules for what you can’t eat if you’re a vegetarian.

Vegetarian Rules

There aren’t any? Or there’s only one?

Don’t eat meat. But how you define meat is up to you – I’ve met vegetarians that don’t eat red meat but eat chicken. I’ve met vegetarians who won’t eat anything with legs.

Vegetarians tend to live pretty plant heavy lifestyles but many eat fish or eggs or cheese.

Being vegetarian is a lot easier than being vegan or raw food because you can kind of make your own rules.

Vegetarianism for Weight Loss

Most people don’t choose vegetarianism because it will help them lose weight. Vegetarianism is much like a normal diet – if you eat fewer calories than you use, you’ll lose weight. However, vegetarians aren’t as likely as other dieters to be doing that without effort because it’s not really a diet.

Essentially – vegetarians who lose weight are often actively trying to lose weight. They’re counting calories or working to reduce their food consumption in some way outside of being vegetarian.

More Vegetarian Resrouces

Zen Habits has a great post about becoming a vegetarian.

Vegan Diet

 Being Vegan is about more than just what you eat – it will affect your entire life.

Vegan Rules

I’m just going to directly quote the Vegan Society because there is absolutely no way I could say it better.

“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

How to Go Vegan

The first step is to decide why you want to go vegan. Write it somewhere you can see it easily. Knowing why you’re doing it will make it easier to stick with it.

The advice given in the vegan community is to take it slow. Many places recommend starting out by adding more legumes and alternatives proteins before removing meat. Then go vegetarian and finally take the plunge to veganism.

Sometimes it’ll be hard. Very hard. Find some sources of inspiration that will help support your reasons for being vegan.

More Vegan Resources

I did a lot of reading for this section of the post because veganism is something I have absolutely zero experience with.

The Vegan Society and I Love Vegan were both extremely informative websites.

Worried about protein? No problem! Check out these 29+ Vegan Proteins (with 4 recipes each).

Raw Food Diet

The raw food diet is exactly what it sounds like – uncooked food only.

Raw Food Rules

The rules are simple in theory but can be difficult in practice. Only eat raw food.

Except the term raw might not mean what you think it does.

What Qualifies as Raw on the Raw Food Diet?

Raw means never heated over 40-48°C (104–118°F). Food should also be unrefined, unpasteurized, organic and unprocessed in any other way.

For comparison, a rare steak will be cooked to 54-60°C (130-140°F).

Raw Food for Weight Loss

A Raw Food Diet will probably lead to weight loss. However, you should make sure you’re still eating a healthy number of calories and getting enough nutrients.

More Raw Food Diet Resources

I think the Rawtarian was the most comprehensive post on the Raw Food Diet I found.

Check out Masterclass now to start this class (and many more) or read my In-Depth Masterclass Review!

Other Popular Diets

There are an endless number of diets I could include here but I’m only going to cover three: DASH, Weight Watchers & Fast 5:2.


The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (or DASH diet) was designed to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. It focuses on vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and fruits.

What to Eat on the DASH Diet?

  • Whole Grains: 6-8 daily servings
  • Vegetables: 4-5 daily servings
  • Fruits: 4-5 daily servings
  • Dairy: 2-3 daily servings
  • Lean Meat: 6 or fewer daily servings
  • Fats & Oils: 2-3 daily servings
  • Nuts, Seeds & Legumes: 4-5 weekly servings
  • Candy & Added Sugars: 5 or fewer weekly servings

DASH Diet for Weight Loss

To lose weight on the DASH Diet you’ll probably have to count calories. If your only reason for doing it is to lose weight, it’s unlikely to be the right choice. The DASH Diet is highly focused on blood pressure and heart disease, not weight loss.

More DASH Diet Resources

Check out the dashdiet.org for more information.

WW (formerly Weight Watchers)

Weight Watchers was founded in 1963 by Jean Nidetch. The name changed to “WW” in 2018.

How Does WW Work?

WW is a combined diet and lifestyle program. What sets it apart from other programs (and really, always has) is the interaction.

Part of doing Weight Watchers was always in-person meetings (now called wellness workshops) and personal coaching. Now, WW has added an app, a magazine, and an online community. Attendance IRL is no longer required (but still available).

What Do You Eat on WW?

Basically, anything you want – within your point limit.

WW offers a points system. You keep track of how many points you eat each day. The WW Freestyle program has over 200  zero-point options, including skinless chicken breast, fish and eggs.

No food is truly off-limits but healthier foods will cost fewer points.

WW for Weight Loss

Yeah, you can definitely lose weight. WW is a valid weight loss choice. It’s not going to be easy but for a lot of people, it will be easier to follow than other diets.

More WW Resources

The best resource is going to be the WW website.

Fast 5:2 Diet

The Fast 5:2 Diet is a diet that involves normal eating for 5 days of the week and ‘fasting’ the other two days.

Fast 5:2 Diet Rules

Choose 5 days of the week to eat regularly. No changes are necessary.

The other 2 days (which should not be consecutive) you eat only about a quarter of your daily calorie needs (about 500 calories). Monday and Thursday are common choices for the fasting days.

Fast 5:2 Diet for Weight Loss

When done correctly, the Fast 5:2 diet can be great for weight loss.

There are 2 big areas that will affect your weight loss.

  • Eating too much on a fast day.
  • Overeating on the normal days. You shouldn’t be compensating for the fast days by increasing your food intake on normal days.

More Fast 5:2 Diet Resources

Check the 5:2 Diet Book for answers to all your questions.

The Fast 5:2 Diet is a type of Intermittent Fasting. Learn more about Intermittent Fasting (including the pros & cons).

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

CLICK FOR: 13+ diets compared (choose the one that's right for you)

try and try again.

Dieting isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. Everyone will have unique experiences. In this case, you are a special snowflake. Embrace it. Experiment. Try things until you find what works for you.

Have you tried any of the above diets? What worked for you? What didn’t?

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