You’ve probably heard of the “Freshman 15” often used to describe the typical weight gain that happens in the first year of college when your parents aren’t around to guide your eating habits. (Are cheese fries a food group?) Many of us have found ourselves in the same boat coming out of quarantine.

Introducing the “Quarantine 15”

Whether you were eating out of bore­dom, stress eating, or not used to being home all day with access to the refrigerator, many of us let things slide a little bit with our weight maintenance. It may also comfort you to know that you’re not alone. A recent survey con­ducted by Optimum Nutrition showed that more than half (51%) are exercising less than before the pandemic, 45% of participants reported gaining weight, and 42% say they are eating less healthy.

Rest assured, this is a judgment-free zone, we gotta do what we gotta do to get by, but if you wonder what’s the best way to shed off any extra pounds, I’ve got you covered. I will share three popular diets and examine what works and what doesn’t work, and give you the recommendations and the best strategies I show my patients for weight loss.

The keto diet

This diet has been getting a lot of buzz over the last few years, with many people swearing by it and showing off dramatic body transformations. The basic foundation of keto is a high-fat, moderate protein, and low-carbohydrate diet to put your body into a state called “ketosis” where your body begins to use “ketone bodies,” a type of fuel that the liver produces from stored fat instead of sugar.

What works: This diet is shown to support an initial weight-loss period, but its mechanics are not yet fully understood. It is theorized that eating a high-fat/low-carb diet reduces your total caloric intake, reduces hunger, and balances blood sugar levels.

What doesn’t work: There are concerns about the toll it takes on your liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. It can also lead to side effects such as fatigue, muscle soreness, headaches, and con­stipa­tion. Another point of concern is how many people drastically limit vitamin, fibre, and mineral-rich fresh fruit and vegetables on this diet to keep their carbohydrate levels below a certain threshold.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is not a diet in the traditional sense as it does not touch on what you eat, but when you eat it. The concept of intermittent fasting can mean a lot of different things logistically, but it centres on structuring the way you eat to have periods of fasting. Some people choose to eat normally five days per week and then fast, or drastically limit food intake for two (non-consecutive) days per week; others prefer to limit “eating hours,” often skipping breakfast and eating from noon to 6 pm.

What works: Intermittent fasting shows a lot of promise in many areas of health, including weight loss, and works by reducing your overall calorie intake and boosting your metabolism.

What doesn’t work: What you eat does matter, and unless you’re also eating the right foods for your body, the benefits of this plan will not work out. (Binging on burgers and fries for 2 hours and then fasting for 22 hours defeats the purpose.) As with other restrictive diets, it can lead to rebound eating and also opens you up to ignoring your body’s hunger cues because you’re outside of your “eating window.”

Vegan or plant-based diet

Many people who are vegan make that choice for ethical or environmental reasons, but it has also gained popu­larity with people as a feasible way to lose weight. Vegan diets come strictly from plant sources, with no meat or animal products consumed, whereas plant-based diets have more flexibility.

What works: Plant-based diets have a lot of fibre, which can lower your calorie intake while keeping you full. Also lots of fruits and vegetables are always a good thing!

What doesn’t work: There is a lot of vegan junk food out there, so just avoiding animal products doesn’t automatically equal healthy. It can also be difficult for some to consume enough protein on a plant-based diet, and there are certain nutrients, such as iron and vitamin B12, that you will probably need to supplement to get adequate amounts.

So what do I recommend as the best option?

The truth is there is no one-size-fits-all diet and no magic solution. Diet culture is toxic and filled with the “yoyo” effect where people lose weight and experience short-term benefits, and then go back to their old habits once the diet is over to become a vicious cycle to set you up for failure. With my patients, we create long-term lifestyle changes that work for each unique individual. However, there are a few things I can recommend that work effectively, and they are all pretty much universal.

Dr. Marita’s Top 5 Weight Loss Tips

Eat intuitively

I’m a big believer in letting your body guide you in deciding what to eat. Take the time to learn what works for your body and notice your body’s internal cues. Eat when you’re hungry, check in on what you’re craving, and notice when you’re full. Your body is your most significant source of wisdom for what to eat and when. This also includes indulging in moderation, because deprivation will never be sustainable, and eating for joy is important too!

Reduce inflammation

Inflammation causes a host of health issues, but can also affect your ability to lose weight or promote weight gain. This is because inflammation alters your body’s hormone regulation, and can affect nutrient absorption in your gut so that the body is fooled into thinking it is “starving” and therefore retains fat supplies. 

Make sure your hormones are in balance

Hormone imbalances can significantly impact your ability to lose weight, especially if you are using artificial hormones such as birth control pills. Conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hypothyroidism, insulin resistance, and stress can also cause weight gain. 

Boost your weight loss with supplements

Start with the basics, for instance, a vitamin D and/or a premium multivitamin/mineral. Many supplements help regulate a healthy metabolism depending on the root cause, but one of my favourites is berberine. Berberine works to restore insulin sensitivity needed to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and supports weight management. 

Focus on lasting change

You matter and making changes that last is worth it overall. Quick fixes are tempting, but going in it for the long haul and making positive changes guarantees not having to diet every few years, and it is healthier for your body. Be kind to yourself, have patience, and let go of perfectionism. The adage “Health is Wealth” will never go out of style, and focusing on how you feel is the best indicator of true health.