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Dietary Theories: Eating Plans, Food Timing, and Fad Diets

what is the best diet for coaches to use with clientsYou may be completing this free training because of your interest in food. The whole process of preparing food… or how food is transformed from packages on shelves to warm, delicious meals on a plate—fascinates us.

You might also see that there is no overlap between the sciences of psychology and nutrition, but we knew one connection exists. For example, you may know someone on a vegetarian diet. With that friendship, you could easily become more conscious of your own eating habits, which could then lead to a further understanding of the food-mood connection. Later, you realized that to best support your clients emotionally, you would have to incorporate dialogue about vegan foods. In the end, you observe that clients who upgraded the quality of their food became more clear, optimistic, and healthy. In turn, you become clear that emotional counseling had to be preceded by counseling on food and diet. But it came from a place of authenticity, because of your knowledge. All coaches should have this experiential knowledge before diving into certain topics with a client.

We typically become holistic nutrition coaches or fitness nutrition coaches to support people in their own quest for nutritional knowledge. Most nutrition people believe their theory is the right one and everyone else’s theory is wrong. They see the emergence of new information as competition and attempt to dismiss all other diet plans as “fad diets.” Your approach should be the opposite. Be curious when new dietary theories emerge – it shows that people are continuing to uncover what will help us all live happier, healthier lives. When a new theory appears, read about it, research it, try to understand where its creators are coming from, and then add their wisdom to your coaching approach. There is nothing wrong with taking pieces from many plans to make one for a client. This is preferred.

A ray of light is being shed on our eating habits. Learn the research from those who understand the link between nutrition and health and has taken time and energy to develop a new perspective. This will always guide and inform you well.

With different dietary theories, covering the pros and cons of each, because the interesting thing is that they all work. When one decides to take on a diet, they have already become conscious of their self-destructive eating habits and realize it’s time for a change. Maybe it’s just after the December holidays, they feel lethargic and unhealthy, and the threat of obesity is staring them in the face. The scale in the bathroom is groaning, their clothes just went up a size, and now they want to go on a diet. For these people, whatever diet they choose is going to work because they are shifting from a chaotic, disordered way of eating to an ordered way of eating. They are going to stop eating chemicalized, artificial junk food, and get better. The general rule is that any attention to diet is better than none. Diet theorists miss this fact because they want to attribute success to their unique approach.

All diet programs contain elements of truth. In conversations with clients about various diets, many swear that a particular diet really helped them. The extent to which people can benefit from specific diets is amazing. This reminds us to appreciate how we as a species are so diverse and unique. When a diet is successful, a placebo effect may be responsible for at least some of the benefits. Experts in the field of nutrition rarely discuss this phenomenon because experts like to take credit for discovering the latest weight-loss method. Many studies illustrate the power of the placebo effect. A group of patients all suffering from the same ailment take sugar pills and are told they contain a breakthrough medicine that will help cure them. With no active ingredients in the pills, a significant percentage of the patients will recover simply because they believe they are being treated. It’s the same with diets. Many of them work because of this mind-over-matter factor.

Most people will lose weight on any given diet program for a limited period and then revert to a less disciplined way of eating. Why? Because most diet books instruct people to eat a limited spectrum of recommended foods. People follow the program with all good intentions, slowly narrowing their list of acceptable foods, denying themselves what they would normally eat, determined not to stray from the new chosen path. But eventually, the cravings become too intense, their determination fades and they fall off the wagon. These people are not weak, ignorant, or lacking in willpower. Their cravings occur because humans are omnivorous creatures with dynamic appetites. We all have unique bodies, cravings, and lifestyles, and a list of “acceptable” foods is not always in alignment with our individual needs or satisfy our cravings.

Imagine this: a client – vegetarian for more than five years, feels a strong craving for meat. They succumb and drive up through a fast-food drive-thru window. To counteract their guilt, they order their burger with extra vegetables and pull off the road to consume this forbidden food. They feel conflicted from the sheer exhilaration. The thrill of giving their body what it wanted (and maybe needed) goes against every belief they hold. Still, it felt good and bad at the same time. Your client has kept this urge, seen as a weakness, to themselves. Hiding it from friends, family, and colleagues. The cravings are telling the client something, though. We can’t say we know what that is, but when resolved, it ceased only when they were able to come to a deeper, clearer understanding of balanced eating. This understanding comes from listening to their own body and studying dietary theories.


The modern macrobiotic movement began in the early 1900s with George Ohsawa, a Japanese dietary innovator, who combined theories of Eastern philosophy with food and medicine. Macrobiotics is a modified version of the ancient concept of yin-yang, which points to an underlying order in the universe based on a dynamic, ever-changing balance between two apparently opposite yet complementary principles. Yang embodies the masculine qualities of hard, strong, active, tight, and contractive. Yin embodies the feminine qualities of soft, yielding, passive, receptive, loose, and expansive. The dance between these two universal energies includes not only men and women, but sweet and salty; day and night; winter and summer; dark and light. The list goes on and on. Regarding food, the yin-yang theory of balance asserts that we should avoid foods that are too yin, or too yang, to avoid imbalance which eventually leads to illness.

Often, it is the simple, ancient wisdom of the yin-yang philosophy and dance of opposites that draws interest in macrobiotics with the key to good health believed to be in maintaining yin-yang balance with a traditional, grain-based diet. A premise of macrobiotics is the belief in one basic human disease: living out of balance. Macrobiotics is based on the age-old concept that grains are the principle food in the diet, sacred in virtually every traditional society. Later, this helped to establish brown rice and soy products as staple foods in Europe and America. Macrobiotics originated in an enclosed Japanese island culture with limited food resources, where people were obliged to eat the same foods—rice, local vegetables, fish, and seaweed—repeatedly. They did not have dairy or much animal meat. To keep their meals appetizing and healthy, they developed different ways to cook the same foods, often based on the season of the year.

There is an emphasis on eating seasonal, locally grown, organic produce, and traditional foods, contributing to a vibrant and energized feeling. But there is also a strong lifestyle element, including singing an upbeat song every day. The recommendation to sing really surprises many. Not many (really, none) recommend this, but it does allegedly make one feel better, happier, and more relaxed. This is really more important for the fact that, as a Certified Holistic Nutrition Coach, it should open your mind to the concept of being nourished on different levels, not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Other macrobiotic suggestions include keeping your home simple, neat and clean, wearing more cotton clothes and fewer synthetic fibers, keeping a sense of humor, allowing time for prayer and meditation, avoiding excessive jewelry or chemical perfumes, and growing green plants in the home. Another recommendation is to be on good terms with all people, creating more balance in your personal life.

The drawbacks of macrobiotics are largely due to the reliance of salt in the traditional Japanese diet. The diet rarely incorporates herbs and spices, and sugar is never recommended, so salt is the main flavoring for everything. Miso soup, for example, is very salty, as are soy sauce and umeboshi plums. Unfortunately, because of this overabundance of salt in the diet, stomach cancer is a significant problem among the Japanese. Every medical student and health practitioner knows that too much salt can lead to hypertension, accompanied by rising blood pressure. If a client has high blood pressure, a macrobiotic diet is probably not appropriate for them.

One of the most difficult aspects of the macrobiotic diet to follow is the suggestion to drink only when thirsty. The body doesn’t normally feel the urge to drink until it is already dehydrated, a kind of neurological time lag. Our body needs water, but our brain doesn’t get the message in time. Too much salt and not enough water are both independently problematic for the body, but to combine the two is a recipe for disaster.

Even though your head can convince your body to obey a diet for a while, your body will reach a certain point and reassert itself, sometimes with tragic results. It’s amazing how people get carried away with their beliefs, viewing food with cult status. Macrobiotics certainly has its share of fans – but it has also been criticized as being too restrictive and lacking nutrients.


The ancient Indian healing system of Ayurveda, which translates as “the science of life” in Sanskrit, was developed at least 3,000 years ago. In recent times, Ayurvedic medicine and its accompanying herbal remedies have become increasingly popular in the United States and Europe. Ayurveda recognizes that all life—human, plant, and animal—must live in harmony with nature to survive. Creating optimal health and balance begins by adopting the concept of “food as medicine.”

In Ayurveda, proper diet is determined by the three harvesting seasons— late fall, spring, and summer. The late fall harvest is rich in nuts and grains—all warming and insulating to combat the cold, dry extremes of the coming winter. Meat is not typically recommended in an Ayurvedic diet, but it is more accepted during cold times of the year. In the wet, rainy, and congested spring, the naturally occurring harvest is rich in low-fat and astringent roots, sprouts, grapefruits, and berries. These foods help to decrease the seasonal tendency to make mucus and fight against allergies, colds, and weight gain. In the summer months, the naturally occurring harvest is rich in cooling fruits and vegetables and eating these foods moderates the accumulated heat of the season. Cultures that still rely on food from local farmers practice these universal principles of Ayurveda by naturally changing their diets with the rhythm of the seasons.

In Ayurvedic theory, the five elements of nature are space, air, fire, water, and earth. These elements materialize and combine to create the three fundamental principles in nature, called doshas. Space and air combine to form the principle called Vata. Fire and water combine to form the principle called Pitta. And earth and water combine to form Kapha. These principles are used to categorize mind- body types, also called doshas. Thus, Ayurveda has three seasons, three primary harvests, and three doshas.


The qualities of Vata as seen in nature are cold, dry, rough, and constantly moving. Winter is the season in which Vata predominates. During this time of year, it is cold, our skin gets dry, precipitation becomes cold and dry in the form of snow, and the wind blows without restrictions as the trees are without leaves.

The Vata body type is what we imagine when we think of our contemporary notion of beauty: thin-boned, tall and skinny, or short, slim, and petite. Vatas have sharp minds and a tendency to worry; they are light sleepers and have nervous dispositions. These people usually have a fast metabolism, have trouble gaining weight, and are characteristically weak in their intestines, suffering from poor absorption of nutrients. As the squirrel needs nuts in the winter and as the natural harvest is rich in warm, heavy foods, so the wintry Vata requires highly nutritious food, with an abundance of cooked vegetables and whole grains to promote healthy assimilation and bowel function. Vatas benefit from eating small amounts of animal food but must be careful not to overdo it. Fish and low-fat meats are usually best. Vatas need regular exercise to release nervous tension. They do best with more meditative, gentle, and calming practices such as yoga.


During the summer months, the environment accumulates heat. The property of fire or heat is called Pitta.

The Pitta body type embodies the qualities of fire. This body type is physically oriented, with more muscle and a fiery temperament. Pitta people usually have yellow or reddish-colored skin that is sensitive to rashes. They often sweat profusely and are easily irritated. Their bodies and temperaments both tend to be hot. For the most part, they have a very strong and athletic constitution.

Pittas tend to be leaders and are well-organized, intelligent, and charismatic. They are usually emotional, competitive, and passionate, and in need of a good eight hours’ sleep per night to rest and cool off. They have enormous appetites for food and life experience and can become gluttons if not careful. Pittas benefit from seeking balance in eating, avoiding hot spices and too much animal food, emphasizing sweet vegetables like squash and pumpkin, and whole grains like barley and oats. Most importantly, Pittas must avoid excess and include regular exercise in their daily schedules.


Spring, which is the Kapha season, is a very wet and heavy time of year. It is allergy season, the rainy season, full of heavy mud and potential congestion.

Influenced by the qualities of springtime, those with Kapha body types are big- boned, full-bodied, and physically strong and tend toward weight gain. Their solid skeletons protect them from osteoporosis. Skin color is pale and cool, and the eyes are large and often dark. They are frequently easygoing, slow, methodical types, with balanced, peaceful temperaments. Kapha types radiate competence, even when they are quiet or shy.

Kaphas have slow metabolisms and strong intestines, and the ease with which they assimilate nutrients means that they don’t have to eat much to stay in good health. They should avoid overeating because their main health concern is the danger of obesity. The heart is their weakest organ.

Kaphas should eat vegetables and light foods in abundance, including a wide range of grains. Their primary animal food should be eggs. All spices are good for Kaphas, but they need to restrict the intake of oil as much as possible. Regular, nonstrenuous physical exercise, like taking a stroll in the park, suits them best.

If this system intrigues you, study it further. If you find the right mentor/practitioner to support and train you, it can be an incredible tool for creating health and balance. However, be aware that the West has simplified this very ancient system of medicine. We have created a very marketable version of Ayurveda: know your mind-body type and know thyself. But there is more to it than that. While understanding one’s body type is important, it is by no means the core teaching of Ayurveda. In India, Ayurvedic doctors usually do not tell a patient his or her body type. Instead, they look at a patient’s susceptibility to imbalance. With this information, they can employ preventative techniques to avoid disease and maintain good health.

For people with a strong yoga practice, Ayurveda can be a wonderful diet because its philosophy meshes so well with yoga. But for many Westerners looking for a quick fix, Ayurveda can be confusing. Many books and practitioners guide people to an Indian-based cuisine using recipes and ingredients unfamiliar to the Western palate. For a single person, this can be fun and experimental, but for families, it can create chaos, as Mom tries yet another new food experiment. In one household, family members may require different diets, if they have different body types.

Our greatest lesson from Ayurveda is to learn from nature, eat in harmony with the seasons, and live a life of balance.

5 Element Theory

Based on ancient Chinese philosophy, the 5 Element Theory relates all energy and substances to the elements—fire, earth, metal (or air), water, and wood. Each element is associated with a direction of the compass and a season of the year with late summer as the fifth season. In the creation cycle, one element gives birth to the next and nourishes it through the flow of energy. Wood creates fire, which creates the earth, which creates metal, which creates water, which creates wood. In the destruction cycle, wood injures earth, fire destroys metal, earth controls water, metal attacks wood and water injure fire.

Wood is associated with the morning and the spring season. It is associated with the liver and the gallbladder organs and the emotions of impatience and anger. Wood vegetables are artichokes, broccoli, carrots, string beans, zucchini, sprouts, parsley, and leafy greens. The effect of wood on the body is purification.

Fire is associated with noon and the summer season. The related organs are the heart and small intestine. The related emotion is joy. Fire vegetables are asparagus, Brussels sprouts, chives, dandelion, scallions, and tomatoes. Coffee and tobacco are also fiery. Fire creates circulation in the body.

Earth is associated with the afternoon and the late summer season. The stomach and pancreas are the active organs, and sympathy and worry are the correlated emotions. Chard, collards, parsnips, spinach, squash, and sweet potato are the earth vegetables. The taste of earth is sweet, and other earth substances are carob, honey, maple syrup, and sugar. The related bodily function of the earth is digestion. Metal is associated with the evening and the autumn season. The lungs are the active organs. The emotion is grief. Cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, daikon, and radish are the metal vegetables. Peppermint, spirulina, tofu, and tempeh also belong to the metal family. Respiration is the related bodily function.

Water is associated with night and the winter season. The active organs are the kidneys and the bladder. The emotion is fear. Beets, burdock, sea vegetables, and kale are water vegetables. Miso, salt, and tamari are also water foods. Elimination is the bodily function.

By eating foods associated with each of the elements, we promote balance in the body. Knowing which foods, seasons, emotions, and bodily functions are associated with which element can make you a master of balance. Say, for example, it’s the middle of winter and you are feeling constipated and tight. It’s the water time of year, so increasing sea vegetables with water energy and drinking more water could help. Or say you are craving coffee and cigarettes, which both belong to the fire element. You could deconstruct those cravings and ask yourself, “Where else can I add fire, passion, and joy into my life?” You might also increase the fire vegetables, like green leafy vegetables, in your diet. Chances are your craving for coffee and cigarettes would subside.

According to 5 Element Theory, the way you cook changes the energy of your food. Stir-frying and deep-frying give food a wood energy, grilling, and barbecuing give food a fire energy, boiling gives food a water energy, baking gives food a metal energy, and steaming gives food an earth energy.

Using a food journal or log, have your client record what they eat from each element every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This will help you both see their natural tendencies and find balance. If you notice that they are eating mostly earth foods, it may help to increase wood foods because wood holds down the earth.

Pritikin, McDougall and Ornish

Nathan Pritikin, a medical doctor who studied indigenous cultures around the world, noted they did not have the types of chronic diseases suffered by people in developed countries. He attributed their health to a low-fat diet with lots of carbohydrates. Based on these insights, he created the Pritikin Longevity Center in 1976. In 1980 he co-authored a best-selling book, The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise, in which he advocated a low-fat, low-protein diet, with most nutrients coming from complex carbohydrates. Recommended foods included fresh and cooked fruits and vegetables, whole grains, breads, pasta, and small amounts of lean meat, fish, and poultry. He also encouraged a daily regimen of aerobic exercise.

In 1977, George McGovern, former director of the “Food for Peace” program under President Kennedy, headed the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. After much discussion, scientific review, and debate, the committee encouraged the movement toward vegetable and grain-based diets in America— unwelcome news for the meat and dairy industries. Six years later, in 1983, Dr. John McDougall attracted public attention by designing a vegan diet of high- carbohydrate, low-protein foods. In 1993, Dr. Dean Ornish published the best- selling Eat More, Weigh Less, shattering the commonly held notion that losing weight requires starvation. To eat more and still shed pounds was a truly revolutionary idea. Ornish embraced macrobiotics but had the foresight to realize that the Japanese foods, like seaweed and miso, and yin-yang philosophy were too foreign for most Americans. He incorporated the system’s basic dietary principles into his new diet and used more familiar American foods and concepts. Learn how these standards, recommendations and biases have changes over time.

In 1988, the U.S. Surgeon General, in conjunction with the American Medical Association, conducted a study of various weight-loss plans. The study showed that two-thirds of people on these plans gained all their weight back in one year, and 97% regained all their weight within five years. A few years later, Ornish showed that under his plan, patients lost 24 pounds in the first year and kept more than half the weight off for five years. He attributed much of his success to the fact that his patients could eat more food, thereby avoiding hunger pangs and cravings normally associated with dieting.

Ornish then approached insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield, pointing out how much money they could save on payouts for heart bypass surgery if they instead enrolled their clients in his program. In response, the insurance companies put 300 people on his program and saved millions of dollars. The Ornish program for reversing heart disease is now commonly accepted by insurance companies as a deductible expense, a huge breakthrough for the nutrition world. His program recommends a diet largely composed of grains and vegetables, with a formula of 10% fat, 20% protein, and 70% carbohydrates. He also recommends yoga, meditation, and developing a loving heart— “hugging is healthy”—to keep the arteries clean and clear.

Nutrition pioneer Anne Louise Kittleman, a former head nutritionist at the Pritikin Center, was perhaps the first to see the downside of a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. She began to distinguish between “good” and “bad” fats. Saturated fats in dairy products and trans-fats in processed foods like potato chips and margarine clog the arteries and contribute to inflammation in the body. Olive oil, avocado oil, omega-3, omega-6, and oils from seeds and nuts nourish the body and prevent the accumulation of cholesterol and triglycerides in our arteries. Ironically, a lack of the good fats can lead to just the kind of heart disease dangers that low-fat diets are trying to avoid Omega-3 fatty acids, found mainly in fish oil, are especially effective at clearing the arteries.

Gittleman also pointed out that the average American does not know the difference between healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates. The experts might be talking about the need to eat brown rice, millet, quinoa, wholegrain bread, vegetables, and beans; that was then. Now, many of us have more awareness. Boredom is one of the biggest challenges for people on a high carbohydrate diet. Eating meals consisting largely of grains and veggies may be great for the body’s health, but it can be very frustrating for the palate. For those who need it, a high-carbohydrate diet works – but the CHNC should be prepared to provide direction for a client on this type of plan. The challenge is for the client to learn how to make simple food taste delicious.

The Atkins Diet

People have a strong love for eating protein. It makes us feel something – stronger, more alert, and more aggressive. It increases our sense of power and confidence— two of the most highly prized qualities in our contemporary culture and part of the reason high-protein diets are so popular today. High-protein diets can also lead to significant weight loss, important to many in this time of rising obesity rates.

Many people who embrace high-protein diets follow the program prescribed by Dr. Robert Atkins. Atkins began his work in 1972 with the publication of Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, and died in 2003, at the age of 73.

Atkins’ supporters claim that, under his plan, you can “eat delicious meals you love, never count calories, enjoy a cheeseburger when you’re hungry, see amazing results in 14 days, reach your ideal weight and stay there.” Dieters can also supposedly eat all the meat and all the fat they want, and still lose weight. Atkins and similar high-protein programs cause weight loss by depriving the body of the carbohydrates that our digestive system routinely converts into sugar. Once the body recognizes that it’s not getting carbohydrates, its preferred fuel, it will burn protein for a few days instead. But hundreds of thousands of years of evolution from hunter-gatherers have taught us that burning protein is not a great idea. Protein is our primary muscle constituent and without muscles, we will have no strength to hunt for food. Burning protein is counterproductive to survival, so the body won’t do it for very long.

Once the carbohydrate stores are burned, and we’ve burned protein for a few days, our bodies will say, “Okay, it’s time to start burning fat.” At this point, the brain protests, because it prefers only carbohydrates as a fuel source, so our liver performs a little chemical magic and converts fat into ketones, a substance that the brain can burn. Now our body is in a state of ketosis, burning fat and losing weight. During the first few days on a high-protein diet, the body loses a lot of water, which accounts for much of the initial, encouraging weight loss. High protein diets also reduce hunger, so we are satisfied with our meals and not tempted to eat more.

Atkins is popular because it’s a fast way to lose weight while eating bacon, chicken, and pork, and avoiding the feelings of starvation and deprivation often caused by other diets. But not many of us can sustain this way of eating for a long time. We all know someone who has been on Atkins, fewer stay on it.

The Atkins approach could benefit many vegetarian-type people. Vegetarians often suffer from extreme ups and downs in their blood sugar levels. This simply doesn’t happen to people following the Atkins program. When a vegetarian goes on Atkins, the pancreas gets to rest because sugar consumption decreases while protein intake increases. People who suffer from candida or diabetes, both of which are aggravated by too much sugar consumption, can sometimes benefit from this way of eating for a short time.

The downside to Atkins and other high-protein diets is that too much animal protein may lead to illness, especially heart disease and cancer. Animal meat is full of saturated fats that can spike blood cholesterol levels, has no fiber to aid digestion, and is low in many essential plant-based nutrients, such as antioxidants, carotenoids, and phytochemicals. Also, there is increasing concern about tainted meat, mad cow disease, and hormones and antibiotics in factory-farmed meat. If you decide to go on the Atkins diet, you should eat organic animal food as much as possible.

Another problem is that this program doesn’t distinguish between animal proteins. In Atkins, eating beef, fish, chicken or eggs is the same: a protein is a protein is a protein. In reality, each of these has a completely different quality and impact on the body. Further, the body is always trying to maintain an acid and alkaline balance. Protein is a very acidic substance. With elevated levels of protein being consumed, the body will try to create a more alkaline environment in the stomach by leaching calcium from your bones and teeth, which some believe can contribute to bone loss and osteoporosis.

The Zone Diet

The Zone Diet was developed by Dr. Barry Sears, author of the bestseller Enter the Zone, and is based on more than 15 years of his research in the field of bio nutrition.

The Zone is sometimes called a high-protein diet, but it’s less extreme than Atkins. The diet’s primary aim is to keep you in “The Zone,” a sports term, describing an almost mystical state of heightened awareness and relaxed intensity in which athletes perform at their best and without effort.

The goal is to become balanced, relaxed, and well-fed, so energy levels are optimal for normal day-to-day living.

The Zone offers a specific meal plan based on each person’s gender, activity level, and amount of body fat. It’s called “the 40-30-30 diet” because for all the Zone snacks and meals, 40% of all calories from carbohydrates, 30% from protein, and 30% from fat. This proportion contrasts sharply with the accepted nutritional standard of 65-15-20. The theory is that the more you give your body 40-30-30, the faster it will get accustomed to processing this food combination and settle into a specific metabolic state leading to weight loss. Sears takes the view that your body is a machine with no political or philosophical views on vegetarianism, animal rights, or food politics. Just give it the right-formula fuel to burn and it will run at optimum capacity, not wasting energy digesting excess food.

One of the goals of the Zone is to avoid peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels. You might try recommending that your client eat a meal within one hour of waking up in the morning because that’s when your blood sugar is lowest.

The Zone encourages people to eat more fruits and vegetables, and reduce bread, pasta, and white grains. The diet is big on drinking water. Coaches generally like the Zone’s relaxed attitude about mistakes: no big deal if you fall off the diet since you are only one meal away from getting back on track. Another Zone recommendation is to eat five times a day, three meals, and two snacks. Never allow more than five hours to pass without eating, and it’s okay to eat when you are not hungry. If we continue eating properly proportioned meals and snacks, we are not like to feel hungry or overly full, and your blood sugar levels will be normal throughout the day and night.

One drawback to the Zone diet is that it doesn’t differentiate between various types of carbohydrates and recommends avoiding all high-carbohydrate foods. According to Zone theory, your stomach doesn’t distinguish between a carrot and a candy bar. As you know, a carrot grows naturally with sun, wind, and earth energy, while a candy bar is a manufactured, artificial product. The body will digest and assimilate these foods in very different ways. Similarly, the Zone makes no distinction between sources of protein and so, as with The Atkins Diet, there may be risks of disease associated with eating animal foods. Another downside is that, unless we are a scientist, it’s very hard to design each meal to be a perfectly balanced 40-30-30. It’s also difficult to be on a Zone diet and be a vegetarian because of the diet’s strong emphasis on eating protein. In response, the Zone has a plan called “Soy Zone,” which recommends eating more soy products. However, many people are allergic to soy or have difficulty digesting it in large quantities, so this is not a viable option for all vegetarians.

Critics of the Zone often argue that weight loss on this program comes from restricting calories and not from any biochemical magic-induced by the 40-30-30 formula. They also assert that, contrary to Sears’ claims, athletic performance may be impaired by reducing carbohydrates.

South Beach Diet

South Beach is southern Florida’s most fashionable beach and a showcase of carefully groomed, styled, and shaped bodies—often with help from cosmetic surgery—displaying maximum fitness, health, and beauty. When South Beach’s own Dr. Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist, developed a diet for his heart patients and saw the dramatic weight-loss results, he published it so beach enthusiasts – and others – could reap the benefits and walk the Florida sands without embarrassment.

At first glance, this diet may not seem very different from other high-protein, low- carbohydrate weight-loss plans. But South Beach focuses more on the type and quality of carbohydrates consumed, using the glycemic index to differentiate. The glycemic index indicates how quickly a particular food makes your blood sugar rise; it’s a system of measurement used in the nutritional management of diabetes. “This new way of eating allows you to live contentedly without eating bad carbohydrates and fats,” asserts the South Beach program. “In contrast, when a person eats poor quality carbohydrates and fats they feel hungrier, causing them to eat more, which causes weight gain. In exchange for eating right, you become healthier and can enjoy weight loss.”

Like the Zone, South Beach encourages people to eat three, normal-size meals and two snacks each day with no need to count calories, weigh food portions, or deprive themselves of tasty food. The diet works in three phases.

Other diet authorities have challenged many of the medical statements made in Agatston’s book, The South Beach Diet. For example, the alluring claim to “lose belly fat first”—obviously something every dieter would love—seems unlikely given the fact that the areas where we lose and gain weight on our bodies are largely determined by our genetic predispositions. Agatston’s diet is offered as a repeat formula. Whenever you gain weight, just jump back from phase three to phase one and start again. It sounds easy, but temporary weight loss and repeated dieting can be more damaging to the body than not losing weight at all.

South Beach, like Atkins and the Zone, is now a very big business. Agatston’s book has sold more than eight million copies, and celebrities promote the diet. In a multi-million-dollar deal, Kraft, the largest U.S. food company, tied more than 200 of its products to the diet. Oreos, Kool-Aid, and Cheez Whiz carried the “South Beach seal of approval” as foods lower in carbs and fats. The goal? Naturally, to lure shoppers back into buying Kraft products since sales for many of its brands are flagging, as consumers slowly become more health-conscious.

Blood Type Diet

One of the keys to finding our own healing diet is to figure out how much protein is right for our body, and the Blood Type Diet is an excellent guide to determining protein needs. The best-selling book on the subject, Eat Right for Your Type, was written by Dr. Peter D’Adamo and published in 1996, but the work was pioneered by his father, Dr. James D’Adamo.

The Blood Type Diet is based on the theory that each major stage in human social evolution is associated with new environmental conditions and a different blood type. Human beings began as hunter-gatherers, chasing herds of wild animals. Our diet was primarily meat and a combination of wild plants and roots, and we adapted genetically to maximize the nutrition from these sources. D’Adamo maintains that modern people with this common O blood type function best on a meat-centered diet. Wheat and dairy had not been cultivated at the hunter-gatherer stage, and so O types find them difficult to metabolize.

When humans stopped hunting and started farming the land about 15,000 years ago, our diet changed dramatically from meat to a plant-based diet centered on grains, vegetables, and beans, as well as milk from domesticated cows. The genes of these agrarian peoples gradually adapted to a new way of eating and produced blood type A. People with this blood type function best on a plant-based diet and, of all the blood types, are the most suited to vegetarianism.

Nomadic people emerged later and consumed a diet that was a combination of cultivated plants and animal foods. This led to the development of a third blood type, B, as people needed flexibility in their diet so they could absorb nutrition from both plant and animal foods. According to D’Adamo, B types are better able to consume dairy products than O and A types. Nine hundred to 1,000 years ago, the AB blood type evolved. AB blood types tend to be highly sensitive, rare, and mysterious. They are destined for modern life and have the combined attributes A and B blood types. AB’s can usually tolerate a mixed diet in moderation.

Like many other dietary programs, this diet takes its basic premise to the extreme. Beyond a certain point, protein is not ideal for holistic health, regardless of blood type, and is one of the reasons why we suffer from high rates of osteoporosis, digestive disorders, heart disease, and breast, colon, and prostate cancers. Most Americans already eat six times the amount of protein their bodies need, so encouraging O types to eat more can lead to health problems.

Raw Food Diet

Many people are moving toward a raw food diet, choosing to eat food that is not cooked or heated. The basic premise of raw food theory is that we are the only species that cooks our food, which destroys its natural enzymes. In its raw state, food is composed of living cells. Raw enthusiasts view cooked or heated food as dead and lifeless. Heating food changes its basic molecular structure, making it toxic. According to this theory, cooked food stresses the body because the liver, heart, and kidneys all have to work overtime to eliminate the toxins ingested with the food, ultimately leading to disease. Raw food theory also states that cooked foods are addictive and extremely difficult to give up, but once people shift to eating primarily raw foods, they will experience clarity of mind, body, and spirit. Raw foodists believe raw plant food is the only food humans should eat.

Raw food is very cleansing, healing, and refreshing to the body, and is especially good for people who have eaten a lot of meat and processed food. Eating raw food may improve digestion and increase vitality. It is environmentally supportive and ecologically friendly. Going on a raw food diet can feel like fasting, as it helps remove toxins quickly and effectively from the body and can lead to weight loss. One of the biggest benefits of going on a raw food diet is that it gets people off sugary, processed junk foods.

On the other hand, this diet can be too cleansing for some. People with a sensitive digestive track may find the nutrients in raw food too intense, and the cell walls of the vegetables may be too thick to break down and assimilate. The cooling effect of raw foods on the body makes this diet difficult to sustain during the winter months. Getting adequate protein can be a challenge while following a raw food diet. Some on this plan experience sweet cravings from eating too much sugar from raw fruits.

Master Cleanser

The most popular cleanse today is the Master Cleanse, a liquid-fast diet, consisting of water with fresh lime or lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. Stanley Burroughs, the creator of Master Cleanser, recommends drinking the mixture 6 to 12 times a day, for a minimum of 10 days, and a maximum of 40 days, depending on a person’s physical health. A laxative herbal tea, taken twice a day, and saltwater bathing are also recommended, but no other food is consumed during the cleanse. Directions for coming off the diet include a slow re-incorporation of raw fruit, fruit juice, nuts, and vegetables. Burroughs suggests doing the cleanse four times a year for optimum health. The goal of Master Cleanser is to correct all health disorders. This lemonade drink was first shown to help aid stomach ulcers, and then Burroughs began to recommend it for other conditions. He believes that when we cure one disease, we help cure them all and create vibrant overall health.

Improper diet causes the accumulation of waste, toxins, and poison in the colon. These filter into the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body, inhabiting tissues and cells. The settling of these toxins weakens the cells and the entire immune system, exposing the body to disease. Cleansing the body of this built-up waste rejuvenates its innate healing mechanisms.

Lemons and limes are rich sources of minerals and vitamins, powerful cleansers, and available year-round. The unprocessed sugars in maple syrup provide energy, along with minerals and vitamins. The cayenne breaks up mucus and helps stimulate the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems. Digestion demands a great deal of energy, and the elimination of solid food for short periods frees up energy to aid detoxification.

When doing a cleanse, it is good to be aware that clients may experience weakness, dizziness, nausea, or even vomiting. Burroughs says these symptoms occur because the stored-up poisons in the body are being released and sometimes overwhelm the system. Still, this cleanse should be approached with caution.

Before you encourage a client to fast, find out why they believe they need it. Before a fast, the best practice is to cut out a specific food first, rather than reducing the overall quantity of food you eat. Just eliminating one food from your diet can be a major undertaking. For example, recommend not eating sugar for a week.

When it comes to fasting and cleansing, remember that heroic activities may appeal to our client, but extremes wreak havoc on the body. First, try taking a middle path, doing things in moderation, and realizing that your body doesn’t necessarily know what your mind is thinking.

Calorie Restriction/longevity Diets

The calorie-restriction diet, also known as a longevity diet or simply CR (for calorie restriction) diet was pioneered by Dr. Roy Walford, who spent more than 35 years studying anti-aging diets in his laboratory at the UCLA Medical School. As an expert in the field of gerontology – the study of aging – Walford stayed for two years inside Biosphere 2. This was a 3-acre structure built as an artificial closed, ecological system in Arizona. He practiced the CR diet on the people who lived in Biosphere 2. The principles of the diet are based on laboratory research into the relationship of diet and aging and are therefore based on his scientific evidence. Walford describes the CR diet as a means to create food combinations and menus with all the recommended nutrients – but with minimal caloric intake. The program calls for gradual weight loss until you reach an ideal weight point, which will slow down aging, preserve mental and physical function and substantially reduce your risk of degenerative diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

In the last few years, this research has made it to the mainstream. The U.S. National Institutes for Health (NIH) recently recommended that people lower their overall caloric intake with a diet rich in nutrients rather than reducing protein or fat consumption. The National Cancer Institute, the American Diabetes Association, and the National Institutes on Aging have all committed to funding long-term studies of calorie restriction in humans. In 2004, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis published a study that presented evidence of the long-term results of the CR diet in humans. The study acknowledges the shifts in biomarkers associated with disease risk, including decreased total cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

The CR diet is a radical departure from the typical Western perception of “more is better.”

For most of your clients, cutting down calories may really help them lose weight.

Artificial, chemicalized junk foods are high in calories while whole, unprocessed foods are generally lower in calories. Therefore, watching caloric intake usually leads to a natural reduction in unhealthy foods and an increase in vitamins and nutrients. But the question of whether most people can sustain long-term calorie restriction remains to be seen. Yes, it works well in the lab, but can it work with real people, who have real cravings? Another disadvantage of the diet is that it may cause your body’s temperature to go down, which is a consequence of the body’s increased efficiency. This drop may feel great to people living in warm environments, but not so great to people living in colder climates.

The diet also does not address people’s relationships with food. While it may be beneficial for people to reduce their calories, eating less is not always that simple. People have deep-rooted attachments to food. Giving up certain comfort foods may pose a great challenge to them. This diet is also not intended for people with a history of eating disorders, since calorie restriction may cause a lapse in their issues with food and body image.


Nutritional genomics, also known as nutrigenomics, is a science studying the relationship between human genome, nutrition, and health. People in the field are working toward developing an understanding of how the whole body responds to food via systems biology, as well as single gene/single food compound relationships of genetic disorders, such as diabetes. Testing an individual’s variations in the genes can provide many answers to health issues, such as heart and bone health, detoxification, and antioxidant capacity, insulin sensitivity, and tissue repair. Small differences can influence how your body metabolizes food, utilizes nutrients, and excretes damaging toxins. The idea here is that genetic makeup is the reason why one person can handle a diet rich in sugar, while that same diet will give another person hypoglycemia or even diabetes.

Many biotech labs now offer do-it-yourself testing kits, which look at 19 genes to determine a person’s future health. Often purchased at a clinic, online, or even at some supermarkets, the kits come with sterile cotton swabs to collect cells for a DNA sample from inside the cheek. They also come with a lifestyle questionnaire that asks about eating habits and family history. Once all the information is submitted, it takes about three weeks to get a printed report with details about each of the 19 genes.

Critics of the diet call it generic advice and that analyzing 19 of the 25,000 human genes can’t provide enough information to identify risk factors, much fewer specific foods you should eat. They say the advice is nothing more than common sense information about eating habits that would help anyone lose weight and be healthier, regardless of their genes. The nutrigenomics industry came under further attack when four of the leading companies came out with a line of supplements, called “nutraceuticals” which were being sold for exorbitant amounts, and were supposedly tailored to the customer’s unique DNA; upon further examination, these supplements were shown to be remarkably like the multivitamins sold at any local drugstore.

Finding the Right Diet for Your Client

Clients tend to get enthusiastic when we discuss the pros of a diet plan, then disappointed and confused when we reveal the cons. “Which dietary theory is right for me?” is a question we often hear from clients.

But it’s not about choosing the right theory. It’s about finding what works best for our client, then creating a unique nutrition theory based on their individual desires and needs. Finding what is right is a task that is far more challenging than getting swept away by the latest media-hyped fads and jumping on a diet bandwagon. In the end, however, it will be far more rewarding because your client will have come to understand their own nutritional needs; the outcome will be lasting health and physical well-being. It is a very empowering experience to realize we don’t need to follow someone else’s guidance but can control our own destiny and trust our own intuition and intelligence. The result is worth the extra effort.

WHAT’S NEXT? Learn about starting or advancing your career with our courses including, the Spencer Institute Holistic Nutrition Coach Certification, NESTA Fitness Nutrition Coach Certification and NESTA Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist Certification.