Diets: What Works, What Doesn’t

A survey of all the different diets I’ve tried, pros and cons of each, and a new diet design that strikes just the right balance.

I’m continuing my diet journey and refining my methods once again. This article is a retrospective of things I’ve already tried, what I’ve learned from each, and how I’ve made changes to make up for the shortcomings.

Here are some things I’ve tried:

  1. A gradual approach to losing weight.
  2. Meal planning for an entire year at once.
  3. Workout plan for lazy people.
  4. Scarsdale Medical Diet
  5. A modified SMD.

Each time I try a different tack, I learn something new and readjust my method. First I’ll go over the learnings. At the end, I’ll take everything I’ve learned an introduce you to a new diet design that I think will be the winning combination.

Gradual Approach

Read : How to Lose Weight

I wrote this piece right after I stopped nursing my son and needed to lose some weight. I have lost weight since that first post, but it’s been extremely gradual and bounces around quite a bit. That’s okay though, because the overall path is the right one.

This diet plan had a lot of great things going for it, because it:

  • Asks for small, gradual changes to your lifestyle.
  • Instills two simple rules: drink more water (zero calorie drinks), eat when you’re hungry.
  • Reminds you to seriously consider your portion sizes.
  • Breaks down weight loss in mathematical terms. Weight-loss is a numbers game: eat less than you burn.

What I didn’t like about it:

  • It’s not structured enough. It says you can eat whatever you want (which is true if you are super disciplined about counting calories, and staying under the amount) but having the junk food around makes it way too easy to cheat.

Admittedly, that’s what I wrote in that article, right? I knew it was lacking in exercise and nutritional rigor. As the years have passed, I’ve gradually worked on both of those pieces.

One Year of Meals

Read : One Year of Recipes for Lazy Cheapskates

My first attempt at fixing the nutritional aspect was to plan an entire year’s worth of meals in one go. I cite a number of reasons for doing this, and they were all pain points I still currently have: wasting the food I buy, accommodating picky eaters in my household, and grocery shopping and cooking is a chore (and I hate it).

What I liked about this menu plan:

  • Gave calorie counts for the meals
  • Took out the mental effort of planning each week
  • Lots of variety throughout the year, taking into account the seasonal variance (hot foods in winter, cold foods in summer).
  • Foods in each recipe weren’t very exotic so it was relatively cheap and not so much waste.

What I didn’t like:

  • It turns out, a lot of the meals were actually pretty labor-intensive to make. Fast food is one of my biggest weaknesses, so if food is easier to obtain another way, I will do that instead.
  • It only planned for two meals a week, which ended up giving me too much leeway to cheat (again, not enough structure).

I ultimately stopped using it because of it’s shortcomings.

Workout Plan

Read : Workout Plan for Lazy People

My first attempt at fixing the exercise aspect of my diet was a huge success. I started doing this workout plan in May of 2017—two years later, still going strong. To continue to challenge my body’s strength, I’ve added in five-pound free-weights to my routine. I’ve also made an effort to supplement my body-weight exercises with light physical activities like walking, hiking, biking and gardening whenever I can.

All of the pros and cons I state in the article still apply.

Scarsdale Medical Diet

Read : SMD — My Experience and Read : Modified SMD

I discovered the Scarsdale Medical Diet diet through a friend of mine, who challenged me to the two-week experience. I did it “to the letter” and had some really promising results, losing 7.2 pounds during the course of the two-week diet.

What I liked about this diet:

  • Lots of structure, and instructions on what to eat for each meal of the day.
  • Easy to prepare meals (for the most part).
  • Helped me like fruits and vegetables more.

What I didn’t like about this diet:

  • Not enough variety. Some of the foods I wasn’t excited about eating.
  • No carbs (it messed with my energy levels way too much)
  • Too calorie-restrictive and not sustainable (made me very grumpy, too).

In order to fix some of the shortcomings of the SMD, I even published a modified version. It was a step in the right direction, but still not enough variety. Also, some of the dinner prep recipes were just labor intensive enough to put me off making a healthy meal.

Combining All My Learnings

So lets take all the pros and cons, and combine them into one diet plan:

What I like in a diet:

  • It asks for small, gradual changes to your lifestyle, letting you eat foods that you already like.
  • Keeps the rules simple: drink more water, eat when you’re hungry.
  • Reminds you to seriously consider your portion sizes.
  • Breaks down weight loss in mathematical terms. Weight-loss is a numbers game: eat less than you burn.
  • Gives calorie and macro counts for each meal. When it’s added up, and if you haven’t strayed, you know you are “in the green” for the day.
  • Takes out the mental effort of meal planning.
  • Gives you lots of variety throughout the year, taking into account the seasonal variance (hot foods in winter, cold foods in summer, produce availability).
  • Foods in each recipe aren’t exotic so it’s relatively cheap and not much waste.
  • Lots of structure, and instructions on what to eat for each meal of the day.
  • Easy to prepare meals (this one is especially important, because otherwise I fall back on fast food which is a diet no-no).

What I don’t like in a diet:

  • It’s not structured enough. It says you can eat whatever you want.
  • Labor-intensive meal prep.
  • Not enough variety.
  • Demonizes a specific macro (like carbs or fat).
  • Too calorie-restrictive and not sustainable.

52 Weeks of 1200-Calorie Menus

I’ve been working on a new diet lately that really seems to have stuck for me. It’s going to be a bit of work initially, because I do need to plan the meals and calculate all of the macros, but I am hoping to use each week again and again year-round. I figure if I’m going to go through all this effort, I may as well publish it, because it might be of use to you too!

  • My recipe inspiration is drawn mostly from the r/1200isplenty sub-reddit community because they post SO many delicious, low-calorie ideas. I’ll give credit where I can.
  • The menus feature lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • I don’t give much direction on drinks because all of them should be close to zero calories: tea, coffee, diet pop, and sparkling water only. I personally love beer though, so I do sometimes leave some caloric room for a beer here and there.
  • The menu is intended for:
    • a single person. If a meal option appeals to other family members, you can just double the quantity for that person.
    • a smaller person. I am 5′ 3” and only 139 lbs*.
  • Pick a day of the week that works for you to go to the store and spend the evening prepping. Ideally, this day works for you every single week.
  • Each menu is for a week’s worth of food. You eat the same thing every day for seven days in a row.
  • Eating the same thing every day helps you stick to the diet and keep track of your calories. The food is tasty so you don’t mind the sameness.
  • You prep all the food at once in to-go containers, which makes it easy to grab and stay away from fast food.
  • I try to follow the guidelines above from my learnings.

*Please use a BMR calculator to figure out where your calorie limit should be. My calculation comes out to burning 1568 calories a day. A menu of 1200 calories puts me at a 368 calorie deficit. If I were to follow this to a “T” every single day, I should expect to lose .8 lbs every week. If you are taller or heavier, your BMR will be higher. Figure out how to design a menu that is 350-400 calorie deficit—this series would be a good start for you, then you can build in an extra snack or side dish.

Important: At no point should you ever go under 1200 calories a day for long stretches of time!

This is of course the introductory post. I will post all of these menus under the tag “52-Weeks 1200 Calorie Menus” which you can bookmark and refer back to later. They’ll be posted somewhat at random since some weeks I’ll be too lazy to post, but eventually I should get through the entire calendar year:

  • January : Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5
  • February : Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9
  • March : Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13
  • April : Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18
  • May : Week 19 | Week 20 | Week 21 | Week 22
  • June : Week 23 | Week 24 | Week 25 | Week 26
  • July : Week 27 | Week 28 | Week 29 | Week 30 | Week 31
  • August : Week 32 | Week 33 | Week 34 | Week 35
  • September : Week 36 | Week 37 | Week 38 | Week 39
  • October : Week 40 | Week 41 | Week 42 | Week 43 | Week 44
  • November: Week 45 | Week 46 | Week 47 | Week 48
  • December : Week 49 | Week 50 | Week 51 | Week 52 | Week 53

Best of luck to you on your weight-loss or maintenance journey!

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