Author Andy Leeks lost 25 pounds in 50 days, and shares candid details about how each popular diet worked for him. Above, his photo before and after his diet plan. (Photo: Courtesy of Andy Leeks)
I’ve spent the last 15 years as a “yo-yo” dieter — I am forever losing weight by dieting and then subsequently regaining it.
Of the 20 or so diets I’ve been on, one has been a success. It’s probably no coincidence that this particular diet was the only one that was undertaken because of health concerns. I had been gradually gaining weight leading up to and just after the birth of our first child, and six weeks after she was born, I developed a painful cyst. I’d been with the same doctor for years, and after she prescribed the necessary tablets she gave me the lecture about losing weight. She explained that the cyst could have been my body’s way of crying out for help.
"Is a cyst the usual method of communication?" I inquired. "A bad back would have done!"
Inevitably, when my health improved, the weight crept back on and I ended up right back where I started. So, facts are facts: I have only had one notable success in 20 attempts at dieting. When I look back at all of those failed attempts, I can see that there’s always been a common denominator: Boredom.
As I see it, what happens is that the initial exuberance wears off as weight loss begins to slow, enthusiasm tails off, frustration and boredom kick in, and the only thing to help pick you up when you’re feeling low is the very food you’ve been trying to avoid.
It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s the bane of almost every dieter at one time or another. So I came up with the rules for a self-imposed weight-loss challenge that would hopefully buck this trend, and be anything but boring. It was simple:
I was going to try out 10 different diets in order to lose 25 pounds in 50 days. By changing my diet regularly, I would never get bored — thereby giving myself the best chance of success.
The diets that I settled on were those that could be easily researched on the Internet, not diets run by multimillion-dollar companies or ones that are promoted and endorsed by celebrities. I enlisted the help of a nutritionist and he helped me choose the order, to ensure that I wasn’t going from one diet that was severely deficient in one nutrient, straight onto another with the same deficiency. It would be foolish, for example, to go straight from the cabbage soup diet to the juice diet.
I recorded my dieting tribulations in detail in my book “Minimize Me - 10 Diets to Lose 25 Lbs in 50 Days.” But here’s a cheat sheet detailing the diets in order, how much weight I lost on each, and which I’ll actually stick with!
The 5:2 Diet - 5 pounds lost in 5 days
(Photo: Getty Images)
Restricting yourself to around 500 calories per day for two days out of seven: This was easy enough to stick to, but because the calories are so limited, I quickly become bored with eating the same low-calorie items each time. I ended up going a little bit crazy, cutting off crusts and peeling apples, just to shave off a few calories. I knew it wasn’t the diet for me when I started checking for the calories of some headache tablets and when they were not immediately visible on the packaging, proceeding to contact the company to complain.
The Special K Diet - 5 pounds lost in 5 days
(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
This is a diet whereby you replace two of your three meals a day with Special K products. It’s a fairly simple diet that requires very little planning but it does become tedious very quickly. It’s fine if you lead a busy lifestyle, but the lack of variety left me feeling sick of Special K by the end. (And there wasn’t even a toy in the box!)
The Balanced Diet - 4 pounds lost in 5 days
(Photo: Lior Zilbersteinl/Getty Images)
For this diet I took guidance from the UK’s National Health Service’s equivalent of the USDA’s dietary guidelines. The idea is to have a varied and balanced diet. No foods are off limits; there’s no calorie counting or tracking foods at all. It’s all down to you to make the right choices to ensure that you get the right balance.
They recommend you should eat:
Plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Plenty of starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta.
Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
Some milk and dairy foods.
Just a small amount of food and drinks that are high in fat and/or sugar.
For me it was clear that for long-term success, this is the diet that should be followed. The beauty is that once you’ve reached your desired weight, you carry on eating this way. There’s nothing to change; the diet simply becomes a principle. The only downside is the lack of structure. It’s a great diet for the strong-willed and the stubborn, but not so good for those who lack willpower and the confidence to go it alone.
The Juice Diet - 5 pounds lost in 5 days
(Photo: Lior Zilberstein/Stocksy)
This diet consists of nothing but juiced fruits and vegetables that are spaced evenly throughout the day. There are no solid foods at all, no snacks, no milk and — depressingly for me — absolutely no coffee. I found this one really hard, not least because my daughter decided to keep her distance because the “Swamp Juice” was making Daddy’s voice smelly!
While I clearly struggled on the juice diet, there is no getting away from the fact that it works. It’s the perfect diet to go on leading up to a holiday as it has the dual benefit of helping you fit into that bikini while flooding your body with all of the vitamins and minerals you’ll be lacking when you start the slightly different kind of liquid diet the following week. All of that said, although I lost weight, I found it extremely stressful, both in terms of finding the time to make the juices and in having to physically drink them.
The Atkins Diet - 1.5 pounds lost in 5 days
(Photo: Tim Hill/Corbis)
The Atkins diet is a diet that can often sound appealing given the basic facts. The diet consists of a protein-rich diet including fish, eggs, meat, and cheese, and I suspect the idea that you can still lose weight while chowing down on bacon and eggs topped off with a generous serving of cheese is an extremely appealing one to many. The reality for me, however, is that once again by drastically limiting the food groups I could consume I became bored, dejected, and uninterested. The sheer lack of sugar on this diet left me with major fruit cravings, so much so that I found myself salivating whenever anyone at work made a fruit tea! If you happen to be a big cheese, meat, and fish lover, then I would recommend the diet to get you on the right track as there’s no doubt that it can work for a period of time.
The Raw Food Diet - 3 pounds lost in 5 days
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This strict diet requires you to eat a limited set of foods in their raw state. It’s clearly a healthy diet which, for the right person and in the right circumstances, could work perfectly well. I struggled to find the right balance of foods and ended up contracting a viral infection a couple of days in, and spent most of the diet in bed. I’ve certainly read lots of articles that suggest it is a very good diet for athletes, in particular endurance athletes, which goes to show that it is perhaps better than any of the more “faddy” diets that are out there. This is definitely a diet for the committed dieter and is perhaps not best-suited to a part-timer like me.
The Baby Food Diet - 1 pound lost in 5 days
(Photo: Catherine Delahaye/Getty Images)
This is a diet that requires you to replace two of your three main meals a day with baby food. My wife thought she was being funny when she presented me with a baby spoon and bib with my name on it, but she soon backed down when I threatened to wake her up in the middle of the night crying, complaining of wetting the bed! The baby food diet is just another faddy diet that offers a different twist on strict calorie control. The food is readily available and can be consumed on the go, but do so at your own risk, for you will forever be the weirdo who was eating baby food in Starbucks.
The Calorie-Controlled Diet - 2 pounds lost in 5 days
(Photo: Lior Zilbersteinl/Stocksy)
This is a diet that requires you to stick to a set daily calorie limit. No foods are off limits, as long as you ensure that you stay under your daily limit. I personally found that the best way to track the calories was to use an app so you can simply scan the food as you buy it. Be warned, though: People will assume you work in the grocery store and you’ll soon get sick of pointing them toward aisle 8. The calorie-controlled diet has better flexibility than most diets and leaves you feeling like you’re in full control. It’s the perfect diet if you feel like you can’t go without the odd luxury but I wouldn’t suggest that this is a long-term solution, as it can be easy to become obsessed by the numbers.
The Grapefruit Diet - 1 pound lost in 5 days
(Photo: Julie Rideout/Stocksy)
The grapefruit diet is all about eating a healthy, balanced diet while introducing either grapefruit or grapefruit juice before or after each meal. It’s based on the belief that properties in the grapefruit help to break down fat — something that has never been proven. It’s a perfectly healthy diet but I’m not convinced the grapefruit actually does anything for you other than increase your vitamin C levels.
The Cabbage Soup Diet - 3 pounds lost in 5 days
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This diet is exactly what it says on the tin — although, ironically, this soup doesn’t come in a tin, it has to be homemade! The idea is simple: You simply replace every meal with cabbage soup. No other food is allowed; no treats, no snacks, and basically, no fun. The cabbage soup diet works, but it just isn’t sustainable. You will lose weight if you follow it to the letter, but you will also get incredibly bored and incredibly miserable incredibly quickly. Oh yes and there is also the wind. The less said about that the better!
For me personally, diets aren’t the answer. By restricting anything, whether it’s calories or certain food groups, it ends up leading to resentment and anxiety, and the only thing that seems to cure either of those is the very food you’re trying to avoid. I’ve said it before, but it’s a vicious circle, and one that the big dieting firms are only too well aware of. It’s what keeps them in business. I learned an incredible amount on my 50-day challenge, but one of the most valuable lessons I learned was that losing weight shouldn’t be about changing your diet plan, it should be about changing your lifestyle. The NHS’s balanced diet taught me that I could still lose weight simply by trusting myself to make the right choices. It is not so much a diet, as a way of life; a basic principle that you should stick to.