If you’re looking for a way to change your life, there are plenty of diets out there that can help you do just that. But some will take more effort than others, and sometimes the effort is too much to make it through. If you’re trying to kick a bad habit or start exercising regularly, some diets might be difficult to stick with—especially if they require a lot of cooking and planning ahead. And if you have an eating disorder or other serious health condition, some might even be dangerous!
To find out which diets (and recipes) really work to change people’s lives, we asked registered dietician Dr. Kellyann Petruzzello to share her picks. Here are eight healthy lifestyle changes that she recommends people try—and why she thinks they’ll stick this time around.
1. The Keto Diet
The keto diet isn’t a new diet trend. It was first popularized by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in 2003 as a low-carbohydrate, high-fat alternative to traditional weight loss plans. In recent years, though, many people have taken up the diet because of its reported health benefits.
Petruzzello says that while the scientific evidence for these benefits remains inconclusive, the diet does seem to have a positive effect on reducing inflammation and helping people feel full longer after meals. She also likes that the diet doesn’t restrict any specific food groups. “You don’t have to cut out things like dairy or breads,” she notes.
But if you want to give the diet a go, there are two ways to go about it. First, you could try one of the many available meal replacement products that contain protein, carbohydrates, and fat (usually in roughly equal proportions). These come in all shapes and sizes, from powders and shakes to bars and wraps. They’re typically packed with vitamins and minerals and often have added flavorings to mimic what you’d get at a restaurant.
The second option is to follow a keto diet plan specifically designed for women. This type of plan is called the MFP (modified fasted period), and it involves eating fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day for 14 days, with no calorie counting or portion control involved. After those 14 days, you move into the next phase, where you eat between 60 and 80 grams of carbs each day. During this phase, you count calories and monitor how much you’re eating, and you try to maintain a stable body weight. You should expect to lose a few pounds during this process.
2. Paleo Diet
“Paleo” has become a buzzword over the past couple of years, but it actually goes back almost 40 years. Back then, the paleolithic diet was popular among celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jane Fonda, who were trying to live healthier lifestyles.
The basic idea behind the paleolithic diet is that our bodies evolved to eat foods that were available when humans first started walking upright. So today’s processed foods aren’t good for us. However, we’ve been eating grains and legumes since our ancestors started farming, so that shouldn’t be an issue either. Instead, the key to success on the paleolithic diet is to eliminate processed foods like sugar, flour, refined grains, and soy.
In addition to cutting out those types of foods, you need to focus on eating more vegetables and fruits, lean meat, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, seafood, and olive oil. When possible, you should avoid dairy and alcohol, although both can be used occasionally in moderation.
The Whole30 diet is based on the paleolithic diet, but with one big difference: It eliminates entire food groups, including gluten, dairy, grains, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, legumes, soy, corn, peanuts, nightshades, refined sugars, alcohol, and processed oils. (If you want to know more about why these ingredients are problematic for humans, check out the science here.)
As someone who deals with digestive issues, I love that the Whole30 focuses on whole, unprocessed foods. It’s also a great way to kick off a new year’s resolution to improve your health and start eating better—or maybe just to enjoy some delicious food without the worry of getting sick from certain ingredients.
The program lasts 30 days, and you can customize it to fit your needs. For example, you can choose to remove gluten only, or you can remove all grains except rice. Or you can follow the original Paleo version and remove all grains and legumes, or you can add them back in if you’re not currently allergic.
4. Bulletproof Coffee
Forget coffee enemas and colon cleanses, bulletproof coffee is the newest trendy drink to hit the wellness world. It’s basically coffee mixed with butter, coconut oil, and MCT oil (which is a form of medium chain triglyceride fat found naturally in coconuts and palm hearts). The result? A creamy, energy-boosting cup of joe that tastes delicious.
It’s not surprising that bulletproof coffee has made such a splash, given that butter is a natural source of saturated fat. Saturated fats are known to boost your metabolism and keep hunger pangs away, while the MCT oil contains ketones, which your body uses as fuel instead of glycogen. Some studies have shown that MCT oil can increase appetite suppression by as much as 70 percent.
Bulletproof coffee is also fortified with antioxidants, which may help protect your brain cells against damage from oxidative stress. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, coffee has tons of antioxidants already. In fact, coffee is one of the best sources of antioxidants in the human diet, so it makes sense that adding a little extra would boost their levels even further.
5. Vegetarian Lifestyle
A vegetarian lifestyle means eliminating animal flesh from your diet. Not everyone considers a vegetarian diet to be part of a healthy lifestyle, but there are plenty of reasons why going vegan might be beneficial for your health.
Many traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, include lots of plant-based foods, so a vegetarian diet might be easier to adopt if you’re used to eating meat. Plus, vegans can still enjoy all the benefits of a healthy diet, such as lessening your risk of heart disease and diabetes. If you decide to go vegan anyway, it’s important to eat enough protein, fiber, and iron to keep your muscles strong and prevent nutrient deficiencies.
6. Raw Food/Veganism
Raw food diets are often associated with veganism, but the two terms are technically different. According to the Vegan Society, raw foodists consume nothing cooked or processed at all, whereas vegans choose to avoid all animal products, including milk, cheese, eggs, honey, and gelatin.
While raw vegan diets are certainly restrictive, they have been linked to improved digestion, increased energy, and overall happiness. And, unlike most plant-based diets, a raw vegan diet is easier to maintain. As long as you eat a balanced amount of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, you won’t have to worry about counting calories or worrying about micronutrient deficiencies.
Some people prefer a raw vegan diet because they believe it’s healthier for animals, and some people think it’s easier to digest. There are also some folks who simply choose to avoid all animal products, regardless of whether or not they’re being sold as “raw.”
7. Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet is another approach to losing weight that’s gaining popularity thanks to the work of Dr. Robert Atkins, author of the bestselling 1972 book, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution. He originally developed the diet to treat epilepsy in children, and it’s now commonly recommended for use in treating various neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
The core principle of the ketogenic diet is that your body burns stored fat for energy instead of glucose, which is released into the bloodstream when you eat carbohydrate-rich foods. This causes your body to enter a state of ketosis, whereby too much fat is converted into ketone bodies and stored in your liver and muscles.
Because your body is burning fat rather than glucose, you end up feeling fuller and less hungry. As a result, you tend to eat less—but still feel satisfied—making it easy to reach your goal weight.
8. Plant-Based Diets
Plant-based diets are usually thought of as vegetarian, but they differ in several ways. Many plant-based approaches focus on removing processed foods from your diet altogether, whereas others promote the consumption of organic, free-range, locally grown produce.
There are also plenty of plant-based options that fall somewhere between omnivore and vegan. For example, some people recommend eating fish once a week as the least harmful way to get the omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Others suggest avoiding dairy and eggs, because both cause gastrointestinal distress.
There’s also the growing movement toward “pescatarian,” which refers to people who eat fish but not poultry or red meats. Pescatarians typically opt to eat poultry and red meats only occasionally.
The bottom line is that there are lots of ways to incorporate a plant-based diet into your routine. All you have to do is figure out what works for you.