A beginner's guide to diet pattern for weight loss

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

Well, this is a million dollar question. It's indeed a huge industry! There are many patterns of diet and each has developed its own ardent advocates. Some famous dieticians from each patterns have helped spread popularity of respective dieting pattern. These patterns include different aspects of our essential and beloved food habits.

Let's see major diet plans for weight loss:

  • Plant based nutrition

  • Intermittent fasting

  • 2/3 meals a day diet / Big breakfast diet

  • Small frequent meals / 3 hour diet / 5 meals a day diet

  • Crash diet

  • Ketogenic diet

  • Mediterranean diet

There are many other varieties as well. But the above ones you will hear about frequently.

In this post, let's have a brief intro about each of these diets.

Plant Based Nutrition

It focuses on plants based foods such as whole foods (minimally processed/refined), vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, etc. It does not mean that you are a strict vegetarian, and don't eat animal milk, dairy products and meat. A healthy, plant-based diet aims to maximize consumption of nutrient-dense plant foods while minimizing processed foods, oils, and animal foods (including dairy products and eggs). (1)

It pays special attention to quality of food, such as minimal processing (consuming it as much as raw and as in nature), seasonal, local and organic food. Two sub-patterns in Plant based nutrition are Mediterranean diet and Vegetarian diet.(2)

  • Mediterranean diet includes plant sourced foods along with fish, chicken, eggs, and cheese. It also includes yogurt occasionally and meat & sweets less often.

  • Vegetarian diet has different shades starting from Mediterranean like to strict vegan diet.

Plant based food is rich in fibers, vitamins, minerals, low in cholesterol, saturated fat and calories. (1) The unprocessed, raw nature of the food, high fiber content is said to help in weight loss, compared to those who eat processed, non-vegetarian food substantially. This diet does not talk much about frequency, timing and quantity of meals.

Intermittent Fasting

It is also called as 16/8 fasting or Intermittent Energy Restriction or Time restricted feeding. This approach talks about when to eat rather than what to eat. So, when you eat, you can eat your normal beloved food. Of course, that doesn't mean you eat crazily like in marriage ceremonies and stuff yourself with high calories. You got to restrict calories.

It says that one should eat during 8 hour interval of daytime, preferably during early daytime, and fast for remaining 16 hours which includes remaining evening and night. There are many other fasting schedules as well, for example, 5/2 fasting wherein you eat in normal pattern for 5 days and for remaining 2 days of the week only 500-600 calories are consumed.

The whole logic behind intermittent fasting is quite simple. Insulin hormone Substantial amount (bolus) of Insulin hormone which stores calories in our cells is released every time we eat food. So, by prolonging fasting period to 16 hours we minimize the release of insulin and hence storage of calories. Thus, when the calories created out of recently eaten food are over, body uses of calories from stored fat cells. Simply, fat is burned!! The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.

Extensive research has found that weight loss in Intermittent Fasting is due to fat loss, even up to 80%. The base level of insulin also goes down at the end of IF period. But, there is some weight regain over 6-12 months after IF is done with. So, don't ever get relaxed. (3)

3 meals a day diet

While in intermittent fasting you compress your meal timings in 8 hour window, so that extended period fasting happens; in case of 3 meals a day (3M) diet you you continue with normal eating times. Here, you eat only 3 times a day, with one of those times you consume very low calorie food (400-500 kcal).

It involves following variants:

  • Heaviest meal in breakfast, slightly less heavy lunch, and light dinner containing fruits and vegetables.

  • Heaviest lunch, slightly heavy breakfast and light dinner containing fruits and vegetables.

You can say it provides a little for those who can't fast for prolonged hours.

The other version of 3 meals a day and intermittent fasting is 2 meals a day diet. You eat only 2 times, one at around 11-12am and second at around 7-8pm. You skip the breakfast.

Intermittent fasting and 3 meals a day diet are often contrasted with small frequent meals diet and continuous energy restriction.

Small frequent diet

It is also known as 5 meals a day or 3 hour(ly) diet. This pattern says that you can eat same amount of calories divided among small, frequent portions spread throughout the day. The logic is it decreases your satiety. You remain full throughout the day and less likely to experience carbs cravings and binges.

Of course, the food should include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts & seeds, etc. (complex carbs, leans protein, high fiber). The timings of eating can be early morning, mid-morning, lunch, evening, dinner.

As per the proponents, there are many benefits:

  • It helps you keep sugar levels constant.

  • Thus, less sugar cravings and so less craving for sweets, spicy food, etc.

  • Energy levels are maintained throughout the day.

  • Stimulates your metabolism and prevents you from going into starvation mode response. Improves digestion.

  • Keeps hormones insulin (calorie conserving hormone) and ghrelin (hunger hormone) at steady levels. Prevents their spikes.

Flip side: research also indicates that above principle are more in theory. For majority people, in reality, it increases calorie intake, as one doesn't realize how much one is eating.

Plus side: This diet pattern has proven useful for athletes who need to maintain constant and high energy levels. It is also useful for diabetic people whose sugar levels fluctuate more that normal. Seeing the practicality, this diet pattern has been adopted by those who have frequent food cravings. (There are many amongst us who don't eat a lot or frequently and still have higher weight.)

Crash diet

This diet is actually popular amongst those who are fed up by their weight gain and want to lose some of it rapidly. And this is despite the difficulty of implementing it. It is also known as Very Low Calorie Diet.

It is generally short term food plan, from 1 week to 4 weeks. The daily calorie intake is severely restricted to below 1200 kcal, sometimes even going down to 600 kcal. A normal sedentary person requires on an average 1600-1900 kcal per day. Since the calorie intake is very low, body starts to use stored energy reserves of fat. In other words, body burns the fat to get calories.

As per most of the scientific studies, crash diet is to avoided. It causes many side effects such as fatigue, lack of energy, poor immunity, headache, dizziness, hair loss, etc. This diet is bad for body systems including heart, sugar metabolism, etc. Most importantly this diet is not sustainable. Problem is those do it they know that. Still they do. One thing they don't realize that they would regain the same amount of weight in coming months and at time more than earlier.

Ketogenic diet

A ketogenic diet primarily consists of high fats, very low carbs and moderate proteins. The division is approximately 55-60% fat, 30-35% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates. (6)

The mechanism of weight loss is this: Normally, carbohydrates is the largest source of glucose. When carbs intake is severely restricted, insulin levels decrease and thus reduce the new storage of glucose and fats. Stored reserves of glucose are depleted over 2-3 days. Body starts to use fat as the alternative source of energy. The fat is converted by the liver into ketones, hence the name ketogenic diet.


  • Ketogenic diet gives relatively rapid weight loss compared to slow steady weight loss diets.

  • Satiating effect due to high fat content diet. You can't eat too much oily food continuously.

  • Decrease in insulin and ghrelin levels

  • Increased calorie expenditure due to complex reverse process of conversion of fats and proteins to glucose required for essential functions

  • Promotes fat loss compared to lean mass due to reduced insulin levels

Flip side:

  • First of all, you cannot continue this diet pattern over long term. That means regaining the lost weight, and perhaps more.

  • It is costly. Purely high fat 'and' low carbs foods are few and costly.

  • Short term side effects on body can be nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache, dizziness, lack of sleep, constipation, etc.

  • Long term side effects can be vitamins and minerals deficiency, gout, kidney stones, hepatic steatosis, etc.

Mediterranean diet

Well, this is happy person's diet. More than diet it's a lifestyle. You would be eating lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans & nuts, fish, olive oil, small amount of meat, dairy items including cheese, and red wine. You also do daily exercise, share food and importantly you enjoy the food. Sounds like a dream, isn't it? And it still gives efficient weight loss, with no side effects and lifelong benefits.

In a few large clinical trials, weight loss over 1 year period due to Mediterranean Diet has been 9-22 pounds, equal to that of low-carb diet and diabetic diet by ADA. Comparatively, low fat diet resulted in loss of just 6-11 pounds.

The benefits of Mediterranean Diet are well known. These are all encompassing reducing obesity, risk of diabetes, heart diseases, cancers, etc. Italian people have one of the highest life span in the world, above 80 years, obviously because of Mediterranean diet.

If its so good, then why it is not chosen by many people? It is chosen. But since its a way life, many a times it gets stomped by packaged, processed food and sedentary lifestyle.

Mediterranean diet is actually a way of life, not just food. It is primarily characterized by increased and balanced consumption of plant based foods, reduced consumption of meat, and almost nil consumption of processed, packaged, sophisticated foods. It is centered on a very simple and humble set of nature based foods that have to be appropriately chosen, washed and prepared with care and time. (7)


  1. Tuso, Philip J et al. “Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets.” The Permanente journal vol. 17,2 (2013): 61-6. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-085

  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760

  3. Welton, Stephanie et al. “Intermittent fasting and weight loss: Systematic review.” Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien vol. 66,2 (2020): 117-125.

  4. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/intermittent-fasting-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work

  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156

  6. Masood W, Annamaraju P, Uppaluri KR. Ketogenic Diet. [Updated 2021 Jun 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/

  7. D'Innocenzo, Santa et al. “Obesity and the Mediterranean Diet: A Review of Evidence of the Role and Sustainability of the Mediterranean Diet.” Nutrients vol. 11,6 1306. 9 Jun. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11061306

  8. Koliaki, Chrysi et al. “Defining the Optimal Dietary Approach for Safe, Effective and Sustainable Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Adults.” Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 6,3 73. 28 Jun. 2018, doi:10.3390/healthcare6030073

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