Dieting: good or bad?
Don't diet! It makes you lose muscle mass! Calorie restriction leads to more fat gain after the diet ends! You'll deprive your body of nutrients!
Just some of the typical things people say when you ask for their thoughts on ‘diets’, fitness professionals included. A quick glance at social media shows just how controversial the topic is, but here’s a quick point to consider:
The term diet can of course simply mean the nutritional habits of an individual or a group of people, but the controversy is associated with the common interpretation of a period of (often extreme) calorie restriction or the elimination of a particular food group. In this case, the type of comments above can have some basis in truth and the reason 'dieting' has gained a negative reputation within the mainstream fitness industry, despite the billions of pounds that continue to be made from books, magazines and the latest fad that a handful of celebrities are following. Savvy PTs advise their clients that it's better to devise a healthy nutritional plan than go for the quick fix option, and in the main that's an admirable approach, based on the notion that the majority of PT clients have a weight loss goal (70% of trainers we surveyed stated that weight loss was their main client aim).
However, as ever in our industry, there's more to it than a simplistic good or bad label. It depends why you're dieting. For the majority of people looking for weight loss or body composition improvements, adopting a more sustainable approach to nutrition and learning how to maintain it over the long term is in most cases preferable to any kind of fixed-term plan, so as mentioned above, this applies for most. However for bodybuilders, competitive physique athletes and fitness models, it's common practice to factor in a deliberate period of calorie restriction in order to reduce their body fat to prepare for a show or event, whilst maintaining their lean mass. They do this in the full knowledge that the plan they follow would be unrealistic to sustain for any longer than a few weeks due to the detrimental effect it has on their metabolism (and indeed like anyone else returning to their 'normal' nutrition after this sort of diet, they will often regain any weight and fat they lost very quickly).
So in certain cases dieting is not something to be demonised and avoided, but is actually necessary to success. Some would argue that a calorie deficit should be achieved by increasing energy expenditure through exercise, but that's a different discussion. Like a particular way or training that may be suitable and appropriate for some people but not for others, it comes down to your goals. It's all about choosing the right tools and approaches for the job.