Is a diet based on your body type the best way to lose weight?
- October 13, 2020
Thousands of books and generalized diet programs have been designed to help people lose weight, and yet, the obesity and preventable chronic disease rates continue to rise. If current projections become a reality, almost half of us will be obese by 2030, according to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. What if the perfect diet was less about the food involved and more about the individual? The endomorph diet is one option that breaks down your daily dose of meals based on your body type. Though the concepts behind the diet lack strong data, it’s making a comeback in the ever-changing world of weight-loss remedies.
What is the endomorph diet?
In the 1940s, researcher and psychologist William Herbert Sheldon defined three body types (ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph) that could be assigned to an individual. The last body type, endomorph, was defined as a body that was shorter in stature with larger bone structure. Sheldon defined endomorphs as “round and soft.” The endomorph structure was commonly associated with a slower metabolism and a propensity to hold onto fat over muscle. Sheldon explained that this made the endomorph more likely to struggle with weight loss. His work was initially embraced (he even identified personalities to each body type) but was later deemed controversial.
A breakdown of the diet
The diet focuses on defining the right mix of macronutrients rather than restricting calories. People following the diet should derive 30% of their calories from carbohydrates, 35% from protein and 35% from fats. They’re also encouraged to focus on fiber-rich foods, healthy fats and an avoidance of sugar and refined carbohydrates. However, recommendations on specific foods and eating frequency are not defined.
Mascha Davis, a registered dietitian, founder of Nomadista Nutrition and author of the newly released book “Eat Your Vitamins,” thinks that the breakdown of macronutrients in the endomorph diet could be effective for individuals struggling to lose weight since the plan focuses on increasing fiber and protein. She cautions, however, that the diet still makes a lot of generalizations, and therefore, it’s not an approach she would recommend to her clients. There are other ways to create a more personalized eating plan. Davis prefers an individualized assessment and nutrigenomics test, which assesses genes related to diet, weight, cardiac health and fitness. She believes this method yields more personalized results. Finally, in addition to not being customized enough, Davis suggests that the endomorph diet ignores a lot of other factors like genetics, blood work, personal history, stress and sleep.
The science behind the diet
The data linking dietary behaviors, success in weight loss, metabolism and body type is limited. Only a few studies citing the potential characteristics of an endomorph body type exist. Further, the lack of personalization inherent in the diet is a concern. Ashley Koff, a registered dietitian and the CEO of the Better Nutrition Program, says that the premise of “slow metabolism,” or the struggle to gain muscle or lose weight, can be grouped together as a “symptom” or “condition” for which there is a singular approach defies what we know about the human body. She goes on to say that a focus on macronutrients alone without digestive health and micronutrient intake — and further looking at lifestyle choices — belongs in the 1980s, not 2020.
Short term fix, or long-term solution?
Based on previous research on lower carbohydrate approaches, the diet may be beneficial for certain individuals who are more prone to carrying excess fat in the belly region, and thus, more prone to insulin sensitivity. But taking the macronutrient breakdown and translating it into a dietary plan means working with a practitioner who can assess your total nutrition intake within the context of your current health, medical history and lifestyle choices. Koff says that science alone won’t tell us what is better for humans. It can give insights that practitioners can then use to personalize recommendations. She recommends a digestive assessment as a first good step and states that no results can be gained without better digestion, regardless of body type.
Weight loss depends on many things. Both Davis and Koff agree that the long-term success and sustainability of this diet for individuals is questionable. Your environment, gut health, disease status and even who you socialize with can impact your ability to lose weight and keep it off. The endomorph diet is similar to paleo without limitations on legumes, grains and dairy. So, altering paleo plans to include more high-fiber complex carbohydrates, non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats and limited red meat may be a good starting place.
In the end, the perfect diet is most likely the one you can successfully stay on long term. Living longer and better may be more impactful than getting back into your skinny jeans.
Kristin Kirkpatrick is the lead dietitian at Cleveland Clinic Wellness & Preventive Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a best-selling author and an award winning dietitian.