As a brief introduction, let me first explain what the Ideal Protein Diet is, before breaking down its uses, pros and cons. It was first developed about twenty years ago by Dr. Tran Tien Chanh, a weight loss specialist who was trying to find a safe, easy weight loss method for his patients. Over the years, through collaboration with Olivier Beloulou, the Ideal Protein Diet evolved into its current form.
The Ideal Protein Diet uses a modified approach to ketosis (the ketogenic diet is a protocol in which carb intake is severely restricted, with most calories coming from dietary fat). However, Chanh and Benloulou advocate a slightly different take on the traditional ketogenic diet. The Ideal Protein Diet temporarily restricts fat intake: its adherents claim that this enables your body to better burn its fat reserves.
Nowadays, the diet is closely managed by Ideal Protein, a company also known as Laboratories C.O.P. Inc, who charge what is an unnecessary amount of money for their products.
But if you’ve the money to go with it, how could the Ideal Protein Diet work for you, is it all it’s cracked up to be, and does the science back up the theory?
The Ideal Protein Diet
There are four distinct phases to the Ideal Protein Diet:
- Weight loss
Phase One: Weight Loss
During the first phase, weight loss, the idea is obviously to lose weight from body fat. The duration is flexible and will be different depending on goals and the amount of weight to be lost. You follow it for the duration of your weight loss, i.e. until you have met your target weight.
During the weight loss phase, clients eat:
- An Ideal Protein breakfast
- An Ideal Protein lunch with select veg
- A 225g protein portion with select veg
- An Ideal Protein Snack
Ideal Protein advise their clients to take their vitamins and supplements to ensure that they are getting a full range of micronutrients. As you can see, much of the diet consists of Ideal Protein’s own, quite pricey products. Though this enables you to better control portion sizes, it puts the cost up and limits choice- criticisms to which I will return below.
Ideal Protein also advise clients not to exert themselves or take part in exercise in the first few weeks because the caloric reduction is so extreme – yet another criticism I’ll turn to before the end of this article.
Phase Two: 14-day
The Ideal Protein Diet calls this the 14-day phase, which begins when you hit your target weight. It is slightly more forgiving than the first phase, with lunches and dinners made of whole foods. You will still be taking the Ideal Protein Diet’s supplements and vitamins in this phase.
Phase Three: Pre-stabilisation
This is the pre-stabilisation phase, during which clients begin to transition to a diet for maintenance. It’s easy enough to follow and involves switching out your Ideal Protein meals for balanced, whole foods, and ceasing supplementation. The advice is still to keep carbohydrate levels down, especially at breakfast, in order to control your body’s insulin output.
Phase Four: Maintenance
This is the last bit- a year-long maintenance phase to make sure that the changes you have made stick. Dietary freedom is introduced, with more eating choices, whilst still keeping to the Ideal Protein Diet’s select framework.
Although Ideal Protein call this a year-long period, it actually contains one of the only laudable goals I can find in this diet plan: you stick to healthy eating patterns for life, with your old, unhealthy habits swapped out for new, healthy ones.
I hinted above that I am not such a great fan of the Ideal Protein Diet, and I will be writing a follow up article soon enough with my recommendations for an alternative, healthier approach. However, there is good and bad in the mix, and I want to give a balanced critique. With this in mind, let’s begin with the potential benefits of the Ideal Protein Diet, as I list the pros.
- It may help you to lose weight: as a modified ketogenic diet, there is some evidence that the Ideal Protein Diet can help you to lose weight. Although actual hard data on the Ideal Protein Diet itself is lacking, studies of ketogenic diets more generally have found that they are effective at enabling people to lose weight and keep it off.
- It’s easy and well supported: everything is made for you, so you simply prep the food and eat. You won’t need anything special, you won’t need to learn any new cooking methods, and you won’t have to agonise over macros. You will also have support from the Ideal Protein team, including a licensed healthcare practitioner, increasing the likelihood that you will stick to the plan.
- It may improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity: again, though this doesn’t pertain specifically to the Ideal Protein Diet, ketogenic diets can reduce the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndromes. They can also bring insulin production under control and increase insulin resistance by up to 75%.
- The cost!: were there no other drawbacks (and there are), I would consider this a large enough negative to write the Ideal Protein Diet off almost altogether. Healthy eating should be for everybody; what’s more, it can be done so incredibly cheaply that the kinds of prices involved from Ideal Protein are inexcusable. Of course, some of this is for the support network you get, and that’s good, but with prices ranging up to around $500 for partner clinics, with up to a further £15 daily supplement (Ideal Protein themselves don’t list costs, which I find suspect), there is no reason you should turn to the Ideal Protein Diet. If you want to waste your money, there are better ways to do so.
- Much of the food is unhealthy: no diet plan which involves trained healthcare professionals should be guilty of this, but the Ideal Protein Diet gives you many highly processed meals. Oils, salt, sweeteners, all hidden for extra flavour, are the kinds of things that any dietician, trainer or healthcare pro should tell you run from. Instead, they actively give it to you.
- It’s very draconian: this isn’t necessarily a bad thing- if you want to lose weight, there are foods that you should and should not be eating, and so restriction is the name of the game. However, my issue with diets like this and other forms of keto is quite how restrictive they are. There will be little dietary fibre in this plan, meaning that you could experience digestive, stomach and gut issues (see below) and there is no room for you to stumble and fail, which every diet needs to build in.
The Discomfort of the Ideal Protein Diet
If you’re turning to a diet like the Ideal Protein Diet, and parting with the cash needed to make it happen, the chances are that you have a complicated relationship with food. You will probably have tried a few other diets and weight loss methods and found them lacking. In other words, you might need something that you can take to with as few negative effects and complications as possible.
Therefore, any discomfort that a new diet can bring with it is better avoided, to ease the transition. This will not happen with the Ideal Protein Diet: the discomforts and side effects pile on quite rapidly.
Firstly, the drastic caloric deficit is intense. You’ll be taking in fewer than 1,000 calories per day. For the average adult, this means 50% of maintenance. For someone more generously proportioned, this could be a quarter or a fifth of what you’re used to. Of course, cutting down is needed, but I always recommend doing so slowly and comfortably. Number one, this makes it far more achievable for you; number two, it prevents too much muscle wastage in the form of catabolism.
As mentioned above, there will be some digestive and gastric complaints involved if you undertake the Ideal Protein Diet, partly due to the caloric reduction and partly due to the lack of fibre that keto diets typically give you (though it should be noted that the Ideal Protein Diet does include limited amounts of select fruit and veg.) Further to this, you may experience nausea, constipation, hair thinning/loss, irregular menstrual cycles and hormonal imbalances, stomach aches and bloating, diarrhoea and/or gallstones on the Ideal Protein Diet. Hunger pangs and headaches will also be common on such restricted calories, as will light headedness, fatigue and issues with concentration.
My Take on the Ideal Protein Diet
That healthcare professionals recommend and help to program this diet is really quite startling to me. I would advise leaving it well alone. If you do take it up, watch out for the above symptoms. If they get too bad, consult your doctor and consider abandoning the diet altogether.
If you want to take on the keto diet- if you think it will help you with your goals- then by all means give it a go. However, there is so much information available on it that I see no reason to pay so much for it. Simply do a little research, see which foods you can and can’t eat, and stock your fridge and larder accordingly.
If you do want to spend money on your weight loss goals, then that is absolutely fair enough. But you shouldn’t be paying for the cookie cutter approach that the Ideal Protein Diet offers. They give you a generic template and a bunch of processed food: neither of these will help to optimise your weight loss in the way that $500 should.
I would advise that you take that $500 and go to a proper nutritionist to have them write you a personalised, optimised nutrition plan. They will keep you to it and show you how to maintain and stick to the plan. I can almost guarantee that you will be healthier and happier for doing so.