The Real Skinny On Dieting For Weight Loss
Dieting to lose weight is not a new concept. People have creatively been putting this idea into practice for the last 2000 years. In the 19th century a shift towards more extreme forms of fad dieting emerged resulting in the chew and spit diet, the tapeworm diet, the rubber knickers diet, the grapefruit diet and many others promising fat would just melt off. Anytime a diet combines the word “fat” with the verb “melt” be suspicious.
It can be very confusing to sift through the often contradicting information about the healthiest way to eat for weight loss and it doesn’t help that the weight loss industry is constantly bombarding you with advertising. Many powerful, robust salespeople are at the forefront of their chosen diet persuading you to join them on the path to better health and weight loss with as much passion as a television evangelist. Did anyone get amazingly toned thighs using that glorified rubber band named the “Thighmaster”? I’m skeptical. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It’s also a pretty good general rule to avoid diets that include injections, potions, or the words “as seen on TV.”
Does “dieting” even work for long-term weight loss? To answer this question we need to define what the word “dieting” means. Dieting often brings to mind extreme, short term efforts to lose weight. The research does not support this as an effective way to lose weight long term. If you are engaging in a diet so extreme you can only keep it up for a month or two because you are hungry all the time or only allowed to eat a few foods, research says any weight lost will be regained when you return to old eating habits. This is why I strongly discourage “dieting”. It just doesn’t work for long-term weight loss.
Instead, I propose changing the way you think of dieting and food by taking small, manageable steps towards a lifelong lifestyle of healthy eating. Stop the semi-starvation short term diets and embrace ways of eating that will sustain you and nourish your mind and body for years to come. Adopting long-term healthy eating practices are absolutely effective for weight loss.
So what constitutes healthy eating practices? This is where much confusion and contradiction come in. People fervently advocate for their way of eating like it is their religion. If it saves them they think it will save everybody. Doctors, scientists, and dietitians are not immune to this debate and can fall into very emotionally charged battles over what is a healthy diet. From vegetarian to vegan, gluten-free to Paleolithic, low-fat to low-carbohydrate, there are a lot of choices. And it doesn’t stop there—consider all of the patented diets like Atkins, South Beach diet, The Zone diet, The Ornish Diet, and Weight Watchers Diet. Feeling overwhelmed yet?
Let’s take the emotion out of the debate for a moment and analyze some of the research on diet and weight loss. For the last 30 years the experts have been recommending a high carb/low fat diet for health and weight loss. One of the reasons for this is the belief that eating fat raises cholesterol and causes heart disease. Recently, many have found loopholes in this argument and are proposing it isn’t the amount of cholesterol but the type of cholesterol and whether the cholesterol is oxidized in the body. Oxidation creates compounds that can damage the body so perhaps it is more useful to focus on preventing oxidation with anti-oxidants rather than eating a low fat diet. (Gary Taubes presents many of these ideas and studies in his well-researched books “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “Why We Get Fat” if you would like to read more about this.)
Then in 2007, a study was published in JAMA that shattered current ideas of what a healthy diet is. Researchers compared 4 popular diets–the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, LEARN diets (see description below)– and discovered at 12 months the Atkins diet resulted in more weight loss, improved triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood pressure for women in the study. The Atkins diet is a low carb, high fat and protein diet so this completely contradicted the belief that a low-fat, high carb diet or vegetarian diet is best for weight loss and to decrease cholesterol.
In addition, a meta-analysis published in 2012 of 17 clinical studies showed the low carbohydrate diet to be associated with significant decreases in body weight, body mass index, abdominal, blood pressure triglycerides, fasting glucose, C-reactive protein, as well as an increase HDL cholesterol or the “good” cholesterol. While more long term studies need to be done, the results of these studies are encouraging because in addition to weight loss, this way of eating often improves mood, energy, reduces food cravings, and leaves people feeling satiated and satisfied.
Am I saying everyone should be on an Atkins Diet? NO! I just saw an advertisement for Atkins brand processed frozen dinners which I would never endorse. Instead, the useful information in these studies is weight loss and health benefits can be obtained from decreasing processed carbohydrates like breads, baked goods, soda, and beer– not that the Atkins diet is the “right” diet.
When it comes to a healthy diet the one size fits all approach doesn’t work. There are so many individual factors that need to considered when making dietary recommendations it is unwise to believe what works for one person will work for everyone all of the time. Before I make detailed recommendations I consider health goals, personal philosophy, individual health history, and combine this information with unbiased, scientifically-backed guidelines. The main objective is that healthy eating be enjoyable, maintainable, and supportive of your health goals, so beware the zealot trying to sell you tapeworms, grapefruit and rubber knickers to help you melt away your fat.
|Very low carbohydrate; high fat & protein intake
The Zone Diet
|Intake ratio of carbohydrate, fat, protein 40:30:30
The Ornish Diet
|Low fat vegetarian diet
|Low fat, high carbohydrate diet