The myriad of dieting gimmicks floating around in the mainstream media is one of today’s most annoying trends. Most popular dieting programs (i.e. Nutrisytem, Jenny Craig, The Atkins Diet, The Zone Diet) appeal to people’s vanity with claims that promise a substantial amount of weight loss in a given amount of time which leads to Americans spending an estimated $42 billion annually on weight loss foods, products, and services. Unfortunately, dieting for the purpose of good health is rarely, if ever, emphasized. This is primarily because “dieting” isn’t healthy. What’s healthy is a good diet. The term “dieting” describes the act of restricting calories (i.e. low/very low calorie dieting) or certain nutrients (i.e. no/low carb dieting) for the purpose of weight loss and is not to be confused with the term “diet” which simply refers to habitual eating patterns. Individuals who consume a diet rich in high-fiber whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy, moderate in lean protein, and low in fat will inhibit weight gain and improve their overall health, in the long-term. As such, a good diet should be the focus of any weight loss program.
Research shows that 1 out of every 3 adults in the United States is trying to lose weight yet nearly 70% of American adults are overweight or obese suggesting that the popularized dieting programs are not working. Why aren’t they working? Well, it’s primarily due to a lack of compliance. Dieting programs that promote weight loss with calorie or nutrient restriction are problematic because they require dramatic alterations in habitual eating patterns that lead to an inability to fully comply in the short-term. This is why over 75% of individuals who resolve to lose weight each year abandon their weight loss programs by the end of January. Furthermore, it is quite difficult, if not impossible to restrict calories and/or nutrients in the long-term, which is why 95% of individuals who do lose weight regain it over time.
All dieting programs involve some sort of calorie manipulation. Calories are obtained from food sources (i.e. carbohydrate, fat, protein) and serve as fuel for the body to carry out vital functions like breathing, eating, and sleeping. There are 3,500 calories in one pound of fat; therefore, if 3,500 calories are accumulated within the body over a given period of time, a surplus will occur resulting in a net weight gain of one pound. On the flip side, if 3,500 calories are expended over a given period of time through physical activity, a deficit occurs resulting in a net weight loss of one pound. When the amount of calories consumed from food is equal to the amount of calories expended through physical activity, no weight gain or weight loss occurs, which represents a balancing of calories.
Dieting programs that focus on calorie restriction often promote reduced food intake by encouraging you to consume prepackaged meals, smoothies, shakes, and candy bars with a fixed amount of calories. The latest trend in calorie restriction involves point-counting systems, which are cool because they eliminate the intimidation of 4-figure numbers (i.e. 2,000 calories) by providing you with a simple system that equates to 50 calories per point (but why pay for these when you can use on line calorie trackers for free?). Those dieting programs that involve nutrient restriction tend to focus on reduced intake, or total elimination, of carbohydrates or fats from the diet in order to manipulate metabolic pathways in the body. The problem here is that carbohydrates and fats are key nutrients that the body requires in sufficient quantities for normal functioning; therefore, if these nutrients are withheld, malnourishment is an eventual consequence.
Now I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for dieting as one can achieve dramatic weight loss results with adherence. However, dieting should be treated like a short-term project with a definite start and a definite end. With that said, you must understand that successfully maintaining weight loss after dieting is a continuous process without a definite end. It’s a permanent lifestyle change. The very small percentage of people (~5%) who have been able to lose weight and successfully keep it off have 4 things in common:
1. They implemented a weight loss program involving moderate calorie restriction (i.e. a reduction of daily calorie intake by 15% to 17%),
2. They supplemented their weight loss program with regular exercise (i.e. “cardio” activity, weight training) and habitual physical activity (i.e. taking the stairs, walking a few blocks),
3. They maintained sensible eating patterns after achieving weight loss, and
4. They continued to accumulate at least 1 hour of daily exercise/physical activity after weight loss.
The moral of the story is that ANY of the popularized dieting programs involving calorie and/or nutrient restriction will result in significant weight loss. However, most of these programs are extremely strict and if you don’t follow them precisely, and indefinitely, weight regain will occur. Understanding that you can’t be a dieter forever, you should approach any dieting program with a definite end date and be sure that the program encourages flexible eating patterns and moderate weight loss over time. But it doesn’t stop there. Habitual exercise and spontaneous physical activity during and after weight loss is a must in order to manage your calories and reduce your chances of gaining weight again.
Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a physician for advice.
Before starting an exercise training program you should first make sure that exercise is safe for you. If you are under the age of 55 years and generally in good health, it is probably safe for you to exercise. However, if you are over 55 years of age and/or have any health problems, be sure to consult with your physician before starting an exercise training program.