All Weight Loss Diets Work

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Every single weight loss diet works, if you follow it. All diets help you eat fewer calories so you lose weight. So how do you choose one that is right for you? Ignore the hype from your friend who lost 20 pounds. There is no one “best” diet. Pick one you can stay on.

Research shows the #1 factor that determines weight loss success and keeping the weight off: sticking to the plan

Weight Loss Diets

While cutting calories is the key, some diets aren’t nutritionally sound or socially convenient. Over the next few days I will explore the pluses and minuses of popular diets and help you examine if you really need to be on a diet. In the meantime, here’s a brief lowdown on each:

  • They are a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter approach. Getting your clothes tailored ensures the best fit. Likewise, tailoring a diet to suit your needs ensures it will better suit you. After all, cookie cutters are good for one thing only, cutting cookies.
  • Elimination diets take decision making out of the equation.  Making decisions is emotionally draining. The ketogenic diet, Whole 30, raw food diet, and low carbohydrate diet are “eat this, not that” approaches. The decision is either yes or no. There’s no measuring, counting or weighing. There’s no split second indecision wondering if you can have just a small piece of cake and walk away.
  • Counting keeps you accountable.  Weight Watchers, myfitnesspal (and other apps), meal plans and IIFYM (if it fits your macros) all involve counting. Though calorie counting is not 100% precise (more on this later this week), counting keeps a person accountable. After all, you can’t claim your metabolism is slow when your food log shows 2 hotdogs, bags of chips and beer.

All diets require some effort. After all, you can’t keep doing what you are doing now and expect different results. The key is finding the one that is easiest for you. Stay tuned….

Do Carbohydrates Make You Fat?

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When I was in college I would often eat 3-4 bagels per day (free from the cafeteria and portable), along with cream of wheat in the morning, fruit and/or starchy veggies at lunch, heaping quantities of brown rice at dinner, and a bowl (or two) of Raisin Bran with milk after dinner. I wasn’t on an all carbohydrate diet, I ate all of this in addition to regular meals . As a cross country runner, I was just plain hungry. Despite my high carb diet, my body fat via underwater weighing (the benefit of being an exercise physiology student) was very low, as in elite distance runner low. So when I hear people suggest carbohydrates are a surefire path to obesity for everyone, I shake my head and think “no, clearly they are not.”

Carbohydrates have taken a hit in recent years because 1) they taste good and are therefore easy to overeat (Which one tastes better: a jumbo size blueberry muffin or grilled chicken breast?) and 2) carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin from our pancreas, a hormone that increases carbohydrate (in the form of sugar) uptake by muscle and fat cells while also suppressing the breakdown of fat tissue. Sounds like a double whammy right? It definitely can be if you chronically overeat. But, if you only eat the amount of calories you need each day or less than you need over time, you’ll maintain or even lose weight (in the absence of Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance). And that is why the weight loss research shows that over time higher carbohydrate diets result in similar weight loss as low carbohydrate diets in healthy individuals. However, there are two big caveats to this “total calories” approach to weight loss:

1) If you don’t eat enough protein each day (and I recommend a minimum of 30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner) – 0.55 – 0.91 grams per pound of body weight per day, you will lose a good bit of muscle during weight loss.

2) If you have insulin resistance, PCOS or Type 2 diabetes, a lower carbohydrate diet combined with exercise is the most effective way to take off weight (work with your MD to adjust any glucose lowering medications or insulin you are on based on your change in diet and/or drop in weight).

If you want to read more on this topic including the design of an exciting upcoming study, check out this thorough overview I wrote for FitnessRx.

In the meantime, remember there is no one perfect diet for all people. Are there times I ask my clients to cut down on their intake of carbs (particularly the junk food carbs)? Yes, absolutely. But, I take their overall diet, goals and what they will realistically do into account. And you should too. Because adherence, the ability to stick with a diet program, is the biggest factor that will predict weight loss success. So don’t jump on your neighbor’s diet detox 2 shakes-per-day bandwagon or let yourself be dragged to Weight Watchers meetings while kicking and screaming.  Instead, take into account your current food intake (what do you like to eat?), lifestyle, cooking skills, medical history, diet history and physical activity and come up with a plan that works for you.