3 Weight Loss Truths

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If you haven’t been bombarded with weight loss ads over the past week, you’re probably on a remote island soaking up the sun with the waves gently teasing your feet (bring me next time). There’s something about the start of a New Year that makes people freak out, lose their senses and develop completely unrealistic eating plans they will never follow for more than a few days. Before you get sucked into a crazy diet or juice cleanse, you should know the top three truths about weight loss.


1) No One Eats “Clean” all of the Time

Instagram and Facebook are full of photos of broccoli, brown rice and chicken meals neatly placed in Tupperware and followed by #mealprep #eatclean. The only thing more boring than looking at these meals is eating them day after day. No one eats like this all of the time. No one.
I’ve worked with a number of elite athletes who cut weight before a fight, match or event. They diet down, compete then loosen up their diet a bit before they need to diet down again. They aren’t eating bodybuilding-type meals every day year-round.

2) There is No One Perfect Diet

Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, juice cleanses, Paleo, Whole30. There is no “perfect” because what’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for me. Figure out what changes you can realistically stick with, combine these with the general principles of healthy eating and start there. Forget what everyone else is doing, how your neighbor dropped 50 lbs. or what the actress on the cover of a magazine did. If you can’t stick with a plan, it won’t work.

Progress, not perfection, is the goal.

Celebrate each “win,” those small changes you’ve made that will add up to a big difference. You won’t necessarily notice a weight loss right away by making a few simple switches in your diet. However, I would rather people focus on the immediate difference – more energy, feeling better, more sleep, than the number on the scale. Feeling better each day will drive you to continue when the scale isn’t moving much.

3) You Must Exercise for Weight Loss

Can you lose weight without exercising? Yes absolutely. However, if you do not exercise you will lose more of your weight as muscle then fat. In addition to burning fewer calories each day when you lose muscle, you will notice a decline in strength and as you get older and everyday activities will become harder to do – lifting groceries, gardening, washing your car.

If you are not an exerciser and typically fall off when you start a new workout program, figure out what you like to do and do it. Forget all of the back-and-forth “noise” about high intensity interval training, the amount of rest in between sets and if you should train until muscle failure (until you cannot possibly lift the weight again). Instead, determine what brings you joy. What do you love to do? Dancing, yoga, hiking? What did you love doing as a kid? Hula hooping, double Dutch jump rope?

Do what makes you happy. Get moving and stay moving.

In addition to following these weight-loss truths, spend time feeling good about your body every single day. I meet so many people that are hyper focused on losing 5 pounds or 50 lbs. As they rattle off the reasons why they want to lose body fat and how this will drastically alter their life and make them happy, my mind often drifts off. I wonder what percentage of their thoughts are consumed by losing weight and dieting and if they are hyper-focused on controlling this aspect of their life because something else isn’t right. A marriage, their job, a friendship, their child’s behavior. If I ask the right questions something else they are ignoring often comes up.

Maintaining weight within a good range is very important for overall health. Obsessing about weight and dieting isn’t. I’ve coached enough people to know that one day you’ll look back years from now and wonder why you wasted so much time hating your body.

You’ll look back and say, “damn, I looked good! I wish I felt better about myself.”

“I wish I wore shorts in the summer.”

“Why didn’t I go to the beach in a bathing suit?”

“I wish I went to that party.”

I promise you, no one is criticizing your body. Every one around you is too busy focused on themselves. So go out and wear shorts, put on a bathing suit, try on that dress.

If you don’t love your body now, you won’t feel your best every day. You won’t enjoy life to the fullest. Work in this first (or in conjunction with healthy eating / a healthy approach to weight loss).

Because it’s a waste of time to spend your days bashing the body that does so much for you.

Are Low Carbohydrate Diets Best for Weight Loss?

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If you haven’t been bombarded with advertising for low carbohydrate foods, diets, plans and crazed anti-carbohydrate friends and coworkers in the past few years, you must be living on a remote island somewhere (taking any visitors?). The anti-carbohydrate, pro-fat crowd (including keto, Paleo, and Whole 30 – aka Paleo reinvented) devotees might be onto something. But that “something” isn’t a miraculous cure for obesity. Should you trade your low fat, higher carbohydrate diet for full fat foods and “bread” made from cauliflower and mozzarella cheese? It’s time to look past the media headlines to the latest research on low fat vs. low carbohydrate diets.

In this article I’ll cover:

  • the latest research on lower carbohydrate diets;
  • what this research means for you; and
  • a sidenote on the insulin hypothesis.

Should you switch to low carbohydrate vs. high carbohydrate foods?

The Latest Research on Low Carbohydrate Diets

In an attempt to determine which diet is best for weight loss, one of the latest studies collected and analyzed studies on low fat and low carbohydrate diets. A systematic review and meta-analysis, which combines the results of several studies, compared intervention studies > 1 year in length where participants were placed on low fat diets, low carbohydrate diets, other high fat dietary interventions or they continued eating whatever they wanted (their typical diet). Low fat diets ranged from  < 10% of calories from fat to < 30% of calories from fat. The diet interventions used ranged from providing instructions at the start of the study and expecting participants to follow the diet plan to regular counseling sessions with dietitians, food diaries and cooking lessons to actual feeding studies where participants were given most of their overall food intake (with the last approach the most well-controlled). Some studies coached participants to cut calories while others, including those put on low-carbohydrate Atkins-style diets, were told to eat until they were full without worrying about calories.

They analyzed results from 13 trials that examined weight maintenance as well as studies that didn’t include weight loss as a primary goal. In these studies low-fat and high-fat diets lead to a similar amount of weight loss. Low-fat diets were superior only when compared to the subjects’ normal diet – in other words actually going on a diet led to greater weight loss than not dieting (no surprise there). The tiebreaker came from an analysis of 35 weight loss trials, 29 of which were conducted using adults who were overweight, obese, or had type II diabetes. Overall, there was no difference between low-fat and high-fat diet interventions. Low-fat diets led to greater weight loss compared to groups who didn’t diet. However, higher fat diets were the clear winner (according to the headlines), leading to significantly greater weight loss after a year than low fat diets. Before tossing out your steel cut oatmeal, whole-grain bread and fresh Summer fruit, let’s take a closer look at this data. It was pulled from a comparison between low-fat diets and high-fat diets that varied by more than 5% of calories. So did low carbohydrate, higher fat diets really win or was it because subjects cut calories? Is it easier to cut calories on low carbohydrate, high fat diets? Participants on low carbohydrate diets lost about 2.2 pounds more weight after one year versus those on a low-fat diet. A 2.2-pound difference in weight loss after one year on a diet isn’t very impressive, especially considering many of the subjects were overweight or obese to begin with.

The End of Higher Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diets?

Based on these results the authors suggest low-fat diets shouldn’t be the go-to recommendation for weight loss. However, the results of this study are mainly applicable to overweight, obese and type II diabetics – the primary populations examined in these studies. We can’t take the authors conclusion that low carbohydrate, higher fat diets are better if you are looking to lose a few pounds for a beach ready body. What works for an obese adult or type II diabetic will not necessarily work for an active adult who wants to get a 6-pack. Secondly, previous research shows low carbohydrate diets tend to produce greater weight loss, initially, than low fat diets (some of this is water weight since carbohydrates store 3-4 times their weight in water in the form of glycogen in muscles and the liver and your glycogen stores will start dropping when you drastically lower your carbohydrate intake) yet after a year, weight loss is equivalent between both diets. Other research shows weight loss over the first six months on a diet is the main predictor of both weight loss success and sticking to a diet over the long-term. Greater weight loss initially = better adherence = better success over time.

Long-term Success

What’s more disappointing than the paltry 2.2-pound difference between the low-fat and high-fat diets after one year is the total average weight loss in the studies designed for weight loss – a mere 8.25 lbs. after 1 year. Instead of declaring low carbohydrate, higher fat diets a clear winner over low fat, higher carbohydrate diets (especially considering the 2.2 pound difference), we should be asking why it’s tough to stay on a diet, any diet? Why aren’t study participants losing more weight? I don’t have the answer to these questions and leading weight loss researchers don’t seem to have a complete picture right now either.

If you want to lose weight, choose a lower calorie diet primarily based on high quality foods or create your own plan that fits into your lifestyle and is one you can stick with it. There are many diets that could, potentially, work for you. If you want to try a low carbohydrate diet for a while, by all means go for it (especially if you need to see that number on the scale move pretty quickly)! If cutting carbs sounds like being in detention, then skip that approach! I’m giving you permission to alter your plan as often as you need to based on changes in your lifestyle (some research papers actually suggest doing this and I am a huge fan of this approach), motivation, and results.

Conceptually, low carbohydrate diets are very easy. You don’t have to worry about portion sizes, log calories, count points or determine if you have to eat less at dinner to make up for a lunchtime splurge. Decision-making is boiled down to: it contains carbs and therefore off my diet or it is low in carbs and the carbs it does contain are high in fiber so I can eat it. Just don’t buy into the hype that low fat, higher carbohydrate diets are the only way to lose weight or that these diets are better, over the long term, than other dietary approaches that also cut calories.

References

Tobias DK, Chen M, Manson JE, Ludwig DS, Willett W, Hu FB. Effect of low-fat diet interventions versus other diet interventions on long-term weight change in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Epub before print. 29 October 2015.

Greenberg I, Stampfer MJ, Schwarzfuchs D, Shai I; DIRECT Group. Adherence and success in long-term weight loss diets: the dietary intervention randomized controlled trial (DIRECT). J Am Coll Nutr 2009;28(2):159-68.

Franz MJ, VanWormer JJ, Crain AL, Boucher JL, Histon T, Caplan W, Bowman JD, Pronk NP. Weight-loss outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of weight-loss clinical trials with a minimum 1-year follow-up. J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107(10):1755-67.

Hall KD. Predicting metabolic adaptation, body weight change, and energy intake in humans. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2010;298(3):E449-66.

Hall KD, Sacks G, Chandramohan D, Chow CC, Wang YC, Gortmaker SL, Swinburn BA. Quantification of the effect of energy imbalance on bodyweight. Lancet 2011; 378(9793).

Rosqvist F, Iggman D, Kullberg J, Cedernaes J, Johansson HE, Larsson A, Johansson L6, Ahlström H, Arner P, Dahlman I, Risérus U. Overfeeding polyunsaturated and saturated fat causes distinct effects on liver and visceral fat accumulation in humans. Diabetes 2014;63(7):2356-68.