For most people reading this article, finding an effective diet that works most of the time must seem as complicated as nuclear physics. It’s not, but there are a bewildering number of choices for diets out there. High fat or no fat? High carbohydrate or no carbohydrate? Low protein or high protein? To make matters worse, there are a million variations and combinations to the above diet scenarios to add to the confusion. It seems endless and causes many people to throw up their hands in frustration and give up. In this article I will attempt to change all that.
First of all, you need to understand that in order to begin losing weight you must consume fewer calories than your body burns in a period of a day. The bottom line is, regardless of the confusion brought on by the media and industry, calories still count!
Your body weight is largely a product of total daily caloric intake minus total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). So, to lose weight, your daily food consumption measured in calories must be less than TDEE. In other words a deficit in calories must be created to trigger a reduction in body weight. Although this is a simple concept, it’s not easily accomplished. And statistics prove it: approximately 50% of Americans are obese and two thirds of Americans are borderline obese.
There are some general guidelines, rules of thumb, and ways of viewing a diet program that will allow you to decide, once and for all, if it’s the right diet for you. You may not always like what I have to say, and you should be under no illusions this is another quick fix, “lose 100 lbs. in 20 days,” guide of some sort. However, if you are sick and tired of being confused, tired of taking the weight off only to put it back on, and tired of wondering how to take the first steps to deciding the right diet for you that will result in permanent weight loss, then this is the article that could change your life…
One simple guideline for losing weight is to adjust your daily caloric intake to equal ten times your weight in pounds. For example if you weigh 180 lbs. your total daily food intake should equal 1800 calories. This would create a sufficient deficit in calories for gradual weight loss. This method will not work, however, for people who are extremely obese.
If your goal is to lose some weight quickly, then pick one and follow it. I guarantee you will lose some weight. Studies generally find any of the commercial weight loss diets will get approximately the same amount of weight off after 6 months to a year. For example, a recent study found the Atkins’ Diet, Slim-Fast plan, Weight Watchers Pure Points program, and Rosemary Conley’s Eat Yourself Slim diet, were all equally effective.
Another efficient method of losing weight at a reasonably comfortable pace (for any person) is to reduce your total daily food intake by 500 calories. One pound equals 3500 calories and at the rate of 500 calories per day, it translates to 1 pound of weight loss per week. This is a sensible, realistic weight loss pace and more likely to succeed in the long term. On the other hand, diet programs based on more extreme calorie restriction are very stressful physically and mentally, which is why they result in quick but temporary weight reduction. Not to mention the high cost of many weight loss plans that include pre packaged food, unnecessary meal replacements, supplements and so on.
What is a diet?
A diet is a short term strategy to lose weight. Long term weight loss is the result of an alteration in lifestyle. We are concerned with life long weight management, not quick fix weight loss here. I don’t like the term diet, as it represents a short term attempt to lose weight vs. a change in lifestyle.
A more accurate method to figure out how many calories you actually need (to maintain your weight) is to take your body weight and multiply it by 11. Say you weigh 160 pounds and you are completely sedentary.
Many fad diets you see out there are immediately eliminated, and you don’t have to worry about them. The question is not whether the diet is effective in the short term, but if the diet can be followed indefinitely as a lifelong way of eating. Going from “their” way of eating back to “your” way of eating after you reach your target weight is a recipe for disaster and the cause of the well established yo-yo dieting syndrome. Bottom line: there are no short cuts, there is no free lunch, and only a commitment to a lifestyle change is going to keep the fat off long term. I realize that’s not what most people want to hear, but it’s the truth, like it or not.
Your diet must consist of foods from all food groups (e.g. meat, dairy, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts/seeds, legumes). If you’re a vegetarian, you can still get sufficient amounts of protein from legumes, soy bean products and whole grains. In a French study, evidence suggested that diet variety was one of the reasons French people were less obese and had fewer occurrences of heart disease than Americans. Another important factor was the diversity in their diet. Overall, the French diet contained more foods from all food groups and consisted of more types of food and food products compared to the American diet.
The statistics don’t lie: getting the weight off is not the hardest part, keeping the weight off is! If you take a close look at the many well known fad/commercial diets out there, and you are honest with yourself, and apply my test above, you will find most of them no longer appeal to you as they once did. It also brings me to an example that adds additional clarity: If you have diet A that will cause the most weight loss in the shortest amount of time but is unbalanced and essentially impossible to follow long term vs. diet B, which will take the weight off at a slower pace, but is easier to follow, balanced, healthy, and something you can comply with year after year, which is superior? If diet A gets 30 lbs off you in 30 days, but by next year you have gained back all 30 lbs, but diet B gets 20 lbs off you in the next 3 months with another 20 lbs 3 months after that and the weight stays off by the end of that year, which is the better diet?
The customary three meals a day method is just fine. There just hasn’t been enough convincing evidence to prove that it has a negative effect on weight loss. Eating 5-6 meals a day is also fine. Changing to a more frequent eating style, however, may cause you to over eat, if you’re not careful, especially at the beginning. This is because, subconsciously, you’re used to having larger food portions at meal time. So, it’s important to keep track of the food quantity of every meal, until you get accustomed to the new way of eating.
Diet plans that offer weight loss by drinking their product for several meals followed by a “sensible dinner;” diets that allow you to eat their special cookies for most meals along with their pre-planned menu; or diets that attempt to have you eating their bars, drink, or pre-made meals, are of the diet A variety covered above. They’re easy to follow but destined for failure, long term. They all fail the “Can I eat that way for the rest of my life?” test, unless you really think you can eat cookies and shakes for the rest of your life…Bottom line here is, if the nutritional approach you use to lose weight, be it from a book, a class, a clinic, or an e-book, does not teach you how to eat, it’s a loser for long term weight loss and it should be avoided.
Ever heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Well it’s true. The one meal you should never skip is breakfast. It is the meal that sets the tone for your metabolism. When you miss breakfast your metabolism responds by slowing down. Your body receives signals of famine from the brain and switches to energy conservation mode. This means rather than burning calories the body gets stingier with them.
I am not going to list all the benefits of regular exercise here, but regular exercise has positive effects on your metabolism, allows you to eat more calories yet still be in a calorie deficit, and can help preserve lean body mass (LBM) which is essential to your health and metabolism. The many health benefits of regular exercise are well known, so I won’t bother adding them here. The bottom line here is, (a) if you have any intentions of getting the most from your goal of losing weight and (b) plan to keep it off long term, regular exercise must be an integral part of the weight loss strategy. So, you can eliminate any program, be it book, e-book, clinic, etc. that does not offer you direction and help with this essential part of long term weight loss.
It was thought that drinking plenty of water throughout the day was a crucial part of a good weight loss strategy; the theory was that an adequate amount of water – 8 eight-ounce glasses per day – gives you a feeling of fullness which reduces periods of hunger; and the less you feel hungry the less you are going to snack – which translates to fewer calories. Recent studies have suggested, however, that choosing foods with high water content like fruits and vegetables and blending water into meals like soup has a greater effect on satiety, than simply just drinking water. And that it may result in a reduction of total daily calories.
Though I use the term ‘weight loss’ throughout this article, I do so only because it is a familiar term most people understand. However, the true focus and goal of a properly set up nutrition and exercise plan should be on fat loss, not weight loss. A focus on losing weight, which may include a loss essential muscle, water, and even bone, as well as fat, is the wrong approach. Losing the fat and keeping the all important lean body mass (LBM), is the goal, and the method for achieving that can be found in my ebook(s) on the topic, and is beyond the scope of this article. Bottom line: the type of exercise, intensity of that exercise, length of time doing that exercise, etc., are essential variables here when attempting to lose FAT while retaining (LBM).
People should not be scared off by my “you have to eat this way forever” advice. This does not mean you will be dieting for the rest of your life and have nothing but starvation to look forward to. What it does mean, however, is you will have to learn to eat properly even after you reach your target weight and that way of eating should not be a huge departure from how you ate to lose the weight in the first place. Once you get to your target weight – and or your target bodyfat levels – you will go onto a maintenance phase which generally has more calories and choices of food, even the occasional treat, like a slice of pizza or whatever.
Regardless of which program or diet you choose to go after, use the above ‘big picture’ approach which will keep you on the right track for long term weight loss. See you in the gym!