A miracle diet for weight loss; wouldn’t that be amazing!? How wonderful it would be if we could click on the pop-up advertisements clogging our Facebook (twitter, emails, etc, etc) and find an easy answer to getting the lean, toned, healthy, body we all aspire for!
If it was REALLY that easy would we be facing a Global obesity epidemic? The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2014 more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight (39%) with 600 million (13%) obese. Obesity is preventable- but there is no denying it, losing weight is hard.
So, the question remains, what is the best strategy for losing weight? There are so many ‘diets’ out there, where do we start?
Losing weight involves eating fewer calories than you are burning in any given day. To lose 1lb of body weight, you need a deficit of 3500 calories. There are so many promoted diets out there all of which claim to do something the others do not. In 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study comparing the most commonly used diets (Atkins, Ornish, South Beach, Zone, Biggest Loser, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Weightwatchers, Rosemary Conley). This was large meta-analysis (compilation of 48 published studies) which included 7286 individuals. The results demonstrated that all diets resulted in weight loss with no one diet providing a huge benefit over any others.
While there is some evidence an emphasis on certain food types may help you eat less (ex. protein and low glyceamic index diets increasing satiety), the overall message is that all diets which restrict calories result in weight loss.
So, where does this leave us? What is the best ‘diet’ or best approach to losing weight?
Firstly, I hate the word ‘diet’ used in this context (going on a ‘diet’). It implies that losing weight has a finite time scale; you lose the weight, stop the ‘diet’, and go back to living your life the way you did pre-‘diet’ but weighing 10 lbs lighter. Anyone who has tried a diet knows that this is not the case. Returning to pre weight loss dietary habits results in you returning to pre diet body weight. You need to think of your diet as a lifelong commitment to eating in a certain way. Your diet is not just about losing weight but also about achieving the maximum health benefit from your food.
If you are considering making some changes to lose weight, I assume you are concerned about your health. If that is the case (and I certainly hope so!), there is more to consider than just reducing calories. You also need to be thinking about making the calories you eat ‘count’. Food is about so much more than energy. The vitamin, minerals, and unknown substances in food have the potential to affect many other aspects of health. You want to make sure the foods you are eating are nutrient dense (high in vitamins and minerals). This is where vegetables, fruits, nuts, and healthy oils become important.
4 Steps To A Better Diet:
I would suggest you take a look at your diet with a critical eye and see if you have any ‘quick wins’ for weight loss. The most common quick wins are:1. Reducing/eliminating liquid calories. Soda, alcohol, and juices are generally a lot of sugar (i.e. calories) with relatively very little nutrients. In addition, they don’t fill you up! For example, cutting out 2 glasses of liquid calories/ day could save you 350kcal/day. In 10 days, that is 1lb weight loss.
2. Reducing intake of bread. I am not saying this because I think carbs are evil (as many people would say!). Carbs have a clear place in the diet and in fact, we need them to metabolize fats. However, it is very easy to overindulge in bread. Have you ever gone out for dinner and eaten 2 pieces of bread (i.e. 300+ kcal) of bread while waiting for your dinner to arrive? It’s also important to ensure the bread you are eating is whole-grain and/or seaded. This helps lower the glycaemic index as well as gives you many more of the disease- preventing nutrients not seen in white bread.
3. Increase consumption of vegetables and and fruit. Try to fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit every meal. Adding in healthier food will eventually displace some of the unhealthy and more calorific foods you may be eating. In addition, there is strong data showing and association between consumption of fruit and vegetables and reduced risk of chronic disease.
4. For parents- STOP EATING YOUR CHILDREN’S LEFTOVERS! Do not worry about ‘wasting’ food. Putting it onto your waist will not help the situation. When we eat off of our kids plates (I am very guilty of this!) we still go on to have our own meals which again, adds to your daily calories.
Inevitably, you need to play the number game. You need to become aware of what you are eating and how much of it. Start by writing down everything you are eating in a day. This includes the scraps off the kid’s plates, and everything you eat standing up while deciding what to make! Then you have to eat less of it.
Remember, if you are taking in fewer calories in a day, make sure the ones you eat are full of nutrients (future posts will address some specific examples of heathy food choices). Swap potatoes with sweet potatoes; use healthy oils in your cooking, try to eat more lean meats (fish and chicken which are lower in calories), eat LOTS of vegetables which are low in calories and high in nutrients. Finally, burning calories through exercise also counts towards your caloric deficit so get moving!
Written by Dr. Tara Coletta, PhD
Tara's research focused on obesity and metabolism. She studied exercise science (MS, UMass Amherst) before earning a PhD in nutritional biochemistry (Tufts University). Wellness remains an integral part of Tara’s life as she works to balance being a mother of three.