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We have all seen the ads on our Facebook feeds:
“the magic pill that J.Lo used”
or the headline on our favorite fitness magazine:
“lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks”,
“lose 4 inches by eating this food alone”
And I’m certain we have all tried one of the high-protein, low-carb, low-fat, grapefruit-only, maple-syrup-cayenne-lemon drinks that your friend lost 10 pounds on. Or perhaps you haven’t been duped by these diets because you’ve figured it out! You have just been eating TOO MANY calories and that’s why you aren’t losing weight.
Well, I’m here to tell you that these fad diets DON’T WORK! Even if you have lost 5 pounds in the first week — it’s not going to stay off my friend, it’s not.
If you’ve followed a fad diet, you are in good company. You are also probably not the only one who has had trouble staying on one of these deprivation diets for a long time. Or, if you did lose weight I’m certain we can all commiserate that the pounds DID NOT stay off once you went back to your usual way of eating.
Fad diets don’t help you keep off the weight in the long term.
But why? I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, let’s do a very basic overview of some of the more popular fad diets out there:
High Protein Diets (including South Beach, Atkins, and Bernstein)
Description: The most aggressive high protein diet is Atkins and the premise of all of them is simple; very high protein to very low carbohydrates. This ratio of foods causes your body to burn its own fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.
Benefits: This approach is effective for lowering cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin resistance and blood sugar, and weight.
Problems: Eating a high-protein diet for a long period of time can promote weight loss but it can also lead to kidney damage, and (depending on the type of protein consumed) high saturated fat relative to essential fatty acids balance, nutrient deficiencies and constipation from lack of fiber. Protein is also an inefficient source of fuel for your body to utilize (glucose from carbs is much more efficient) so one may be left feeling exhausted.
High Carb, Low Fat Diets (including Ornish, Pritikin, McDougall, and Swank Diets)
Description: Complex carbohydrates comprise 55% or more of the diet; often the ratio can be as high as 80% carbohydrates, 10-15% protein and 5-10% fat.
Benefits: Like all plant-based diets, these will lead to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, weight loss, lower cardiovascular and cancer risk, and a healthier gut due to the high fiber.
Problems: A high-carb, low-fat diet can lead to deficiency in essential fatty acids, and vitamins A, D, E, and K deficiencies. Also, often people feel hungry and potentially hypoglycemic.
Blood Sugar Diets (including The Zone)
Description: Excess insulin makes us gain weight and keep it on. The goal is to regulate blood sugar levels by consuming a perfect balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein (40-30-30) at every meal so the body can burn fat more efficiently and have more energy.
Benefits: Balancing blood sugar levels is a key to staying satiated and reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and associated diseases.
Problems: This balance contrasts sharply with the accepted nutritional standard of 65-15-20 and it does not differentiate between types of carbohydrates and recommends avoiding all high-carb foods (therefore a candy bar and a carrot are the same “type” of carb). Often weight loss on this diet comes from restricting calories and not from the magic (and complicated) macro-nutrient formula presented.
Low Calorie Diets
Description: Calorie-restricted diets aim to set your body at an ideal weight to achieve maximum metabolic efficiency.
Benefits: Slows down aging, preserves mental and physical function and reduces risk of degenerative diseases such as heart, cancer and diabetes.
Problems: People are encouraged to eat more nutrient-dense foods but often end up actually eating far too little. When a person consistently eats too little their metabolism lowers because they lose muscle.
And many more…Vegan Diets, Mediterranean Diet, Paleolithic Diet, Blood Type Diet, Sally Fallon and Weston Price, Raw Food, Master Cleanse, DNA diet/Nutrigenomics, and more!
All of these diets have their pro’s and con’s, and some more than others. They key learning is that…no one diet works for everyone! The concept of bio-individuality is that each person has their own nutritional needs and making generalizations like “dairy is good for you” or “fat is unhealthy” doesn’t work for everyone. One person’s food is another person’s poison, and that is a big reason why fad diets don’t work in the long run. It is important to look at your age, health, activity level, blood type, metabolic rate, and personal preferences to determine your dietary needs. With that said, here a few other reasons why fad diets don’t work.
WHY FAD DIETS DON’T WORK
Sustainability: Fad diets are meant to be just that, a fad or short term. The goal is to lose as much weight as possible as fast as you can even if this is not sustainable. Many of these diets claim to be a lifestyle change but continuing on the plan is usually not easily maintained and we get lost in the “in-between” stage. These diets do not teach sustainable eating habits that encourage and teach us to eat healthfully over the long term. Therefore when we go back to our previous way of eating the weight inevitably comes back.
Activity level: Weight loss and health is a combination of diet and exercise. We must move enough to burn the excess energy we take in from food. I don’t believe in counting calories when eating a healthy, clean diet. However, when it comes down to it expended calories must equal or be less than ingested calories or the extra will be converted to fat. If you concentrate solely on depriving yourself (which is not sustainable) and don’t incorporate regular exercise, the loss will never last.
Metabolism: Our metabolism is the rate at which our body burns energy to keep us alive and it changes depending on our age, regular nutrient intake and activity level. During a fad diet, when food is restricted and exercise is often decreased (or non-existent) the body enters what we all know as “Starvation Mode”. When our body begins to defend against the perceived starvation our basal metabolic rate adapts to the lower nutrient intake in order to preserve the little energy that it’s getting and slows down. When we begin to start eating regular foods in our regular amounts the calories are burned more slowly since the body’s metabolism has adapted to running at a slower rate. This leads us to easier and more rapid weight gain than we were previously used to. This is yo-yo dieting at it’s best. We repeatedly try to lose what we have gained back further deteriorating metabolic health leading to nothing but long term weight problems and ill health.
Lean Muscle Mass: When we lose weight too quickly the body enters “Starvation Mode” and it searches for whatever fuel source it can find for energy. Our bodies like fat because it pads our organs, provides warmth, and fuels our brain. Therefore, the body begins to burn muscle instead which results in us losing highly coveted lean muscle mass. Healthy lean muscle is where our metabolic tissue lives and helps us to burn calories more quickly. Losing this muscle causes our metabolism to slow down more which means when we start to eat more food again we gain weight back because the body won’t convert this food into muscle but will instead immediately store it as fat. This equals more fatty tissue and less lean muscle. Losing fat and not lean muscle mass only comes from a combination of exercise and healthy, clean diet.
Snacking: Often we begin to stop snacking when we want to lose weight and follow a fad diet because we aren’t “allowed” to eat enough food through the day. Our bodies need a steady supply of fuel to function properly and remain satiated. Eating every 5-6 hours means extreme hunger by mealtime which leads to overeating and unhealthy cravings taxing our already slowed metabolism creating more stored fat.
Macronutrient Imbalance: Fad diets tend to focus on limiting one or more of our major nutrient groups; carbohydrate, fat or protein. The body needs all of these nutrients to function properly. Without them in healthy proportions we are at risk of nutrient deficiency which is not only bad for our weight loss but very bad for our overall health. Not only that, when the restricted foods are reintroduced we are programed through chemicals released in our brain’s pleasure center to binge on the “missed” food leading to more rapid weight gain.
But you just can’t seem to lose weight even though you are eating healthy?
There are many reasons that people have trouble losing weight and keeping it off while eating a clean diet and exercising. These can range from hormonal changes, cortisol and stress levels, food sensitivities, chemical-laden foods and more. I will talk more about these in a future blog post but this is when a Nutritionist is really helpful. They can work with you to determine what your diet should look like. For instance, you know that highly popular dark leafy green that goes by the name Kale? It’s not good for all of us (but it is good for most of us) shocking, I know! But we all require something different from our diets and it’s important to know what is right for you.
The best diet is not a diet at all, but a way of life that includes food you enjoy, exercise, and healthy habits.
Tagged with: I'm a Nutritionist and I want to lose 20 lbs
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In January 2013 I realized I needed to do something to improve my health. I spent 2012 on maternity leave and often neglected taking care of my own health (sleepless nights and caring for a tiny human will do that!). Not to mention the many years before that where health was at the bottom of my list of priorities. Luckily, I discovered Lisa's 30 day green smoothie challenge. The recipes were incredible and a green smoothie drinker was born! But I didn't stop there. Starting each day in such a healthy way led me to consult with a naturopath (it would have been Lisa if we were in the same city), do an elimination diet, and discover that I have sensitivities to wheat and milk. I changed to a whole foods-based diet (most of the time) and took up running. In the span of 8.5 months I went from being tired and sluggish on the couch (literally - I could run for one minute at a time before having to walk) to having enough energy to run the Detroit International Half Marathon. I actually RAN the whole thing! And I lost almost 60lbs along the way! Thank you, Lisa, for being my catalyst. Your challenge kept me interested in a new way of living and saved me! I continue to drink a green smoothie every day for breakfast. What a wonderful way to start each day!
Thank you thank you thank you!!!
Imogen Meloche Windsor, Ontario