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Why Diets Fail by Dietitian Tom Jordan, MS, RD
You’ve heard it before but here goes again, dieting is all about calories in and calories out. It couldn’t get more simple, right? Well maybe not.
Let’s talk about losing weight. It really is about calories-in and calories-out. However we need to take a closer look at both sides of the in-out equation because there are ways to supercharge the calories-out and minimize the calories-in parts of the equation. This is why some diets really work well for some people and the same diets fail dismally for others?
Let me start by telling you why we speak with authority on this subject (it’s called Tooting My Own Horn). In the last five years we’ve helped 295 clients lose over 3 ½ tons (7189 pounds) of weight.
Our success comes from a team of highly skilled physicians, behavior counselors, and me their dietitian. My job is education. We start with the fundamentals of healthy eating and end up with a core of valuable lifetime strategies. During my sessions it’s common to get questions about fad diets, eating tips from friends and the internet and fancy exercise programs packaged in blue, red or PINK boxes. Let's begin . . .
Certain foods for certain people trigger a feeling of satisfaction or satiation. When you feel full you stop eating. So if the diet you’re following contains fewer calories than you burn in a day and you feel full. BINGO!
Eating a candy bar is very pleasing to most people. It ignites our taste buds and satisfies most people’s sweet tooth. The problem comes shortly after eating the candy bar. The carbohydrates (sugar part) are quickly absorbed into the blood stream causing a dangerous spike in blood sugar levels. To combat this dangerous spike our bodies secrete a hormone called insulin which pulls much of the sugar out of the blood often creating a blood sugar deficit. Since sugar is our source of energy when insulin is done removing the sugar from our blood we often feel tired. Because we are now low on sugar our mind tells us we’re hungry. Hang on here come the cravings that pack on the pounds!
The No Carb or Low Carb Diets
With the no or low carb diets we tend to get our energy from fat and protein food sources. These foods digest slower and keep our blood sugar levels more even so we tend to avoid craving. On a no or low carbohydrate (sugar) diet we don’t get the blood sugar spikes and hence eliminate the cravings.
So there you go, the low or no carbohydrate diet is the answer!
Not really because our bodies need carbohydrates. Carbohydrates include vegetables and whole grains. Both are high in fiber which help control cholesterol and reduce the risk of colon cancers. They also contain a ton of nutrients not found elsewhere.
Okay so what about a low fat diet? Isn’t dieting all about fat?
Yes and no. Dieting is about not storing excess fat on your body but we need fat to survive. Hormones are made from fat. Certain vitamins (A,D,E and K) need fat to be absorbed in our intestines. And dietary fat aids in the production of endorphins, the feel good chemical in our brains.
Healthy cholesterol (HDL) is derived from fat. HDL cholesterol sweeps away bad cholesterol reducing the risk of heart disease. The key with fat is there are good fats and bad fats (saturated and unsaturated). Speaking of diets the Mediterranean Diet (not a weight loss diet) is based partly on the consumption of healthy fats.
Protein tends to be low in calories so what about a high protein diet?
There’s a problem here also because too much protein can cause all kinds of human ailments including gout and kidney disease.
What about this Hcg diet? Everybody loses weight on it!
The diet works not because of the Hcg but because you are limiting your calories-in to 500 per day. 500 calories is a starvation diet. It’s not only unhealthy and dangerous, it teaches us nothing about proper eating so when the diet's over the bad eating habits resume and all that sacrifice was a waste of time and money.
What about Weight Watchers? A lot of people lose weight on Weight Watchers.
Weight Watchers is a great program. It converts the idea of food consumption to accumulating so many points in a day. The problem I have with the system is the same as all other "diets", once you get to your desired weight, what have you learned?
Most of us diet to lose weight and get healthy. Good health isn't measured in points. It's the result of knowledgeable nutritional choices, like fiber content, choosing healthy fat, carbohydrate and protein sources, knowing about how and where to get adequate micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, about learning to read food labels to avoid preservatives, toxic colorings and flavor enhancers and here's a big one I'll talk about later, it's about exercise and a balanced diet to maintain your weight and good health. I'm going to plug myself here so turn away if you must: Most people don't need a good diet they need a good coach.
So you’re saying "No" to diets like the grapefruit diet right?
No, (I'm saying no to the "No" above, even I'm confused now). Anyway back to grapefruit . . grapefruit is a healthy source of nutrition. It’s loaded with vitamins and high in fiber. If grapefruit curbs your appetite and balances your blood sugars, I’m all for it. But that diet which was a fad ten years ago didn’t work for everyone. In my opinion it wasn’t the grapefruit it was the eating discipline that accompanied the grapefruit snacks. Eating grapefruit with McDonald’s cheeseburgers isn’t going to help anyone lose weight.
So what’s your answer?
Knowledge about food choices. A balanced diet that is sustainable for the rest of your life is the answer to calories-in. In our programs we teach people to eat healthy store-bought foods in the right proportions. Most of my clients find that after a few weeks of eating the right foods, at the right times and in the right proportions they are no longer hungry nor have cravings.
All right let’s sum up the calorie-in portion of the equation. At our facility we do a complex calculation that helps us determine your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). BMR tells us how many calories you burn on an average day. Even without the fancy calculations most active people have a BMR equal to around 2000-2200 calories per day. To maintain your weight eat no more than 2200 calories. If you eat 500 calories less each day you will lose a pound a week. (500 calories/day X 7 days =3500 calories. 3500 calories = 1 pound).
Anything that is low in calories and helps curb your appetite (grapefruit, drinking a big glass of water before a meal, eating rice cakes, etc.) will help reduce your caloric intake and therefore qualifies as a diet food. Got a new one? Let’s create a diet, write a book, appear on TV and become millionaires!
Okay so what about calories out? Are certain exercises better than others? What about kick boxing, TRX, PINK?
We are in a new era. Technology has made our lives simpler but maybe not better. We sit in front of computers most of our day and then go home and sit front of one of our TVs. If we drop the remote it becomes a chore to have to get up to pick it up.
Here’s a shocker - movement burns calories. If we don’t move we don’t burn calories. So it’s possible to gain weight on a low calorie diet if the foods we are eating or the habits we adopt aren’t expending energy.
Here’s the big plus for exercising
When you exercise vigorously for 30 minutes day you obviously burn extra calories during the workout, but here’s the real kicker, after you stop working out you continue to burn extra calories. Exercise increases your metabolism, so everything speeds up. And speed requires extra fuel (calories). When we exercise regularly our systems function better and at a higher level.
Also, being active revitalizes every cell in your body. It’s the closest thing to the fountain of youth we know of. Exercise is a very important component of good health and longevity.
Okay so you don't like exercise check out our non-exercise weight loss plan called Thin. But I encourage you to read on about our thoughts on including exercise into your plans.
Yeah but exercise is so hard
Everybody who starts our Less of ME program kinda wishes they hadn’t during the first week. It’s a change and it’s so much easier to fall out of shape than to get back in shape. But we don’t let people quit once they commit. We don’t go crazy mind you, we ramp them up slowly and cautiously. We had a 73 year young girl in one of our 12 week programs who kept up admirably. What amazes me is how strong and revitalized every participant becomes by the end of our program.
Our average Less of ME clients loses 11% of their body weight in just 12 weeks. Plus they see dramatic changes in their fitness, energy and blood chemistry levels.
Anyway back to calories out, whether you choose taebo, water aerobics, personal training or whatever fancy packaged program you chose you need to burn calories. No one program is better than the next. The important part is finding something that keeps you motivated and challenges you physically. It really helps if you make it enjoyable.
So, to sum up calories-out. Activity burns calories. Regular activity that increases your cardiac and respiratory systems has the effect of causing a sustained increase in metabolism hence calorie-out long after the exercise is stopped. It also improves your energy levels which helps you want to do more physical things.
We offer our clients a ton of ideas about healthy foods that help quell appetites and we have over 500 exercises so if someone really hates a few we’ll still be left with a few hundred. The most important thing we impart is to 1) establish a nutritionally sound, healthy diet that keeps you from craving and 2) ramp you up to maximize your level of fitness.
The last thing we do which isn't a part of this discussion is put our clients one-on-one with our behavioral health counselor to determine if there are any eating pattern irregularities. There is an enormous hidden emotional component attached to overeating. Stress runs rampant these days and eating is a temporary fix for stress management.
More than a third of our clients eat to quell hidden emotions which ends up failing because the guilt afterward makes them feel worse. To read my article "The Difference Between Food Cravings and Food Addiction" Click Here. But I digress.
If you want to lose weight reduce calories-in, learn to choose foods that keep you satiated and get moving.
If you want to lose weight quickly combine a reduced calorie plan with a rigorous exercise routine.
If you want to maintain a healthy weight keep active and eat knowledgeably.
Here is the required disclaimer. Weight gain may be the result of medical issues, if you've tried dieting and have failed you should seek a medical evaluation. Rigorous exercise programs should not be started without medical clearance. We do not advise restricting calories to below 1100 calories per day. Consult your physician if you experience any unusual symptoms while dieting or exercising.
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