We’re only a month and a half into the New Year, but your weight loss resolutions have probably all flown out the window and are now running a marathon while you sit on the couch and get fatter. Part of the problem might be that you opted for a fad diet—you know, “Eat 16 grapefruits every day with bacon-wrapped chocolate cake for dinner, and you’ll lose 30 pounds in two weeks!”
Chubby Americans are always looking for that quick, painless waist-whittling Holy Grail, but according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, fad diets don’t offer long-term success, usually aren’t very healthy, and some can actually be dangerous. Every health professional who isn’t collecting a padded paycheck from a fad diet program agrees. In order to help you find the healthy way to weight loss, the Weekly wants to chew the fat about the problems with two of the most popular diet plans and offer some superior suggestions for slimming down.
Basically, if the diet has a name, it’s probably a fad—the South Beach Diet, the Zone, Fit For Life, and Eat Right For Your Blood Type are just a taste. Each of these follow different principles, but the two most popular and heavily-researched diet plans are the high protein/low carb diets and the low-fat diets.
Protein diets, such as the infamous Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution, allow you to eat all the meat, cheese, eggs and saturated fat you want. These diets operate under the principle that extreme restriction of carbs (no sugar, starches, fruit, or particular vegetables) switches the body’s metabolism from burning glucose to burning fat faster, thus all that “bad” stuff is really just fuel. The problem is that glucose is the compound meant to feed your brain (our ancestors ate far more fruits and berries than animal products); protein and fat take a lot longer to reach the brain, which causes many aficionados to feel dizzy and lethargic. There’s also the potential for bone loss and kidney and liver problems due to the high levels of protein that our bodies aren’t used to processing. Other side effects include bad breath, constipation, insomnia and nausea.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, low fat diets, such as the Pritikin Principle, severely limit fat intake to around 10 percent of total calories, and are usually heavy on carbs (fruit, vegetables and whole grains). The basic concept is a good one—eating clean, antioxidant-rich whole foods—but a couple of huge studies have found that rigidly restricted fat intake doesn’t actually benefit health. In fact, it can harm health—fat is essential to the absorption of a variety of nutrients and is necessary for normal cell function, healthy skin and proper growth and development, as well as helping us to feel full (so we don’t overeat). Further, a number of fatty foods are quite good for you, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and anything with omega-3s.
Forget the fads. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is as follows: Watch your portion sizes; exercise 30-60 minutes at least four times per week; limit saturated fat, bad cholesterol and sodium, and completely eliminate trans fats; limit sugar, including sodas; eat three moderate meals a day, plus two small snacks; and try to eat a variety of naturally colorful, whole foods. If you need an extra boost, check out the USDA’s new guidelines at www.mypyramid.gov, or better yet, call a nutritionist or registered dietician. Maybe next year you’ll be running that marathon.