According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 1.4 billion adults, 20 and older, are overweight. It is no wonder why people are becoming more and more obsessed with dieting when the numbers point to growing increases in weight and health risks. This is not to mention that the pressure to look leaner is constantly placed in front of us through advertisements in magazines, movies, and television. Many of these overweight individuals suffer with an inability to diet successfully due to a glaring misunderstanding of what you eat being more important than how much you eat. In order to remedy this people must thoughtfully consume fewer calories than their body requires to maintain its current weight and this should be done through the reduction of calories from food and getting regular exercise, not through the new fad diet.
The problem is that people who are attempting to diet are often following plans that cut out entire food groups or macronutrients which is leading them to an inability to stick to the given program due to their restrictive nature giving them a poor relationship with food. Instead of seeking education on the fundamentals of nutrition they blindly follow the shiny new advertising of the latest fad diet. Will some of these fad diets work? Yes, but they are not beneficial to the long term success of the dieter nor do these programs typically educate the person participating on how to be healthier and more active.
The 1980’s are widely regarded as the start of the fitness revolution where dietary fat was seen as the sole enemy to those looking to get into better shape. Whereas now we know dietary fat as one of the leading nutrients our body needs to stay hormonally balanced and to aide in recovery from exercise. Along came further scare of fats in the 1990’s and now eggs were public enemy number one. This brought upon an irrational fear of the cholesterol in egg yolks being bad for us, which from a study done by K. Mayurasakorn in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand it was shown that eating eggs every day actually raises the good cholesterol levels of our body and even provides us with necessary fats that we need for day to day living. Presently we are seeing many different things being touted as the new number one enemy of those that want to diet, but none bigger than that of the carbohydrate. Diets such as Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, and Keto are the biggest names featuring this growing fear of carbohydrates. It is honestly put best as an irrational fear as studies have shown that lower carbohydrate diets are not superior than diets balanced in macronutrients as long as a caloric deficit below a person’s caloric maintenance intake is sustained.
“A closing point I want to make has been demonstrated in Hu et al’s recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials comparing the effects of low-carb and low-fat diets on metabolic risk factors. Despite subtle differences, in a total of 23 trials (2788 subjects) a rather anticlimactic lack of significant therapeutic advantage was seen in any particular type of diet. Notably, the low-carb treatments ranged from 4 to 45% carbohydrate. This reinforces the principle that we humans are extremely versatile when it comes to diet. We can achieve excellent health on a very wide range of macronutrient compositions. The supremacy of a single type of diet (e.g., low-carb or low-fat) simply lacks evidence.” -Alan Aragon, M.S.
Restriction of entire food groups and macronutrients often leads to an over obsessive mentality that food is working against us and not for us. Many times people will take an extremist mentality, going all or nothing with their new eating habits once dieting, labeling foods as good and bad or as clean and dirty, instead of seeing food as fuel for the body and seeing the impactful benefits it provides. Steven Bratman, MD coined this extremist mentality orthorexia nervosa by detailing that it “indicates an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food.” More often than not this unhealthy restriction of certain foods and nutrients from obsessive behavior leads to only short term success for dieters and does not bring them closer to an understanding of the fundamentals of nutrition and being able to carry over long term success of a healthy body weight and a healthy mind for the rest of their lives.
The most important element in creating a successful diet while maintaining a positive relationship with food is to simplify the education. However, a problem with gaining a more solid foundation featuring the principles of nutrition is that there is so much misinformation already out there and readily available. You can easily get lost in too much detail or pointed in the wrong direction by a bad source and spend too much time focusing on something inaccurate. You should always take a science based approach when it comes to the fundamentals of nutrition. Taking this approach will provide you with proven research and results as opposed to just what sounds right or what someone with a nice physique has told you about. The basics that are necessary to understand is that the calories (energy that we take into our body from foods) versus the energy expenditure (calories that are burned through resting metabolic rate and daily activity) is what creates the basic caloric deficit or surplus in the overall energy balance making us either lose or gain weight. More important than what we eat it is how much we eat, as this was shown in a study by Richard Surwit in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition where “results showed that a high sucrose content in a hypoenergetic … diet did not adversely affect weight loss.”
Eating smaller portions is a guaranteed method to reduce the calories being consumed on a daily basis in order to jump start a mindset for weight loss. Unfortunately, some bring themselves to an extremist mentality eating much too little which can be detrimental to the metabolism and lead to even more harmful situations such as developing an eating disorder like anorexia. In order to combat this it is best only to slightly reduce the portions by opting for smaller sizes of overall meals or sticking to one serving instead of two. A person should plan to consciously decrease their portions in minimal amounts through focusing on eating a portion that is only slightly less than what it has been previously as to avoid any negative repercussions of major calorie restriction. Perhaps you find that you eat bigger portions due to an increased appetite. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that “if you feel hungry between meals, eat a healthy snack, like a piece of fruit or small salad, to avoid overeating during your next meal.”
It is quickly learned for anyone that has made the decision to lose weight and lead a healthy lifestyle that there needs to be a relationship built between nutrition and exercise. Whereas you can lose weight through dieting alone with a caloric deficit it will increase the rate of weight loss plus improve your overall health to implement an exercise routine. Exercise alone, however, is often not going to be enough to fix a poor diet. This has been shown time and time again through individuals that lead an active lifestyle that still are unable to achieve a loss in weight from not following a proper diet with the purpose of weight reduction. However, in a study by Christina J. Paez done at the University of New Mexico it was shown that subjects who performed exercise along with a diet consisting of an energy deficit achieved greater amounts of weight loss and were able to maintain the results well after the study concluded.
The ever growing problem of the inability to diet in order to lose weight is not only based on the misconception that what you eat matters more than how much you eat, but it is that we already know enough. If we already know enough then why isn’t the tide shifting? According to studies done and published in the Los Angeles Times 42% of the world’s population will be obese by 2030. There is no greater gift that we have received than that of life and to ensure that we are able to live these lives in whichever way we desire we must fight to maintain healthy body weights. “Public health experts have concluded that the best way to attack the obesity crisis is to prevent people from becoming obese in the first place” (Los Angeles Times). That sounds fairly obvious, but it’s not being placed into practice. There are too many people attempting to educate themselves once already overweight or in an unhealthy state instead of arming themselves to keep the problem from occurring. In order to combat this growing epidemic of unhealthy body weights with a proper ability to lose weight and diet successfully an understanding must be reached that the scientific fundamentals of weight loss through an energy deficit combined with regular exercise are needed by overweight individuals. The choice is simply to learn more about the subject and put the subject into practice or to shorten our life spans through our own blatant ignorance.
Summer is always closer than you think and so this means that the idea of being out in public wearing nothing but a bathing suit in front of everyone crosses many of our minds on a regular basis. For some it is an opportunity to show off what hard work and discipline will get you while others are panicking to find a perfect diet that will let them shed the last few pounds. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention up to 68% of all adults are overweight. Saying that the majority of people will be disappointed in their dieting efforts isn’t a hunch, it’s a fact. We are a society that loves to diet to lose weight, but can’t do it successfully.
Dieting hasn’t always been a concern for people. In fact, before the first recorded diet comprised of consuming only liquid calories from alcohol in 1087 by King William I overweight people were seen to be of greater wealth and of more importance. A bigger belt size meant a bigger wallet in those times, but my how things have changed. Now it seems that the thinner the individual the more successful they are perceived.
In the beginning of the 20th century dieting began to take shape featuring ideas such as, the Inuit diet where participators would eat only meat or fat, and George Harrop’s diet in which a person only consumed bananas and fat free milk. Later into the 1960s a popular dieting system was developed by Jean Nidetch that was pillared by ideas of group support, encouragement and following a style of smarter eating and healthier living. With this program members would meet weekly to share experiences and gain information from one another on how to achieve better results in their efforts. The program proved to be so successful that it is still widely used today under the same name as it started with, Weight Watchers.
Unfortunately for society there isn’t just one diet though. There are literally hundreds of fad diets and styles of eating that are available. How are you supposed to know which one is right? How are you supposed to tell one that is focused on getting you to better health instead of just taking your hard earned money? The weight loss industry was worth a staggering $60.9 billion in 2010 alone according to a report done by Marketdata Enterprises, so to think that all diets are in it for the good of your health would be quite naïve. Every time you open a magazine there is a new perfect diet to follow. Watch an interview for the new blockbuster movie out this weekend and you’ll hear about how the lead actor got in shape for their role following some new diet gimmick. Dieting is everywhere in our society and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Temptation can wreck a diet in a matter of minutes. You have been successful in losing a substantial amount of weight to the point where friends and family are taking notice. You’ve stuck to your guns on this diet fad and it’s paid off. You feel better, but you’re not happy. You want to lose more weight and you are constantly being reminded of the fact that you can’t eat anything that you want. As you grocery shop the candy aisle taunts you with bright colors and tasty choices. The ice cream cartons call out to you as you’re trying to find frozen vegetables to complete your healthy dinners for the week. Then you get a phone call from your best friend asking you to come out to a restaurant for some company. You know the place well. It has delicious food, cheap drinks and a great atmosphere. You go and you’ll break your diet and be miserable. You don’t go and you’ll stick to your diet, but you’re still miserable because you missed out on a good time and your social life has become non-existent. You just can’t win in that scenario unless you change your outlook. Temptation is hard to beat, but if you give in every now and again then temptation subsides. In a study put out by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition where participants ate a diet abnormally high in sugar content author Richard Surwit said, “We therefore conclude that the use of sucrose in a weight-loss regimen is unlikely to cause problems for the average patient, as long as total energy intake is restricted.”
Being burdened with an overwhelming amount of choices and kinds of diets, all which bring different information to the table claiming to be the right way to go, we are left with a society that flip-flops between diet programs and constantly yo-yos between overweight and attempting to diet. Due to this abundance of diet programs using contradictory information to achieve goals dieters are being guided down a very unsuccessful path. Typically these programs want to put focus on eating a certain way that consists of focusing on the intake of a particular nutrient and the exclusion of another nutrient in a person’s diet. These styles can range from not eating carbohydrates, lowering the amount of dietary fat eaten, the removal of all sugar or just not eating any food that has been processed. However, in a study done by The New England Journal of Medicine author Frank Sacks found that participants in four different dieting groups all featuring different nutrient intakes were able to successfully lose weight over three years as long as each person adhered to eating a lower total amount of calories each day. It would seem that the finer details of the diet programs are not necessarily the most important part as long as someone successfully follows a lower caloric intake on a day to day basis.
However, is our ability to successfully follow a diet necessarily our fault when something as common as stress is causing us to gain more weight? A study conducted at Yale University and published in Science Daily showed that non-overweight women who are vulnerable to the effects of stress are more likely to have excess abdominal fat, and have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. You can’t control all the situations you’re placed in and inevitably this is going to lead to stress, which in turn can lead to weight gain. Nonetheless, we absolutely can control the way that we react to a given situation which can lead to a decrease in stress and subsequently keep us from the unwanted gain in weight and give us the ability to follow a diet successfully.
The trend of dieting isn’t going to go away anytime soon. The desire to look better and feel better is always going to be important to our culture. We can, however, learn to lose weight successfully and to become healthier if we make an effort to change things. First, we need a do over with our education on the subject. Society needs to be grounded in factual scientific evidence of how weight loss is achieved successfully and not enamored with the next big diet craze or just what seems to be the popular route. Once we understand how it works fundamentally we can start to relax a bit and not sweat the small details. Restricting ourselves from foods we enjoy or avoiding events involving food like birthdays or weddings will lead to a self-destructive path featuring a feeling that weight loss is a burden on our social lives. Giving in a little when you’re putting in a lot of self-discipline to lose weight will only make the ends of dieting justify the means of eating less more understood.
A closing point I want to make has been demonstrated in Hu et al’s recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials comparing the effects of low-carb and low-fat diets on metabolic risk factors. Despite subtle differences, in a total of 23 trials (2788 subjects) a rather anticlimactic lack of significant therapeutic advantage was seen in any particular type of diet. Notably, the low-carb treatments ranged from 4 to 45% carbohydrate. This reinforces the principle that we humans are extremely versatile when it comes to diet. We can achieve excellent health on a very wide range of macronutrient compositions. The supremacy of a single type of diet (e.g., low-carb or low-fat) simply lacks evidence.
Important Things to Remember
The Final Word
I received this question a few days ago and thought I would answer it publicly here seeing as I would guess more than one person might have this exact same question.
Well, there is no magic trick or best tip. I would assume you already realized this, but it’s worth reiterating. The be all end all of losing weight will be that you find something that you can stick to (dedication) and that you incorporate these three main philosophies.
You may also want to transition your mentality from “weight” loss to “fat” loss. You can chop off an arm to lose weight, but who in the hell wants to do that? Furthermore, no one wants to lose their sexy lean body mass (muscle) they’ve worked hard for as weight either and then come out looking just like skin and bones sans fat. We typically hear the word “tone” when someone is referring to losing fat and retaining that sexy lean body mass.
The best recommendation I can give you is to adjust your caloric intake to lower than what it is (not much, but slightly below what you believe to be your maintenance caloric intake — this could just be decreasing your portions), increase your activity (you can do cardio if you wish, but it is not the most optimal — resistance/weight training is king), and eat enough food (this is where the whole “don’t eat too little” comes in to play) to fuel your workouts, recover properly, and stay satiated while not wrecking your metabolism from too low of a caloric deficit. The food you eat a majority of should be good sources of lean protein, fruits, veggies, and other fibrous carbohydrates. Throw in some of your favorite treats every now and again in moderation to keep yourself sane. I’m serious. Eat that “bad” food every now and again. It’s not going to hurt you as long as it’s done to a minimal degree.
I’ll be putting out a post soon of important things to know and baseline recommendations for optimal fat loss and general health.
Alan, what is your general philosophy on food sources regardless if the individuals is in a caloric surplus or deficit, the phrase “Clean Eating” is thrown around a lot. Could you shed some light on research or any information regarding utilizing different sources that may be considered bad and the impact it may/may not have on body composition?
You know that the cleanest food in the world is? Hydrogenated vegetable oil. It was originally developed for the purpose of making soap. Pretty damn clean, I’d say. On a more serious note, the “clean” label is very misleading when applied to individual foods. There’s no way a food can be judged in isolation from the rest of the diet. To give an example, most people would call celery a “clean” or healthy food, and ice cream a “dirty” or unhealthy food. In the far-fetched/hypothetical scenario of being forced to choose only one of those foods to survive on, guess which one would sustain your health (and ultimately your life) longer? Hopefully you chose ice cream over celery, unless you’re anxious to knock on Heaven’s door. The point is, labeling foods as clean or dirty ignores context, and ignoring context is just plain dumb. I think that’s it’s intuitively obvious that the diet should consist mostly of whole & minimally refined foods. But still, it’s not all that simple, since certain foods are significantly altered from their original state (i.e., whey protein powder), but still have positive impacts on health. I wrote an in-depth article on the “clean eating” topic here. It’s a long article but worth the read for anyone interested. I think it’s been very amusing to see the definition of “clean” vary widely according to highly subjective criteria.
Read more of the interview at Machine Muscle.
The most perfect diet will not work if the person cannot adhere to the details that actually matter. A diet has to make sense physiologically and psychologically. Diets that leave both variables unaccounted for are usually setting up people for failure, rather than helping them reach their full potential.