We have probably all at some point in our lives been on a diet. Weight loss is a very popular topic in United States culture, particularly after the holidays once the new year starts. It is estimated that 45 million Americans go on a diet every year1. The US diet industry is worth about $72 billion dollars and companies spend billions of dollars annually promoting their products2. However, do diets really work for weight loss? While dieting may work for short term weight loss, most diets are largely unsustainable. As a result, the dieter commonly gains the weight back and sometimes even gains more weight. For those looking to lose weight, making sustainable, healthy changes are best in order to achieve weight loss that is sustainable. This post will discuss different popular diets that are commonly used for the purpose of weight loss and why sustainable, healthy eating behaviors are best for sustainable weight loss.
Low Carb Diets
Low carb diets are nothing new. The Atkins diet used to be a popular diet and now the ketogenic diet is a very popular diet used for the purpose of weight loss. I discussed the keto diet in my previous post, Is The Keto Diet Healthy? Check out that post to learn more about the ketogenic diet and some considerations when doing that diet for the purpose of weight loss.
Eating healthy carbs themselves will not cause weight gain. However, overeating carbs, just like any other macronutrient (protein and fat) can lead to weight gain. Carbs are not the problem. In fact, the right kinds of carbs can be really good for you. Let me explain….
There are healthy carbs, such as:
- Whole grains
Then, there are not as healthy carbs, such as:
- Refined grains
- Processed foods
- Dessert Foods
- Other Sugary foods
Healthy carbs are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They also act as prebiotics, which feed in the good gut bacteria in our microbiome. Our gut bacteria changes based on our diet. If you restrict carbohydrates and limit foods such as fruits and vegetables, it can alter your gut bacteria. There is no need to be afraid of eating carbs. Instead, try focusing on eating healthier carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
“Juicing” or juice cleanses are a trend used for weight loss and “detoxing” the body. However, you do not need juice to detox your body. The body has organs, the liver and kidneys, that detox the body and continuously cleanse them of toxins. So if you are a healthy individual with properly functioning liver and kidneys, your body is able to naturally detox.
Juice products tend to be expensive and juice doesn’t contain anything special that you wouldn’t get from eating the whole fruit. It actually contains less.. While juice contains vitamins and minerals, it’s missing the fiber. Fiber is removed from the fruit in the juicing process and fiber is associated with a ton of health benefits. When you separate out the fiber from the fruit, you are primarily left with sugar and a lot of it. You can read more about the difference between whole fruit and juice in my previous post, Whole Fruit Versus Fruit Juice: Which is the better option?
The reason that people lose weight on juice cleanses isn’t because their is anything magical in juice. It’s because juice is very low in calories and when you’re in a calorie deficit, you lose weight. Instead of trying a juice cleanse, try implementing healthier habits, such as adding a fruit or vegetable to every meal.
The Low Fat Diet
The low fat diet was incredibly popular in the 90s. There was a fear that “eating fat makes you fat.” However, as discussed in the ‘Low Carb Diet’ section, there is no macronutrient that will cause gain weight by itself. Weight gain occurs from overconsumption of any macronutrient.
Fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient. It contains about 9 calories per gram of fat, whereas carbs and protein only contain about 4 calories per gram. Because of this, foods that are lower in fat are also lower in calories. However, there are many foods that are healthy fats, including nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocado. If you’re on a low-fat diet, you may miss out on all of the nutrients in these healthy fat foods. Dietary fat also aids in the absorption of fat-soluble molecules, vitamins A, D, E, and K. Additionally, certain dietary fats are essential nutrients, meaning that they are required by the body and must be obtained in the diet.
The low-fat diet promoted the rise of several low-fat and fat-free substitutes. These substitutes have similar properties to fat, but are a “fake fat.” The reason that these products have no fat or calories is because our bodies don’t have enzymes to properly break down them down. As a result, these molecules do not get digested and absorbed by the body, they just get excreted. These fat-free substitutes have been known to cause GI symptoms.
Do Diets “Work”?
Do diets actually work for weight loss? If you have lost weight on a diet before, here are some questions to consider. How long did you stay on the diet? Were you on the diet for one month or are you still on the diet today? If you achieved weight loss, why do you actually think that you lost weight? Do you think you lost weight because of the diet or because you were eating fewer calories? And if you achieved weight loss, did you maintain the weight loss?
80-95% of dieters regain the weight that they lost on a diet3. Some dieters even gain back more weight than they lost and end up heavier than they were in the first place. Furthermore, frequent dieting and weight loss followed by weight gain can have repercussions on a person’s metabolism. Dieting can also have long term psychological impacts and negatively impact a person’s relationship with food.
Sustainable Healthy Diet
Instead of dieting, a better option is focusing on implementing healthier habits. Adopting healthy food choices is more sustainable and can also lead to weight loss that is actually kept off. Furthermore, better food choices are beneficial to our overall health.
A healthy, balanced diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains; proteins such as seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes; and unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados. It also focuses on whole foods versus processed foods.
Instead of dieting for weight loss, try incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and rich in nutrients. Furthermore, they have high water content and are high in fiber, so they help fill you up. Try starting small – try adding a fruit or vegetable to every meal.
**Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for professional nutrition advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always refer to your professional health care provider for your specific nutrition needs.
- Drillinger, Meagan. “Most Diets Don’t Work for Weight Loss After a Year: Here’s Why.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 3 Apr. 2020, http://www.healthline.com/health-news/diets-work-for-one-year.
- “The $72 Billion Weight Loss & Diet Control Market in the United States, 2019-2023 – Why Meal Replacements Are Still Booming, but Not OTC Diet Pills – ResearchAndMarkets.com.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 25 Feb. 2019, apnews.com/press-release/pr-businesswire/ec35f3315f9a4816985615391f41815a.
- “Why People Diet, Lose Weight and Gain It All Back.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 2 Oct. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/why-people-diet-lose-weight-and-gain-it-all-back/.