November 21, 2014
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Obesity

 Health Home >> Obesity >> Managing obesity 

Weight loss programs and "fad" diets

Television and magazines includes endless advertising for various weight loss programs and diets. It's a lucrative business, since so many who want to lose weight are looking for something to help. Unfortunately, even if you do lose weight with these programs and diets, they seldom include a weight management program, so it's very difficult to maintain the weight loss.

Diets can be generally categorized as:

  • low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets (e.g., Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet, Zone Diet, Protein Power, Sugar Busters, Dukan Diet)
  • moderate-fat, high-carbohydrate, and moderate-protein diets (e.g., Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Dr. Anderson's High-Fiber Fitness Plan, Nutri-Systems, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension [DASH] diet)
  • low-fat and very-low-fat, very high-carbohydrate, and moderate-protein diets (e.g., Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease, The New Pritikin Program
  • very-low-calorie diets (e.g., Bernstein diet)

The recommended approach to weight loss is of the moderate-fat variety, as it most closely approximates nutritional balance as recommended by Canada's Food Guide and is the most likely to result in sustained weight loss.

Low-carbohydrate diets

Low-carbohydrate diets seem to help people take weight off very quickly, which is very attractive to the person trying to shed pounds, but these diets can be hard to maintain in the long run, and many people revert to old eating habits if the diet is too restrictive.

Also, not all low-carb diets are the same. Some severely restrict carbohydrates, while other allow for unhealthy, high-fat protein.

Studies have shown that either a low-carb or high-carb diet will result in the same amount of weight loss if the calories are the same. So the most important factor for diet in weight loss is the total number of calories. If you and your dietitian decide that a low-carb diet is best for you, it is usually recommended for only 6 to 12 months.

Moderate-fat diets

These diets follow the basic principles of a balanced diet. Meal replacement plans also fall into this category and have the advantage of letting you know exactly how many calories and nutrients are in each serving, but are harder to maintain over the long term.

The main question is whether low-calorie or low-fat (without regard to calories) is best. Studies to date conclude that weight and body fat loss occur with both, but one is not necessarily better than the other.

Low-fat and very-low-fat diets

These diets typically have a calories-from-fat content ranging from less than 10% (very-low-fat) up to 19% (low-fat) of daily guidelines. They tend to be high in carbohydrate and low in protein and include changes in exercise and lifestyle, including stress reduction and emotional support.

There is little scientific information on their effect on weight and body fat, although analysis suggests that the weight loss that does occur may be the result of lifestyle modification. However, these diets have not been as popular as the low-carbohydrate diets and it's worth keeping in mind that evidence suggests they are low in certain vitamins and minerals (e.g., vitamin E and zinc).

Very low-calorie diets

The Bernstein Diet is an example of a diet that provides very few calories on a daily basis (850 to 950 calories per day). People have to receive vitamin B6 and B12 injections 3 times weekly. Weight loss occurs at a rate of about 2 kg weekly, but weight often goes back on just as quickly when the diet is stopped. For some people who are obese, a very low-calorie diet may be used initially to achieve quick weight loss and reduce the health risks of obesity.

So what's the best diet to lose weight?

The best dietary plan for weight loss is one that is developed with a dietitian so that it meets your individual needs. In most cases, a nutritionally balanced diet is recommended.

For weight loss, slow and steady wins the race. Most experts recommend that you reduce the calories you intake by 500 per day, but keep total intake to at least 1200 calories a day for women and at least 1500 a day for men. This will allow for a gradual weight loss of 1 to 2 kilograms (2.2 to 4.4. pounds) per month. The most you should lose in a week is 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). More than this and you'll be losing precious muscle, not fat, and you'll increase the risk of regaining weight that you lose. For more information, read "Planning a healthy diet for weight loss."

Your doctor may refer you to a dietician to develop a healthy weight loss diet.


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