If you are thinking about going on a diet to lose weight, you should be aware that:

  • Many people lose weight, but few can keep it off.
  • You cannot stay on a diet forever.
  • Unfortunately there is no magic diet.

The following are 3 key points you should consider before dieting.

How do fad diets work?

Most fad diets work by changing the way you eat so drastically that you lose your appetite. For example, some diets contain a lot of one food like watermelon or banana. Other diets contain primarily 2 foods such as the wine and fowl diet. There are diets that cause rapid weight loss by having no carbohydrates or sugars in your diet. The rapid weight loss is however primarily due to fluid loss because ketone bodies are formed in the blood, which carry fluid out of your body. Other fad diets include starvation diets (magic that can be believed short-term), or diets that make it easier for you to stick to them in the short-term by requiring the purchase of expensive pre-mixed foods.

The bottom line is that these diets have either dangers associated with them or cannot be adopted in your lifestyle long-term. In other words, fad diets don't work. And whereas about 85% of people lose weight on almost any diet, only about 15% of people keep it off at 2 years and 1% or 2% at 10 years.

Essentials of any diet

A few of the essential elements of any diet are that it must result in long-term changes in eating patterns, and it must be individualized to you and your lifestyle. It must also contain adequate calories for you to function and stay healthy, and it must contain a good balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fat).

It is important for you to know that carbohydrates fill you up quickly, whereas proteins keep you full for a longer period of time. As well, there is evidence now that suggests that proteins may increase non-shivering thermogenesis. That is, they can actually increase the number of calories you burn off at rest (i.e., not participating in physical activities). Although this effect is small, with a diet containing minimal proteins, you will feel hungry sooner and your body is not burning off as many calories while at rest than if you were on a high protein diet.

Starting a diet

In most cases you should begin a diet by taking the same food plan you have now but cut out as much of the fatty food as you can while cutting back the portion sizes by about 20%. As well, try to increase your exercise. It is interesting to note that in some people an increase in exercise causes an increased appetite. If this is the case, go slowly with the exercise. As well, exercise increases your muscle weight so that when you begin exercising, if you have been inactive, you may initially gain a few pounds. Because of this, when you begin exercising, you may feel and look differently, but your weight may not change or may in fact increase slightly. However, if your size is decreasing, you are losing fat.

For many people wishing to lose a moderate to minimal amount of fat, such as 5 to 15 pounds, supervised diet clinics may be found. Make sure however, that they help you adjust your eating habits to your food likes and dislikes long-term. It is also recommended that you do not join up for more than a short period, but rather wait to see whether you find the diet clinic helpful before making a longer commitment. If you are concerned about your weight, and certainly if you have any diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high blood lipids such as cholesterol, you should see your doctor before starting a diet.

original article written by C. Laird Birmingham, MD
with revisions by the MediResource Clinical Team