Everywhere you turn there is another expert telling you to eat less to lose weight. It is not that simple, as many dieters will tell you. There are, however, certain diet plans that are easier to follow, clinically proven and safe. Others, on the other hand, are potentially dangerous and they set the dieter up for rebound weight gain. Science is the determining factor, so we dug deep into reports, papers, published studies and university research, because dieters deserve to know the truth – not just hype.
What is Considered a Diet Plan?
There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of weight-loss programs. These diet plans claim to help the dieter lose weight and keep it off. Many will work, at least for the short term, but the dieter needs a plan that also provides weight management after reaching the end goal. Research helps weed out the false profits, so you’re not wasting your time or risking your health.
What are the Different Types of Diet Plans?
There are some major categories when it comes to weight-loss plans. These include: reduced calorie, restriction, community support, mail order meals and very-low calorie diets.
Reduced Calorie – Eating fewer calories is a clinically-proven means of losing weight. Skipping the calories does not mean you have to be hungry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Eating fewer calories doesn’t necessarily mean eating less food. To be able to cut calories without eating less and feeling hungry, you need to replace some higher calorie foods with foods that are lower in calories and fill you up. In general, these foods contain a lot of water and are high in fiber.”
Restriction – The big thing in restriction is low-carbohydrate plans like Atkins and South Beach. These diet plans work by removing simple carbohydrates and sometimes all carbohydrates. If you take out the calorie-laden simple carbohydrates you are not only reducing calorie intake, but you are skipping foods that are nutritionally deficient. According to NutritionMD, “During processing, many of the nutrients and much of the fiber found in whole foods is often stripped away and certain problematic ingredients, such as fat, sugar, and salt, are added, resulting in a less healthful food.”
Very-low carbohydrate diets like Atkins utilize another means of promoting weight-loss. When the body is deficient in carbohydrates, the preferred energy, it turns to fat. The body goes into ketosis, or fat-burning mode, and that’s why dieters lose weight. Unfortunately, these plans are very restrictive and can be difficult to follow for the long term.
Community Support – The most popular community support weight-loss model is Weight Watchers. As reported by John’s Hopkins Medicine, “researchers found…Weight Watchers [was] backed by clinical trials that lasted 12 months or longer and showed program participants had a greater weight loss than nonparticipants.”
Mail Order Meals – The most popular meal-order meal replacement program is Nutrisystem. There is clinical proof supporting this option, but long-term results are not available. Research shows, “NutriSystem also produced more weight loss at three months than counseling or education alone, but the authors were unable to find any long-term trials of that program.”
Very Low-Calorie Diets – If you are seeking help to lose weight from a physician, he or she may suggest a very low-calorie diet. This typically means consuming between 800 and 1,000 calories per day. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says, “VLCD formulas are designed to provide all of the nutrients you need while helping you lose weight quickly. However, this type of diet should only be used for a short time—usually about 12 weeks.”
If a diet plan claims that fewer than 800 calories is safe you should think twice about following the dietary suggestions. The NHS in the United Kingdom claims, “Cutting calories significantly can cause health problems such as gallstones, heart problems, and other issues associated with not getting the nutrition you need, such as tiredness and anemia.”
“Fad” Diet Plans to Avoid
When a diet plan lures you in with unrealistic promises, you need to be wary. According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, it only takes a few questions to differentiate a healthy weight-loss program from a “fad.”
“Does the diet promise quick weight loss?
Does the diet sound too good to be true?
Does the diet help sell a company’s product?
Does the diet lack valid scientific research to support its claims?
Does the diet give lists of “good” and “bad” foods?”
Answer these questions before starting any new diet plan so you know exactly what you’re in for.
Some of the more common “fad” diet plans include the cabbage soup diet, Master Cleanse, grapefruit diet, juice fasts and, according to some experts, low-carbohydrate diets.
What Makes a Diet Plan Successful?
There are a few things that make a good diet plan. First, you have to eat enough calories to keep your body going – energy is important to daily activities. Second, you have to choose healthy foods that offer all the nutrition the body needs, high fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates. Finally, you have to drink lots of water (you can also eat water, surprisingly). Water-laden foods tend to fill the stomach faster and they are generally lower in calories. This is a win-win situation because you are reducing calorie intake and suppressing appetite at the same time. “Replacement of DBs [diet beverages] with water after the main meal may lead to greater weight reduction during a weight-loss program. It may also offer clinical benefits to improve insulin resistance,” according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
How Many Calories is Enough?
In order to lose weight you need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories per pound. It is safe to lose between 1 and 2 pounds per week, so a deficit of 7,000 calories is optimal. It is a good choice to take your BMR (basal metabolism rate), add in the number of calories burned during exercise and subtract 500 to 1,000 calories. A 25-year-old woman who is 5’5” and weighs 175 pounds has a BMR of about 1,600. If she burns 250 calories during exercise she can, theoretically, consume 1,350 and lose weight. There are plenty of online calculators to help you find your BMR.
Calculating Calories Burned
Figuring out the number of calories you burn during exercise can be confusing. There are several factors that play into the number, including your weight, normal activity level, exercise performed and level of intensity. There’s no clear cut means of estimating the number of calories burned, but the best bet is to use an online calculator that takes into consideration, height, weight, gender and normal activity level. Never go with an estimate found on a long list of general exercises. These do not take any contributing factors into consideration.
Exercise as Part of Your Diet Plan
If you find a diet plan that claims you can lose weight without exercise, it is your best bet to skip it. It is a healthy choice to move more, even if you are not trying to lose weight. Some experts suggest exercising at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week for optimal results. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers, “Work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mix of the two each week. Strong scientific evidence shows that physical activity can help you maintain your weight over time.”
The Take-Away About Diet Plans
Too few dieters take science to heart when choosing a diet plan. Many have no idea that some plans are clinically tested and proven. Others are simply caught up in the unrealistic weight-loss claims that promise fast loss with no dietary changes or exercise. Doctors agree – eat fewer calories and move more to lose weight. It’s just fine to start small by changing out simple carbohydrates for complex carbohydrate or switching from sugared sodas to water. Sometimes all it takes is a small change to evoke a huge change in your weight and overall health.