Over 45 million Americans will go on a diet this year, but calorie restricted diets are not the best way to sustain a healthy weight. Although low calorie diets help people to lose weight in the short term, 97 percent of people regain the weight lost within three years. Yo-yo dieting is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, inflammation, and long-term weight gain. If low calorie diets are not the answer, what is?
The $66 billion weight-loss industry promotes the idea that it is best to be thin, no matter what you have to do to get there. In reality, if you want to lose weight, it is best to aim for a slow and steady weight loss of one to two pounds per week. Everyone wants a quick fix, but gradual weight loss that promotes healthy diet and exercise is the most sustainable.
Although crash diets that result in rapid weight loss are tempting to try, they can put your health at risk. Because they are restrictive, it is difficult to meet nutrient needs for essential vitamins, minerals and macronutrients. Furthermore, when you don’t consume enough energy, your body goes into survival mode and starts breaking down muscle to release glucose for energy. Your body slows down your metabolism in an effort to conserve energy. When people start to eat more, however, their metabolism remains low, making it even harder to maintain weight loss. In fact, studies have shown that when people on a crash diet with a rapid weight loss over a relatively short period of time started to gain back some weight, their metabolism remained low and they burned about 500 fewer calories per day then before they started losing weight in the first place. Calorie restriction also produces stress hormones, which can increase the amount of abdominal fat.
The best diet for you is likely not the best diet for everyone. Although weight loss is not easy for anyone, the key to successful weight loss is highly personalized. It’s important to take into account behavior, budget, and personal preferences; there is not one plan that works for everyone. People who are successful maintaining weight loss, however, modify their diets and increase physical activity. The vast majority of people who successfully keep weight off eat breakfast every day, weigh themselves once a week, watch fewer than 10 hours of television per week and exercise about an hour per day. Other strategies that tend to work include: paying attention to portion sizes, writing down food intake in a journal, and eating more frequent, small meals throughout the day. Furthermore, people with long-term weight loss also tend to be motivated by something other than weight, such as good health, the desire to live a longer life, or to be able to spend time with loved ones.
Fortunately, most people do not need to be at an ideal weight in order to reap health benefits. Research has shown that with just a 10% weight loss, people will experience noticeable changes in blood pressure and blood sugar control, which is linked with risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. It is also important to develop a healthy relationship with food. Dieting teaches us to rely on strict rules rather than hunger to control eating, which can lead to anxiety around eating, emotional eating and binge eating. Mindful eating, on the other hand, encourages a healthy connection with food and focuses on paying attention to signals of hunger and fullness without judgement. This strategy promotes internal self-regulation about what and how much to eat rather than relying on calorie counting or lists of “good” and “bad” food. People who practice mindful eating eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. They are more likely to maintain a healthy weight over time, and spend less time thinking about food. Mindful eating is a powerful tool to maintain a healthy weight without deprivation.
Dieting is rarely effective in the long run, but establishing healthy lifestyle habits does improve health. A Registered Dietitian can help you to make positive nutrition and behavior changes to promote lifelong wellbeing.