Fad diets don’t work

I opened by September 2011 Self magazine yesterday and read “Lucy’s Top 10 Selfy Ideas!”. I was happy to see the following idea in the #1 slot:

Fad diets don’t work. Lose too fast (more than 2 pounds per week) and you lose muscle along with fat. Then if you overeat again, the weight comes back and so does the fat – but not the muscle. The result: a sluggish metabolism, so your body needs less food and it’s harder to lose the next time. What works? Slow, steady shrinking.”

This thought really gets to the heart of what Happy Dieter is all about, which is making healthy, sustainable changes that you live with for the rest of your life. When people are first starting a diet, they often have unrealistic expectations on how much weight they should lose each week. After all, on the Biggest Loser, people lose 5 or 8 pounds each week! But the Biggest Loser is not like real life, and it’s not healthy or realistic to lose 5 or 8 pounds a week.

In fact, losing just 1 pound a week is ideal. That may not seem like much to you, but it adds up over time. If you lost one pound a week, you would be down 20 pounds in 5 months. And the thing about losing 1 pound a week is that you don’t have to make big, drastic changes in your life to succeed. Fad diets often require you to cut your calories significantly and/or eliminate entire food groups. I have rarely seen anyone stick with these unrealistic plans for more than a couple weeks, and I’ve NEVER seen anyone keep off the weight they lost doing a fad diet. In fact, the result is often what Self described above – their metabolism suffers and they have an even HARDER time losing weight in the future.

So, how do you go about losing just 1 pound a week? My advice is to reduce your calories to around 1,600 and make sure you get 30-45 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. The other key is to eat balanced meals and snacks. Make sure each meal/snack  has the following combination: a lean protein (i.e. lean meat, yogurt, beans, nuts), a healthy carbohydrate (i.e. whole wheat toast, brown rice, sweet potato), and fruit(s)/vegetable(s). This is a healthy way to eat and stay energized, and it is something you can actually stick with! Best of all, it is effective. If you track your calories accurately and keep up your exercise, it is almost certain that you will lose 1 pound a week.

Now I know not everyone likes to count calories, and I agree that tracking your food can get old pretty fast. If you can manage your portions and keep your meals balanced without tracking calories, AND you are getting the results you want, that is great! Forget the calorie counting. However, if the scale isn’t budging and you are serious about losing weight, keep a food journal is usually the way to go. There are a lot of great phone apps out there to help you with this. Lose It and Daily Plate are two apps that Weigh 2 Go members use and like. Or use the old fashioned method… a pen and paper. Either way, you’ll be on your way to losing 1 pound a week without having to resort to fad diets.

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